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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Praying Like a Priest

[we will address this in Sunday School on Advent 3 12/13]

Priestly prayer is made with hands extended upward. While many are nervous about this, it feels too "pentecostal/charismatic" to them, I prefer to to think of the psychological impact of the physical stance. Human beings are Spirits and Body/Soul. The spiritual and physical impact and interpenetrate one another.

If you stand up and stretch your hand upward how do you feel? For me, it is the toddler position. It is the gesture which goes along with the words, "Pick me up, Dadddy/Momma." It is also an open position, welcoming an infilling. It is also better for your neck!

Secondly, a priest's prayers are liturgical. They are usually written in a text. The format is based on Jewish Biblical prayer. It includes a heavy dose of praise, remembrance of God's saving activities, thanksgiving and a cry for God's salvation. The breadth of the prayer is universal and extends beyond one's personal concerns. Left to my own, I pray for me and mine. The church prays for the People of God. However, that is liturgical prayer of a community. 

The key to praying is focus on God not yourself. Praying from the heart means that one is sincere. Trying to "sound good" and use fancy words is not prayer, it is play acting. 

Unfortunately, without a robust prayer life and a deep connection with our Father in Heaven, it is difficult to pray publicly (whether liturgically or spontaneously). As we have looked at the "Narrative of God" in which we believe, we have offered an approach which takes seriously God's faithful love of each of us. We also believe that God's resources are available here and now, but that we must be open to receive them in faith. Obstacles in the spiritual realm (demonic), the community (unbelief) and within us (sin, unforgiveness, fear and unbelief) impact breadth, depth, and speed of that flow of God's power. 

Last week Linda Miller taught on "disappointment in prayer." Jesus was thwarted by the unbelief of those familiar with Him and we, familiar with the experience of  "God failing to answer our prayers," live under the same blanket of doubt. Too afraid to be hurt again, too angry to trust, we would rather see God as "a ticket to heaven" and live our daily lives at a distance from the Kingdom vision of the Bible.

Last week Linda spoke on Zachariah and the angel. Luke 1:13 "your prayer has been heard" is directed to a priest at the altar. It was the only time Zachariah would ever stand before that altar in his life. He would have been praying prayers assigned to the circumstances, probably some form of praise, petition for mercy and salvation. Some think it was a version of the Jew's daily prayers (Amidah), as here:

AS Kohen ( Priest ) Zachariah would have been praying the Amidah from what I've learned. These are 18 prayers that the Jews would pray three times a day , .
Avot ("Ancestors") this prayer offers praise of God as the God of the Biblical patriarchs, "God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob
Gevurot ("powers"), this offers praise of God for His power and might. This prayer includes a mention of God's healing of the sick and resurrection of the dead.
Kedushat ha-Shem ("the sanctification of the Name") this offers praise of God's holiness.
Binah ("understanding") this is a petition to God to grant wisdom and understanding.
Teshuvah ("return", "repentance") this prayer asks God to help Jews to return to a life based on the Torah, and praises God as a God of repentance.
Selichah, this asks for forgiveness for all sins, and praises God as being a God of forgiveness.
Geulah ("redemption") this praises God as a rescuer of the people Israel.
Refuah ("healing") this is a prayer to heal the sick.
Birkat HaShanim ("blessing for years [of good]"), this prayer asks God to bless the produce of the earth.
Galuyot ("diasporas"), this prayer asks God to allow the ingathering of the Jewish exiles back to the land of Israel.
Birkat HaDin ("Justice") this asks God to restore righteous judges as in the days of old.
Tzadikim ("righteous") this asks God to have mercy on all who trust in Him, and asks for support for the righteous.
Bo'ne Yerushalayim ("Builder of Jerusalem") asks God to rebuild Jerusalem and to restore the Kingdom of David.
Birkat David ("Blessing of David") Asks God to bring the descendant of King David, who will be the messiah.
Tefillah ("prayer") this asks God to accept our prayers, to have mercy and be compassionate.
Avodah ("service") this asks God to restore the Temple services and sacrificial services.
Hoda'ah ("thanksgiving") this is a prayer of thanksgiving, thanking God for our lives, for our souls, and for God's miracles that are with us every day.
Sim Shalom ("Grant Peace"); the last prayer is the one for peace, goodness, blessings, kindness and compassion.
These are the prayers that Zachariah would have been , praying in the temple while offering incense. 

Obviously, the context of Second Temple Judaism would predate some of these petitions, but the theme of the salvation of Israel is clear. Zachariah and his wife, they are too old and she is barren, were likely not praying for a child at this point. No mention is made of such a prayer and the angel makes clear that the purpose of the child is an answer to God to the prayer for the salvation of Israel. My sermon last week on the canticle of Zachariah showed this to be the focus of this prayer (Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, He has visited His people to redeem them). The birth of John is a blessing (it takes away her shame and reproach) to the family, but even more he will be a blessing to Israel and to the world. God's vision is bigger. The answered prayer for salvation, in this case by the birth of a child to two people who are unlikely candidates, is a particularly poignant example of God's hesed (faithful covenant mercy and love). Linda's point is well taken, I merely take it to a deeper and broader meaning.

I am also struck by the silence of Zachariah. It seems to be a punishment, but a review of the word might also broaden this understanding as well. The trigger for me was Revelation 8:1 (When the Lamb opened the 7th Seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour) and Habakkuk 2:20 (The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him). In Deuteronomy 27:9 Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, "Keep silence and hear, O Israel, this day you have become the people of the Lord God." Lastly, the beloved verse of Ps 62:5 (for God alone my soul in silence waits) reminds us that the Seeker and the Sought encounter one another in a mutual dance of quiet waiting and peaceful abiding!

So the take away? To pray like a priest is our vocation (as we read this week in Morning Prayer, Revelation 1:5-6 "to Him who loves us and freed us from our sins by His blood and made us to be a kingdom, priest serving His God and Father..." The priestly prayer ministry is one which is especially appropriate with one another, but also in our daily lives. Pray, intercede, give glory and thanks to God, and always in the context of the Promises of God.

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