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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Praying like a Jew: Second Sunday after Epiphany

(readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; Ps 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Prayer is communication with God. Too often our prayer is ineffective. We pray as if we must "turn the heart of God" and convince Him to be nice to us. Or we see God as a a weary parent whom we batter and beat down with endless requesting. Or we see God as a trade partner--'if you give me this I'll give you that.' Worst of all, is the offer to take on the suffering of another as if Jesus has not already accomplished that.That is really a pagan prayer. It is a rejection of the True God. So don't pray like that!

How should we pray? Our first example is a Jewish woman, Mary. She goes straight to Jesus, identifies a problem and trusts Him with it. She had a close and loving relationship with Jesus. She knew Him well. She simply states the problem. "They have no wine." She doesn't even make a request, then she just says, "Do whatever He tells you." She has absolute trust in Jesus. She hands the problem to Him. True prayer begins with complete trust in the Lord--a belief that He is good. The next step is to give it to Him. She did not micro-manage the process. She knew Him and trusted Him. She was fine with leaving it in His hands. He took care of it too (in spite of the timing). Prayer is about a relationship with the Lord; a loving, intimate relationship!

Six centuries before Mary, the author of Isaiah 62 was proclaiming God's word to the returned exiles. Life was hard and the difficult situation did not match their expectations of better days. Many had lost faith in the God of Israel. Yet, "Isiah" speaks with absolute confidence. "For Zion's sake I will not be silent---until I see her vindication!" Such confident trust in God is not always easy. "We walk by faith, not by sight," and sometimes what we see shakes our faith. We are the Beloved Spouse of God, but are tempted to feel "desolate" and "forsaken." The promise of God can take a while to appear. But Isaiah 62:6-7 (not found in our reading) exhorts the watchmen to never stop crying out, to continually speak to the Lord because the Lord has promised salvation. There are many reasons for the delay; but we must be clear that God has already acted to save us. We just wait for the fullness to be revealed.

Psalms provides 150 Jewish prayers. If they were good enough for Jesus they are good enough for me! The Psalms are a model for prayer. The psalms regularly include marvelous descriptors of God. Lets see Psalm 36:5-10, assigned today. 

"Your love, Oh Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds." Do we truly believe in so much love? The Hebrew word "hesed" (translated as: loving-kindness, mercy, favor, pity, goodness) means that He never forgets His covenant with us and always stands ready to save. His fidelity is firm and concrete and dependable. This is the basis of confident prayer (for Mary, Isaiah, you and I)
God’s righteousness and justice are why He saves both man and beast. Once again the Hebrew words are very important descriptors of God. Too often we equate God's judgment with condemnation. The word "innocent" or "forgiven" are words of judgment. In the Jewish Bible God's justice means that He acts in the right way and rescues His faithful people. God is saving all of us: man and beast!

Again, we hear of love, "How priceless is you hesed (covenant love)-- your people “take refuge” under the shadow of your wings." The Father God is compared to a Mother Bird frequently. (cf Ps 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7). (Psalm 34:8) "Blessed is the one who takes refuge in God" for (Psalm 46:1; 96:2) "The Lord is my refuge and strength. Jesus, however, heart broken by disbelief, can be frustrated by our refusal to come to Him (Luke 13:31ff “I desired to gather you under my wings as a mother hen”). Why then, do we pray so little and shuttle God to the periphery of our lives? What could possibly be more important than God?  Our house? These are temporary refuges indeed! Jobs, hobbies, or mindless distractions God wants us to come under the shadow of His wings (a nice definition of prayer). The sad truth is, we do not need to be murderers or drug dealers to break relationship with God. We can simply close the door, turn on the television and say, "I have no time for you." That is enough. No prayer life is all it takes to leave Jesus crying,  reaching out to us, His arms still empty.

We are called to trust, deep trust, in the love and goodness of God.
However we pray, a few words or many sentences, we must pray with faith and trust. The Lord's love reaches to heaven and He pours out blessings on His children---however you pray, pray believing that and trusting Him.

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