Good morning, Friends!
We’re at the start of another new year. And it’s going to be a challenge. This year, students and teachers are having to learn a whole new way to hold school.
I hope we’ll pray for every family in our meeting with kids in school or young adults in college. We’ve had to make adjustments here in our worship, but that’s nothing compared to what they all have to do.
We want God to bless them, and encourage them. We want to do everything we can to help those families.
Fall always seems like the beginning of a new year. There’s a snap in the air when we get up in the morning.
Nobody wants to turn over a new leaf in January, for pity’s sake. In January people are too busy digging out their driveways and keeping from freezing to death. Fall is when we make new plans and try new things.
When I was a kid, every fall the teacher started with reviewing, just in case we’d forgotten the multiplication table over the summer, which was usually the case. Anyway, this morning I thought we might review one of the most basic parts of our Christian life.
Jesus said to them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have are receiving it, and it will be yours.
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.Mark 11:22-26
Jesus, in case any of you’ve forgotten over the summer, was a person of prayer. Jesus prayed a lot, and Jesus had a lot of things to say about praying.
Jesus began his ministry, the ministry that was going to change the world, by going out into the desert for a forty-day prayer retreat. Many times in the gospels, just before Jesus made a major move, he would go up into the hills by himself for a night of prayer.
People knew that Jesus was somebody whose prayers made a difference. They crowded around Jesus, to hear Jesus pray, and to witness what happened when he did.
And things did happen when Jesus prayed. Whether it was feeding the hungry, healing the broken, or simply bringing peace into someone’s home, Jesus showed that prayer makes things happen.
That was one of the biggest surprises for people when they met Jesus. They found that prayer changed things. Prayer isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s affecting the way the world really is, by bringing in the power of God.
Jesus said that prayer should be really simple. The words of the “Our Father”, are maybe the best example of the powerful simplicity of Jesus’ prayers.
The words aren’t hard. Anybody can memorize them. There’s no abracadabra, no magic wand, no bells and smoke that have to be there for it to work. Just:
Our Father in heaven,
May your name be kept holy.
May your kingdom come!
May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Amen.
That’s so simple. That’s so basic. Anyone can say those words!
And you know what? If we get stuck, and don’t know the right words to pray, Jesus says that God will help us with the words, because God wants us to pray and God wants to answer our prayers.
In the passage I read this morning – and I could have chosen almost any passage, because Jesus says the same things about prayer and faith over and over again – in the passage we just read, Jesus says that prayer can move mountains.
That’s something for us to think about for a minute. Prayer can move mountains. Have you ever tried that? Have you ever tried to make a mountain get up and move, using the power of prayer?
Maybe that seems ridiculous. But maybe it’s even more ridiculous to do what we normally do, which is to live as if we don’t expect anything to happen as a result of our prayer.
It’s almost like we’ve got two kinds of faith. There’s faith for Sunday mornings and for when we’re reading the Bible, and then there’s another kind of faith we use the rest of the time. Both kinds of faith are sincere. I’m not trying to say that we’re hypocrites.
But there’s something silly about how we believe all sorts of things on Sunday morning or when we pray, and then the next day we go right on out and act as if none of that mattered.
Maybe that’s not being hypocritical, but it’s pitiful. We pray, but we don’t trust. We pray, but we don’t dare to live as if our prayers are going to be answered. Most of the time, we’re so scared that we don’t even dare to pray for the things that we care about most.
Jesus said that prayer could move mountains. And I don’t always know what he meant by that. Some people say that he was using an extreme example to show what he meant. Jesus did that a lot of the time.
I don’t know. I guess I’ve never tried moving a mountain that way. I’ve never gone up, say, to Pilot Mountain, and tried to rearrange things with a word or two. Maybe Pilot Mountain’s pretty good right where it is.
But maybe Jesus wasn’t exaggerating. If you stop and think about it, there’s nothing much to keep a mountain in its place. In a way, all that a mountain is, is a pile of stuff that hasn’t been moved for a while. What defines a mountain is its inertia, the fact of its just sitting there. We’re used to mountains staying in place, but really, they do move.
Something as tiny and as unnoticeable as a raindrop can move a mountain, if you give it enough time. You take enough raindrops, and any mountain that was ever made will eventually wash down into the sea. I’ve seen mountain roads washed out by a raging flood, many a time. Maybe Jesus wasn’t being so farfetched, after all.
But there are other kinds of mountains, too, of course. And I think those are the mountains that we’re more interested in moving. And prayer certainly has the power to do it. There are all kinds of things that we could and should pray for. There are things like peace, and the growth of our fellowship, and healing, and forgiveness, and strength, which we can and ought to be praying for every day.
Most people seem to feel that there are mountains get in the way of attaining things.
I see a lot of people who are very timid in prayer. They’re not even like that guy in the Bible who said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” They say, “Well, I guess if something happens, it happens. But it probably won’t, so I won’t get my hopes up. . .”
I see people who don’t have just one mountain in front of them. They feel like they’re surrounded by mountains. They feel like they’re walled in by mountains, with no place for them to go. They’re trapped.
I don’t care if the problem is alcoholism, or drug abuse, or people in the family who are hard to deal with, or financial problems, or sickness, or aging, or falling out of love, or whatever. I spend a lot of time talking to people who feel walled in by the size of their problems.
And Jesus says, “If you had faith – if you believed – if you trusted God, if you only knew the love of God down deep in your hearts – you’d walk right through those mountains as if they weren’t even there.”
If we could pray in the same spirit in which Jesus prayed, our prayers would have the same power as his. That’s what Jesus told us. That’s what we need to discover.
This year, I would like to challenge us to learn the way of Jesus, which means learning the way of prayer. I realize that we pray here every Sunday. But I would challenge us to learn to pray more the way that Jesus did.
I would challenge us to find longer periods when we can go apart to pray. Some prayers are just a few seconds long. But the prayers that move mountains are prayers that involve our whole heart and our whole mind.
When was the last time you spent a whole hour in prayer? If you have, if you do this regularly, you know what I’m talking about. I try to do that several times a week. And the more I pray, the more energized I am by my prayer.
I’d like to see people agreeing to pray together for the same thing. If one person praying is powerful, having two or more people agreeing together in prayer just multiplies that. When our hearts are united in prayer, for the same thing, I don’t think God can resist our prayers.
I’d like to hear more about people supporting each other in prayer during the week. These are hard times, make no mistake. It helps, when you know that someone else is praying for you. And it helps you, to know that you’re lifting up someone who’s having a hard time.
I’d be real happy if people asked me to pray more with them when I visit. I’m always willing to do that. I’m only waiting to be asked. There shouldn’t be anything embarrassing about asking someone who cares about you to pray with you.
I would be especially glad if people would be willing to get serious about praying for the growth of our fellowship. There’s nothing magic in numbers, and I’m happy with the people who are already here.
But there are more people who need to hear what Friends have to offer. And I’m convinced that one of the barriers is that we’re not praying enough.
I think that if we pray for those outside acquaintances and neighbors and family members of ours, and for those complete strangers as well, that they’ll start coming.
If we pray for them to come, and then if we go out and live our prayers, we won’t be able to keep people away. We might even have problems with space again! That’s how church families grow and how new churches get built, because somebody prayed, and because somebody dared to live their prayers.
We’re meeting outside today for a good reason – people’s health and safety here at church is our #1 concern.
But every day during the lockdown, when I walk up to the door, or when I walk through the building, I’m praying, “Lord, please fill this place up again! Please fill this place up, and make it alive! May this place, which has been a gathering spot for your people for so many years, be filled with life and laughter, with hospitality and service, with seeking and finding. May this be a house filled with prayer!”
Jesus said something else in this morning’s reading, which we mustn’t forget. He said, “Whenever you stand praying” – that’s because in his day, people stood to pray.
That’s partly custom, but to me it also suggests that prayer is something more active than we think it is. It’s OK to sit. It’s OK to kneel. But sometimes prayer is having the faith to stand up with your prayer.
Anyway, Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father who is in heaven may forgive you what you have done. . .”
Forgiveness is a whole other sermon all to itself. We’ll need to come back to that some time.
But right now, let’s just notice that forgiveness is an essential part of every prayer that seeks to make a difference.
Whenever we pray, we need to remember to forgive and be forgiven, so that we can start fresh with a clean slate. A lot of people let their sins and their mistakes pile up all the time. Maybe that’s where some of those mountains come from.
When we forgive, sometimes we look up and see that mountains have melted away.
We are challenged to live up to our full potential as Christians. We are dared to pray in the same way as Jesus did.
There is nothing which can stand in the way of a person who prays. Prayer is opening our hearts to God, and allowing God to enter every part of our lives. It’s supposed to be our greatest strength, and we’re supposed to do it all the time. Everyone can try it.
There is no mountain that can stand in the way of someone who prays. Jesus said it. And I believe it.