Praying through Biblical Reflections - Advent Week 1

Nov. 27, 2016 ~ Prev | Intro | Next

Today, as we enter a new church year on the first day of Advent, we are also initiating a Year of Prayer for Christ UMC. This initiative, endorsed by the Administrative Council, is a way for our church to move forward into the future, open to where God will lead us. The mantra, or prayer sentence that is guiding our year of prayer is “Lord Make Us What You Want us to Be.” Throughout the year, we will be focusing on prayer in a number of settings.

First, in worship and in materials to take home, we will be practicing a number of different kinds of prayer. Widening our experience of prayer practices can open us to new ways to encounter God. It is likely that not all of these types of prayer will speak to you personally—we are all different. That is OK. I just ask you to try them. It is sometimes surprising how God can touch us when we are receptive to new things. If you find a prayer practice that you find helpful for your spiritual growth, stick with it. The prayer practices are called practices for a reason—they require use and experience to become most effective. Likewise, if something feels awkward and foreign the first time, try it again, and a third time before deciding it is not for you. Lord, make us what you want us to be.

Second, we are asking all groups in the church to make prayer central to your activities. When you gather together, include prayer. Many committees and groups already start or end with prayer. Keep it up. If you group doesn’t pray regularly, start. As we work together as the body of Christ, we need to be listening for divine direction. Lord, make us what you want us to be.

Third, throughout the year we will be organizing some prayer studies. I encourage you to participate in these as they are announced. Praying and studying together is vital to our community life. Lord, make us what you want us to be.

Fourth, we are hoping to organize prayer cells throughout the church. These are small groups where we can pray with and for one another, as well as for the needs of the world and the church. Lord, make us what you want us to be.

This morning, we are going to introduce the first prayer practice, which is biblical imagination, praying through placing ourselves in the scripture. I will lead us through a reflection on the scriptures after the choir anthem, and later in the service Pastor Stephanie will lead us through a meditation on the Isaiah text. As you listen to the choir anthem, “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” open yourself to its message. Place yourself in this song, along with the percussion and violin. How are you preparing the way of the Lord within yourself?

Biblical Imagination

Prayer through biblical imagination—what is that? We read the Bible for a number of reasons—sometimes for information: to learn about God, to learn about a vision for a Christian community. Sometimes we read for inspiration—to encounter the lives and faiths of those who have gone before, to hear an encouraging word from the Psalms, to seek solace in times of grieving. Sometimes we read for direction—to study God’s laws and to seek out God’s vision for justice and mercy. Today and this month, we will be reading the Bible, as Teresa Hornsby put it, as “a tool for digging deeper into our souls for faith development, not primarily as a guidebook or outside authority.” This prayer practice asks us to approach the text like a correspondence with God, pondering questions we have.

So let us contemplate our gospel text this morning, which is a challenging word, in the spirit of imaginative prayer. I will read the gospel again, pausing to ask and let you consider questions for reflection. Let us pray: God of imagination and infinite wisdom, we ask your blessing as we meditate upon the scripture before us. Help us to put ourselves in your word, that we may hear your voice.

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. ~ Matt 24:36
How do you prepare for something when you don’t know when it is coming? Have you waited for something with an uncertain time frame? Is it something you dread or something you desire? How does the waiting feel? Does it create anxiety? Hope? What do you think the Day of the Lord will bring?
37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Imagine yourself as one of the people during Noah’s time. Picture yourself living your life, providing food, raising your family, watching Noah build his ark. What do you think of Noah? Do you ask him what he was doing? Do you think he was crazy? Do you change anything you are doing? (Pause)

40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
Place yourself in this verse. Picture yourself in the field, see the quivering of the stalks in the wind, the heads of wheat full of grain. Smell the rich scent of the soil, hear the grinding of the mill stone. Feel the dust that covers you. The person that has worked next to you for years is gone. Your kids played together. You told each other secrets. How does it feel to be alone? Are you anxious? Angry? Grieving? What do you want to ask God in this situation? (Pause)
42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Imagine that you are the homeowner. You have heard a thief is in the neighborhood. What do you do? Do you stay awake? Picture yourself in a chair, holding a weapon. Your eyes are getting heavy. You are nodding off. (Pause) The thief doesn’t come. How many nights will you wait, foregoing sleep? Do you hire guards? Do you build a safe? (Pause) Or do you relax your hold on your possessions? Do you ask yourself, Am I robbing my own life to protect my goods? Am I paying attention to the right things? What do you want to ask God in this situation? (Pause) How do you think God wants you to prepare for Jesus? How do you wait on God? (Pause) How do you know when God comes to you? (Pause) O God, on whom we wait with expectant hope, we thank you that you have sent your Word Incarnate into the world that we may draw closer to you. We thank you for the words of the scriptures that challenge us again and again to open ourselves to you. We ask you to continue to guide us in imagining these words alive in us. O Lord, we ask that you make us what you want us to be. Amen.

Dr. Susan Haddox