Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On Weeks of Prayer, Communion, and Fasting, Part 1

I am three Sundays into 2013. Between the first and the second Sunday (from 06 to 13 January) our fellowship devoted itself to prayer. Some fasted during those days. We ended the week by eating a communion meal together.

A January "Prayer Week," as it's called, is something of a Canadian Mennonite tradition, I'm told. It was new to me. The impulse seems to be (1) to give to God the first portion of the year and (2) to seek God's blessing and direction for the new year. [If you have more information on this tradition, I'd love to hear; share it in the Comments.]

Both these motivations are well and good. I know that our fellowship needs God's direction. We have hard work ahead of us, first discerning personally and corporately where the frontiers of God's reign are in our context and, second, going and doing whatever God shows us.

But I worry that the stated motivations for Prayer Week encourage us toward a tit-for-tat take on spiritual disciplines. It's not long before we're thinking, "Okay, God, I'll spend time praying to you so that you will bless/guide/protect me and mine."

So when we've met up for worship and encouragement on the last three Sunday, I've explored our reasons for praying, for eating the Lord's communion meal together, for fasting. I'm trying to preach more and more from notes (and less and less from manuscript), so I won't be posting sermons whole-text regularly (unless my attempts at note-preaching crash and burn). But here's a summary of where my heart has been as I've wrestled with these issues:

Week One: Why Should We Pray?

My home passage was Jn 17.1-5. (Others, including Cindy, led us in reflection on vv 6-19 and 20-26 at prayer meetings later in the week.)

Jesus uses "glory" language over and over in this paragraph. He "brought [his Father] gory on earth" and was glorified "with [his Father] before the world existed." At the same time, Jesus asks that his Father "glorify [his] Son, that [his] Son may glorify [him.]" The question is, What is glory?

My answer: Jesus glorifies his Father by revealing his Father's character, bringing his Father's presence, ha-shekinah, present on earth. What do we see when Jesus reveals his Father? My answer: love. John, in his first letter, states this plainly: "God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him" (1 Jn 4.8-9). Or, in the Gospel's paraphrase of Ex 34.6-7 in Jn 1.18, "We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of chesed and `emet."

Understanding glory as the revelation of God's loving and faithful character, I came up with two basic motivations for prayer as I listened to Jn 17.1-5.

1. We pray because Jesus has already glorified his Father. We have experienced God's lovingkindness and faithfulness, in ways small and big. There are the common blessings that God pours out on the wicked and the good, the shalom we experience now, fractured and bent up as it may be. Ultimately, these are all reflections of the God's greatest act of love, the compassion and obedience that carried Jesus to a cross.

2. We pray because we ourselves, our neighbors, and our world still need God's glorious love to be revealed here and now for us. Having "tasted and seen that the Lord is good" heightens our awareness of how much is not yet good. Experiencing God's love turns up the contrast. Suddenly the ills, the violence we might have off-handedly chalked up to "that's just the way things are" become an aching hole, a wound in the otherwise infinite goodness, love, faithfulness, glory of God. With Jesus, we pray, "You have been glorified on earth, now glorify yourself again" (cf. Jn 17.1, 4 and 10.27-28)

(Watch for reflections on the next two weeks over the next few days)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...