10/18/2020 ~ Proper 24 ~ Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13); 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22 ~ Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine ~ Parking Lot Service.
Say One for Me
“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you, remember you, in our prayers, constantly.” — 1 Thessalonians 1:2.
Starting last August I have pinch hit, or rather pinch preached, for your Pastor, John Carson, several times. My second time at here Elijah Kellogg Church I mentioned something very specific about my Mother. This particular piece of information sounds a little like a joke but it is not.
My Mother was a nun. Needless to say she left the convent before taking final vows. She met my father, married and had three children. I am the oldest.
Based on the fact that my Mother entered the convent these next statements might be assumed. She was pious. She took her faith seriously. She took God seriously.
Jews in the New Testament era— Jews in the city of Thessalonika— would have labeled someone who took God seriously with an obvious title: God seekers. And they understood even people who were not Jewish might take God seriously. The way they saw things is, if a person took God seriously, that person should be taken seriously.
Back to my family— for many years we lived in a house diagonally across the street from our church. That made going to church on Sunday an easy task. Fall out of bed, take a couple steps— you’re at the front door of the church.
As was true of most inner city Catholic churches in those days, the Sunday Mass schedule started at 7:00 a.m. There was one Mass every hour on the hour through 11:00.
The 11:00 a.m. one was a so called “High Mass”— a choir sang parts of the Mass, the priest waved a thurible, that pot like thing with burning coal and incense in it. Hence, at the High Mass the smell of incense permeated the chancel and wafted out to the nave.
For reasons too complex to bother to explain, in my family it seemed most weeks each of us chose to attend Mass at a different hour. My mother always attended the last Mass of the day, that High Mass, at 11:00 a.m., because she sang in the choir.
But she was an early riser. She was, therefore, very aware of when each of us went out the door to take those couple steps across the street to attend Mass. When any of us headed out the door to the church, she would say the same thing to each of us: “Say one for me.”
Effectively, she was asking each of us to say a prayer for her as we attended church. While, theologically, I would argue each of us and all of us stands in the need of prayer, I would also argue that among the rag-tag Connolly clan my mother was the one least in need of prayer. Still she asked for prayer.
She, in fact, said “Say one for me” to us so often this phrase stuck in the memory of her children permanently. Therefore when she died, we decided to put that saying on her gravestone. “Say one for me.” (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the First Letter to the Church in a City known in New Testament times and still known today as Thessalonika. “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you, remember you, in our prayers, constantly.” (Slight pause.)
Look at what Paul does in this section of the reading. Paul offers thanks. Thanks for whom? Thanks for the people of the church, the community of faith gathered, in the City of Thessalonika.
We moderns do not get this: all of these churches to whom Paul writes were very small. Scholars doubt each of them would have numbered more than 50 people.
Paul quite directly says to the people in this small church at Thessalonika that they are mentioned, remembered, held in prayer constantly by the Apostle. Then Paul praises them for their attitude and their actions concerning the reality of God and the Christ.
Paul also acknowledges what they are doing by their example is done through the movement of the Spirit. And because they are open to the Spirit, this is a model for all believers. Therefore, their faith is known and celebrated everywhere. (Slight pause.)
We have here an example of how each of us, in the context of faith, should constantly relate to those around us— pray. To reiterate, after a standard introductory sentence, Paul offers prayer for the members of the Church in Thessalonika, effectively saying— “people of Thessalonika— let me say one for you.” Prayer for others is a primary concern. Why? Prayer, in and of itself, can be empowering. (Slight pause.)
Now, something which has been said to me over and over again in my years as a Pastor is a request that I pray for someone. And I honor those requests.
But that very inquiry, asking me to pray for someone, raises an obvious question. Do I, as an ordained Pastor, have some kind of special relationship with God which might make any prayer I offer more valid than anyone else here today who prays?
The short answer is ‘no.’ I do not have any kind of singular conduit to God. Ordination did not somehow give me a special or a secret knowledge about how to pray. We, all of us, need to follow Paul’s example and pray for one another. There is no question about this. (Slight pause.)
My perception is what I am about to say is not addressed often enough. There are techniques, ways of praying, which can be learned. The point of these methods is to offer ways for individuals to feel comfortable praying and perhaps help the person for whom the prayer is being offered feel comfortable.
Briefly, here are some things any of us can do. If you agree to pray with or for another person, first listen carefully to any request and try to discern not just what is verbalized but the emotional depth of the request. Doing this will often offer guidance about what might be placed before God, vocalized and/or thought about as pray is offered.
Next, if the situation is that you will, indeed, pray one on one with another person, it is sometimes suggested that you offer prayer while holding hands or touching an arm— except not in this time of pandemic and, needless to say, only with permission. Alternatively, perhaps just looking into one another’s eyes will suffice.
These techniques can add a tactile or visual aspect to prayer. They can also empower a real sense of connection with that other person.
Another technique is, in the course of a prayer which is being offered for and with another person, at some point in the course of those prayers, close your eyes and visualize that person. As you do so, think about, concentrate on the person for whom the prayer is offered. Many say doing this can bring both the prayer and the person for whom the prayer is being offered into sharper focus for the one offering the prayer. (Slight pause.)
I do need to say something about our personal prayer habits. I once had the honor and privilege of being in a very small group in the presence of Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was before he had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Someone asked how much he prayed every day. Desmond said one or two hours a day, unless he was busy or under stress. Then it was two or three hours. (Slight pause.)
Let me come back to the story about my Mother. She may, indeed, have been the one in our family who was least in need of prayer. But she also understood, as did Paul, that the first thing we need to do with and for one another is to pray for one another.
And yes, I do think we need to pray for one another faithfully and often, hold each other in prayer. I also think that holding one another in prayer can help us, empower us to see one another as children of God, as equal before God.
All that having been said, let me make one promise. I shall hold you all in prayer. But let me also make one request. Say one for me. Amen.
Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine
ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I need to say one more thing about our personal prayer habits. Earlier I said we are all ‘children of God.’ Certainly one of the issues in society right now is that some people are seen as outcast, different, the other. But we are, all of us, children of God. In God’s world no one is outcast, different, other. I think praying for others, especially those who society sees as outcast, different, other— whether we know them or not— can be life changing. At least for me, when I pray for those I do not know, it becomes much harder for me to fail to see them as children of God.”
BENEDICTION: We have gathered, not just as a community, but as a community of faith. Let us respond to God, who is the true reality, in all that we are and say and do. Let the Holy Spirit dwell among us and may the peace of God which surpasses our understanding be with us this day and forever more. Amen.