It Is Hard To Say “Amen”

 

My problem is not with prayer. I have so many prayers I need to pray. The prayers come easy, almost too easy. I can generate prayers in much the same way an application on the internet creates stupid names for churches or sermons. Words are cheap. Good sentiments are almost free.  I don’t have trouble praying. The hard part, for me, is saying “Amen.”

Once I mumble “amen” I’m on the hook. “Amen” means I’ve made the prayer more than words. Something which started as a two-dimensional rap session between me and my conception of God has now taken on a three-dimensional reality. “Amen” makes me accountable for the words I’ve said. No matter how silly or profound, once an “amen” is attached, my thoughts are now being held in the form of sacred escrow. I can’t touch or reach them until I’ve found some point of spiritual maturity. That might be today, tomorrow, or even next week. Whenever it is, an “amen” guarantees that I must speak words I deem sacred enough to call “prayer” and share them with God. Without the “amen,” prayer is no different than giving Santa Claus a list of all the toys you want for Christmas. You have no investment in your desires. Handing over a list and expecting all your wishes to be granted isn’t a prayer. It’s yelling at the universe and hoping God will give you wishes like a genie in a bottle.

“Amen” changes the dynamic in prayer. Both the person praying and the God hearing the prayer are involved in answering the prayer. We pray the prayer. We become the prayer. We become the answer to our own prayers. It’s through the action of the “amen” that we decide to take our concerns and celebrations to a level beyond ourselves. An “amen,” by its very nature, is a statement of purpose. We are willing to invite others into becoming part of our prayer.

Speaking with God is not easy. This is especially true for mild-mannered Methodists. Placing ourselves in a position to hear those around us and express our heart to God in times of crisis is no picnic. It was one of Moses’ greatest struggles. Pronouncing “amen” is also a challenge.  It is hard to say “amen.”  In one way, it’s like hitting send on an email. Once it’s gone, the message takes on a life of its own. Are we ready for God to take us seriously? After all, who are we to say such an important word like “amen”? I’ll tell you who we are.  We are those over whom many an “amen” has already been said. We are blessings so we might go be blessings in a world aching to be blessed.

Amen

Richard Lowell Bryant

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We Need To Stop Praying

We need to stop praying.  It is important, as United Methodists move forward toward the contentious events of February 2019; prayer is no longer something we do.  Instead, prayer is something we become.  Grammatically speaking, we should stop using prayer as a verb.  Prayer needs to become a noun; a part of who we are, our identity, and a defining feature of our interactions with the world.

Traditional notions of prayer, prayer as verb, are passive.  While we are active in listening to the prayer requests of others and ourselves (in worship or elsewhere), our prayer lives serve as conduits to God.  We know of needs, situations, and celebrations which (while God is omniscient and omnipotent) we feel led to bring to God’s attention and seek God’s intervention.  Whether we’re petitioning God in the liturgy or through informal conversation, we’re taking what we’ve felt or heard and passing it along.  We’re laundering prayer and whatever is contained within:  misery, joy, sorrow, or love.  This may happen on Sunday morning or throughout the week. Our prayers go back to God and we wait.

Waiting is hard, especially in times marked by strife and division.  Perhaps this is one of those instances when we need to stop waiting and move beyond our prayer lists.  Are our usual means of transferring concerns and moral discontent sufficient for a time such as this?  I am not certain they are.  We need to become our prayers.  If we’re praying for equality, be equality first.

How do we become prayer?  How do we live as prayer and not simply do prayer as one item on an overwhelmed task list?  Recently, I worked my way through Ephesians again.  I’m always impressed with last third of the 1st chapter, sometimes subtitled Paul’s Prayer.  Paul seems to have the prayer has noun idea, rather than a detached verb concept, down pat.  “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and you love for all the saints and for this reason I do not cease to give thank for you as I remember you in my prayers.”   Listening and love are the two guardrails that keep the “life as prayer” train on track.  Secondly, an outlook grounded in gratitude is the engine with fuels constant (ceaseless) prayer.

That’s how we stop praying and start being prayer.  I do not believe answered prayers are the sole responsibility of the blanks spaces of blue sky or the darkness of a starry night.  We are our own prayers.  May it be so.  Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

 

Pastoral Prayer for August 19th 2018

Gracious God, Allah, and Yahweh:

Sisters and brothers,

Peace be upon you,

As-Salaam-Alaikum,

Shalom to you,

Gracious God, we place ourselves at your mercy.  In this moment and place, out of options and time, there is nothing else we can do.  Once we’ve made it here, we begin to realize that the ideas of competition, excess, and winning at all costs; are notions we’ve created in our minds.  The ideas we’ve labeled as from God, divine, Holy, and sacred do not come from you but derive from our egos, will, and pride.  We release the hold we retain on our lives, the power we hope to maintain control, so that we may give ourselves (as you made us) to your work and the service of others.

We remember those we have named and those known only to you O God, the sick and lonely, the grieving and lost, those awaiting answers and healing.

We remember those who have lost their homes to forest fires in the western United States and flooding in Southern India.

We remember those who are separated from the children and families due to war and violence.

We remember the religious pilgrims who travel to Mecca and Medina in the millions, attending the Haj, to find greater pathways to holiness and peace.  Keep them safe.

We remember the victims of clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.  We pray for justice, healing, and accountability.

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit may they know they are not alone.

Thank you for the spiritual witness of the music of Aretha Franklin.  Welcome her into the loving arms of your presence.

We acknowledge the blessings in our lives.  So easily taken for granted because of their abundance, clean water, houses, friends, families, health, food, safety; it is easy to forget gifts from God that are only an arm’s length away.  Let us take nothing for granted.  May words of grace mark the beginning and ending of each day, every prayer, examined moment, and life well lived.

Our prayer, O God, is to draw closer to you as you come closer to us.  We pray that we may meet in the middle.  May we move to the place we need to be.

In Jesus name,

Amen

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Mother’s Day Pastoral Prayer

There are too many prayers to name on Mother’s Day.  Our Mothers, Grandmothers, stepmothers, and others who act as mothers play such important roles in our lives.  We are grateful for their love, care, and understanding.  We remember the example of Jesus, even while upon the cross, caring for his mother’s needs.  May we be aware of the needs of our mothers and the women who care for children and families in our community.

Today we pray for those in the paths of natural disasters.  We especially remember our sisters and brothers in Hawaii.  Earth is not ours to tame or control.  God of creation, calm the chaos and provide time and space for those who are in danger to be moved to safety.

We pray for those who were injured last evening in attacks on churches in Indonesia and on the streets of Paris.  Hate is not a divine calling.  We pray for the victims of violence everywhere.

For those who suffer, seek medical treatment, and dwell in the thin places of life; we pray for their comfort and healing.  Gracious God, bring peace and assurance to them in moments of uncertainty and pain.  Help us to be ministers of presence and people who listen.  We are not called to have the right answers.  Help us to ask the right questions. Help us remember that we are to be present and aware.  May we become living instruments of your grace and mercy.  In the silence of our hearts, we remember those we have named this morning.

Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Political Prayer for the Poor

Gracious God,
Today,
we pray for the poor,
those without,
marginalized,
forgotten,
pushed to the edge,
left behind,
Those who have no health care,
dying at home,
with no go fund me friends,
or investment options on which to retire,
they who live hand to mouth,
those who sleep unsoundly,
and are surrounded by fear and violence,
isolated,
lonely,
beaten,
and most of all,
I pray for those
made uncomfortable,
by praying this prayer.
May these words remind them of your teachings.
Gracious God,
be with the haves,
to seek mercy,
be with the have nots,
who need mercy.
In the name of one who became poor for our sake, Jesus the Christ,
Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Prayer for Today

God,
Save us from ourselves.
Save us from others.
Save us from visions of grandeur.
Save us from the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Save us from seductive lure of apathy and self-righteous indignation.
Save us from our sinfulness.
Forgive us when we speak hollow words dressed in the guise of the prophetic language.
Forgive us so we may forgive others.
Forgive us for seeing the worst in others.
Forgive us for missing your point to focus on our agendas.
May our witness stand in contrast to evil,
May we give until we are empty,
Until we are completely dependently upon you,
For our joy and hope,
Compassion and empathy,
Reason and being,
Vision and movement,
Life and death.
As Resurrection People we pray,
Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Palm Sunday Prayer

Gracious God,

I’m not really a “parade person”. Crowds make me nervous and I’m always afraid I’ll mess up the group chant. I never get the “wave” right in stadiums. So Palm Sunday, as you might imagine, makes me a little nervous. Who am I kidding, I’m terrified! I’m not sure when to come in with my, “Hosanna in the Highest, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. As I stand in the crowd on Sunday morning, I ask you to hear my prayers, spoken from the silence of my heart:

Help me, in the days to come, to focus on what matters most,
Help me to see beyond the crowds and look to you,
Help me to find ways to block out the sounds of crowd,
Help me to listen to you when others put words into your mouth,
Help me to offer my heart when others offer their cloaks,
Help me find a place to be where you need me most.

Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant