Harrowing Of Hell
August 9, 2020

The Power of Prayer

The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

Good morning Christians, seekers, and friends!

How are you? When I ask this question how many of us immediately said or thought, “Fine.” This is the standard answer we’ve been socialized to give. Fine. I am fine. Everything is fine. But I know I have answered this question with the word “fine” – even when I was far from it. “I am fine,” I have said during the most difficult and trying times of my life. “I am okay,” I have said when I was anything but…. Because we are often not sure what to do when we are not fine. Maybe we don’t think other people really want to know. Maybe, we think our issue isn’t a big deal so we shouldn’t ‘burden’ someone else with it. But here’s something for nothing – people DO care and, regardless of what our culture might tell us, it does help to share.

As I mentioned last week, you shouldn’t just take my word for it—look to Jesus for guidance. Quick check in — how many of you folks read the first 14 chapters of the book of Matthew this week? For those who didn’t get to it, (there is still time!!) Jesus gives us an answer to what to do when we need something deeper than the quote/unquote “fine.”  Pray – not just as a ‘last resort’ either. Prioritize prayer. Take some time away if you need to – and pray. Twice just in the 14th chapter of Matthew alone, we find Jesus taking time during his ministry to pray – in verse 13, after he hears of the death of his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus goes off alone to pray. The crowds follow him, and he feeds the five thousand – but immediately afterwards, in verse 23 from today’s gospel, after sending them home Jesus sends his disciples ahead and he returns to his prayer. And these are only two examples. Jesus prayed often and he sought solitude and prayer at significant times in his ministry. Jesus not only worked miracles with his prayer, he also prepared himself for the work God had given him to do through prayer. When he needed all the spiritual strength possible, Jesus would seek time alone in prayer to listen to his heavenly Father. In fact, a key to his ministry was that through making prayer a priority, his life was centered around listening carefully to, and then obeying, God’s will.

Last week, I talked a little about this – how prayer is the best way to discern God’s will for our lives and to help us know what is being asked of us as Christians. But today I want to take this a little bit further and talk about the power of prayer. Jesus’ pattern of prayer shows us how he used prayer to discern God’s will and to empower himself to do all that God would have him do—literally save the world from sin. Now I know you might be thinking, “Yeah, well, he was God’s only begotten Son, so, of course, his prayer is gonna be powerful.” And yes, that is true. However, as Jesus told his followers in his parables, just a little faith is able to do amazing things. Remember the mustard seed?  And as Paul notes in his letter to the Romans, “[through Jesus]…we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but [we]… have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’

it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” What Paul is alluding to here is that Jesus gave us a huge gift in his death, resurrection, and ascension – the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. And since then, nothing has been the same. So, guess what Christians—as joint heirs with Christ our prayers are powerful too…and lest we think we will be excused from prayer because we don’t feel like we know what to pray for – the Spirit PRAYS with us and through us—and in those times when we don’t know what to do or what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us. As Paul put it, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for [if and when] …we do not know how to pray… that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints [that’s you and me] according to the will of God.”

Now, as if that isn’t enough to convince you of the power of your prayer, just know that you do not pray alone. You have a host of others praying as “back up.” In those times that you feel alone, or you just need a little reassurance, please ask us to pray for you. Doyt and I have both mentioned in our sermons recently that we pray for you. And that is true—that is a great perk of our job. We get to pray for folks we love…but sometimes it is nice to know for sure, right? I am always thankful when one of you reminds me that you are praying for me. It always makes me more confident in my ministry to know your prayers are with me. Those of us raised up by the church to be priests are just regular ole’ human beings like everyone else. Yet we are given a ‘cure of souls’ or, to put it another way, a sacred responsibility to care for the souls of our community. And in order to do that, we not only need to have a personal practice of prayer to help us discern what God would have us do, we also depend on your prayers and the prayers of the whole church.

And just as I depend on your prayers, please know that whether you ask specifically, or not, you are being held in prayer. I pray for you personally. I pray through our prayer list. And often, I do fun things to make room for the Spirit to lead me in my prayers. For example, I go through the directory and, taking a few letters of the alphabet each day, pray for all those listed. I lift up those folks with thanksgiving or, if they are in need of it, prayers for healing and strength…or I’ll go through a ministry or a small group and pray for all those listed. At our weekly staff meetings and in their own prayers, our staff is praying for you also. AND, so are so many others in this community. Robin Mondares and the amazing members of our pastoral care team pray for you too—they offer prayers in many ways from the wonderful original prayers written by Robin, to loving cards, beautiful bouquets and delicious meals. And each week, as the whole church gathers together, we pray for you, the community, and the world. 

You see the Church, as a House of Prayer, is over-engineered. It not only is built on the rock-solid foundation of Christ – it is held up by column after column of prayers and relationships. And so, while we may not always feel up to the task, we are empowered through prayer to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. In today’s reading from Romans, we get to hear one of my favorite verses of scripture: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” And while during a pandemic our feet may not be able to go too far from home, we can still bring the good news.

Because the good news about the good news is that we can do it from anywhere.  We can be on the front line of prayer, ‘foot’ soldiers of the Kingdom of God if you will, from wherever we are. And our prayers are sorely needed. Sometimes we human beings shy away from talking too much about supernatural forces. We feel odd talking about forces of evil. I’ve been in the Episcopal Church all my life, so I got the memo about talking about this stuff… but here’s the thing. Whether we want to talk about it or not, there is a war – a struggle between evil and good—that is going on all around us.  And all too often, by trying to domesticate this evil, we place it instead squarely on the shoulders of other children of God. And that not only goes against our call to be bearers of the gospel, it is also dangerous. Look around us now – our whole world is reeling from the effects of our distrust and hatred towards those who, like us, were made in the image of God. We need to know who the true enemy is….El Satan – the accuser, the one who does everything possible to try to make us forget the truth that we are the children of God and that we, who follow Christ, have the power to share this life-changing message of love and redemption and hope with the whole world. While we hold this responsibility, the one who leads us holds the weight of it. We, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are indeed the foot soldiers of Christ on earth in the struggle against evil, but we are joined with all the power of God’s goodness and helped by all the company of heaven. During this pandemic, during this time of social upheaval and strife, our prayers are necessary. And although we like to downplay their importance, by saying things like “All we can do now is pray” – prayer is, as Jesus modeled for us in his own life, not the last resort but our powerful first. We are not ‘fine’ right now Christians. We need your prayers. So, please actively pray. Engage in your spiritual work of prayer with confidence that God’s power working through you is greater than the evil in the world. Your prayers can and do help on so many levels – including enacting real changes such as preventing bad things from befalling other children of God and bringing good things—real blessings– into people’s lives. “Listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings for guidance about how best to pray for what’s most needed – and then pray to advance God’s kingdom on Earth and stop the spread of evil.”

Paul reminds us today that all who call upon the Lord will be saved. He also reminds us of our responsibility to our fellow human beings, “…how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?”

As Christians, our prayer is powerful because we believe in the redeeming love and power of God. So, we must pray as if all our lives depended upon it. Because they do. Our society is not fine. Our world needs our prayers. Pray with all your heart. And when you can, pray with your feet too!