The sermon for week July 24, 2016
A Back Porch PrayerI grew up in a house with two porches. We used the back porch more. Not just for coming and going, but for grilling and talking with friends while sitting on the porch swing. It was a little bit of heaven on earth those times that small porch was filled with friends, food, talk and laughter.
The back porch is wooden and small. It has a nice vine that provides shade. The front porch is bigger. It is more stately, made out of brick with lovely brick columns. It wrapped around two sides of the room I shared with my sister until high school, making a backwards L. For Lindon. We remodeled, and half of the of the L became my sister’s new room.
The front porch had a commanding views of Taylor and Johnson Avenues; the corner every car in town must pass by. Being a small town, we knew most of those cars. However, Taylor and Johnson is also Route 800 and the coal trucks, gas and oil haulers, and the semi’s hauled their loads. Season after season, they passed by. The dust kicked up by their huge wheels mixed with the carbon they spouted leaving a layer of black soot on the front porch. We didn’t spend much time on that front porch due to the noise and the dirt that not even pressure washing could remove.
When my sister was in the second grade, she prayed every night for a cat. Not just any cat, this prayer was a custom order: a black cat with white paws. Every night. Season after season. Until one Christmas season. We were at school counting down the days to break. My mom was home with the flu. My mom was rarely sick. Single mothers can’t afford the luxury of a sick day, yet this flu had knocked her out.
She didn’t hear the crash not ten feet from our front porch. Nor the sirens of the ambulance, police or fire trucks. Not the whirring blades of the life-flight helicopter. She doesn’t quite remember what woke her. But she awoke and headed out to see what the sound was out the front door.
What she saw, she initially chalked up to a fevered dream. A tractor trailer had detached so that the semi had made the turn onto Johnson Avenue but the trailer was still on Taylor. Only two hydraulic cables connected the two. The crews were working to try to reconnect the truck and trailer. It was slow going. It's a small town, so a crowd had gathered to watch. The police had stopped traffic and were trying to redirect. If this wasn’t a crazy enough scene, what she saw next is legendary.
A black cat with white paws. Walking down the centerline, right down the middle of Route 800. Headed straight for the front porch where my mom stood. He pranced past the police who were obviously holding traffic for him, a grand parade of one. He ignored the lights and the gathered crowd. On walked the cat, tail straight up with the boldness of purpose. He walked right past her, through the front door, and sat in the middle of our living room. He looked to my mom with an expression that said, “Okay. I’m here now. This will do.”
When we arrived home from school, mom informed my sister, “Val, something came for you today.” That is how Alexander the Great Black Cat Lindon came to live with us. SO don’t tell my mom or my sister or me that prayer doesn’t work. We know it does. We just don’t know how prayer works.
A few years later, I’m in my new room that I didn’t have to share with my sister. I was deep in the throws of that first long-term relationship. Oh teenage romance, filled with bad poetry and awkwardness. She was smart and funny and a little shorter than I would have liked. But I made a prayer, night after night for that season, “Please let me marry her.”
I prayed night after night to God’s silence. Then one night, I knew. I don’t know how I knew, I just did. I just knew I would take my future wife to prom. I had my answer. She dumped me two months before my junior prom. Yet a year later, I took a smarter, funnier, and taller young woman to my senior prom. I was 17 when we met at a horse camp and now I’m 34. I’ve known Kate half my life this year. The first half was good, the second half has been great.
I know prayer works, I just don’t know how. There have been times of silence. Times of unanswered prayers, times where I feel like I’ve just been talking to myself. Times of loss and grief where the very thing you have been praying against has happened. Where you find yourself on the front porch in the dirt and soot and ash. Alone. Unheard and neglected, wondering if you’ll ever be clean again. Wondering why God doesn’t answer. I don’t know why those times come, but we will all be there. I don’t know how prayer works, but I know that when you pray you should say, “Our Father…”
Not my, not yours. Our Father. We are related, you and I. Your soul and my soul once sat together in the Beloved’s womb playing footsie (Hafiz).
“Who art in heaven…”
Heaven is all around us. It is wherever you feel loved. Where you don’t have to wonder if you’re happy, you just are.
“Hallowed is your name…”
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty!
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
Community isn’t a front porch thing. It’s a back porch thing. There you find heaven on earth. Great conversation, sharing between family and friends, places where we see our unity and oneness with one another, places where strangers become friends and friends become family. This is God’s will for the world, the good news that Jesus came to share.
“Forgive us our debts, sins, trespasses… as we forgive our debtors, those who sin and trespass against us.”
I mess up a lot. I need God’s grace. I should show my forgiven state by forgiving others.
“Give us today our daily bread…”
What we need. There is enough. God provides. God’s economy is based on abundance not scarcity.
“Lead us not unto temptation, but deliver us from evil..”
I’m often tempted to believe that there’s not enough. My economy is based on scarcity. Deliver us from that temptation and deliver us from the evil we visit upon ourselves and others by thinking this way. The harm we cause when we think you’re just MY Father and not OUR Father. The harm when we think we can only mourn black lives being taken OR polices lives. They are both your children. We can be against police brutality and brutality against police, it’s an economy of abundant grace, not scarcity of division and separation.
“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, For ever and ever.”
Jesus didn’t say this part. It was in the Christianity from the earliest part. It made it's way into the Bible when King James added it in the 1600s. It is impressive that a king added this. I don’t have the power, God has the power, and the glory, and the honor and has created us to be in community and communion with one another. That part should never be uttered as a dirge, but as a song of praise!
The power to deliver a custom order cat to a little girl.
I don’t know how. It worked!
The glory to get Kate and me together.
I don’t know how. It worked! And to God is the honor.
I couldn’t make this up if I tried. All of this is fact and true and I don’t know how… but man alive… It’s working.
Prayer works. So pray.
Hafiz. The Gift, poems by Hafiz the great Sufi Master. Translations by Daniel Ladinsky.Penguin Compass, London, England, 1999. Page 39.