31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 6, 2015
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
It took Thomas Edison 1,000 attempts before he successfully created the light bulb. It took Michelangelo four years to finish the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, although he did not paint that entire time. He was delayed by numerous problems from wet weather that interfered with the plaster to the Pope waging wars and being ill to the point of last rites being administered.
It took Diana Nyad five attempts over the course of 36 years to become the first woman to swim from Cuba to the United States without a shark cage, and Abraham Lincoln was defeated six times in his initial attempts to run for public office.
Persistence. These people all had persistence. It’s an overlooked virtue these days, but imagine how many inventions and groundbreaking accomplishments would never have come to be without persistence.
In our Bible passage from Luke this morning, Jesus speaks about persistence, about prayer and persistence. Jesus’ disciples ask him how to pray, and he tells them a story about a man needing bread to feed an unexpected guest and going to his friend and neighbor for help. The neighbor says, “It’s too late. I’m in bed. I have all of my children settled in bed. Go away.” And Jesus says, “I tell you, even though [the neighbor] will not get up and give [the man] anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence, he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” (Luke 11:8)
And then Jesus shares these still pretty commonly known words, “Ask, and it will be given; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Luke 11:9)
Even in our modern times, when people don’t know a lot of Bible passages, – these words, “Ask, and it will be given; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9) are often quoted or paraphrased when someone is wondering if they should ask that big question, if they should try that new thing. ‘Well, you know,’ we might say, ‘Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given.”’
But Jesus did not really mean that. This sentence’s connotation is significantly changed when it is separated from the story about persistence that comes before it. It’s not about asking once; it’s not about seeking one time; it’s not about a single knock. God is not a genie, where we have only to ask to get our wish.
Prayer is not wish granting. Prayer is about persistence.
Today, we come to the end of our summer of prayer. For eleven weeks, we have examined different aspects of prayer. For eleven weeks, we have committed ourselves to the spiritual practice of prayer. For eleven weeks, we have prayed prayers of thanksgiving to God, offered God our worries, sat in silence with God, asked God to be with us on our journey of faith, offered God our prayers night and day, prayed for our special concerns, prayed for those we love and those we struggle to love, prayed intercessory prayers for other concerns, shared prayers for the world, and asked the Holy Spirit to move in and through our lives. Today, we get to the end of the line, to the very last prayer bead, a cross for the Risen Jesus.
How did your summer of prayer go? Did you develop a habit of prayer? Did you deepen your habit of prayer? What was your intention, what did you hope for when the summer of prayer began?
All summer, these prayer beads have been very popular. Kathy and her crew have barely been able to keep up with the demand. Clearly, these prayer bead strands have spoken to a deep desire in people’s hearts, the desire to connect more deeply with God, the desire to cultivate a spiritual practice of prayer that would transform our lives.
What was your intention, what were your hopes for yourself when the summer of prayer began?
Did you fulfill those intentions and hopes? Do you feel like you have grounded yourself more deeply in prayer? Or are you still wishing for more?
Regardless of whether you fulfilled your intentions or not, don’t let the end of our summer of prayer be the end of the line for your spiritual practice of prayer.
After all, Thomas Edison did not stop with the light bulb. He went on to invent a distribution system for electricity, a 2-way telegraph, and multiple motion picture cameras.
A month after she swam 110 miles in 53 hours, in the open sea, Diana Nyad, participated in “Swim for Relief” and swam for 48 hours, raising $105,000 to benefit the survivors of Hurricane Sandy.
And when Michelangelo finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, he went on to create even more frescos and sculptures and was even the architect for the famous St. Peter’s Basilica.
Think about how many wonderful things have come about in the world because of persistence. Think about how many wonderful things have come about in your own life because of persistence.
Imagine how the spiritual practice of prayer and thanksgiving, intercession and openness to God, will transform your life if you are persistent about it.
So set your prayer beads someplace you will see them daily: in the middle of the kitchen table, by the coffee maker, in your car’s cup holder. Let this tool remind you daily to pray. Let this tool inspire you to turn to God with everything.
When we choose star gifts in January, we are asked to place them someplace we will see them every day so we can reflect upon this word God is leading us by. Sadly, I often hear the next January that people have put their star gifts in a coat pocket and forgotten them, or put them on the back of a door that never gets opened. Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t let your prayer beads get out of sight. Put them someplace you will see them every day.
And let the spiritual practice of prayer transform you. Because it will. I don’t know how it works exactly, but prayer is powerful. Prayer transforms. Our lives and others.
We need to, we have to be persistent in our praying if we are going to follow Jesus. Because having the discipline to be Christ’s disciples is not easy. Jesus tells us that if any want to follow him, they need to pick up their cross. We hear that, but we don’t always understand it. We don’t always embrace it. We want the love without the hard work; we want the joy without the effort and accountability; we want the blessing without the giving.
That’s not how the way of Jesus Christ works. We are called to be disciples. We are called to pick up our crosses and go out into the world and love unconditionally, share the good news, baptize and make disciples, and transform the darkness into light.
The way of Christ is not easy. It requires discipline and persistence. We need to pray daily if we are going to walk this path of Jesus. We need to pray with every breath if we are going to forgive everyone indebted to us as freely as God forgives us. We need to pray all the time if we are going to truly trust God for our daily bread. We need to pray, pray, pray if we are going to have faith in the times of trial.
As Christ’s disciples, we do not shy away from the hard work; we are unafraid to pick up our crosses and follow him, in prayer, in service, and in love.
We have come to the end of the line with our summer of prayer and so we do exactly that, we pick up our crosses, and we follow Jesus, and we persistently pray, trusting that the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus” and transform our lives with thanksgiving and our world with love.