31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 7, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
No matter what Jesus did, whether it was naming the twelve disciples, healing people, walking across water, or even accepting his impending death, no matter what extraordinary thing Jesus did, there was one thing he always did first – pray.
All four gospels, the Biblical books that record the life, teachings, and good news of Jesus Christ, talk about Jesus praying – in a deserted place, on top of a mountain, in the morning, late in the evening. Time and time again, Jesus stepped apart from the crowds, from his friends and disciples, for time alone with God.
Time to rest in God’s loving presence and be reminded of the words God spoke at Jesus’ baptism “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) Time to reset and shake off the admiration of the crowds as well as the criticism of his detractors. Time to be grounded and renewed in his calling to proclaim the good news of God’s love. Time to sit quietly with God, gaining wisdom and direction for the next step in his journey and ministry.
Although the gospels often record Jesus’ practice of seeking time away for prayer, we can only speculate as to what Jesus did in those times of prayer. Did Jesus have a back and forth conversation with God out loud? Did Jesus sit in silence and soak up God’s spirit? Did he recite prayers from scripture? What was Jesus doing when he went up to that mountaintop or out to that deserted place?
In her book, Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, a wonderful resource I am going to use often in this worship series on prayer, Sybil MacBeth writes about being a “prayer popper”, sending off “spiritual postcards [to God]. Little bits and bytes of adoration, supplication, and information attached to prayer darts [that] speed in God’s direction all day long.” But while postcards are a good means of communication, MacBeth also realizes that:
thinking any relationship will grow when I’m only willing to commit two or three minutes of time or 2 inches by 3 inches of space is delusion…..Though God probably appreciates my regular check-ins, “Hi God, Bye God,” doesn’t feel much like a formula for creating intimacy or a relationship with much depth. (Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, MacBeth, pg 28)
She goes on to write, “Relationships are formed by spending time with people. So it is with God.” (Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, MacBeth, pg 53)
“Relationships are formed by spending time with people. So it is with God.” (Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, MacBeth, pg 53)
Decades ago, I heard this expression that has stuck with me. You cannot call someone your friend until you have shared a pound of salt. Think about how many meals that would be. How much conversation and sharing. How much depth and connection would be formed over the course of those many, many meals and those many, many hours.
We don’t know what Jesus did when he went away to the mountaintop, to the deserted place to pray; however we do know that Jesus often took time to be with God. Jesus invested lots and lots of time in building a close relationship with God.
Think about close relationships in your own life. Think about your relationships that have been formed by hours spent together, shared meals, shared activities, and shared conversations. Think about how these relationships nurture you, refresh you, inspire and support you.
That’s the relationship Jesus had with God. A relationship that was formed by time, time, and more time spent in conversation, connection, and communion with God. A relationship in which Jesus was reminded he is God’s beloved son; a relationship in which Jesus was refreshed for the ministry before him; a relationship that transformed his life and transformed the world.
That’s the relationship Jesus wants for his followers – for us to know we are God’s beloved children; where God can nurture us body, mind, and soul; a relationship that gives us hope and strength to keep working for good; a deep, close relationship with God that changes our lives and changes the world.
That’s the relationship Jesus invites his followers to have with God when he teaches us to pray saying “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9)
“Our Father” is comforting to some, and to others, it might sound patriarchal and outdated; however think about how it sounded to the people of Jesus’ time for Jesus to one say “Our”. Our God, belonging to us, connected to us, loving us. Then, imagine how surprising it must have been for Jesus to invite them to pray with a word that was the equivalent of Daddy.
Jesus invites us to make God familiar, make God like family, our family. And that is only something we can do through time spent together with God.
As we nurture our spiritual practice of prayer, how do we become more connected, more familiar with God? How do we turn “Our Father” into my Father? How do we turn God into my God, my Rock, my Redeemer, Light of my world?
Here are a few suggestions I thought of. One, as we do in the Time of Discernment, begin to set aside 1 minute to be with God each day. As Jesus did, withdraw somewhere to pray and connect with God.
Another thought is to begin your own practice of doodle praying. Take any sheet of paper and write your name for God at the center. Talk to God as you create lines and shapes on the page. Listen to God. Say God’s name. Try out new names for God: Healer, Savior, Creator, Redeemer, Yahweh, Father-Mother-God, Higher Power. Try out new adjectives: Loving, Gracious, Forgiving, Almighty, Transforming, Beloved One. (Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God, MacBeth, pg 42) Let your prayer practice begin and end with God, nurturing familiarity and connection.
And as we share in this sacrament of communion, in this ritual that connects us to God, sit in communion with God as Jesus used to do. As you hold the symbols of Christ’s body and his blood, remember that these are symbols of God’s unconditional love for you. As you hold the bread and cup, soak in this holy time of connection, of intimacy and familiarity with God and remember -you are God’s beloved.
As we walk this Lenten journey, as we walk this journey of faith, as we nurture lives of unceasing prayer, make time to be with God and make God familiar. Reclaim God as our God, your God, my God, and rejoice in the blessings that come through a deep and familiar relationship with yours and mine, our Father-Mother-God, who is in heaven, holy be God’s name.