Sermon Text: Here I Stand; and I Say a Prayer
From the Celtic tradition are these beautiful words: “Here I stand; and I say a prayer.” In Luke’s Gospel account that we just heard, Jesus is teaching his disciples and us again about prayer, about prayer’s necessity, prayer’s basic nature, and prayer’s vital importance in the life and humanity we were created to share with God and with each other. When we listen carefully to this passage, we could almost imagine hearing each of the two men in the story uttering something like those very words, “Here I stand; and I say a prayer.” Both men have come to the Temple to pray. It might feel easy to begin disparaging one or the other of the men for how they are presenting themselves and picturing how each one is offering prayer to God, but let’s try to see these two individuals as God sees them. First and foremost, let’s acknowledge they both have come to the Temple to pray. They could have stayed home or wandered off somewhere else, but they have come to the Temple to pray. Let’s imagine that neither of the two is actually talking to himself instead of to God or that one is beating himself up with wounding words because he sees himself in such a poor light. They have both come into the presence of God – to pray. And God is listening to each of them, and we trust that God would hear them say, “Here I stand; and I say a prayer.”
This is a story about two men, a Pharisee and a Tax Collector, men from very different worlds. But let’s not shove them into separate corners and start focusing on how each is different from the other. Let’s not begin to believe that one is better or worse than the other because of the way they do present themselves in this story. But here’s the truth - God makes NO distinction between the two of them! Neither man is superior to the other, and neither of them is human refuse. Their prayers, our prayers, our conversations with God are not regulated by any social or class distinctions or hierarchies. These men, like all other persons, have equal access to God (Eugene Peterson). Luke reminds us that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit endeavor to include all persons in like manner – Pharisees, tax collectors, men, women, old, young, rich, poor, sick, healthy, honest, dishonest, upright, conniving, saints, sinners, educated, uneducated, beloved persons of God regardless of gender, religion, or political affinities. God makes no distinctions. We are all loved. And we are listened to - EP reminds us, “Get used to being listened to by God!” (I love to tell this to the men and women I visit at the jail, when they claim that God is not listening to them, that God would not want to bother with them. Surprise, beloved, God is listening to you!)
If we want or need to make distinctions about people and their ways of praying, let’s remember that prayer is a conversation time with God. Go deep with God; dig down into ourselves where the prayers begin, where the things we want to say to God and hear from God start to grow. Remember that we are speaking directly with God.
A friend called me recently to say that she has stopped praying. It took nearly an hour to talk her off the ledge! She finally came to her own conclusion that she is so busy listing all the righteous things she does to get God to hear her, like some people believe the Pharisee does, that she forgets about God. By her own admission, her prayers are directed toward herself instead of toward God. “Wait a minute!”, you might be thinking. “Didn’t we hear Paul listing his accomplishments in his letter to Timothy?” Yes, but Paul knows that the source of these good qualities and actions come from God, and he is eager to give credit where it is due. All of us, Pharisee, Tax Collector, whoever we may be, possess the divine gift urging us to call out to God! “Here I stand; and I say a prayer!” God is listening!
So – now, here I stand with beautiful prayer to share with you from Jewish Liturgy. “Evening Prayer For The Sabbath”. Remember, we are speaking to God.
In this moment of silent communion with Thee, O Lord, a still small voice speaks in the depth of my spirit.
It speaks to me of the things I must do to attain holy kinship with Thee and to grow in the likeness of Thee.
I must do my allotted task with unflagging faithfulness even though the eye of no taskmaster is on me.
I must be gentle in the face of ingratitude or when slander distorts my noblest motives.
I must come to the end of each day with a feeling that I have used its gifts gratefully and faced its trials bravely.
O Lord, help me to be ever more like Thee, holy for Thou art holy,
loving for Thou art love.
Speak to me, then, Lord, as I seek Thee again and again in the stillness of meditation, until Thy bidding shall at last become for me a hallowed discipline, a familiar way of life. AMEN.