Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dancing to a different drum

Easter VI
Acts 16:6-15

Here at Holden Village we claim that our daily rhythms say much about who we are.  We say that the flow of our activities, the beat of the schedule and the tradition of daily worship is not just something we do, but stems out of our very core values.  Out of this rhythm there is one activity in particular that repeats over and over again. Before meals, when we're saying good bye, at least once during each vespers service and at least six times during a Eucharistic service, for an extended time on Friday nights and set to music on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings and any other time we feel so moved...we pray.  Here, at Holden Village, we pray A LOT! 

Because of the sheer volume of prayer that happens during one day I think we can safely say that prayer is not just a part of our daily rhythms, but it is the bass drum beating strongly and consistently – laying the beat that all other beats and sounds have to form to it and follow its lead.

Prayer is a strong beat to the dance we dance here, yet it is probably the most difficult beat to define and measure – if we surveyed the room as to why we pray the answers would most certainly vary drastically. The impact of any one prayer could be significant for one person while it flew right over the head of the next person.  The other activities of the village --- eating, working, eating, learning, eating, hiking – these activities are much easier to find the common denominator.  We eat to nourish our bodies and we delight in meals prepared with integrity and creativity.  This is why we eat and this is why we eat together – but why, oh why do we pray? And why, oh why do we pray so very often?

As I went down to the river to pray, studying about the good ole way
and who shall wear the robe and crown good Lord show me the way. 
Oh brothers lets go down, lets go down come on down. 
Oh brothers lets go down down in the river to pray.

In the reading from Acts we heard about a group of women who were praying.  Did that detail get by you? It would be very easily missed – the story from Acts was filled with geography and telling about the mission of Paul and his buddies as they traveled around preaching and sharing the gospel.  The Spirit of the Lord stopped them when they tried to preach in Asia, the Spirit of the Lord stopped them when they tried to minister in Bithynia. Finally Paul had a vision at night – that a man from Macedonia came to him and asked that Paul would travel to Macedonia to help them.

The traveling band went straight away to Phillippi – the leading city in the district, and not just a city but a Roman colony.  Paul and his friends went straight to the political heart in the middle of the city where Rome ruled and the persistent movement that Jesus had started was seen as irritating and troublesome. Paul had led his church into the hands of great power and danger. 

Yet, Acts does not elaborate on that story.  We do not hear details of all that went on inside the city gates.  Rather we hear about the Sabbath and how on the Lord's day Paul led his people down to the river because they had heard that was a place of prayer.  Right outside the metropolis, along the bank of the river were a group of women gathered together in prayer.  It is a beautiful image to think of this quiet, unassuming gathering praying and doing what they know to do right along side the Roman empire – a political and powerful giant.  And the women were praying.

As I went down to the river to pray, studying about the good ole way
and who shall wear the robe and crown good Lord show me the way. 
Oh sisters lets go down, lets go down come on down. 
Oh sister lets go down down in the river to pray.

Down at the river we meet at women named Lydia.  All we know of her is that she worships God and was listening to Paul and his companions.  God opened Lydia's heart to hear and she and her whole household were baptized.  Its quite the progression and it happens so fast – a faithful woman is listening, then baptized and then opens her house to the traveling ministry.  And from this meeting and this time of listening at the river the church in Phillippi is born.  If you are familiar with Paul's letter to the church in Phillippi you know that this church became his beloved church family.  And it started here, at the river, outside the city limits when someone women were praying.

Does it make you wonder what Lydia's prayer life was like? Did she sit silently at the river's edge just listening for God's voice? Did she wail loudly her laments and hopes to a God who was known for responding in equally dramatic ways? Did she spend time crafting eloquent sentences to impress the other women at the river? Did she bring a lists of “i wannas” – like our children do for Santa?

I wonder about Lydia's prayer life because it seems so effective! Prayer, listening, baptism, church – famous ministry that is a legend in the Christian story forever.  Something powerful was moving down by the river that day...

There is a lot we will not know about the power of prayer.  What we do know is that we are told to “pray without ceasing” and we hear that Jesus spent a lot of his time on earth in prayer.  Jesus also spent a lot of his teaching time focused on prayer and we know that prayer was a major component in the continuing mission of the spreading of the good news throughout the ages. 

In tonight's gospel reading Jesus promises to send us the Advocate – the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that Jesus says in the one who prays for us with sighs too deep for words, it is the Holy Spirit that moves us, inspires us, gives us words or gives us the wisdom to sit and listen whenever we enter into the mystery of prayer.

The story from Acts feels familiar these days.  A little group of faithful people gathering together to pray by Railroad creek...nearby, behind gates there is a metropolis of sorts – with resources, chains of commands, politics and different agendas.  These days its easy to feel like the silly younger brother who cannot contribute as much or make such a big difference.  But as we heard with Lydia, who faithfully gathered at the river to pray---something powerful can happen when God's people pray.  The power dynamic shifts when we measure ourselves and our purpose by the Holy Spirit and trust that we have a part, an important and urgent part in the spreading of the good news and being a child who listens to God and even talks back once in awhile.

Perhaps, prayer is like dancing, partner dancing to be exact.  In the dance there are two people involved, each moving to music that cannot be seen – only felt and followed.  In the dance one person sweeps to the right and the other must follow in order to stay together.  There is the gentle influence one way, then another.  There is energy that flows from one hand to the other, while each partner remains distinct and independent – they are also linked and part of a movement.  The whole point of the dance is to move together to the music, to make beautiful shapes and graceful positions.

Here at Holden Village we pray all of the time.  And I am not presumptuous enough to say we've come any closer to pinpointing why we do that, or what is the “right” way to pray...but we have heard from Jesus tonight, we have heard him say, “Peace I give you, I do not give as the world gives, let not your heart be no be afraid.”  And that is a promise for the world to experience. Prayer is a way, an invitation and a time to draw nearer to this peace.  Joining the music with the dancing Holy Spirit and following the bass drum of our constant and persistent prayers.

We cannot measure the healing capacity of a hug – yet we keep doing that.
Husbands, wives and partners have no guarantee for the fidelity of their beloved – yet we will keep on taking vows and putting our trust in wayward humans.
We will have no perfect understanding of all that exists in a prayer life or the exchange between God and mortal – yet, we will keep gathering together at the river, around the table, on Friday nights, in eloquent writings and in still silence – by faith we will gather together to pray.

Come on sinners...

As I went down to the river to pray, studying about the good ole way
and who shall wear the robe and crown good Lord show me the way. 
Oh sinners lets go down, lets go down come on down.
Oh sinners lets go down down in the river to pray.


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