Saturday, July 23, 2016

Teach us to pray (A)


Ordination of Carol Seilhymer

Good afternoon, let me begin with a few words of thanks. I am so grateful to Carol and Steve for this invitation to preach on this milestone day in your life, and I’m so grateful to Pastor Mark (Ziemann) for welcoming me to have this role today. It was a joy to serve LCP as your interim pastor a few years back, and to work with Carol here at that time; and now, it’s a joy to be your neighbor… a close enough neighbor to run into you from time to time and get to celebrate days of celebration with you. So, thank you.

Here’s the story of Jesus that Carol has chosen for this day—in a certain place, Jesus was praying. Midway through Jesus’ ministry, midway through the disciples’ journey with this amazing teacher, they notice… Jesus prays, and amazing things happen. And suddenly, they’re filled with curiosity. Huh! I wonder… I wonder if we could do that?
You know, John taught his disciples to pray… why not us?

It reminds me of a story that I heard this summer about the great musician and teacher Shinichi Suzuki. He had an adult student whose 3-year-old son came to listen to his violin lesson and soon, this tiny child was begging to play the violin, so much so that his father asked Dr. Suzuki if he could teach him. At first, Dr. Suzuki was skeptical. How could a 3-year-old play the violin? It’s a very complicated instrument. But as he thought about it, he realized that 3-year-olds could speak Japanese, a very complicated language. How did they do it? They watched, they imitated, they learned bit by bit. And so he began to break down the tasks of playing violin into parts so small that with practice, even a 3-year-old could begin. This week, set your feet. Got that? Now this next week, we'll move the bow up like a rocket, down like the rain… later we’ll hold a box under the chin. My mother-in-law, a violinist an violin teacher herself, describes how she was skeptical about tiny children playing until in 1985 she met Dr. Suzuki, and heard him teach, and suddenly, she saw the Suzuki method in a whole new light, realizing how it used the gifts that children already bring to help them do amazing things.

I imagine this is what it must have felt like when Jesus taught the disciples to pray. It’s not that these ideas didn’t exist before this moment. The prayer that Jesus taught is actually a beautiful compilation and distillation of ideas that are all throughout the Jewish scriptures and would have been present in Jewish life… but Jesus gathers them together, and teaches them in a way that opens up an accessible relationship with God in a beautiful, fresh way.

This is what you, Carol, will be asked to do… to teach and preach, to administer the sacraments, to help open up an accessible relationship with God in a beautiful, fresh way, and you are and will be wonderful at it.

But this is not only Carol’s task as she becomes pastor. You know this because you’ve walked with Carol on the days up to this day… she’s been practicing this for quite awhile, and she’s been doing it in communities where many are called to do this… not just those ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament.

From the waters of Baptism, from the moment we receive the bread, from the first moment of prayer (whether musical, spoken, or danced) God invites us into a new, fresh relationship, with God… and then with all of humanity and all creation. Lutherans are fond of saying, this is God’s call from birth, from baptism, this is God’s lifelong call to each of us. Whether we feel qualified and capable or not, God calls people and makes us capable. And that’s not to minimize at all the reason we’re gathered here today, to celebrate this intentional Word and Sacrament ordained ministry that Carol has prepared to do and will do in Montana, but it’s just to say that God calls pastors and God calls us all. Carol is called to preach the gospel, using words when necessary,[1] and each one of us, as we go out from worship, might be the only gospel that a neighbor or stranger hears… so the call to us all is vitally important.

God’s call, God’s love, God’s abundance can be difficult to believe when we’re in the wilderness. As someone embarking on a great adventure to the west…Montana’s northwestern parts with mountain ranges in view… leaving to serve congregations that are most certainly different than here, where you have been loved and nurtured… As someone going as a stranger into the wilderness of ministry…. There will almost certainly be days and weeks and months when you will breathe deep and wonder where is God in all this?

In those moments, you may think back to times at Lutheran Church of Peace, Prairie Star ministries, and Redeemer Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake, and you’ll remember them as havens of goodness and abundance… sometimes, if we aren’t sucked into nostalgia or escapism, the memory of God’s faithfulness in the past can ground us as new challenges emerge.

But what will really sustain you is not only the memory of God’s faithfulness in these beloved places of your past, but the promise that God is fully and actively present with you right where you are, even when it’s deep in the wilderness. Jesus says this about prayer.

Knock, and the door will be opened to you.

Seek, and you will find.

Ask, and it will be given to you.

And there will most certainly be times when you’ll think in sadness and doubt, ”I just wish I could believe that!”

Jesus is making an amazing claim about God—that God is there waiting to open, to reveal, to give not only we really need but even the desires of our hearts.

Even though we keep worrying about God, imagining God shaking a finger at us, or laughing at our mistakes… Even if we say the false mantra “be careful what you pray for!” (as if God is ready to fool or punish or give us a poisonous snake or a stinging scorpion)… God is not like that at all. In sharp contrast to our experiences of betrayal in life, God gives good gifts. A fish, not a snake. An egg, not a scorpion. Bread for today, forgiveness of our debts, and opportunities to practice forgiveness. God persistently gives good gifts, when we’re right at home, but maybe especially when we’re going off to adventures unknown. Carol, as you are ordained today and become officially a pastor in our midst… as you head to Montana to offer your gifts with the people of First Lutheran in Plains and Our Saviour’s In Thompson Falls, we give thanks to Christ who has taught you to pray so that you can embody and preach and teach that good news. We give thanks to God who will provide open spaces, questions, answers, and gifts in new and fresh ways. We give thanks to the Holy Spirit who calls you to go out with good courage, knowing that God’s hand is leading and God’s love is supporting you. Thanks be to God.

[1] Words from St. Francis

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