Generations of Generosity: Revealed in Prayer

Luke 11:9-13

Generations of Generosity: Revealed in Prayer

October 16, 2016 Maple Grove UMC

We are in the middle of this series about our "Generations of Generosity" campaign, and today’s message is called "Revealed in Prayer." When it comes to prayer, some people will tell you, "Be careful what you expect from prayer because you may not get it." At the same time, other people will warn you, "Be careful what you pray for because you just might get it." We’ll talk about both of those concerns today.

This fall, as we always do, we’re asking you prayerfully to consider how God is leading you to support the ministries of our church by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness. I hope you’ve received the stewardship packet in the mail. On November 6 bring both your annual and capital campaign commitment cards to worship and together we’ll dedicate them to God. Please note that there’s a new place on this commitment card to share that you’ve invited someone to Maple Grove this year, which is one of our goals this year and a way of supporting our church by our Witness. What’s more, there’s still time to make that invitation before November 6!

This year, in addition to our annual pledges, we’re asking everyone who can to make an additional three-year commitment to the Generations of Generosity capital campaign, to fund long-term, major, repairs and improvements to this building. You should be receiving, most of you by email--a brochure outlining the priorities and projects in this campaign. I want you to hear this: if your circumstances don’t allow you to make an additional financial commitment at this time, please continue to support only the annual budget and feel good about that. I know that a capital campaign may sound more exciting than the annual budget, but we’re asking that support of the capital campaign be "second mile" giving, an additional sacrifice on top of your regular generosity to the church. Okay?

Something very special will happen here next Sunday. We are going to be celebrating all the ministries of our church (we’ve listed over 150 ministries sponsored or hosted by Maple Grove) and in a simple and heart-felt way we’re going to share how God is changing lives right here all the time. You’ve probably never seen anything quite like it and you won’t want to miss next Sunday.

Last week we looked at the importance of being "grounded in gratitude" and heard about that Samaritan who when he was cured of leprosy came busting back to Jesus, praising God and thanking Jesus with all his heart. We can all be that one--so before we get to today’s focus on prayer, let me share with you a small sampling of the gratitude cards we received las Sunday. You’ll find all the cards in the lower lobby. I tried to select cards that are representative of many people’s responses.

I am most thankful for . . .

*My family and the fact that clean water comes out of my tap

*The love that is so present in so many hearts

*Family, friends, health (and health insurance, someone else adds)

*The people of Maple Grove and all that goes on here,

as well as the opportunity for me to grow and share my faith.

And cookies!

*Being called a child of God.

*That my kids are happy, most of the time.

What I love most about Maple Grove is . . .

*When I walk through the doors, it always feels a little like coming home.

*It’s bringing me back to Jesus.

*A church and pastor that accept me for who I am and my partner.

I love this church!

*That although we may think differently, we love alike!

*The church takes the time and spends the energy to ministry to children.

*Music, music, music!

The prayer that we’re being asked to pray for this campaign is: Lord, what do you want to do through me? I hope you know this prayer by heart. Say it with me: Lord, what do you want to do through me? What I love about this prayer is that it brings together two things that too often get separated: Christian spirituality and Christian action.

In this endlessly violent and unjust world, there are Christians who have grown weary of only praying. Every time, for example, there’s school shooting or hate crime, our leaders call on us to pray, but no changes are made to background checks for gun purchases or to our mental health system. Until it happens again, and we’re called upon to pray again, and again nothing changes. There’s actually a book that came out a couple of years ago called Never Pray Again and it’s subtitled Lift your Head, Unfold Your Hands, and Get to Work.1 I understand the concern behind this book, but I don’t share its understanding of prayer. Prayer is not the enemy of Christian action; prayer is what prompts and guides Christian action.

The gospels catch Jesus at prayer before every important action he takes: before his baptism, before he chooses the twelve disciples, before he tells them about his suffering and death, prior to the Transfiguration, and of course in the Garden of Gethsemane before he goes to the cross. And in today’s Gospel reading Jesus assures us that God hears and attends to every prayer we pray. Walter Wink, one of the great Christian activists of our day, is also a strong believer in the power of prayer. Prayer, he wrote, "changes the world and it changes what is possible to God."2 Prayer really changes things. But our capital campaign prayer—Lord, what do you want to do through me?—suggests that the first thing prayer changes is me and what I’m willing to do for God.

That, I think, is where the phrase--be careful what you pray for, you just might get it—comes in. Be careful when you pray, God, please change the hearts of young people today, because God may choose to do just that, through you. And be careful when you pray, God, please make sure our church building is in good condition, because God may choose to do just that, through you.

But just as the gospels often catch Jesus at prayer, the gospels are also clear that Christians are to participate in the kingdom of God, that Jesus’ followers are people who do the things he did. Christians, therefore, are people who welcome strangers, who care for the sick, who cry out of justice, who love our enemies. When the disciples were concerned about the hungry crowds and wanted to send them away, Jesus said, "No, you give them something to eat." God certainly has been known to do things for people, but more often God does things through people. Maple Grove’s Trustees have been praying for years for God to provide for this grand old building. Well, God has decided to do it, and this Generations of Generosity campaign is how God is going to do it. Lord, what do you want to do through me? That is the perfect convergence of prayer and action, or in this case, of prayer and generosity.

Here’s a story about this convergence of prayer and generosity. It’s a story about Monica and Bill Tenney. Bill several weeks ago started praying our prayer—Lord, what do you want to do through me? And as he would pray that prayer, he’d write down a number, the amount he felt called to give to the capital campaign. And the more Bill prayed, the higher that number got. One day Monica looked at the number Bill was writing down and immediately told him, "Bill, stop praying!" The moral of the story is that prayer really changes things, especially ourselves, so be careful what you pray for. Lord, what do you want to do through me? (By the way, Bill, Monica gave me permission for both of you to tell that story!)

I want to conclude this morning by acknowledging that this prayer really is about our capital campaign and how God will lead each of us in deciding how to support it. I have been praying this prayer every day for several weeks, and sure enough Carolyn and I have decided to give an amount to the capital campaign that feels uncomfortably high for a family with two kids in college at the same time. But it’s also important to know that this is not a prayer only about a capital campaign. Lord, what do you want to do through me? is a fantastic prayer for every aspect of life. And here’s what else has happened since I’ve been praying that prayer. Three or four times recently, I’ve felt the urge to reach out to an old friend or a Maple Grove member I haven’t talked to for a while. Such deep and uplifting conversations have resulted. Could I have reached out to those people any time? Of course, but I didn’t. Prayer changes things. And since I have been praying this prayer, I have changed a long-term habit that was not good for my health. Could I have changed that habit any time in the past ten years? Of course, but I didn’t. Prayer changes things.

I can only imagine all that is going to happen when a whole church is praying that prayer together! Will you say it with me one more time: Lord, what do you want to do through me?

1 Aric Clark, Doug Hagler and Nick Larson, Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands, and Get to Work (Chalice Press, 2014).

2 Walter Wink, "Prayer: History Belongs to the Intercessors," Sojourners (October 1990), 13.

 

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