Praying together for St. Mark’s

Praying hands with a laptop

Join us for real prayer in a virtual context, as we launch a new series of prayer meetings for our church, St. Mark’s Lutheran.

We’ll meet by way of the Zoom video conferencing software on the first Saturday of the month, starting November 7. We’ll pray from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. If you can’t join us online, we hope you’ll pray with us wherever you may be.

All are welcome. To get your Zoom link, fill out this form to contact organizer Margie Dodson.

Today’s Message: How to Pray

Hands folded in prayer

If you could talk with your Creator — would you keep that appointment? What if you knew the Holy Spirit was interceding on your behalf? How do you talk with God anyway?

Interim Pastor David Mueller looks at prayer in his message today, discussing what it is and also what it isn’t.

Join us for our prerecorded worship service, using the link to our YouTube channel below, which goes “live” at 10 a.m. Sunday. You will also find the text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon below.

Also participating in today’s service are Barbara Sheridan, our worship assistant, and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts.

This week’s virtual choir includes: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, Fred Meckley, Jan Meckley, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell, Paige Stebner and Teresa Stebner.

“How to Pray” (Romans 8:26-39)

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

I must admit to having my spirit tested these days as much as any time in recent memory. I like to think of myself as a happy-go-lucky sort of person, who tends to be positive most of the time. I can get depressed, but usually no longer than a day or two. Generally I am happy with myself and am particularly secure as a believing Christian.

The forces attacking us all these days, however, are heavy in the extreme, far too heavy to bear with our typical resources spiritual, emotional, and physical. There is profound political division within our nation, a deadly virus and — at least for now — hotter and muggier than most of us enjoy.

Nothing that I can name then is more important, especially right now, than that we pray without ceasing — that is, regularly. What does that mean? How does it look? What might it accomplish? Please revisit that very special Christian privilege, but before we begin to talk and learn about prayer, let us pray!

Dear Lord, we are being humbled these days and that might just be the greatest benefit of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Allow us to be emptied, forgiven and relieved of all false senses of security. Fill us anew with your love and grace and teach us anew how to pray. In Jesus’ Name, we say, Amen!

Clearly Paul was writing to relatively new Christians in Rome when he shared: “… we do not know how to pray as we ought….” Prayer is such a profoundly beautiful exercise, however, that we might think of ourselves as new Christians. Romans 8 is a jam-packed chapter, but — most important — about prayer.

In Matthew 6:5, we learn what praying is not: “the heaping up of empty phrases … many words.” Also, prayer is not a public but an intimately private matter: “Go into your room and shut the door….” James the Apostle in his letter wrote: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (4:3) 

There is another even more significant revelation about prayer in all four Gospels.

I will stick with Matthew in 26:36-46. There are several extremely revealing truths within this text.

The Last Supper was finished and Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray. In his first petition, he prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (26:39).

The next petition shows a subtle but real change: “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (26:42)

In his last petition we are told he “prayed for the third time, saying the same words.”(26:44)

We may recall that between each of these petitions, he found his disciples taking a nap.

Most significant, however, is what Jesus said following prayer: “Get up, let us be going, my betrayer is at hand.” (26:46) He was ready to face his reality!

The sign on your kitchen wall or on a bumper sticker piously proclaims: “Prayer changes things!”

The reason I am not so sure about that is that it did not work that way for Jesus. His circumstances changed not; he went to the cross.

Often our prayers ask God to change everything and everyone around us but not us, when all too often what needs to change is us. We may need to face our reality and not escape it!

The pleasures James reports we pray for are not all bad. Praying for family, friends, community, country and the like seem so benign. But praying for any of those can often require an empowerment of us so that we might become more significant agents in the family’s or country’s well-being.

And there is more. Paul in Romans 8 makes a definite connection between the Holy Spirit and prayer. As I have shared several times previously, the Greek word “pneuma” can mean spirit, breath, wind. This time around, the “breath” helps us in our weakness … with “sighs too deep for words.” The “breath,” writes Paul: “… intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

If we allow this biblical truth to set with us and sink deeply into our hearts and minds, what we get is that prayer is spiritual breathing, that is, inhaling the word and will of God and exhaling his praise. When that happens, we are fully alive; when it does not, we are not spiritually alive. So breathe, folks, that beautiful and powerful fresh and clean air of the “Holy Breath.”

So far then we are to admit that when it comes to prayer we do not know what we are doing. We offer many words and so many of those words are about changing everything and everyone around us but not ourselves.

When we pray appropriately, we are breathing the breath of God. The promise which flows from this living exercise is that “… all things work together for good for those who love God.” (8:28)

The primary problem I have and share with many if not most of you is timing. God’s promises are seldom fulfilled immediately. We may have to wait a while or a whale of a long time.

What happens in this at times painful meantime is that we are promised that nothing … NOTHING … NOTHING we can name “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The significance of this in a practical way cannot be overstated. I belong to God in Jesus Christ. I have been called by name, made his own and have God’s promise never to leave nor to forsake me!

So, I or a loved one having a significant medical issue is among all other things an opportunity for me to remember joyfully that I belong to Christ Jesus. That can never mean that I sit back and lend no support to the medical professionals. It never means that in any way I fail to be supportive of the loved one. I still do everything reasonable and potentially helpful that I can, but first and foremost I believe that whatever “this” is cannot separate me from the love of God.

If one loses a job, secular and spiritual resources will tell you that whining and complaining and being dragged down won’t help, but remembering who you are in Christ Jesus can never hurt you in your pursuit of another job!

Given the current shape of things political, the current attack of things viral, whatever else is happening or not in your personal life, breathe easy, breathe in the word, will and wonder of God and breathe out his praise and your faith in his promises. That is exactly what prayer is and if it changes anything for sure, it will change you and you will love the change because it will place you in the best possible position and condition to be an agent of positive change in others.

Amen.

A Guide for Prayer and Contemplation on Holy Saturday

Pascha icon

Prepared by Cliff Smith

 

HE SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE,

WAS CRUCIFIED, DIED AND WAS BURIED.

HE DESCENDED INTO HELL.

Apostles’ Creed

 

CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD,

TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH,

AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE.

Troparion of Pascha

Eastern Orthodox Liturgy

 

We typically overlook the significance of Holy Saturday, the day which the Eastern Church highlights as the Blessed Sabbath, the “Great and Holy Sabbath.” In the Orthodox tradition this is not only the day that Christ reposed in the earth, but the day that Christ “descended into hell” (or “to the dead”), “trampling down death by death.”

Great Saturday is the “middle day” which meaningfully connects the sorrow of Good Friday with the joy of Easter resurrection. For Holy Saturday is precisely the day of transformation, the day when victory grows from inside the defeat, the day when Christ’s divine Light and Love descended into the depths of the earth, shattering death, sin and evil, and all the powers of darkness.

The Orthodox Church emphasizes the image and idea that the descent into hell is the last and culminating step in the act of the Incarnation of God. It is the act of the One who is the source and giver of life invading the realm of death. It expressed the utter completeness and fullness of the redemption which Christ offers to all the human race and all of creation. It powerfully proclaims: There is no place God is not! All things and all places are filled with God, with His life and His light.

Each feast in the Orthodox world has its particular icon. The Easter (or Pascha) icon is named “The Descent Into Hell.” (For the Eastern Church, an icon is not simply a religious picture. It is a depiction that, when related to contemplatively, becomes a medium of revelation, a grace-inspired encounter with the Divine. Think of the icon as a window fostering a communion between the divine archetype imaged in the icon and you, the praying contemplator).

In “The Descent Into Hell” icon, Christ is shown bringing first Adam and Eve and then all the righteous of former times out of the place of death. Hell is shown as a gaping black hole into which Christ descends as conqueror. The gates of death are shattered and shown lying across one another in the shape of a cross. This icon leads us to image and to “feel” that by the powerful action of descending into hell, Christ makes death itself the final step to “life without end.”

Wendy M. Wright, in The Rising, writes that the descent to the dead as set forth in the Orthodox tradition “speaks symbolically to the length and breadth of divine compassion, to the extent of the redemptive promise and to the utter intimacy of a God whose love penetrates to the furthest reaches of creation’s fallen depths.” “Christ is Risen!” from the dead and has opened for us the way to resurrection. 

Meditate prayerfully upon these antiphons from the Mattins Service on Holy and Great Saturday of the Orthodox Church. What images do they prompt in you? What insights or understandings? What inspirations? What new or renewed dedications? What “new life” begins to stir? Pray them and then let God speak to you.

  • Who can describe this strange and terrible thing? The Lord of Creation today accepts the Passion and dies for our sake?
  • O strange wonder, new to man! He who granted me the breath of life is carried lifeless in Joseph’s hands to burial.
  • O Life, how canst Thou die? How canst Thou dwell in a tomb? Yet Thou dost destroy death’s kingdom and raise the dead from hell.
  • By dying, O my God, Thou puttest death to death through Thy divine power.
  • When Thou wast laid in a tomb, O Christ the Creator, the foundations of hell were shaken and the graves of mortal men were opened.
  • The flesh of God is hidden now beneath the earth, like a candle underneath a bushel, and it drives away the darkness in hell.
  • Buried in the earth like a grain of wheat, Thou hast yielded a rich harvest, rising to life the mortal sons of Adam.
  • Dead in outward appearance, yet alive as God, O Jesus, Thou leadest up the fallen from earth to heaven.
  • Christ the Life, by tasting death, has delivered mortal men from death, and now gives life to all.
  • Willingly, O Saviour, Thou hast gone down beneath the earth, and Thou hast restored the dead to life, leading them back to the glory of the Father.
  • How great the joy, how full the gladness, that Thou hast brought to those in hell, shining as lightning in its gloomy depths.
  • O my Jesus, Fountain of Life, Thou hast brought me back to life when I was dead through bitter sin.
  • The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy mercy: teach me thy statutes and thy way of goodness.
  • Help me, and I shall be saved, and my study shall be ever in thy statutes.
  • Let Thy mercy come also upon me, O Lord, even thy salvation, according to Thy word.
  • How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.
  • Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
  • My soul is continually in Thy hands.
  • O life-giving Vine, Thou wast lifted up from the earth, yet hast thou poured out the wine of salvation. I praise Thy Passion, and Thy Cross, and Thy Descent to the dead.
  • The whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing O Word, that thou holdest all in unity.

From The Lenten Triodion of the Orthodox Church

SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND PRAYER

  • In today’s world, where do the “powers of darkness” and evil seem to reign supreme? Imagine Christ’s light and redeeming love penetrating and transforming these “realms of the dead” in life. What would life be like then? Pray that it may be so.
  • Pray that the leaders and peoples of all Nations may repent, give up hatred and killing, and seek love and abiding peace.
  • Who do you regard as the “Enemy” in the world or in your own life? Pray to God for your enemies.
  • What are the “wrongful ways” within yourself? At this time in your life, what do you want to “give death to,” so that “new life in Christ” can be realized?
  • Pray for the forgiveness of anything for which you seek pardon and absolution. Allow Christ’s merciful and forgiving love to “descend” to the depths of your being.
  • Bring to mind and offer thankful prayer for the remembered lives of those loved and significant persons in your life who have died.
  • Pray for the restoration of all creation, and for that fullness of time when

He will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more.

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

Revelation 21:4

 

RESURRECTION MORNING

Will resurrection morning come? Grave cloths

and spices veil that mutilated flesh

Love made into a man for us. Conspiring darkness

of this stony sepulchre curves a sheltering vault

about the corpse of God.

 

Night-silent are all birds

and winds make no sound, waiting. Rocks

are massive sentinels honey-combed with tombs.

The guards lean on their spears, mistrustful in the mute

uncanny vigilance of this garden for the dead.

 

Out of the night I cry unto thee, O Lord,

and in the hollow sound shell of my everlasting tomb

I raise my death-stopped voice and sing

the canticle of the grave, the song of annihilation.

 

Will resurrection morning come?

Who could have thought such kingly limbs could lie so still!

O long this vigil to the dawn!

World that Word spoke strains for the lilt of his stricken tongue,

yearns, shocked, for the press of his unstirring foot.

No night songster lifts its beak. No moon gleams.

Darkness over the face of the earth…. The brooding night

envelopes those that slew and those that mourn the slain.

Magdalen lies down in the tent of her hair, and weeps.

 

Out of the night I cry unto thee, O lord!

In the black, bitter salt shrubs of the desert,

in the cruel eclipse, in the hollow pit of emptiness, 

I will wait for thee, Lord, as thou commandest me.

 

Will resurrection morning come?

Who stirs in the womb-heavy dimness?

(The root in the deep dungeons of the soil,

the sap in the trunk’s secret tunnels, the seed

swelling to life in the grave of  last year’s mold.)

 

Death where is your sting?

Light levels the dark

like a warrior’s shaft. The soldiers swoon with fear

as the indomitable Word speaks the universe once more.

In the sleeping land

a gray dawn lips the rim of the world and turns to gold.

Sorrow lasts but a night, and joy has come with the sun.

 

Out of the night I cry unto thee, O Lord.

The terror of the grave surrounds me with dread —

but thou art my help in time of trouble, my rock:

my soul waits patiently for thy perpetual light.

Barbara Dent

From: My Only Friend Is Darkness

 

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,

Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;

Love lives again, that with the dead has been:

Love is come again, Like wheat that springeth green.

 

In the grave they laid him, Love whom men had slain,

Thinking that he would never wake again,

Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;

Love is come again, Like wheat that springeth green.

 

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,

He that for three days in the grave has lain;

Quick from the dead, my risen Lord is seen.

Love is come again, Like wheat that springeth green.

 

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,

Thy touch can call us back to life again,

Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been.

Love is come again, Like wheat that springeth green.

French carol

Text: John M. C. Crum

Advent Prayer Vigil

Take a break from the hustle and bustle and join us in our sanctuary for the Advent Prayer Vigil.

St. Mark's sanctuaryThe Prayer Vigil offers time to sit in silence, quiet the self and to be still and know that God is God. It is time to prayerfully meditate on Advent – the coming of Christ – and to know him as Emmanuel, “God with us,” who has the power to transform our hearts, lives and even this broken world in which we live.
Continue reading “Advent Prayer Vigil”