Tag Archive: Lutheran


Persevering in Prayer

This is Sunday’s sermon I preached on Luke 18:1-8 at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, Virginia.

The Gospel reading this morning opens with this: “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  Jesus says the disciples have a need to pray always.  It’s a necessity.  It’s not a suggestion or a tip, but it’s necessary.  That’s pretty strong language.  And maybe as good Lutherans we don’t like to hear that language of “must,” but when we think about prayer as our means of communication with God, it is pretty important stuff!

In thinking about prayer, I spent some time on that most theological of resources, YouTube, watching movie clips in which people try to pray.  While one from the end of Bruce Almighty was very touching and heartfelt, most of them were funny.  Usually, in these scenes people unaccustomed to praying are asked to pray before a meal or before a group of people.  They try to build a prayer, stringing together bits and pieces of religious language they’ve heard, along with song lyrics (a little Godspell perhaps?), and even the Pledge of Allegiance.  People look up from their prayers, eyebrows raised, concern on their faces and awkwardness and hilarity ensue.

Now watching these clips gave me a good chuckle, but these movies also pointed out another truth: many people are uncomfortable with prayer.  Maybe that’s why Jesus spends a great deal of time encouraging the disciples to pray, especially in the Gospel of Luke.  In Luke’s Gospel, we hear about Jesus praying and discussing prayer more often than in the any of the other Gospels.

Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow must have struck his listeners and the early church as pretty funny.  Here’s a vulnerable widow persistently harassing a judge who is neither objective nor impartial to give her justice.  The odds are not in her favor, and yet, she never gives up.  Finally, he gives in, figuring that it’s in his best interest to give her what she wants.  And what we miss as English speakers is that the judge actually says he’s going to act “in order that she doesn’t finally strike him in the eye.”  Yes.  That’s what it says! So Jesus is telling a parable where the powerful judge is worried about a vulnerable, powerless widow giving him a black eye.  This lady might not only physically make him look bad, but also ruin his reputation by continually seeking justice.  The image must have been quite an absurd one to Jesus’ hearers!

Jesus goes on to say that if even this terrible guy gives justice to the widow out of his own selfish interests, how much more will a good and loving God give ear and justice to God’s chosen ones who cry out day and night?

Right before this story, Jesus spoke with the Pharisees and explained that the kingdom of God was already present.  He explained that it was not completely here and that it was unlike any other kingdom they might have seen in the world.  Instead, he said that it was here already, growing in and among people.  He then spoke about how the Son of Man would come again unexpectedly.  It is in this context that we hear about the need to pray always.

In the first communities to receive and hear Luke’s Gospel, the faithful believers were eagerly waiting for Jesus to return and to bring about the fullness of God’s kingdom on earth.  But they needed encouragement to hold on and to be faithful during this period of waiting.  The Romans had destroyed the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, and the believers were trying to figure out what it meant to follow Christ in the Roman Empire.  How long must they wait for God’s reign and justice?  How long must they hold on until Jesus returned?  And how could they hold fast in the meantime?

The answer was to be persistent in prayer.  And the same is true for us today.  Prayer is a means of communicating with God.  As Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic and reformer wrote, “Prayer, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him who we know loves us.”  It’s a way of not only telling God what is on our minds and in our hearts, but of being open to listening to the whispers of the Holy Spirit.  It’s also a way of connecting with one another in community.  Listening to others pray not only inspires us to pray, but also opens us to the concerns and needs of those around us.  And coming before God to intercede for others brings us closer to those for whom we are praying.  Prayer shapes our attitudes toward God and others and transforms our hearts in the process.

Prayer is an incredible gift and yet I still find that I don’t pray as often as I’d like to or as I should.  And maybe it’s the same for you.  I’d love to tell you that I pray every day for an hour, but that would be lying.  When things are difficult, perhaps it is easier to pray more, but what about when things are going pretty well? It has been my experience that God is always patiently and persistently reminding me of my need to pray.  I am reminded of this through others requesting prayer and also through others in the body of Christ reminding me of the importance of prayer.  I also experience God calling me to prayer through that still, small voice that seems to gently say, “spend time with me in prayer.”

And even then, I confess that I sometimes put it off, metaphorically sticking my fingers in my ears and saying, “la la la la – I’ve got other things to do!”  But I’ve found that once I make that time to pray, it is almost always the case that I feel a greater sense of calm and peace.  You see, God always faithfully pursues, calling us to spend time with God in spite of ourselves.  Out of amazing love, God has chosen each and every one of us.  And so, God wants to hear everything that we have to say, even if we’re angry or frustrated with God.  That’s incredible.

But then there are the other times when prayer is a struggle.  Sometimes it seems as if God isn’t listening and that things will never change.  Sometimes the prayers seem to go unanswered.  Sometimes it seems that the right words don’t come and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of that peace or calm showing up.  Sometimes even though we feel called to serve or to take action, it can seem that what we’re doing isn’t making any difference.  What then?

It is then that we are to be persistent – to continue praying and bringing our needs, hurts, hopes and dreams before God in prayer.  It is then that we can remember that Jesus continued praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before the crucifixion even though it was difficult.  It is then that we can remember that Jesus prayed for his disciples and continues to encourage us to pray.  It is then that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  It is then that we persevere and push onward, trusting that God does hear and will act.

And it’s crucial to remember that we are a part of a community.  We’re not just praying alone or for our own needs, but with and for others and they for us.  As Martin Luther wrote in A Simple Way to Pray: “Finally, mark this, that you must always speak the Amen firmly.  Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say ‘yes’ to your prayers.  Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain.  Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, ‘Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth.’  That is what Amen means.”

When Jesus asks if he will find faith when he returns, I think he’s talking about this dogged, messy, stubborn, persistent faith that keeps on praying despite the odds.  It’s a faith that keeps on keeping on even though it doesn’t make any rational sense.  It’s hanging on tightly to God, even when it may seem foolish to others to do so.  It’s the faith that follows the way of the cross, believing that in death there is life.

In the words of one of my favorite singers, Audrey Assad:

My faith is not a fire
As much as it’s a glow
A little burning ember
In my weary soul
And it’s not too much
It’s just enough to give me hope
Because your love moves slow

God calls and empowers us through the Holy Spirit to persistent prayer and faith.  God invites, reminds and emboldens us to keep a steady ember aglow, waiting for God to fan us into faithful flames, capable of setting the world on fire with God’s love.

Unlike the unjust judge, God longs for us to spend time in prayer, pouring out our hearts, silently and aloud, through words and actions, individually and in community.  As Luther reminds us, “prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance.  It is laying hold of His willingness.”  Praying to God is not wearing out a selfish and partial judge, but persistently embracing and enjoying God’s goodness and the relationship God wants to have with us.

In the week ahead, I invite and encourage you to experiment with prayer.  Pray for each member of your family – even the extended family.  Pray for your neighbors.  Pray for Community Lutheran.  Pray for the people you pass on the sidewalk.  Pray for people with whom you have a hard time interacting.  Pray for the person who cuts you off in traffic.  I know, that’s a tough one!  Request that others pray for you.  See what happens! Remember, you don’t have to be eloquent or use big theological words – you are talking to God, the One who knows you better than anyone else, even yourself.  God has given you a voice and a way of praying, so embrace it and use it!  Thanks be to God! Amen.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Audrey Assad singing “Slow:”

Yesterday was Reformation Day, which I started by humming “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”  As a side note, I personally believe that every day should begin with this song! Anyway, after a musical beginning, I headed out early as I do every morning to Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München so that I would make it to my Hebrew class in time.  As I walked into the building from the subway I was thinking about spending time with my husband and one of my best friends later that afternoon.  Half daydreaming, I looked up at the door and there was a sign on it that said the building would be closed on Thursday, November 1 for Allerheiligen (All Saints’ Day).  I grinned, knowing that this day off gave me more time to spend with my hubby and friend, but then I looked pass the paper sign and through the glass door.

Through that door and on the left side of the grand old university hallway was a homeless man, sitting on one of the metal chairs that folds down from out of the wall.  He was wearing a black winter hat and had his hands tucked into his jacket pockets.  His head was leaned forward, bowed down in sleep.  I had seen him there before, wandering the university’s halls or sitting on the chairs on colder days, so I wasn’t really surprised to see him in the building.  However, seeing the note about Allerheiligen – about All Saints’ Day – and looking at this man jarred my senses.  The question that came to mind was: “who are the saints of God?”

On Tuesday, October 30, I had visited the Alte Pinakothek, a gorgeous art gallery featuring medieval and Renaissance art from all over Europe.  A lot of this art is religious in nature, and many of the paintings featured saints with their golden halos and the symbols of their sufferings, deeds, and miracles.  Having minored in Medieval Studies in college, this was all familiar (and wonderful!) to me.  I know a lot of the saints stories and so looking at these paintings featuring these people is kind of like visiting old friends.  But thinking about these depictions in contrast to the man I saw sleeping in the hall of the university… what a world of difference.

“Who are the saints of God?”  “Who are the holy ones of God?”

Are they just those who have lived exemplary lives?
Are the saints limited to those who have been martyred in the name of Christ?
Are they only those who can work miracles?

Martin Luther spoke of Christians at “simul justus et peccator” (simultaneously justified through Christ and sinners).  This means that while we are forgiven and washed clean of all our sins in baptism, we still continue to sin – we are always, at the same time, saints saved through Christ and his righteousness, and sinners.  Crazy!  Through Christ’s loving acts – his death and resurrection – we are all glorious saints, just like in those in the paintings.  At the same time, we are also imperfect people who continue to mess up, hurt ourselves and others, and fall short.  And as sinner/saints, we are dependent on God’s grace and not on what we have done or haven’t done.

And what of the homeless man?  I don’t know his situation or circumstances.  I don’t know his story.  I have no idea whether or not he believes in Christ.  I have no idea if he’s been baptized.  But what if I were to act as if he were one of the holy saints of God?  What if I looked a bit closer and saw Christ in him?  How would this change things?

I still love medieval and Renaissance art.  The vibrant colors and masterful depictions of Biblical stories, classical myths, and saints continue to enchant me.  But looking around, I think that there are other beautiful works of art.  They’re not depictions done in the medium of gold leaf, rich paints or delicate carvings, but depictions artfully crafted by the fingers of God in flesh and blood.  They’re images with flaws and imperfections, shocks and surprises, but maybe if we look a bit harder, we might see a halo poking through.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Homeless Man Sleeping with His Bible”

One Language

So all has been going super awesome here, but things have been quite busy and, once again, I’m later than I’d like to be on my blogging.  But tonight, something caught my attention and I had to write about it to think about and to chew on it some more.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Holy Communion for the past couple months.  Before I left, we heard the Gospel of John’s readings on bread, so I think that got me thinking.  And I preached a couple of those weeks, so that also made me really ponder these texts about Jesus, bread, wine, and Communion.

But I’ve continued thinking about Communion since I’ve been here.  During the past (almost!) two months, I have been absolutely blessed to participate in many different types of services.  Thus far, I’ve been to:

  • two Lutheran services
  • two Catholic services (one more of an open meditation/prayer evening with music)
  • morning and evening devotions here at the Collegium Oecumenicum
  • a joint Thanksgiving service (Germans celebrate this holiday on the first Sunday of October – this year, on the 7th) between the Collegium and the Heilpädagogisches Centrum Augustinum (HPCA) with whom we share space (similar to a L’Arche community)
  • one ecumenical semester opening service at the Collegium
  • two ecumenical services in the style of the Chicago Folk Service at the Collegium

These have been truly rich experiences because they have given me a chance to see different styles and forms of worship, something that is harder to do when one is serving at one place.  However, I have missed Holy Communion.

In Germany, Communion is not practiced as regularly as it is in Lutheran churches back home.  Here, it often seems to take place once a month or so, and when you’re used to receiving Communion once a week or more (between seminary, internship, home visits, etc.), you notice not having it.  And at Catholic services, I do not receive Communion since it goes against their teachings about receiving the sacrament.  The Communion services here at the Collegium, done in the Chicago Folk Service style, have been the only two times I have received that little bit of bread and that sip of wine that have become so important to me.

Even this morning, I was already looking forward to tonight’s service because I knew we would not only sing, pray, and hear God’s word, but that we would also celebrate the Eucharist.  And then, during the service, the most beautiful thing happened.  The Words of Institution had been said (“In the night in which he was betrayed…”) and we formed a half-circle in the tiny chapel.  Then, the pastor gave the bread to the organist and each person passed it on.  I was so excited because at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC those who help lead worship stand in a circle and give each other bread and wine every Sunday.  It’s such a wonderful reminder to me of how we give and receive, of how we need each other, and how we are to live in the body of Christ with one another.

So the pastor gave the wafer to the organist and spoke, naturally, in German: “Nimm hin und iss. Christi Leib, für dich gegeben” (“Take and eat.  Body of Christ, given for you.”).  Well, to a non-native German speaker, to speak these foreign words to others could have been a daunting task.  I know sometimes people get nervous speaking these words in English because they’re such important words.  They are words of promise.  They are words of God’s action in our lives.  And no one wants to mess up speaking God’s promises or acts to another person!

But here’s where the beauty occurred.  The bread reached a man from Brazil and instead of speaking these words in German, he closed his eyes and spoke them in Portuguese.  He spoke these words in the language that was close to his heart and said them the best way he knew how – authentically in his mother tongue.  As we went around the circle, others spoke in English and it was interesting to hear all of the slight variations of these words.  But even with the variations, you could tell that the words people chose and used were the words that meant something to them.  The same happened with the chalice: “Nimm hin und trink. Christi Blut, für dich vergossen.” “Take and drink.  Blood of Christ, poured out/shed for you.”  It was wonderful to hear these words that mean so much to me in different languages and voices.  The variety brought such a richness to the experience and made me think about the feast to come.  It made me think about that feast, that colorful heavenly banquet, where people will be gathered from every corner of the world, from all different backgrounds and times, all speaking one language: praise.

When we finished with Communion, we sang a song that brought the whole experience together for me: “Strahle brechen viele [aus einem Licht]” (“Rays break many [out of one light]”).  The last verse seemed particularly apt:

Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib.
Wir sind Glieder Christi.
Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib
und wir sind eins durch ihn.  (Lyrics found here)

In English: “Members, there are many, but only one body.  We are members of Christ.  Members, there are many, but only one body, and we are one though him.”  And the cool, and really nerdy, thing is that in German, the word for body (Leib) and the word for a loaf of bread (Laib) sound exactly the same when spoken aloud.  Body and bread, together in one sound.  People joined together through bread in the body of Christ through the one language of praise.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Abendmahl” by/von Brunhild Klein-Hennig

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