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Honest Prayer

Honest Prayer

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 — Week of Proper 16

John Bunyan, Writer, 1688

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)

Psalms 119:1-24 (morning) // 12, 13, 14 (evening)

Job 6:1; 7:1-21

Acts 10:1-16

John 7:1-13

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

“God, leave me alone!” is Job’s cry. He is haunted and suffering. Bad dreams and long sleepless nights of tossing. Illness that will not improve. His only way out is death.

He parodies Psalm 8, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” That psalm thanks God for glorifying human beings beyond our deserving. Job turns the psalm on its ear, asking God, why do you pay so much attention to us to make us so miserable? Just look the other way and leave us alone, he tells God. He’ll be dead and gone soon, “as the cloud fades and vanishes, so those who go down to Sheol do not come up; they return no more to their houses, nor do their places know them any more. …I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.” Death will be his relief from suffering and also his escape from God’s hand.

One of the messages of the story of Job is that God accepts such frank lament and complaint. Job is an example of honesty. He can tell God what he really thinks without covering it with pieties or respectful “prayerful” language. This is the real language of prayer from the heart. Job blasts God with his anger and hurt. He shows us how to speak forthrightly to God. We can tell God anything.

In fact, when we are angry or hurt, it is helpful to direct our fury toward God. God is big enough to take it. If we project our anger and hurt on another human being, we are likely to hurt or confuse that person. If we project our anger and hurt inwardly, we are likely to become depressed. The healthiest and safest way to express our deepest and most conflictive emotions is to direct them to God in fierce honesty.

Sometimes we hear nothing in response.

Sometimes we sense that though we hear nothing, God is still there. God does not depart just because we have challenged God.

Occasionally we sense a response. Jeremiah railed at God, calling God a “deceitful brook,” and God’s response was to scold him for speaking foolishly, and then to give him more authority and work to do. In the book of Job, we hear Job’s complaints, and we will wait a long time for God’s response. Eventually, Job will experience God face to face, and Job will be changed.

Only God is big enough to take our most extreme emotions. It is right to communicate them to God honestly.

____________________

A note about our reading from Acts. We are beginning a story narrating an important turning point in the history of the early Church. By a revelation in a dream, Peter will have his traditional, Biblical understanding of “clean” and “profane” challenged. Then he be sent to the home of the Roman army officer Cornelius. Peter will witness the presence of God in this household of unclean, Gentile pagans, and Peter will see the gifts of the Holy Spirit manifest in them. He will then do something remarkable and very controversial. Peter will baptize them into the fellowship of the community.

Peter’s act will cause a huge church conflict. Why would he do such a unilateral thing, contrary to the Scripture and tradition that they have inherited? Peter will have to face the other apostles and explain his behavior. Peter will explain his vision and his observation of the gifts of the Spirit among these outsiders. “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (11:17) The apostles will be silenced and will thank God for the manifestation of the Spirit among the Gentiles.

But this is a fight that will go on for a long time.

Paul will pick up the banner of inclusion and liberation, baptizing Gentiles into his congregations without circumcision. Repeatedly he will be attacked by fellow Christians, and he will have to defend his actions over and over. But the new, revisionist way will prevail. Once again, God shows the presence of grace where it wasn’t expected, the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit among those believed to be unclean sinners.

It is a story to give heart to the Episcopal Church and other bodies who have seen the gifts of the Spirit among our GLBT brothers and sisters. We’ve seen the same gifts among them that we have received. We can no longer regard them as unclean or profane. But it will take a long time for all of our fellow Christians to be convinced.

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