Prayer – huh – yeah! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Wednesdays with Walter: Day 6

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 7.57.23 AMLast week the words of Rauschenbusch urged us to pray — a prayer of confession, not only for the sins that we commit but also for the sins of our fathers and the social constructs of which we are a part.  This week, however, we want to ask the question, “What is prayer really good for?”  Let’s go back to The Social Principles of Jesus, section III, of the chapter “Solidarity of the Human Family” to explore this question:

Does religion create social unity or neutralize it.  Does prayer isolate or connect?  Has the force of religion in human history done more to divide or to consolidate men?

 

Evidently religion may work both ways, and all who are interested in it must see to it that their religion does not escape control and wreck fraternity.  Even mystic prayer and contemplation, which is commonly regarded as the flower of religious life, may make men indifferent to their fellows.

 

It is worth noting that the prayer experiences of Jesus were not ascetic or unsocial.  They prepared him for action….  When he went out from Capernaum to pray “a great while before day, ” it was to launch his aggressive missionary campaign among the Galilean villages….  Prayer is Christian only if it makes us realize our fellows more keenly and affectionately.  (emphasis added)

Religion, even the “flower of religious life” — prayer, is good for absolutely nothing if it does not lead to action.  Why?  Because for Rauschenbusch, and I believe he is correct here, prayer isn’t prayer — or at least not Christian prayer — if it does not lead to view our fellow humanity “more keenly and affectionately.”  It is NOT Christian prayer if it does not lead to action.

When our children were young and we would ask them to apologize for something they had done wrong, they would say, “I’m sorry.”  Then we would ask them, “What does ‘I’m sorry mean?'”  Their taught response was, “I won’t do it again.”  Of course, by the time our son was five he had changed it to, “I’ll try to not do it again.”  He knew the limits of his own humanity!  Regardless, it was a confession that was intended to lead to change of behavior.

As Christians, it is good for us to pray for social justice, for racial unity, and to participate in confession of personal and corporate sins against “fraternity.”  However, if these prayers do not lead to action then they are NOT Christian — they are not prayers at all. These prayers are good for absolutely nothing!

I AM NOT suggesting that prayer is not important!

I AM NOT suggesting that we shouldn’t pray!

I AM SUGGESTING THE EXACT OPPOSITE!  True Christian prayer is essential!

I AM AFFIRMING the scriptural truth that prayer, that religion, that a relationship with Jesus Christ, should — must — change us and our actions!  May we not forget that prayer like faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).

At the end of Matthew chapter 9, Jesus called his disciples to pray for workers to go into the world.  He pleads with them to pray that God would send messengers into a dark world with the light of the Good News.  And what do Jesus and his disciples do at the beginning of chapter 10?

“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”  Matthew 10:1

Jesus calls his followers to pray.  And then he calls them to answer that prayer!

God is calling us to pray for justice, to pray for righteousness, to bring the light of the Good News into the darkness of the world.  And God is calling us to be that light, that righteousness, that justice.

I know the limits of my own humanity, however.  I know that it would be naive for me to say, “I won’t do it again — I won’t ignore the plight of my fellow humans.”  But I want to do better.  I want to try to not do it again — to not ignore justice, to not ignore righteousness, to not bear the light of God’s Good News for all humanity.   And so I pray.  And I change a bit.  And I fail.  And so I pray.  And I change a bit more.

Too often we are afraid of others taking away our right to pray.  It’s time for us to be concerned that our prayers are ineffectual because we do nothing about them!

  • How can you bring God’s light into the darkness around you?
  • How can you bring God’s light, righteousness, and justice to your Facebook feed?
  • How can you be the answer to the prayer of healing and fraternity in your country, in your neighborhood, in your home?
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Who wants to be a millionaire? — Wednesdays with Walter: Day 4

Sometimes life gets busy and we forget about commitments.  Yesterday, I completely forgot it was Wednesday, and so I missed Wednesday with Walter.  I’m sorry; of course, I’m sure no one really missed it that much anyway. 

No one missed it anyway.  Just another excuse.

I think social justice is that way for most of us – I know it is for me.

I get busy, and I walk by the person asking for help on the street corner.

I get busy, and I ignore the stranger.

I get busy, and I don’t bother making a stand for the one oppressed, the one different, the one in need.

But let’s be honest, what differerence can I really make?

What difference can I really make.  Just another excuse.

Social justice, for the follower of Jesus Christ, is a commitment — not just for Wednesdays but everyday — but we get busy, and we think that there is little difference we can make anyway.  We excuse our inaction to do something with our perception that we can’t do anything of significance.

I’m reminded of the parable of Jesus in Matthew 25:14-30.  In the parable, a wealthy man goes on a trip and entrusts his wealth to three servants.  To one, he gives five talents; to the second, two talents; and to the last, one talent.  

It’s difficult to know the exact value of these gifts, but some have argued that the approximate value of each talent in today’s currency would be around $1.25 million.  So the first received $6.25 million; the second $2.5 million; and the last $1.25 million.  For more info on converting talents to dollars, check out this wiki page.

The first and second servant, go out and double the masters wealth and present it to him at his return.  The third, however, concerned that his master was a hard master who “reaps where he does not sow,” buries the wealth.  I imagine, he goes about with a busy life. Thinking from time to time about his commitment to his master, about the gift that he has received, but life is busy, and after all, he didn’t get as much to work with as the other two.

A couple of things strike me about this parable.

  1. The gifts are unbelievably generous.  
  2. The third servant isn’t rebuked for his perception of the master.

1.  THE GIFTS ARE UNBELIEVABLY GENEROUS

In this parable, these talents represent God’s blessing in our lives.  God has blessed each of us in a variety of ways, but one way of significant blessing for each of us is our relationships and our spheres of influence – some have been blessed with more influence than others, but we each have been blessed with more than we probably realize.  My family, my friends, my social circles both online and in person.  These are of inexpressible value; gifts from God.  

Will I be too busy to invest in these gifts with God’s values, with God’s heart, with God’s intention to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to cloth the naked, to heal the broken, to invite in the stranger, to visit the one in prison.  

I fear that too often I was too busy to show my own children, who are now adults, the importance of kindness — the kindness of a Christ to those different, those in need, those with whom I most strongly disagreed.   What a gift God gave to me in them.  Did I invest in them the socicial principles of Jesus?  Will God’s values that I hold to be true be multiplied in them?  I hope so, and I pray that I will continue to have opportunity to invest in them — as they also invest in me.

Am I intentional to invest the social principles of Jesus in my Facebook posts, my Tweets, my conversations over coffee?  There is nothing of greater value than the relationships with which God has blessed me.   Worth more than millions and millions of dollars.  Do I untentionally bury those relationships because of my “business” or do I multiply their worth by investing the social principles of Jesus in them?

2.  THE THIRD SERVANT ISNT REBUKED FOR HIS PERCEPTION OF THE MASTER.

“You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?”

I recently heard a sermon on this text with my family.  After the sermon, my son and I were talking about the message which we both appreciated.  But we were both struck by the rebuke of the third servant — he was rebuked NOT because he didn’t understand who his master was but because he did nothing with this realization.

My son reminded me of the texts that state that God is a jealous God; if He is the one who gives everything, then He expects everything we do with it to reflect His glory, His values, His principles — the social principles of Jesus.

Walter Rauschenbusch realized this, knew it, lived it.

He realized he was a millionaire because of the opportunities and relationships with which God had blessed him.

He didn’t allow the business of life to get in the way of investing the social principles of Jesus in every opportunity, every moment, every relationship with which he was blessed.

He didn’t let the fact that he was only a preacher, only a son of an immigrant, only a whatever keep him from realizing that he was given much, and he multiplied it, he invested the social principles of Jesus in it, and God blessed it.  God gave him even more — opportunities to invest the social principles of Jesus in the lives of governors, presidents, policy makers.

May we recognize that we too are blessed with millions in value because of our relationships.

May we faithfully invest the social principles of Jesus into the relationships with which God has blessed us.  

The Moral Quality of Contempt: Wednesdays with Walter: Day 2

“You have heard that it was said to those of old,
‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council;
and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  
Jesus, Matthew 5:21-22

“The important point is that Jesus ranged hate and contempt
under the category of murder….  The horror which Jesus feels for such action
is an expression of his own respect for the worth of personality.”

— Walter Rauschenbusch, The Social Principles of Jesus

angry.pngI’ve grown weary of contempt.

I see it expressed by our national leaders and expressed towards our national leaders.

I’ve grown weary of contempt.

I see it on Facebook…  on Twitter…  on the radio…  on television…  in the papers…

I’ve grown weary of contempt.

I feel it from the “right” and the “left.”

I’VE GROWN WEARY OF CONTEMPT!

I just wish I could say it is because I am only a victim of contempt, but I know that my hands are stained red with the blood of those whom I have murdered with my own contempt.

And I realize now more than ever that my sins have found me out — that those whom I love the most see the stains on my hands.

I’ve grown weary of my own contempt and pray that God forgives me and gives me strength to change — to wash clean my murderous hands.

If we are to value life, we must pray that God gives us the strength to love the other — to overcome our contempt and anger towards the other — and even our enemy.

We CANNOT justify our actions of contempt and anger by saying we are fighting fire with fire.  We cannot say that acting virtuously won’t cut it in this day.

And I need to come to grips with the reality that this spirit of contempt isn’t new — Facebook, Twitter, etc. are only new weapons used to murder through contempt, but the problem of murderous contemptuous attitudes is as old as humanity.  Jesus fought it; Rauschenbusch fought it; and I pray for strength to do the same.

Will we recognize today that our actions of contempt and anger are killing us?

Will we share in the horror which Jesus feels for such action as an expression of his and our respect for the worth of personality?

Will we have the strength — not to agree with everyone — not to ignore sin — but to confront it with love instead of contempt — with life instead of murder?

How does contempt raise its ugly head on your FB feed?

How do you see contempt in your place of work?  …your home?  …your place of worship?

How will you challenge a growing culture of death and contempt for life with an abundant life of joy?