Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
I would be hard pressed to remember a worship service that I have either attended or been a part of that didn’t include prayers. Often called the prayers of the church or community prayers, they are the voice of all those gathered in Jesus name in a worship setting, asking God to be present and involved in the life of individuals, the community, the church as well as the events in our world that impact our lives either directly or indirectly.
We pray for all kinds of things each week. We name specific people who have given us permission to pray for them, most often regarding health issues and the need for healing. You may wonder if these prayers make any difference but ask someone whose name has been on that list and they will tell you otherwise.
I received an email last week from the father of a little boy we have prayed for off and on since he was born. His name is Isaac. With his Dad’s permission let me share with you what the prayers of several communities, including Augustana have done.
When Isaac was in the NICU after birth, again we had people praying and he only had to stay for 5 days, when we were prepared for months. All along Isaac’s journey he has faced difficulties and every time prayer seems to be the answer. After his first surgery we had major complications and we had to stay in the hospital for 4 days even though it was supposed to be an outpatient operation. After speaking to some people that said they would pray for him, he was released from the hospital.
This has happened multiple times, but none quite as stunning as two weeks ago when we went in for his operation on Thursday. The surgeon said before the surgery that he wasn’t sure what he was going to see, but after talking to his colleague who did the previous operation a week ago, it might not be great news for us.
We were preparing for the following Monday to have a serious operation and then 2 more 6-8 months from now. After you put Isaac on the prayer list though things miraculously got better. That procedure two weeks ago, the surgeon came back with the best news we could have hoped for. Isaac was totally fine. He is not sure what his other colleague saw or was seeing, but everything looked great. He is happy and healthy now and expected to keep that way.
This family has experienced the power in the prayer
The prayers of the community matter, even when you don’t personally know the person you are praying for. But keep in mind, those prayers matter to them and to their loved ones. I don’t know how they work but scripture clearly tells us to pray.
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up.
I think it interesting that the writer of James calls it the prayer of faith. Might it be called that because by faith we believe God is present in that particular situation and God can and will do something? We may not know what God will do or why but we have faith that God will act. PRAYER IS FAITH IN ACTION.
Prayer is not asking God to fill a grocery list of items we need and want but prayer is placing ourselves and the situation into the presence of God where we believe God can and will do something.
Like Christian community, prayer is relational and it is an intentional way for the community and the individual to be in God’s presence and to rest in God’s peace. Prayer produces that peace which passes human understanding in Christ Jesus.
We pray for individuals in worship and we also pray for God to intervene and be present where there is conflict, discord and terror. We will pray those prayers again today after what has happened in Barcelona and Charlottesville.
These are harder prayers for me to understand. I know it is one thing I can do when I feel helpless about what else to do. But I need to remind myself what James says in his letter; the prayer of faith will save the sick and the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
If I believe that promise, and I do, then I pray, together with you, for God to act.
The power of community prayer in the face or organized violence, oppression and terror matters. I learned this anew while in Leipzig Germany in June. St. Thomas church, where the famous composer and musician J. S. Bach played and made his mark is in Leipzig and is well known. What I didn’t know about was St. Nicholas church. Because our tour group got divided I was part of a smaller group that made an unplanned visit to St. Nicholas church.
Many of you will remember President Ronald Regan’s famous words to General Secretary Gorbachev, the premier of the Soviet Union, delivered in a speech he gave at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987. “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Later on in his speech, President Reagan said, “As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, ‘This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.’ Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”
These were presidential words at their best. What I didn’t know and what I learned in Leipzig is that prayer was the power that finally took the wall down. In an blog post written by James M. Wall, a former editor of The Christian Century magazine entitled; Leipzig 10/9/89: The Day Prayers and Candles Ended an Occupation, he wrote this;
“On October 9, 1989, East German citizens marched to a prayer service at Leipzig’s St. Nicholas (Lutheran) Church. In a ritual they had repeated many nights before, they marched to the church holding lighted candles.
There were 70,000 marchers in the streets of Leipzig that night. Communist East German officials waited for the signal from Berlin and Moscow to disperse the crowd by force. The signal never came. Two weeks later, the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union began its total collapse.
The Leipzig Communist security chief wanted very much to subdue the rebellion. His police force was well armed. Soldiers with machine guns stood on top of nearby buildings.
In a final scene from the East German movie, Nikolaikirche, the security chief stares out at the crowd, his defiance now gone, and says, “”We planned everything. We were prepared for everything, except for candles and prayers.”
We stood outside St. Nicolas church on a rainy Pentecost Sunday morning and heard this story. President Regan called for the wall to come down but it was truly prayers and candles that took it down. The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective.
So each Sunday, together, as Christian community, we pray on. We pray as forgiven sinners. We pray in spite of the differences we may have. We pray in the unity of the Holy Spirit that calls the church of every age to speak out against injustice, hatred and fear in the name of the one who said blessed are the peacemakers for they will called children of God.
I am humbled and encouraged when I hear the stories of what prayer does. And I know that when my prayers are joined with yours and the millions of Christians across the globe, that God will be at work, in and through God’s people, bringing light into dark places and giving strength and hope to hearts that are weak.
These are peace prayers. They give peace to those who are praying and in God’s time and in God’s way, they will bring peace into our world. For Jesus sake. Amen
 “Remarks on East-West Relations at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin”. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Retrieved May 29, 2011.