Thursday, 26 May 2016

Aspects of Prayer

1 Kings 8:22-23, Psalm 6:1-9, Luke 7:1-10, Gal. 1:11-24

Most of 1 Kings chapter 8 and Psalm 6 are prayers. Reading them, I was struck by how many diverse aspects of prayer come through. Praise, confession, intercession, assurance, struggle and blessing are all here. The shape of prayer is a lot like the shape of a worship service.

(At least all the aspects are there if you read the bits the lectionary listings leave out. Read through to the end of chapter 8, and don't leave out verse 10 of the Psalm!)

Solomon prays at the dedication of the temple.The words of praise are amazing and revealing. Surrounded by cultures (think Egypt) who worship their kings as gods, here the king declares; "...there is no God like you in heaven above or earth beneath." There is only one God. This reaffirms the Jewish monotheism in the face of pluralistic cultures. Solomon also declares that God's nature is steadfast love, based on a mutual covenant with the people. Praise is an aspect of prayer that puts the pray-er, whether a king or a regular peasant, in their proper place. It is an admission that; "God is God, and I am not."

In prayer, the aspect of "I am not God", comes out strongly again in the aspect of confession. Verse 46 is another great bit attributed to the king. "...for there is no one who does not sin..." Confessing our failings is an attitude reset, a turning to God for guidance. Even the king (and maybe more so the king) falls away from God in life.

Solomon intercedes for the people, petitioning God to listen and respond. He repeats promises, saying that God always delivers, and he blesses the people.

All of this seems to portray Solomon as a wise and good king, humble and speaking into a joyful occasion.

Nothing is ever quite this squeaky clean and clear. In chapter 2-3, Solomon consolidates his reign by the usual means, killing rivals including his brother and making political marriages. There is a lot in this chapter 8 prayer that shows all is not well in the kingdom. There are references to drought, pestilence, and famine. John C. Holbert, professor of homiletics at Perkins school of theology, compares this scene of Solomon praying to a scene from the "Godfather" movie where mob boss Michael Corleone is attending the baptism of his baby while his hit men are out murdering his rivals.

Perhaps this prayer and it's pray-er are symbolic for us. Each one of us, as ruler over our own small domains, are never innocent. We misuse our power, assign blame to others, and need to take time to refocus on God. While there is no excuse to act like a mob boss, there are likely things in all of our lives that "clash" like this. In the prayer, Solomon seems aware that he is not God. That only God can make things right. Perhaps the aspects of prayer help us to see God more clearly, and to find blessing in our not being God ourselves.

Psalm 6 is an amazing little poem. The psalmist cries out to God for rescue from troubles. My NRSV Bible has a subtitle for the Psalm that reads; "Prayer for Recovery from Grave Illness." After reading it, I disagree with the title. I think the psalmist (likely David) isn't physically ill. I think he is running in terror away from his enemies. And when David runs, he has his band of elite and loyal soldiers with him. The amazing thing is that David does not turn and kill his pursuers, he doesn't even ask God to kill them. The lectionary omits verse 10-likely because it sounds offensive to our ears. But I don't think it should be omitted. Verse 10 is David saying that his enemies will be ashamed and turn back. That, to me, is amazing. Instead of being offensive, David's response can be read as merciful and measured. He leaves it to God. David trusts God to deal with them. He doesn't ask for them to be killed, but confronted with truth---hence the shame.

Prayer is a way we can give over our compulsion to control things over to God. Prayer acknowledges that God is God, and I am not. That is amazing.


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