Life is Short; Pray Hard

Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Mark 13:24-37

Life is short; pray hard. That’s the phrase on my license plate frame. To some it may seem funny, to others rather morbid. But the truth is life is short. In the grand scheme of the universe, our existence is just a blip in the eons of time. Our life on earth is just a blink compared to the eternity that awaits us. Life is short. And none of us know how long we will be here. Everything can change in the blink of an eye.

I was reminded of that this past week while driving down to VA to visit my daughter and son-in-law. Just as I got onto the highway, I went to put my brakes on and….nothing. Wait a minute, where were they? My car had just had a substantial amount of repairs done to it. The car had been inspected and new rear brakes installed. What was going on? My mind raced and I tried not to panic as I pushed my foot against the brake as hard as I could. I thought my foot was going to go through the floor because I was pushing so hard. I kept trying to get the car to slow down and stop. My heart was racing a mile a minute and I really thought this was it. I was going to be in a serious accident. To say I was frightened would be an understatement! My brake line had snapped and I was trying to squeeze out every last drop of brake fluid I could to stop. Eventually, miraculously, I was able to get off the highway and get it to the mechanic. Life is short; pray hard and did I ever!

I was wide awake all right. Awaked by terror and the possibility that I could be in a catastrophic accident. I could have been the one referred to on one of those giant signs on the highway alerting traffic to the accident ahead. Stay Alert! It’s a warning pointing not only to what has happened, but what might happen if one does not stay awake and present in the moment. You can’t predict an accident – that’s why they’re called that – but you can be alert – alert to what is going on around you.

Jesus says, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” Jesus says we will not know when the master of the house (Jesus) will return – not even the angels in heaven. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is talking about His own death and resurrection, yet the disciples don’t know this. Jesus will suffer and die, but He will also rise again. And after His ascension He will come again. In the meantime, the disciples are to wait not passively, but actively, by keeping alert, watching, and anticipating Jesus’ return.

Yet Jesus doesn’t say it will be easy. He says there will be suffering and persecution. The words of the psalmist cry out, “How long O Lord?” Haven’t we all felt like that at one time or another? How long O Lord? How long will I have to endure this suffering? This week as I and probably most of you watched the news concerning the riots in Ferguson, MO, it was evident that these people were reacting out of that plea. The average white American has no idea what it means to be profiled because of our skin color. We think because of the Civil Rights movement that racism is better, but in many respects it has only been subverted and become an accepted part of our culture. Minorities of many races are crying out, “How long, O Lord? How long will this suffering continue?”

This past week I attended a lecture featuring one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, and a gentleman from the audience asked her a haunting question. He explained all the terrible trials he and many people in our country have gone through and he asked, “Why pray?” He didn’t understand the point of praying if all we have to do is continue to wait for answers that never come and for sufferings that never end. Why pray? It’s a good question.

The answer lies in our understanding of prayer. If we think prayer is asking favors of God who is like a magic genie existing only to fulfill our every wish, then it seems logical that if God isn’t fulfilling all of our desires then what indeed is the point of praying. If however, we think of prayer as a direct line to God, an intimate conversation that enables us to experience God and be in relationship with God, then we are drawn to pray. The sufferings of this world are lightened when shared with a loving God who listens and has promised to “wipe away our tears” and to “make all things new.” Yet it doesn’t usually happen right away and we grow impatient. But prayer ensures that we do not have to wait alone. We have the arms of the Holy Spirit embracing us and reminding us of the scarred hands of the Savior who has saved us. Life is short; pray hard.

And so in this season of Advent we wait, not as those who have no hope, but expectantly clinging to the promises of God. We wait in a state of alertness keeping our eyes open to the many signs of God’s presence already among us. It’s so easy during this season to continue to look ahead to Christmas, to get caught up in the commercialism, but during this time of Advent we need to apply the brakes and sometimes that’s not easy. We need to slow down, to pause, and to be alert to the grace that flows in and through us. Waiting can be hard, but it can slow us down long enough to see things we might otherwise miss.

You might be wondering how I finally got to Fairfax, VA to see my daughter and son-in-law for Thanksgiving. It was quiet an interesting adventure. The repair of the brake line would take several days, so a friend drove me halfway to Frederick, MD, where my daughter and son-in-law would meet me and drive me the rest of the way there. (The car rental places were already closed by the time I was safely in the car repair garage.) My friend had to go to an important meeting so she had to leave me there in Frederick while waiting for my connecting ride, which was delayed due to heavy traffic. I was going to just sit outside the pet store with all my bags for the next couple of days, my favorite pillow, my cat, litter box, and several books to finish my sermon for today. I looked like a homeless person. I was going to wait outside, but the owner insisted I wait inside out of the cold. With my things all piled behind the counter – and my cat fearing I was leaving her at the pet store forever – I waited for a couple more hours. But while waiting I experienced something I would have otherwise missed. I experienced the kindness of a stranger and the face of God in that hospitality. Sometimes waiting gives others the chance to be the hands and feet and voice of God here on earth. Sometimes waiting gives people the opportunity to be the answer to someone’s prayers. Sometimes waiting gives us the privilege to experience the kingdom of God here on earth and to share it with others.

This Advent is a time for us to wait and stay alert; to wait for the coming of the Christ Child and Christ’s ultimate return. To stay alert to the presence of God already in our midst and to be the presence of God to one another. When the collective cries go out, “How long, O Lord?” they can be answered through the love we show toward one another. This Advent is a time to wait in prayer. Why pray? Because life is short; pray hard!  Amen!

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