The Gift of Prayer, The Power of Thanks, Sunday, Oct.8, 2017
Thanksgiving, a time for family, a time for prayer, a time for thanks, and a time for humour. So, to start it off, let’s open with a story….
A man in Huntingdon calls his son in Toronto the Saturday before Thanksgiving and says, I hate to ruin your weekend, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of misery is enough.
The son is shocked, ”Pop, what are you talking about? You and Mom are inseparable.”
“No, son, we just can't do it any more," the father says. "We're tired of each other, and I don’t want to talk about it. It’s over. Call your sister in Halifax and tell her, too.”
Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. "Like heck they're getting divorced," she shouts, "I'll take care of this,"
She calls Huntingdon immediately, and screams at her father, "You are NOT getting divorced. Don't do a single thing until I get there. I'm calling my brother back, and we'll both be there by tomorrow night. Until then, don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" and hangs up.
The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. "Okay," he says, "they're coming for Thanksgiving, and paying their own way.”
But to get to the heart of my message, The gift of prayer, The power of thanks…
Nowadays, you often hear comments that say prayer is a waste of time. We have prayed for 1000s of years, it is said, but we still kill. We still hate. We still can’t just get along.
When 50 people were killed recently in Las Vegas with hundreds more wounded, some responses called for everyone to pray. One person said, prayer is the one thing we can all do. And while there was general agreement in that caring thought, there were also those who scoffed at the notion that prayer does any good. These would say, Prayer is useless. We have to take action, not practice superstition. We have to get involved politically, organize, and put pressure on our elected leaders to change our laws and to demand results.”
To my way of thinking, there’s certainly nothing wrong with getting actively involved to bring about change designed to better our society. In fact, it should be done on some level by every able-bodied person. It certainly is not enough to leave everything up to the politicians, unless maybe you believe they can do no wrong.
So, what about prayer? Does it work? The bible basically says, in Matthew, whatever you ask of the Father in Jesus’ name, He will grant you. In order for that to be true, one important ingredient is needed. BELIEF. No, not that you have to believe that all prayers are answered, but I think you do have to believe in THE POSSIBILITY that all prayers are answered in some way. Now, if it is so, I will ask, do you believe all prayers will be answered exactly in the way you want them to be answered? Or, will answers from God be very different from what we would expect?
A little humorous question asks, “How do you make God laugh?” The answer, “Tell him your plans.”
The movie “Rudy,” shows what happens when a person prays with an expectation of a certain result. Rudy Ruettiger, was a young man who had a dream. He dreamed he would someday attend Notre Dame University and play football for the school team, nicknamed “The Fighting Irish.” With that goal in mind he packed his bags, said goodbye to his parents, and took a bus to South Bend, Indiana, home of Notre Dame.
Only two problems with Rudy’s plans. One, he didn’t have the marks to get into Notre Dame. So, he had to attend a junior college in order to get his grades up. He tried and tried, prayed and prayed, but after 3 semesters, he still hadn’t qualified. Unbeknownst to Rudy, he suffered from dyslexia, which made it difficult for him to grasp educational concepts. Once this was diagnosed, a great weight was lifted off his shoulders.
The second problem was that, even if he did get into Notre Dame, it was doubtful he could make the team. After all, he was only 5’6” tall, and weighed 160 lbs. Not exactly American college football material. But he still carried on with a firm resolve and a whole lot of prayer.
Notre Dame was a Catholic college, so Rudy found it convenient to pray in the school church. He did so often. One day, while he was there on his knees, a priest who knew him well saw him at prayer.
Here is the transcript from the movie which, by the way, is a real story about a real person. The dialogue is between Rudy and Fr. Cavanaugh, the priest.
Fr. Cavanaugh: “Rudy, are you appealing to a higher authority?”
Rudy: I'm desperate. If I don't get in next semester, it's over. Notre Dame doesn't accept senior transfers.
Father Cavanaugh: Well, you've done a hell of a job kid, chasing down your dream.
Rudy: Who cares what kind of job I did if it doesn't produce results? It doesn't mean anything.
Father Cavanaugh: I think you'll find that it will.
Rudy: Maybe I haven't prayed enough.
Father Cavanaugh: I don't think that's the problem. Praying is something we do in our time, the answers come in God's time.
Rudy: If I've done everything I possibly can, can you help me?
Father Cavanaugh: Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I've come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I'm not Him.
Well, without giving you more story details because maybe you’ll want to see the movie yourself someday, suffice to say that in all of Notre Dame’s illustrious football history, Rudy Ruettiger was only one of two Fighting Irish alumni who were carried off the field after a game by his teammates on their shoulders, in praise. In the end, Rudy was the first of his 13 brothers and sisters who graduated from university, followed eventually by all his younger siblings. Did God answer Rudy’s prayers to play football for Notre Dame? I’d say emphatically yes, and so much more. But the key here in following up on prayer experience is, when your prayer is answered, pause and reflect. Recognize that it was your God who made the difference, not just yourself.
So, what do I mean when I call prayer, a gift from God? What I mean is that prayer allows us to communicate with Him at the most basic spiritual level. Prayer does not rely on any Tower of Babel language. We can use English, French, Spanish, Greek or any of the 6,909 living languages listed by The Ethnologue catalogue of world languages. Prayer is multilingual, as is God. I personally say two sets of prayers every night. One set is the prayers my mother taught me in Hungarian. The other set is prayers I learned over the years in English, including naturally, The Lord’s Prayer.
Prayer is our bridge to God. Formal or informal, memorized or not. Verbal or in silence.Through prayer we are reaching out. We are acknowledging that what we experience with our senses is not enough. It is not enough to see, hear, touch, taste or smell. It is not enough even to think, calculate and conclude. Prayer is the vehicle to belief. Without it, we are hobbling along in a 4-wheel carriage with one wheel missing or weak. With it, we are wheeling along smoothly, and our direction is true.
So, how does the power of thanks come into it? In my mind, thanking someone for something done for you is an acknowledgement that you have received a benefit that didn’t come entirely from your own resources or power. The power of thanks recognizes the duality of an accomplishment. The duality being you and someone else. One gives to another. One returns a gift to another. The power of this recognition, the power of admitting this other, is the admission that we are not alone. We admit that every time we thank another person, and every time we thank God.
The poet and Anglican cleric, John Donne, wrote these lines hundreds of years ago…..
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Never ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. You are not alone. You are a part of mankind. And as such, if a part of you is diminished, we are all diminished. And, as such, we are a part of God, and when we give thanks, we recognize the power of our relationship to God, and that recognition allows us to understand that together, in God, we can accomplish great things because we don’t have to rely solely on our own strengths, but the combined strength of us together, and together with God.
In yet another example from the world of football, a panel of sports prognosticators - a fancy word for sports tv analysts - were discussing various teams and players. One of them asked the question, “What makes Tom Brady tick?” For anyone who doesn’t know, Tom Brady is the 40-year-old quarterback of the New England Patriots who won the league championship last February, the Super Bowl. In fact, Brady has won 5 of them over 17 years, the only player ever to accomplish that.
Well, one of these experts tried to formulate an answer to, “What makes Tom Brady tick?” He said, “It’s almost as if he acknowledges that he has been given this immense power to compete and to excel, and his constant striving to use these gifts is his way of giving thanks.” This said by an ordinary tv sports guy, one who, I believe, has tapped into the power of thanks.”
And now, I will resort to a line by George Burns, that wonderful comedian:
“The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, and to have the two as close together as possible.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.