Psalm 104 7.10.16
We have to just stop and recognize the horror which has flooded our country this week. We seem to go from one total disregard for the value of human life to another in city after city across our nation. Our city itself is no stranger to this twisted way of looking at the creations of God we call human beings, human beings who also are brothers, sisters, fathers, sons, mothers or daughters– looking at humans as expendable. People who think other people are expendable forget that every person has people who love him, every person has people who depend on her, every person has gifts to share and work to do to contribute to the society at large. People are not expendable. People cannot be replaced. When a life is snuffed out without cause, when hatred holds a gun, we are all impacted. It takes its toll. Fear and mistrust ratchet up. Gun sales go up. In a week like this past one, we start to wonder, where is God? Where are God’s people? What happened to respect and love and peace?
Sometimes we feel like banging on God’s door demanding that something be done. We cry out with the words of the psalmist: let wickedness be no more. We want justice for all those who are victims of injustice or discrimination, those who are ignored, set aside, rejected–whether due to sexual preference, skin color, language, age, or physical ability. We want answers. We want changes so that all people will see others as valued creations of God, deserving of life and care and love and hope for a future. Last week our prayer dare was to pray justice by living justice. I saw a beautiful photo which emodies living justice. It was of a black woman and her children with a white police officer. She had stopped, they got out of their car, approached the officer sitting in his patrol car and asked if they could pray for him. Living justice. What a week when prayers for justice were needed. What a week for prayer.
Today my prayer dare for you is praying outdoors. My original inspiration was Psalm 104, a litany of praise to God for all the variety of creation which surrounds us. The psalmist understands God not only as the creator of it all, but the one who continues to provide for the ongoing needs of all creatures… water and food, sunlight and darkness, shelter and rest. It is a long psalm, and we have been spreading it out throughout our worship service today. Praying outdoors, with creation staring us in the face, keeps us in a grateful mindset, and calls us to better care for the creation of which we are a part. I will get back to that kind of private outdoor prayer in a moment.
First, let me suggest another way to pray outdoors. That is, to pray visibly, openly, in some kind of public space. In a restaurant, at a bus stop, in front of the grocery store, with a stranger. Our prayer dare for this week can take this direction– praying outdoors in public. A dare requires you to try something hard or new or uncomfortable. So when I ask you next Sunday, “how did you pray outdoors this week?”, you might describe praying outdoors in public or praying outdoors in private, but don’t list the things you already do on a regular basis. I want to hear about something new you tried.
Praying publicly is uncomfortable for some people. I remember the prayer walk some of us took on Good Friday. We joined walkers from multiple churches, carrying a cross, stopping to pray for and with people along the way. It was not a typical Presbyterian prayer practice. We do pray for the residents of our city–we tend to do it from the safety of our sanctuary or our own homes. Praying for the residents of our city face to face took us a bit out of our comfort zone as we interacted with strangers, being a visible presence for Christ in Edmondson Village shopping center. You might follow that model to take up the prayer dare this week. Try it in your own neighborhood. Walk around the block. Stop to pray in front of each house. Engage a neighbor for more than a wave and a “good morning!”. Ask her if there is anything she needs prayer for. Or, to be more daring, do it in another neighborhood. Go with a friend. Talk together with God about the needs you see or can imagine.
Or if you go out to eat this week, take time to pray before your meal with those who are with you, or even by yourself. I don’t mean a silent “thank you for this food, Lord” while you reach for the salt and pepper. I mean taking a moment to really stop and give thanks. Thanks for the food. Many in this world survive on minimal food intake on a daily basis. Thanks for the luxury of eating out. Not everyone has the ability to go out to eat when they want. Thanks for a comfortable place to sit. Not everyone has a place to be cool on these hot summer days. If you need encouragement to try this kind of prayer, come meet me at Tabba Tabba on Friday and we will pray together in the coffee shop.
Praying outdoors can be visible and obvious, public. Praying outdoors can also be very private. You can find a quiet place outside in your backyard, in the playground at your apartment complex, on your front porch, some green space near your workplace. One church member loves to step out on her 7th floor balcony overlooking the city of Baltimore for her prayer time with God. You can go to a city park or to the beach or to the mountains or to a farm. We have a fantastic green space just at the bottom of the hill here in Leakin Park. Go where you can be outside and connect in some way with the creation God has provided for us, the creation we truly cannot do without.
My dare for you today is to get outside to pray. I know it is hot. So find a time in the early morning or in the evening when the sun is not so hot. Set aside a dedicated time and place. Be intentional. If you need to, put it on your calendar where you will see it. Looking outside through your window does not count! It is not the same. Looking with your eyes only means you will miss a lot. Get outside!
When you get outside, reread Psalm 104. Or try Psalm 8. Or Psalm 147. Start with the scripture in your hand or start with the message of God you can see, hear, touch and smell around you. Start with thanks. Thanks to God for what you can hear, or the cool breeze you feel or the warm sun on your back. Move to recognizing your own shortcomings in the way you treat any part of God’s beloved creation– people included. How have you had disregard for God’s creation? For people you have interacted with? And then to petitions. Where do you see hurt, pain, distrust, harm, abuse happening in this creation? What do you want to say to God about those people, places and issues?
I’ll be curious to learn from you next week if you took my prayer dare. Dares are not requirements. You don’t have to take a dare. But if you do, if you try prayer in a new setting– outdoors publicly or outdoors privately, I’ll be curious to learn if you noticed anything different in praying outdoors. Is it worth repeating again? You just might find a new prayer practice that will be a part of your routine in the future. You just might begin to see God’s hand at work in some new way. I dare you!