Date: Jan.4/98 Where: SHMC Words: 1418
Sermon Title: From Clenched Fists to Open Hands
Text: Luke 11:1-13
Major Recent Event: Beginning of Prayer Week
Worship Leader: Henry Kliewer
Invocation/Einleitung: Carlos Friesen
A Kindergarten class went to the fire station for a tour and some instruction in fire safety. The fireman was explaining what to do in case of a fire. He said, "First, go to the door and feel the door to see if it’s hot." Then he said, "Fall to your knees. Does anyone know why you ought to fall to your knees?" One of the little tykes said, "Sure, to start praying to ask God to get us out of this mess.”
And, Have you seen the little cartoon where two fellows in a canoe are coming up to a huge waterfall, and one of them says: “What do you think, should we pray or paddle?”
Today we begin our Prayer Week Services. We want to encourage one another to begin this New Year with a prayerful attitude.
Today I want to speak about Prayer not only as talking to God, but rather as sharing in a living relationship with God. In his book, With Open Hands, Henri Nouwen presents us with a simple statement of the Christian Faith: that to live is to pray, that to pray is to love, and to love is to serve. Henri Nouwen does not speak of prayer in the abstract (or in a theoretical and impractical way). Instead, he animates prayer in the context of day-to-day living.
Nouwen underscores the essential message of the Old and the New Testaments, that God is in search for us in our day-to-day activities. God is not seeking small-talk conversation with us. Rather, God seeks our conversion, a “turning around” of the individual person and the world.
The story of Jacob, wrestling with the man of God until daybreak, and not letting go until he has been blessed, is a powerful image of prayer. It is the picture of an active prayer.
Anyone who takes prayer seriously, knows that praying is no easy matter. It demands a relationship in which you allow someone other than yourself to enter into the very center of your being, to see there what you would rather leave in darkness, and to touch there what you would rather leave untouched.
When we first begin to pray, there is a resistance that resembles the resistance of tightly clenched fists. There is a desire to cling tightly to our innermost feelings and thoughts. An example of this attitude is the story of an elderly woman who was brought to a psychiatric center. She was wild, swinging at everything in sight, and scaring everyone so much that the doctor had to take everything away from her. But there was one small coin that she gripped in her fist and would not give up. It took two people to pry open that squeezed hand. It was as though she was going to loose her very self along with that coin. Her fear was that her entire identity would be lost with that coin.
When we are invited to pray we are asked to open our tightly clenched fists and give up our last coin. But who wants to do that? A first prayer is therefore often a painful prayer, because we discover that we don’t want to let go. We hold fast to whatever is familiar, even if we aren’t proud of it. We feel safer clinging to a sorry past than to trust God to lead us into a new and bright future.
But, each time we dare to let go and surrender one of our many fears (one of the bones in our closets), our hands open a little and our palms spread out in a gesture of receiving.
As we begin to let go of our coins (our guilt, our shame, our inadequacies, our anger, our fear), we open our hands to receive God’s forgiveness and unconditional love. Then God will reveal Himself to us in the quietness of nature, in the fellowship of believers, and in our compassionate conversations with others. God wants to be admitted into your and my heart. He wants to be received with open hands.
But opening up does not come by itself. When we open up we confess that we are limited, dependent, weak, and even sinful. Whenever we pray, we admit that we are vulnerable.
This goes contrary to the wisdom of the world. The wisdom of the world tells us that we must hold on to our own, that we must be on our guard, that we must get a strong grip on what we want to achieve in life. Smart people keep on their toes... they sleep with an eye open.” These are the demons, which discourage us from opening our hands and denying ourselves.
The challenge of the Gospel lies in the invitation to accept a gift for which we can give nothing in return. Our natural instinct is to resist accepting a free gift. You see, to receive something for nothing gives us a feeling of dependence. It is as if we are no longer in control. But the Good News is that God gives us His unconditional Love regardless of our past behavior. If we ask we will receive. If we seek, we will find. If we knock, the door will be opened to us.
When we pray we stretch out our hand and ask God to lead us in ways that are unknown to us. His complete self-denial and the acceptance of God’s will led Jesus to the cross.
In prayer we express our hope and faith, that God, who is greater than we are, is ultimately in control, and that God knows the way. In prayer we confess that we need God’s help to keep living amidst desperation.
To pray means to have compassion on our fellow travelers to the grave. Whenever we pray we include our neighbor. And we do it in a very practical way. When we tell another person, “I’ll pray for you”, we also need to be prepared to back that up with practical expressions of our concern for them.
Praying and living go hand in hand. To pray means to become intimately involved in the plight of those we pray for. Compassion is born out of the realization that our neighbor shares our humanity with us.
Prayer is also intimately tied together with our Christian hope in a new heaven and a new earth. It is this eternal hope that turns us into revolutionaries of sorts. We are Christians only so long as we look forward to a New World, and so long as we ask critical questions of the society we live in. As a praying Church, we are Christian only as long as we provide a prophetic voice to the world. We are revolutionaries in the sense that we do not allow ourselves to be lulled into a comfortable status quo, but rather we keep proclaiming that a new and better world is yet to come.
When we pray we are constantly striving to bring in the New World order, of which we have already had a foretaste.
As we open our tightly clenched fists, that is, as we let go of our preconceived Christian ideas, our fears and anxieties, even our religious traditions, we open our hearts to the new and refreshing revelations of God’s love and grace.
As we begin this year in prayer we are invited to open our tightly clenched fists before God. He invites us to relax the tension in our hearts that hampers the movement of His Spirit in our lives. When we let go, and let God, we are enabled to find a stillness and peace that this world does not know.
Praying is not simply a dutiful part in the daily schedule of a Christian, or a source of support in a time of need. Praying is breathing the life-giving Spirit of God at all times. Therefore a life of prayer is a life with open hands, where we are not ashamed of our weaknesses, but where we realize that it is more perfect to allow God to lead our lives than to hold on to our coins with tightly clenched fists.
May we find the strength of humility within our souls to open up our lives and to allow God to be in control of our lives.