Sermon delivered September 14, 2008
Three ministers were talking about prayer in general and the most appropriate and effective positions for prayer. As they were talking, a telephone repairman was working on the phone system on the other side of the room. One minister said that he felt the key was in the hands. He always held his hands together and pointed them upward as a form of symbolic worship. The second suggested that real prayer was conducted on one's knees. The third suggested that they both had it wrong-the only position worth its salt was to pray while stretched out flat on your face. By this time the telephone repairman could not wait any longer to say something. He interjected, "I found that the most powerful prayer I ever made was while I was dangling upside down by my heels from a power pole, suspended fort feet above the ground."
We see in this somewhat humorous story, a truth being told. The power of our prayer does not depend or begin with the posture of our body. Rather, the power of our prayer rests in the urgency of our situation and the resulting fervent desire of our heart. Our posture is often the result of our situation. If we want to get someone's attention, we don't mumble but we raise our voice. We don't lay down but we sit up straight and raise our hand or even stand up. If we are totally dependent on the other for mercy and help, we might bow, kneel or even prostrate ourselves before them. Once we get their attention, we should have something important to say and a sense of urgency must be in our voice. The same is true when we pray to God. If our situation is dire-we are seriously ill or dying, we lost our job, we did something very wrong, our marriage is breaking up, a loved one has died, or similar examples-we need to bring that before the Lord with a sense of "I am in trouble; I am weak; I need Your help; NOW!"
Two thousand years ago, our Lord Jesus Christ hung from a wooden pole—the Cross, except it was no accident. Unfairly accused, arrested and tried in secret with false witnesses against Him, condemned out of jealousy and hatred, Jesus was scourged and nailed to the wood of the Cross and suspended for all to see. Some even mocked Him and others spit upon Him. How did Christ respond to all this degradation? He prays to His Father in Heaven, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:42). Jesus could have easily called twelve legions of angels to come down and destroy all these evil, selfish, ignorant people. He said as much to the apostle Peter who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest when the crowd came to arrest Jesus (Matthew 26:52-53).
Why didn't Jesus do this? Because He wanted to demonstrate the existence of a greater power than brute force and that is the power of love and forgiveness. He wanted to show us that this power of agape and synchorisis comes from only one source-God the Lord. He wanted to teach us that the only way to tap into this power is through faith and trust in God the Lord. We see this in Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
Jesus Christ calls us to faith in God, through His own example of love, faith and trust in His Father. The Cross is a reminder of this. That's what St. Paul is talking about in today's epistle reading. He says, "We preach Christ crucified…to everyone who is called, it is the power and wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). So, when we are dangling upside down from our own cross (whether of our own sinful creation or externally imposed through no fault of our own), helpless, in danger of falling to our death at any moment, we arrive at our crisis of faith. Do we believe in God or not? If we do believe, do we trust that He hears and listens to our prayers? More importantly, do we trust in His will? You see, when we fall with faith, God will catch us - either miraculously in this earthly life, saved for another day to do battle against evil and temptation, or in heaven for eternal life with the saints and the holy ones who preceded us. That's what St. Paul means when he says, "The Word of the Cross - foolishness to those who are perishing; but it is the Power of God to those being saved" (1 Corinthians 1:18).
We come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit, not through wisdom, as the ancient Greeks believed (v.21). Rather, it's the other way around, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom; God's weakness is stronger than human strength" (1 Corinthians 1:25). So, it is through faith, that we gain understanding. Don't wait to be hanging upside down from a tall cross, to start putting your faith and trust in the Lord. Don't stumble on the path waiting for a miraculous sign or miracle like the ancient Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). Right now, tonight, tomorrow, and every day from now on, raise your hand, fall to your knees, put your face to the ground and cry out to Christ our God. Bring all your cares and concerns, both large and small, before Him with humility, faith and trust. He hears, He cares, He loves you. He will lift you up and grant you peace. Amen.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.