Wednesday, January 13, 2010

2 or 3

Matthew 18:18-20
January 10, 2010

I was an only child until my brother was born when I was sixteen. Needless to say, growing up I was very good at entertaining myself. I could play in my room for hours by myself with my Strawberry Shortcake or Cabbage Patch dolls- especially if I got sent to my room for some offense. Even though I was a creative only child, I’m not sure if you’ve notice but I am an extrovert. I love and gain energy from being around people. So nothing thrilled me more than when my two best friends, the twin boys from up the street would come and ask me to play. My dad would open the door and call for me when he saw them coming- “Sunny, your friends are here!”
My world opened up when I played with Chad and Brad. We held concerts in their basement, we played Masters of the Universe (I mean, they owned Castle Greyskull, it was awesome!), we rode bicycles and big wheels, and we traded baseball cards. They once gave me a Pete Rose card for free just because it was a K-Mart brand card and not a Topps- I was in heaven! We once created a haunted house in their basement that scared the neighbor girl pretty badly My point is when it comes to playtime as a kid- one is nice, but two or three are so much more fun! Two or three are just better sometimes.

Two or three are better when it comes to prayer as well, at least according to the Gospel of Matthew. At the end of chapter 18, after all the information about how to settle a disagreement with a brother or sister who sins against you is this section on praying together in groups of two or three. Sometimes we are so focused on the settling disagreements part of this chapter we miss this section at the end. Hear these verses again, this time from the Message paraphrase version. "Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there."

How can we be assured that the presence of Christ is in our midst? Get together in groups of two or three and pray! Now I am a person that believes that we are never away from the presence of Christ- or the love of God. We have assurance in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ. And yet there is something compelling about the way Christ comes to us in small groups that this passage in Matthew draws our attention to. I had never thought before about how Christ is present to us in small prayer circles.

Most of us are believers in the power of prayer. We have seen the results of individual prayer in our own lives. We treasure being prayed for by others. One of the things we do each time we gather for worship is to share the joys and concerns of our hearts so that we can pray together in worship. We believe as James 5:16 states, “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” Have you ever prayed with one or two other people? Have you ever formed a small prayer group? According to our scripture in Matthew prayer seems to be one way to heal a relationship. After you have had a disagreement with someone, what is the first thing you should do together? Gather together and pray. “For where two or three are gathered,” there is the presence of Christ.

I was talking about this scripture with a dear friend and mentor pastor the other day. He said, “that’s the scripture that talks about two people agreeing on something, right?” Indeed, our scripture says, “if two or more of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” Don continued, “I think that’s one of the most challenging passages in the Bible! I have a prayer and accountability partner and we’ve been praying together for 30 years and we still don’t agree.” He said it has been their prayer for 30 years to agree on something they were both deeply passionate about. Agreeing is hard. Anyone who has ever been married knows that without me going into any detail. What a challenging part of this scripture.

We definitely can’t wait until we agree with someone on everything to start praying with them. Praying with one or two other people will help us know each other better. When you pray with someone you lift up to God the deepest desires of your hearts. If you know someone’s deep desire, you know that person more closely.

What if we were to begin praying in groups of two or three? A friend who pastors another church in our county told me this week that he was going to challenge his congregation to a “two or three challenge” based on these words from Matthew. He is asking his church members to find one or two other people and pray together. What an awesome challenge- and what a hard thing to do! Some of us are scared to death of prayer. We’re ok if someone offers a prayer for us, but saying a prayer ourselves, or praying with one or two other people- that might send us right over the edge! We’re not used to praying like that.

You probably saw this coming but Dee and I are going to challenge you to the two or three challenge. The good news is- you don’t have to start today. You are more than welcome to start today; in fact some of you already pray in small groups- we’ll need you as our encouragers and our guides. I want you to start thinking about this challenge and about who you could pray with if you were to pray once a week with one or two other people. Dee and I are going to ask you to do this during the season of Lent. Lent is that 40 day preparation time when we get our hearts and minds ready for Easter. And it doesn’t even begin for about a month. This year Lent begins with our Ash Wednesday service on February 17.

During Lent we are going to ask you to pray with one or two other people at least once a week. We’d like to know who you are going to pray with, and in return- we will give you a sheet each week with an idea of what to do in your prayer time with your group. We’ll give you step-by-step instructions that you can use if you’d like or you can do your own thing with your group. If you have no idea who you can pray with- Dee and I would love to find a prayer partner or two for you. For the next month though, I want you to think about this and to prepare your heart and mind to pray with one or two other people.

What do you have to loose by praying with one or two others? I’d like to say that there is absolutely nothing to loose in this challenge, but like with anything worth doing, you might have to give up something good to gain something better. You might have to give up some time. It will take time to meet with your prayer partners either in person, or over the phone, or by email (you can get creative here). If you’ve never prayed in a small group before then it will take a change in your established spiritual routine. You might give up a bit of privacy as you share your joys and concerns with others and they begin to know you in a deeper way.

What do you have to gain from praying with one or two others? Our scripture says the presence of Christ will be with you. In addition, you will get to know one or two others in a deeper way. Maybe your Lenten journey will be more meaningful this year. Maybe God will do something new and wonderful in your life. Maybe you’ll get to know yourself better. Maybe you will feel uplifted, upheld and cared for in ways you never imagined.

I don’t know what will happen for you in this two or three challenge. I deeply believe its worth accepting and trying. In her book called Unbinding the Gospel, Martha Grace Reese says this about prayer:
“Prayer is more about receiving from God than it is about asking God for things or working hard at intercession. Prayer involves effort, habit and focus; but it results in lightness, energy and excitement.” Could anyone use lightness, energy and excitement in their life? Can you step up to the two or three challenge? Today I’m just asking you to think about it, and to make your heart and your life ready to pray with others beginning next month.

I know how much my twin friends enhanced my life growing up, is it possible that praying with one or two others might enhance our spiritual lives in the same way? I pray for each of us a boldness and a willingness to try this kind of praying. I hope for us the presence of Christ, known and felt deeply in all kinds of ways but particularly in groups of two or three. Amen!

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