When I accepted my call to the congregation I serve, Peace Lutheran Church, there was a standard “Letter of Call.” It enumerated the particularities of my call, including preaching and teaching; administering the sacraments; leading worship; providing pastoral care; and equipping the saints. But along with it there was another sheet of paper that listed Other Provisions (being special emphases of the pastor and special encouragement by the congregation). And in that section, which was signed by myself, the President of the Congregation and the Secretary of the Council, we promised to pray for one another.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, which we are reading together in our Adult Forum sessions this season, says simply, “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.” In other words, the extent to which we will succeed as a Christian fellowship depends first and foremost on the way that we pray for one another.
Why? Why would prayer make such a difference in our lives together? Bonhoeffer points to one answer in the quote above. Because when I pray for another person, when I hold them up before God and ask that God be active in their lives, I am forced to do what I would otherwise not do. I am forced to see the other person as one for whom Christ died. If I pray with any honesty, I am forced to remove that person from the realm of my own desires, and place them into the realm of God’s Kingdom. Which means that I don’t get to think about how to make this person do what I want, how to manipulate her into voting with me on the council, how to stop her singing off key in the pew behind me, or how to stop him from bringing green jello to every blessed church function. Instead of placing this person into my own sphere of influence, I am asking God to take this person into God’s own care, where my own influence, desires, even my own wisdom, meets its end. Because there, in God’s Kingdom, the other person gets to be nothing more nor less than God’s beloved. I sometimes get a glimpse of this as I am serving communion, when I am struck suddenly by the overwhelming realization that God loves each of these people, and I don’t have a say in why, how, or especially who. God’s love isn’t mine to assign. And praying for another person reinforces this reality.
Another reason that prayer makes such a difference in community is a corollary of this first. Praying for one another reminds us that we are not alone. If I pray for another person, and know that another is praying for me, a bond of love is formed there, even if that person is utterly infuriating in all other circumstances. Just as I am forced to see the other as one for whom Christ died, I am also forced to see that person as a fellow member of the Body of Christ. We are made one by the Spirit, by the prayer of Jesus, who prays for each and every one of us in this week’s Scripture. We are one in the Spirit. Praying for one another reminds us of that.
And so I try to take that line from Other Provisions seriously. Each day, I pray for you. There are some of you for whom I pray each and every day by name. Others of you I pray for by name when you tell me you have a special need. Some of you I pray for by name only once a year, during the week of your birthday; but I do pray for each of you during the week of your birthday, taking time each day to think about you and your gifts and your life and giving thanks to God for the ways that you use your gifts and your life, and even praying that God would prompt you into new, even challenging, ways of being. I hope that you pray the same for me. But whether I pray for you by name daily, weekly, or only once a year, I pray for all of you, and myself, each and every day. Each day I lift up the people of Peace Lutheran Church – past, present, and future – and pray that God would lead us together into God’s promised and preferred future. If you are reading this, whether you are in worship each week, or whether you have never even been to Washington, MO, and are only connected to Peace Lutheran through this blog this one day, I include you in this prayer. We are one. We do not make ourselves one, not by where we sit, where we live, who we are, what we do in service to the church or not, how much we give, or even whether we pray for one another. We are made one – it is a reality already accomplished for us. We are invited to participate in that reality, or to ignore it. I pray each day that I might learn to participate in it. And I pray that you do, too. Amen.