July 2010

By Marty Troyer

What is the point of prayer when there is, as you all know, much to do in our world? We need more action, yes? Not more lazy people who sit back and do nothing. This week’s stunning revelation of leaked US military documents by Bradley Manning almost had me thinking about prayer in this way. After all, it was action that seemingly cast such a dark cloud over our current wars. As people of peace, this was a good step in slowing down the military industrial complex that is destroying our world. Is this than, an invitation to set aside our Christian distinctive and run into the arms of the activist community?

Perhaps not. The day after this story hit the news Congress passed yet another multi-billion dollar support package for our ongoing wars. The excitement of the previous day was short lived, if not gone altogether! Action is short lived. How can we sustain ourselves in the midst of this one step forward, two steps back world we live in? And war/peace is only ONE issue we care deeply about! What about all the energy we put into our loved ones lives, church, work, or other issues (the Gulf Oil spill) that seemingly yields no results?

Which brings me back to my title question, does prayer work? And if so, what do we mean by “work”? What is the result and benefit of prayer? The most energizing answer I’ve heard to this question comes from Barbara Brown Taylor, who answers her granddaughter’s quiry , “Oh, sweetie, of course it does. It keeps our hearts chasing after God’s heart. It’s how we bother God, and it’s how God bothers us back. There’s nothing that works any better than that.” That is precisely how I experience prayer: as a chasing after God’s heart. For it is in prayer that God orients our vision towards God’s plan for the world and kingdom coming on earth as in heaven. It is here, in prayer, that we are energized to be like Christ in forgiveness, radical hospitality, and justice. Prayer is that which sustains us for the work to which we have been called.

I am not competent to say whether or not God “answers” our prayers for loved ones, or for peace, or for anything. But I have experienced over and again God’s pestering loving call through prayer to not let a person or issue be forgotten. Across the vast separation of Houston, I find it particularly meaningful to pray for you each every week as a way to enact my care for you, and as a way to connect with your lives when we are apart.

Within the month of August I want to offer you two tools to keep you chasing after the heart of God. First, this Sunday you will find in your church Mailbox the August Prayer Guide for Faith and Learning, distributed from Mennonite Education Agency. This guide invites you to connect with God’s passion to disciple faithful young adult Christians through Christian education.

Second, you are invited to join me August 15-21for the Week of Prayer for our Children and Youth. We are invited to join dozens of other Houston area churches to pray for specific needs of Houston youth, such as Diversity, Poverty and Food Insecurity, Public Education, Human Trafficking, Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, Childhood Obesity, and Advocacy Works. A Faith Summit for interested people is being held on Thursday August 12, I will be in attendance as a sponsoring faith leader. If you would like to attend with me, please let me know.

Does prayer work? Yes, absolutely! It keeps us connected to the things God cares about, and it sustains us in our work! Prayer does not take the place of action any more than action can supersede our call to prayer. So whether it be prayers for peace, prayers for loved ones, or prayers for our city, let us continue boldly to pray as Jesus taught, “your kingdom come, your will be done.” May God continue to bother you, as you chase after the heart of God! AMEN.   

Now, instead of talking about prayer, I’m going to grab my prayer book and head into the sanctuary!

By pastor Marty Troyer (written in my GOD’S STORY-my story journal this week). The following is what happens when I imagine sitting down with Jesus’ friend Peter, who struggled with violent tendencies and accepting outsiders into his community, two issues we see overly prevalent in our world today.

Marty: How’s my faith going? Thanks for asking Peter. I gotta tell you, it’s tough down here in Texas. Everyone here claims to be Christian. There’s a church on every corner, & most of them are bigger than my hometown. It’s hard to follow Jesus when everyone claims to love him, then lives however they want.
Peter: Yea but Marty the real question isn’t if you love Jesus or not. It’s do you trust him? Do you believe that Jesus’ way of living is the best way of living your life? Do you believe the world he is creating is the best world imaginable? Do you believe him enough to “be obedient to Jesus Christ (1:2) which you were “chosen by God and sanctified by the Spirit for (1:2)”? One specific example would be, do you believe that God’s kingdom will come through violence or nonviolence? In other words, do you trust the path of peace?
Do you trust that nonviolence is better than violence? If you do, “The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:9).”
Marty: I think I do. But in the real world it seems a lot more complex than just “trusting Jesus.” The world is messy, and violence is everywhere. What’s it mean to trust Jesus when state executions happen two in a week, our President fights terror with unmanned army drones, and we militarize our borders against “illegals”?
Peter: Well, you might remember Marty that once upon a time I too believed that violence could solve problems. When they arrested Jesus, I pulled out my knife and stabbed a guy, thinking the only way to protect him was to kill.
Marty: Yea, but it didn’t work! And Jesus totally shot you down for it!
Peter: I know! You’re right, it didn’t work. But that was I all I knew, I thought I was doing what was best. It wasn’t until later that I realized I had to choose: Jesus’ way of love and making peace or accepted cultures’ way of violence. Scripture says, “the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God will last forever (1:24-25).” We all have to choose to follow God’s ways or our own.
Marty: But it’s not just the culture that celebrates violence and war, it’s the church too!
Peter: I know! That grieves the heart of God so deeply. But that’s exactly what I meant when I said, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone…They stumble because they do not listen to God’s word (2:7,8).” There are so many people who were just like me before I was converted: they claim to believe in Jesus but never realize that more than anything else believing in Jesus means we need to believe Jesus. Marty you can’t be like that! “For you are a chosen people, you are a kingdom of priests (2:9).” Being a Christian in Houston or anywhere else means you believe Jesus. You have to trust his wisdom is better than the worlds! That’s what I meant earlier when I said you have to trust him.
Marty: Ok, so back to my real life examples. What does it mean to trust Jesus in the face of war and terrorism?
Peter: “Don’t repay evil for evil…Turn away from evil and do good. Work hard at living in peace with others (3:9,11).” Trusting Jesus means you think this is indeed the best strategy, and so you practice that same behavior. It means not celebrating war on national holidays. It means not fighting terror with terror. It means forgiving our enemies is the best thing for society, not executing them. It means that one 4-star General in Afghanistan over another is not the answer.
Marty: To so many people that just sounds silly. They think we’re supposed to trust Jesus with our afterlife only…our hearts. I hear you saying we need to trust him in a different way than that. Are you saying that if we pray, Jesus will keep our country safe?
Peter: Not at all! That sounds very naïve, don’t you think? I’m saying that Jesus strategy for overcoming evil is a better strategy than violence. Violence just creates more violence and hate. “You have to worship Christ as Lord of your life (3:15),” which means doing what Jesus did: seek the peace and welfare of everyone, don’t follow the law of retribution, create communities of care and support, fight injustice, make sure everyone is in right relationship together, turn swords into plowshares, etc…. It’s as simple (and as complex) as that!
Marty: And you’re saying that this “strategy” can actually work? That nonviolence and peace building are viable options on the international scale?
Peter: Absolutely! If it was good enough for Jesus, why in the world would it not be good enough for you? Marty, “if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it (3:15).” Peace works! It may not always work, but violence never ever works. It always creates more problems than it creates. But peace can and does change lives and communities. It’s not some post-utopian picture of life after the second coming, it’s what we’re supposed to be working for here and now! Jesus isn’t going to “save us” in some magic way, we’re supposed to work with him to create the kind of world where peace is the norm, not the exception.
Marty: Speaking of violence not working, Jesus told you at one point “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Was he talking about the justification for capital punishment or the fallacy of believing the myth of redemptive violence?
Peter: Peace was a big deal for Jesus. He taught about making peace a lot, forgiving our enemies (which he did from the cross!), building community, nonviolence as the only workable response in the face of evil. So yea, I would say he was thinking about how ineffective violence really is at accomplishing anything positive in the world. But he was also thinking about how degrading violence is to the human soul, both to those who inflict and receive it. Let’s be very clear about something here Marty, violence can cause a lot of suffering for people on all sides of the conflict. Jesus himself suffered as a victim of violence (3:18), but just like Jesus anyone and everyone can be “made alive in the spirit (3:18), because “he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you (1:3-4).” Violence enslaves us, but peace sets us free. Your friend Doug Ensminger has learned a lot about the incredible pain suffered by those who return from war. Peace isn’t just good news from a policy standpoint, but also from an emotional-psychological standpoint. So are you bold enough to share this Christian hope with others? Or are you content with being “the quiet in the land” and keeping it to yourself?
Marty: I’m not sure it matters either way. Most of my non-Mennonite friends just laugh at me when I talk about peace. They think it’s silly or naïve. And my congregation in Houston isn’t exactly the largest church in Texas!
Peter: “Be happy if you are insulted for being a Christian (4:14)!” You might not always be understood, but neither was Jesus. If they had understood what he was doing, they never would have killed him, would they? Of course not! But the world needs to hear this message of peace, now as much as ever. We need people willing to celebrate peace, and to talk about it during their lunch break at work. It’s too important not to. And too central to what it means to be Christian to leave behind.
Marty: Ok Peter, I have to ask one more question. When did you finally get it? I mean, clearly you never did while Jesus was actually here!
Peter: You’re right, I didn’t. It took me awhile. I “got it” when I began to see evidence of Jesus’ new kingdom breaking out all around me. I got it when enemies began to be reconciled, and when people with no business of being together lived together in harmony. I got it when God’s Divine Yes of Shalom overwhelmed me and captivated my attention so much that the ways of the world seemed dull and lifeless. Most of all, I got it when I realized, “give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you (5:7).” Peace isn’t about taking matters into your own hands, its about putting our lives and our efforts in God’s hands. Peace, more than anything, is trusting God.

As the Church on the Sermon on the Mount, may we indeed be “For World Peace.