If you’re like me, you may need the occasional reminder of just how powerful a tool for living we have in prayer. It’s easy to forget, quite simply, because we don’t get everything we pray for. And perhaps some of us, in our deepest heart, still lapse into thinking of prayer as being mostly about asking God for things. When we get what we want, our prayer was answered – praise God! When we don’t, well, we’re not quite sure what to think about that; since we know that God does not fail, and we know that God can do anything God wants to do. And so, over time, after enough losses and disappointments and “unanswered” prayers, it can all start to seem somewhat random. Some prayers get answered; some don’t. Sometimes prayer “works;” sometimes not so much. That’s how it might seem.
But there is another way to look at that; and it’s good news! Prayer is powerful and its power is not dependent on whether we get things we ask God for. The power of prayer does not lie in whether or how it moves or changes God; it lies in whether and how it changes us.
I’m working on a sermon, for this Sunday, that takes us back to Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. One of the things I’ll remind us of is that the immediate response to that prayer didn’t come off as a great success – if you define “successful prayer” as prayer followed by the desired outcome. Jesus asked God to let the cup pass, and it didn’t.
I’m fast-forwarding over two thousand years, now, to take note of how fitting it seems, to me, that during next week – Holy Week – the US Supreme Court will finally hear arguments in two pivotal marriage equality cases. My intent, in writing this, is to ask all who read it to pray that the Court will hear the cries for justice that will be presented to it; and that they will decide to strike down DOMA and Prop 8. This is so critical because if those discriminatory laws are declared unconstitutional, the impact will be to nullify all anti-equality legislation, constitutional amendments, and policies in every state and at the federal level.
I know that a lot of people think church and politics don’t mix. I’m sorry if you feel that I faked you out, a bit, starting off talking about Jesus in the Garden and sliding into this request for prayer for a positive political outcome. In my mind, the two are more than closely related – they are inseparable.
We who actually study Jesus, for ourselves – rather than allowing others to tell us who and what he does and does not like – we know that he is all about justice. We know that his love for humanity is “radically inclusive.” We know that he has honored our relationship commitments; has actually ordained and sustained them for many of us. We know that, because we have experienced it all along.
We also know that how people feel about us cannot be legislated or judicially dictated. A favorable outcome in these cases won’t suddenly turn the rabid homophobia of right-leaning, conservative fundamentalist types into loving affirmation and acceptance of our place in society or the church. We know that.
But we also know that we’ll be better off – regardless of how they feel about us – if, while they are feeling it, we’re enjoying the myriad legal and financial benefits that attach to civil marriage. And I have a theory that is based on the long-term impact of race-based civil rights legislation passed and landmark court cases decided during the fifties and sixties. Those strides toward a more just society could not, and have not, eliminated racism and race-prejudice in our country. It’s still here. Some people will never, ever, ever change their hateful ideas about different-others. Ever.
But let’s look at Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, for example. That case overturned laws that perpetuated school segregation. It didn’t suddenly change people’s minds about other people. But what it did accomplish was that it put young white children and young black children in the same spaces, at the same time, and ensured that none of them would get through their early formative years without ever having met, or played with, or talked to, or become friends with a child of the “other color.” I doubt that the impact of that exposure to “otherness,” over time and successive generations, is measurable. I do not doubt that there is a connection between the decision in Brown and the recent second Inauguration of our first African-American President.
So pray, Beloved, for the righteous, just outcome in these upcoming cases. Pray because every victory over injustice brings us closer to the coming of the dominion of God on Earth. Don’t be discouraged because it has taken so long; and don’t stop praying if we don’t get the outcome we want – this time. Marriage equality is inevitable. It will happen. Continuing to pray for it will keep us where we need to be as we wait for it, expecting it, in Jesus’ name.
Grace and Peace,