Have you ever had someone tell you that they were praying for you? What a wonderful, reassuring feeling! To know that you are not alone, that someone cares for you and that God is right there during it all. To know that even someone unknown to you may be praying for you and checking on you regularly.
I know that I have a prayer partner here – unknown to me, at least for the time being — someone who is praying also for me. And that’s wonderful – I feel quite special, and truly blessed. By the same token, I am constantly praying for someone here in this congregation whose name I drew from a basket a few months ago. Don’t we all enjoy receiving a loving card from our church friends on special occasions? For our birthday, special occasions, or when we are not feeling well. Cards, telephone calls, emails – even chocolate or cookies! Messages of any kind to let us know that someone is thinking of us and is praying for us –“My heart goes to you.” Wow! It feels so good!
And here many, many kudos to our own Sunshine Bunch – a wonderful group of caring ladies who will always reach out to us with their caring prayers. These women not only are sunshine people – they also sunshine for us! See? I keep inventing English words. In this case, a new verb – “To sunshine.” How’s that? Our Buckeystown Sunshine Bunch made of sunshining women!
About thirty-five years ago – I was serving my first English speaking congregation, in Hartsdale, some 40 minutes north of Grand Central by train — I stopped by Dorothy’s home. One of our most senior members, Dorothy was feeling bad that she was no longer able to contribute more energy to the church as she had for so many years. She had been very active with the women’s group, the missions’ team, a couple of committees, our two annual fairs, you name it! Now she could not do it anymore.
Since she loved so much to be in touch with others in our church family, I invited her to help me “to keep a tab on everyone.” She could do it from home, whenever she felt up to, so she gladly accepted. Since our church directory had pictures of everybody, her assignment was fun as well.
Every day Dorothy would look at one of those names with a photo and pray for that person. And then she would send them a nice card, or a letter. Gradually folks started to notice. Someone teased me about this new “ministry” — Pastor Ariel, Dorothy is a terrific “keep-a-tab-on-everyone-around-here in chief”! One thing led to another, and eventually Dorothy decided to write “as needed,” as she said. Under the weather? – there she was. A birthday? – there she was. A visitor? – there she was. A new grandchild? – there she was. And she would gladly “report” to me every Sunday after church – I mean it, every Sunday.
In the end, Dorothy wrote several letters or cards every week. A new ministry in our church was born. Dorothy’s heart would go out to each of those brothers and sisters in the extended family of Christ as she lifted their needs and joys in prayer. Even in those cases when she did not know someone, still, she would pray for them – and folks loved it! And folks would contact Dorothy for prayers the way the apostle Paul used to contact his congregations whenever he felt prayers were needed here and there.
Today’s epistle tells us that Paul needed fervent, non-stop prayers of encouragement for his emerging congregation in Thessalonica, north of Greece, so that “the Lord lead you into a greater understanding of God’s love and the endurance that is given in Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 3: 5).
The day arrived when Dorothy moved to Tampa to live with a very dear niece. A couple of years later, Dorothy moved to a nursing home not far away. Her hands and her eyes were extremely tired, so was her voice. Yet she kept writing and corresponding and keeping me informed – not as often as before, yet quite regularly. I called Dorothy every two or three weeks — she loved it!
I’ll never forget a prayer she sent someone ill in our church – it was written on a restaurant paper napkin. From time to time, she would write to me — she certainly knew I was one of those creatures who needed, and still need, plenty of prayer to keep myself away from trouble!
Dorothy kept writing to me and to others almost to the end of her priceless life.
One of her latest messages – this time it was on a piece of paper with her nursing home’s lunch menu printed on the other side – read like this, “Dear Ariel, I keep praying for you, although this time it is not my own handwriting. A lovely visitor from a church nearby is doing it for me.”
In today’s gospel, the moment Jesus realizes he may soon be taken away from his disciples, he prepares them to be sent into the world, for his ministry must continue. That was a sort of in-between time for them, a critical time when they would have to make do without their leader and friend. A tiny, insignificant, very fragile “sunrise bunch,” now called to continue and nurture Jesus’s ministry in “the world.” Imagine those men and women in a world that was not prepared to welcome then at all!
So, Jesus prays for them. He prays that they may be safe wherever they go. He prays that they may be made holy so that others may eventually believe and be made equally holy and carry on with the Gospel. He prays for them even when they can pray for themselves, for they too need to be reassured that the Risen Christ is keeping a tab on them!
That’s why Jesus prays for us too here and every day. Jesus wants us to live as children of God and promises to give us the strength to face whatever may come. And we are to do the same for someone else – pray without ceasing for those around us and those far away. Our prayers will give them the courage and the strength to carry on through their own wilderness all the way to where heavenly mana can be found.
Friends, every time we come to this table to partake in Christ’s name, we ought to pray for one another, and for God’s world, for our lives are closely knit together and we are all companions with Christ and with one another. I have used this word – companions — quite intentionally. This word comes from two Latin words woven together – com, which means with, and panis, which means bread.
It literally means “those who break bread together,” or “those who share their bread with one another.” “This bread that we break to share, is not a sharing in the body of Christ? “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread in order to share it.”
May our prayers for one another give us courage and strength to be companions with Christ and with one another as we go about our business of becoming God’s a living bread to someone along the road. And never forget about this new English word I have invented this past week while away on vacation – let’s sunshine all the time the way Jesus is always sunshining for us.