November 26, 2017
Matthew 4: 23-25
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
James 5: 13-16
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
We have many more options for healing today than in the time of Jesus, but sometimes options run out. We’ve all heard stories of miraculous healings. Those of us who pray have experienced times when our prayers are answered, our fears are dispelled, and our lives are filled with peace and love and joy again. God is good and we give thanks.
But what happens when we don’t get what we’re praying for? How do we respond? What questions come up then: Is God listening? Doesn’t God care? Is God a loving God? Am I unworthy? - being punished? What did I do to deserve this? How could God let this happen? Is there even a God?
John Welshons has spent the last 35 years doing inner spiritual exploration and helping others deal with traumatic life changes and loss. In his book When Prayers Aren’t Answered, he relates many of those stories, along with ones of his own. He grappled with these thoughts while drowning in despair and confusion during a time when his marriage was failing and his business collapsing. He shouted at God: “I really could have used some help here!” And God answered back, “I am helping you.”
This really irritated him. “Helping me do what?! I see precious little evidence of any help!” He tried to shut God out. He wasn’t getting the answers he wanted from his prayers.
“But the voice returned with a reassuring compassionate certainty and conviction, and these words: “I am helping you to find the treasure which - once found - is never lost.”
He has spent years reflecting on the meaning of that simple phrase: “The treasure which - once found - is never lost.”
Welshons has worked with hundreds of people facing profound loss and devastating changes in their lives - helping them to hear God’s voice when it appears their prayers for help are falling on deaf ears. His insights are profound and helpful when struggling with those difficult questions. I want to briefly share just a few of them and how they might relate to our prayer time today. Maybe you’ll be inspired to read his book.
He poses this question: ‘What if our unanswered prayer is showing us that it is our understanding of God that is imperfect?” What if God is listening - if God is there - always - but God is not a cosmic vending machine where we put in a prayer request and immediately get what we want.
What if instead, we thought of God as pure love, light - a unifying source that connects us all? I learned long ago that we don’t find God with our minds. We find God in our own hearts. As Jesus said, “The kingdom of Heaven is within you.” God’s love is within us, accessible to us at all times. When we feel love, we are feeling God.
Welshons tells us that “God protects us, not by prohibiting anything bad from happening in our lives, but by giving each and every one of us - as a standard equipment when we are born - everything we need to handle anything that happens to us.... No matter what happens in our lives, we can never lose our ability to connect with love, peace and joy. Those qualities are the essence of our beings. They are the essence of God.”
Our lives are constantly changing, sometimes in ways we do not welcome, and often that change causes fear. Think of us as having two states of being: love and fear. Fear separates us from God. Welshons says, “When we are fearful, angry and disconnected, we have drifted away from God. Every time we think or speak or act in a manner that expresses disconnection, we experience a subtle cry of agony in our soul.... Disconnection is the fundamental cause of all human suffering.”
He came to understand that the phrase that remained with him all these years and became a basis of his life’s work, “that treasure - once found - that is never lost,” that treasure is a deeper connection to God, to that love we can always tap into. The world can change around us, but that connection never goes away, unless we disconnect. The more we love, the closer we are to God.
So often it is when we are confused, frightened or in physical or emotional pain that we embark on a spiritual quest to deepen our understanding of and relationship to God. I’ve seen it happen in so many lives, including my own. So when our prayers aren’t being answered the way we hope, we are being given an opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with God, leading to a deeper sense of inner peace. From the depths of his despair, Welshons listened and deepened his own spiritual journey.
Jesus once told us “Whenever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am.” Welshons puts it another way, “Wherever two or more are gathered in the name of love, we are experiencing God.”
He relates the story of a woman who lost her 12 year old son after a long battle with Hodgkin's disease. From the moment of the diagnosis she prayed for his healing. After his death she was in emotional agony, angry at God. She couldn’t set foot in the synagogue. Her rabbi and therapist couldn’t understand the depth of her despair.
She said, “The greatest help came from my two dear friends, Mary and Shirley. They are neighbors of mine. I’ve known them for years. Our children grew up together. For months after Teddy died, Mary and Shirley would come over to my house every afternoon and cry with me. That was helpful.” Connection - compassion - love - that’s what helped her go on.
Welshons adds, “The things that are truly helpful and truly healing are love and community - the feeling that we are not alone... that we have friends whose hearts are big enough to hold our pain without judgement or aversion.”
So we are here this morning, gathered in love, to open our hearts and reach out to others who need our love right now. We are here as conduits to connect our own and other’s needs to the love of God, and to each other. And through that process to learn that, no matter the outcome, we are deepening our relationship to our creator, and finding that treasure, that once found, is never lost.