Getting Our Insides Moving

Luke 11.1-13

The focus of this morning’s text and message is prayer. And as I reflected on prayer I quite naturally thought about…caterpillars. There was a story on NPR this past week about a researcher who was studying how caterpillars move.

“Caterpillars don’t have a bone in their body. They move by squeezing muscles in sequence in an undulating wave motion. It is easy enough to observe from the outside, but [the researchers] wanted to know what was happening on the inside. They decided they needed to X- ray a caterpillar as it crawled.”

That’s no easy task. For their caterpillars they custom built a tiny caterpillar treadmill. They took their treadmill and caterpillars in training to a “special, X- ray-producing particle accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.”

But then came the really hard part: they had to get the caterpillars to move. “Do you realize how hard it is to get a caterpillar to move when it doesn’t want to?” lamented the researcher. They tried foods, smells, blowing on them, and stroking them gently with different things. They threatened to ground them on the weekends and take away their XBox (actually I made these last ones up). They tried everything.
Finally, after all that, they moved. The treadmill did its thing, and the particle accelerator did its thing, and there was rejoicing. They found something interesting. They discovered that a caterpillar (well, to be accurate, the Manduca Sexta variety of caterpillar) precedes each step with a thrust of its gut, i.e. its innards.

Just at the start of every little caterpillar step, something inside sways forward. It’s insides moves before it’s outside. Can you picture it? (Isn’t God’s delicate creation wonderful? All it took to discover how wonderful it is was a particle accelerator and a custom built caterpillar treadmill!)

The researcher and his adviser (he is doing this for his PhD) say that they are “unaware of any other animal where the insides move before the outsides do.”

I beg to differ. Now, I’m not a biologist, I’m just a small town preacher, but I would offer that there is at least one other creature in God’s beautiful creation who moves (I would say at least most of the time) from the inside out; yes, I am speaking of the human creature. It may not work that way with regard to the mechanics of the body (we have bones, caterpillars don’t), but it sure works that way in the mechanics of our lives.

We move–forward, backward, to the sides–from the inside out. Whether it’s rooted in fear, anger, some cleverly devised intellectual rationale, or some unknown instinct that is written deep within our genetic code, or whether its rooted in love, we move from the inside out. We may move for self-preservation or betterment, or for love of family or friends, or for compassion for neighbor, or love for God, but it begins in here, with a thrust of our gut, our innards…and this is precisely why prayer is so important.

That one disciple saw Jesus move away from the group often. Praying was a regular part of Jesus routine. Not being dense all the time, the disciple began to make the connection that Jesus’ prayer life had something to do with his faithful life. He began to understand that there was a connection between Jesus praying and his powerful teaching, and with his never ending compassion, and with his relentless focus on what he came to do. He saw Jesus spend time in conversation with Abba, his Father, and then wondrous, special, mysterious things would follow. He saw Jesus move from the inside out.

You know, when I first heard the story of the caterpillars, as I pictured the researcher yelling at that caterpillar, “Would you please, please move!” and as I pictured that caterpillar motionless on that custom built caterpillar treadmill while million dollar machines whirred in the background, I thought of God as that caterpillar. We tend to think of prayer that way. We pray because we want God to move! That’s the way prosperity preachers preach about prayer. Pray (and send in your $50 bucks to the P.O. Box below or we’ll be happy to prayerfully accept your credit card over the phone) and God will move. Too often, I won’t say always, but too often, God seems to sit motionless on the custom built treadmills we construct. Those who don’t connect with a life of faith, and to be honest we ourselves too, wait with our particle accelerators to record God’s response to our yelling, our stroking, our blowing; and we are disappointed in God’s refusal to move. If you think it’s hard to get a caterpillar to move when it doesn’t want to, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

While hoping that God responds to our prayer in the ways that we’d like is a natural, and valid part of prayer, I have come to believe that the most important part of prayer is not trying to get God to move, but allowing God to move us. I believe an active prayer life is a wonderful thing because it moves our gut. It moves our innards so that we can then move on the outside based on what God has done on the inside.

“Lord teach us to pray.”

Oh this is a rich text. Jesus responds to the disciples request (and invites our innards to move) by giving the disciples a model prayer. Say this.

Our Father – this is someone who cares for you, who is in relationship with you, who wants to be close to you and spend time with you. This is a God who loves you.

Hallowed be thy name – You are our father, yes, but oh how awesome you are oh, Lord! We cannot understand you fully, we can’t fathom your depths. You are holy, set apart. We recognize that you move not only within our gaze but beyond it as well.

Your kingdom come – We focus on your will, O God. God help us when we focus on our kingdoms; how messed up they get, and how many pay the price. But you promise righteousness, and justice and peace and joy and wholeness, we want that kingdom, O God, your kingdom. We trust in the hope you proclaim.

Give us each day our daily bread – Help us not to worry about our next meal so that we can focus on you O Lord. We depend upon you. Make it just enough for every day, otherwise I focus more on my bread than on your coming kingdom. BTW, Lord, if I do have more than enough, what do you want me to do with it?

Forgive us as we do the same in our relationships with others. Your grace and love shown toward us provide the model for how we are to live with others.

And Lord, if you can keep us out from all the stuff hitting the fan…in our lives, in our communities…in our world? We depend completely upon you.

This prayer certainly asks things of God, but more significantly, I believe, it also shapes us. It moves our guts. That prayer centers our focus on a loving and awesome God. It reminds us that we are dependent upon God, and it prays that we imitate the same gracious and loving ways God shows us. When we pray, it shapes our insides, and gets them moving, so that our outsides can follow.

And when enough of our individual insides move in the same direction, as we pray together, than bigger outsides, our families, our churches, our communities, our world begin to move. That the way prayer works.

I don’t know how significant this is grammatically, but did you notice that the disciple doesn’t say, “teach us how to pray?” He asks “teach us to pray.”

That’s because our outside world distracts us. It can overwhelm us, depress us, and in so doing, draw our attention away from the source of life. The outside world can confuse our insides and get them moving different directions (sometimes at the same time!). Prayer lets us know that the outside world is not the final word. Our outer circumstances do not have final control over our lives. Prayer draws our gaze inward, toward God’s grace and love and to a place of peace that has a deeper foundation than we can understand.

How do I make it during the day? How are we going to survive together in such a crazy world? Prayer, scripture suggests, a daily discipline of breathing, meditation, and quiet, a time when we can figure out of what is really moving our insides. Is it fear? Guilt? Anger? Sadness? Love? God meets us there and orients our insides in such a way that we are able to move in the right direction. It makes a difference…and its a whole lot better than yelling at a caterpillar God.

It must also be said that, like human life in all it’s complexity, prayer rarely works according to a formula. There are times when we feel empty, or when God seems distant, or when answers are lacking, or the answers we get are exactly opposite to the ones we want. It’s a struggle. There is mystery here that we cannot comprehend.

I don’t have an answer for that. But persistent prayer does open our eyes and spirits to truth, and to new possibilities, and to God’s surprises. We see things in ourselves and in the world that we didn’t see before. We find God in places we don’t expect.

I know it’s tough. I myself am not a prayer warrior. But that’s why its good that we come here. We remind ourselves that when we knock on that door, somewhere an opening will appear, a door or a window will open and we are invited to move (or climb) through it.

When we seek, God will guides us at some point to what will give us light, and warmth, and sustenance and wisdom and peace. Lord teach us to pray.

One final note. In Jesus story, when the neighbor knocks on the door in the night, Jesus says that because of his persistence, the one inside will stir and respond. Persistence is nice. That works for me, but the term actually is closer to meaning ‘shameless’.

In ancient world-with their honor/shame culture-shame is what moved people to action. Some interpreters think that Jesus is saying that the neighbor inside will certainly respond to the petition of the one knocking if not out of friendship, then to avoid the shame in the eyes of the community of turning a neighbor in need down…perhaps. How much more will God do for the children God loves?

Others suggest that it is the shamelessness of the one making the request that stirs the one inside. I like this too. I believe in shameless, audacious prayer. I believe God likes it too. I believe that God loves it when we come to God asking for anything and everything. I believe that because I believe God loves it when we come, praying “Lord move, or move me.”

So be shameless in your prayer. Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray until God moves, or until God gets your insides moving and moves you.

If God can do it with a caterpillar, how much more will God be there with you. Amen.

(To listen to the recorded sermon, please click below)

This entry was posted in Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Back to School, Not Back to Church…

    …at least not all the way. Some ministries of the church are in action, others are not.

    Ministry is Continuing!

    To date we have shared around $7,000 with our local community to help relieve those affected by coronavirus, and we have another $2,000 we will be distributing now. This has gone toward food, diapers for families in need, rent & mortgage relief, and other purposes.

    Thank you for continuing to worship with us—our YouTube videos get around a hundred views each week, and in some cases, there are multiple people watching one screen. Thank you for listening. And thank you for your continued financial support.

    We are going to be doing some new things in the interest of our own spiritual health, fellowship, and the ministry of the church. The first is drive-through communion (or drive-thru, as it is frequently written).

    Drive-Through Communion — Sept 6th, 9:15-9:45am

    If you wish, you’re invited to drive through our parking lot on Sunday, September 6th from 9:15-9:45am and I will serve communion to you. You are just as welcome to partake of communion from home, as we’ve done the last few months.

    Fellowship Bike Ride — Sept 13th, beginning at 1pm

    On Sunday, September 13th we will have an FPC Bike Ride. We will meet at FPC and go on a 10-mile bike ride led by John and Jean Stewart. Maps of the route will be provided, and a shorter route will be available if needed. Some of the route will be on streets and some on dedicated bike paths. Meet us in the parking lot at 1pm, and we will depart by 1:15.

    Zoom Bible Study — every Tuesday morning from 8-9am

    If you’d like to join us for Bible Study we will begin on Tuesday, Sept 8th, from 8-9am. We will meet via Zoom so you can enjoy breakfast and coffee from home. The zoom link will be available on our First Pres Logan Facebook page each Tuesday morning.

    My role as pastor is to be a spiritual guide, someone who helps each of you on your faith journey (and as you might imagine, you help me just as much). I confess to you that feeling like we are connected and in touch these months has been a struggle. Continuing to not meet in person remains one of the more challenging decisions of my career in ministry. I want to see all of you each week. Worshiping at home via YouTube is certainly just as pleasing to God as when we gather and sing, but it doesn’t feel the same to me, and I’m sure it doesn’t feel the same to you. Hopefully, some of the above activities will help us with that.

    In the Presbyterian system the pastor does not make decisions about all of the activities and happenings around a church. The pastor leads worship, teaches through Bible Study and similar endeavors, provides pastoral care, and participates in many other diverse activities around the church and community. We have Elders and Deacons who take on other responsibilities, including making decisions about church activities (reserved for Elders, who serve on Session). Who does what around a church (and how we do it) is outlined in the Book of Order, which covers all kinds of things. But as you can imagine, there isn’t a chapter titled What To Do in Case of Worldwide Pandemic.

    The Elders that we elect as a congregation (you elect them, Pastor Meg and I do not vote) make many important decisions for each congregation, although pastors frequently share their thoughts and offer guidance for any vote that is taken. The Session of FPC Logan met on Wednesday, August 19 and voted unanimously to continue with online worship for at least the next month (until the next Session meeting, on September 16th).  At that meeting we will reassess the situation and take another vote for the coming month (or months). Session made this decision because we don’t feel it is safe for us to be in the same room for an hour together. Some people may be willing to take the risk. I am not, and neither are your FPC Elders. Of particular interest is the effect that the return to school will have on coronavirus numbers. Public schools and the Utah State University are back in class now, with both online and in-person classes. Also, of great interest is progress in vaccine trials. We are praying that one (or several) of these vaccine trials provides good news in the next few months.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all,

    Derek

  • Pages