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)

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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