Here in Florida I am adept to the feeling that comes after a hurricane passes. The holiday season, even the liturgical seasons that precede the coming of the new year, sometimes feels like a hurricane. You prepare for the storm to come by stalking up on canned foods, making sure you have all the essentials like water, batteries, and the like. This is like Advent, where you anticipate the coming of Christ as Christmas. Then it comes! Bam! The hurricane runs through the town like a bull in a china shop, wrecking and smashing everything in sight. Christmas morning comes, and chaos ensues as family comes, presents are opened, and all you want is a nap and a nice time. All of the recovery and clean up happens by New Year's Eve when you do it all over again....
....and then it's all over. the holidays, the "hurricane," has passed, and you think to yourself, "what just happened...what now?"
United Methodists traditionally mark the coming of the new year with a re-committment to following Christ. We recite a prayer together:
Here at Gray Memorial UMC, we had a service on NYE that offered an opportunity to read this prayer, consider it for own lives, and commit again this year to following Jesus, to trusting God, to loving God and our neighbors.
One of the things I love about being a UM is how we provide ways in which folks can grow in Christ. Offering this prayer is one way, and another is through our membership vows. When someone commits to being a UM, they say yes to the question"
"As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?"*
That is how United Methodists follow Jesus, trust God, and worship God and neighbor. That is how United Methodists articulate what being a Christian is.
So, for the next 5 weeks (that will take us to the beginning of Lent), we will explore each component of these vows. And the thing is, I don't necessarily think that living out these vows are what it takes to be a United Methodist, but a Christian. With that said, this time of reflection and engagement with these vows are not intended to be a time of heralding the UMC over and above following Jesus. It does not take being a UM to follow Jesus. These five practices of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness are what it takes to follow Jesus.
The first component is prayer. It is not first by accident. Without prayer, this whole "walking with Jesus, growing in Christ, loving God and neighbor" thing might all crumble. Prayer is the backbone of the Christian life. It keeps an ongoing line of communication with God open and alive. It keeps Christians engaging with God. There are so many ways that we are invited to prayer: in solitude, corporately, by asking God to do things, by asking for healing, forgiveness, or God's presence, through singing, dancing, listening, or walking...you can be prayerful in just about everything you do, if it is done for the desire to be heard and known by God, or listen or engage with God..
The following passages are examples of prayers. They also give some reasons prayer can help us engage with God and trust God. Go ahead and read them, and maybe jot a few notes down or underline some things in the passage that resonate or impact you...
Psalm 86: 1-13
Prayer is a way of life. A way of life that trusts and expects God to engage with you. A way of life that seeks and engages with God and what God is doing. Long gone are those images and ideas that prayer requires locking yourself in your room and using flowery language so that God can hear you and answer you. No, prayer is a way of life.
And when we don't know what to pray, or where to start, we can follow Jesus by praying possibly the most powerful prayer ever, the one he taught his disciples to say:
*United Methodist Hymnal, 38.