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HELP: Practice of Expansion & Petition.

Sermon Series on Brian McClaren’s book Naked Spirituality   

Preached:  February 24, 2013

Things are heating up as Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem. Some Pharisees warn Jesus of Herod’s plan to kill him. Jesus responds directly. LIke a tree planted by the waters he will not be moved. “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”  He continues his mission, despite threats. His harsh tone changes to lament, longing and tenderness. “Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Jesus mourns over Jerusalem because they have chosen human scarcity over divine abundance. They seem satisfied with the status quo, even if this means appeasing  Roman domination, in order to keep the peace.   Like prophets before him, Jesus recognizes that his message may cause physical suffering. He knows he may be killed. And yet, he continues to share his message out of love for the city and the people.

How did Jesus deal with threats, betrayal, deep disappointment, and abandonment? Ultimately we know of one place in the Bible where Jesus petitions God for help.  It is when he is in the Garden of Gethsemene, just before he is arrested and crucified. Luke 22:42  “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not my will, but thine be done.”  I can imagine other times when Jesus goes off to pray, that as he communes with God, he is also asking God for help.

At what point in our lives do we ask for help?  Often we are too independent, stubborn, to ask for help.  Or we have been disappointed.  Ultimately, we need to ask God’s help.

Come to me all who are heavy laden, weary and burdened, I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Help represents a move from self-reliance to God reliance. When we ask for help, we are bound powerfully to God through our worries, wounds, & disappointments.

McClaren demonstrates a difference between immature and mature petition:  p. 104-05 from Naked Spirituality

Immature petition tries to convince God to remake the world in our image for our convenience and ease, but mature petition asks God to remake us in God’s own image – we can expand our capacity to respond to the world as it is.

Immature petition asks God to give us an easier world with fewer annoying jerks to contend with; mature petition asks God to help us become stronger, kinder people – and less annoying to our neighbors

When we cry out for help, we reach out for resources and capacities we don’t yet have. We offer our anxiety to God with the spiritual understanding that God won’t necessarily change the situation, but will ultimately change our hearts. We have gained the maturity to know that even as Jesus did not receive a a get out of suffering free card, nor will we.

Instead our prayer might be a desire for strength sufficient to meet life’s challenges instead of asking God to decrease our challenges. By asking for God’s help, we choose expansion and transformation of our hearts rather than contraction.

Many of our requests for help have to do with the anxiety, fear, and worry we carry.   Anxiety tempts us to turn every situation into a catastrophe and bring about the worst case scenario, to inflate every risk as personal cataclysm.  Surrounded by catastrophes, we shrink into the primitive mind of the amygdala: fight, flight, or freeze.

The very act of translating anxiety into asking for help serves to disempower our anxiety and empowers us.

Reframing allows us to rename our need.  Instead of: “vanquishing all who oppose me”, we can request compassion to understand our antagonists, mercy to forgive, wisdom to communicate, and determination to work with them.

While the reptilian brain screams that we need to flee (I gotta get outta here), we can ask for help to endure the situation, insight into why we are so reactive, and creativity to transform our response into something more productive.  The reptilian brain may freeze us: somebody is mad at me, I better lay low, put my head down, and stay out of sight.  But we can request courage to stand tall, humility to accept being misunderstood, & resilience to get back up after being knocked down.

Life’s challenges offer opportunity to develop virtues.  We could refuse to develop virtues, and instead choose vice as our coping strategy. p. 109 (NS)

Even when we don’t respond well, even when we degenerate instead of evolve, even when our hearts contract into an angry fist, it’s not too late.  We can still choose a more expansive way of life with a change of heart, in every moment before us. We can partner with God to turn each challenge into opportunity for growth.

Jesus prayer in Garden of Gethsemene: I don’t want to….but if doing so will unleash new possibilities for good, then I will drink the cup before me and expand to meet challenge.

Requests for help might be focusing on a word:  guidance, patience, courage, resilience, boundaries, mercy, compassion, determination, healing, calm, freedom, wisdom, peace.

Prayers for help can also be for those times when we have been wounded.  Ultimately, it takes less energy to feel and process pain than it does to suppress or run away from it.

Betrayed, insulted, taken advantage of, lied to. forgotten, used, abused, passed over, cheated, snubbed, robbed, vandalized, misunderstood, misinterpreted, excluded.

                        Pain that isn’t processed is passed on.

Pain that isn’t transformed is transmitted.  Richard Rohr

We turn to God, focusing on what we need God to do for us to receive healing, instead of focusing on what the other person needs to do in order for us to be healed. Instead we are turning from the antagonist to god, focusing on what we need God to do for us.  Opening our soul to receive healing from God’s generous spirit.

We can also bring disappointment to God.  What hasn’t happened. Anxiety is about what could happen.  Disappointment is focusing on what has happened.  If we don’t bring our disappointments to God, we may blame God, alienating ourselves from our best hope of comfort and strength.  Prayer:  I’m still trusting, help me persevere.

Scan your soul for worries, wounds, and disappointments.

I am worried about….help me to let go of…let me rest in you O God.

I am disappointed about….but I am still trusting in you God.

I had hoped…I bring my paint to you God.  Help me heal

I am deep in the pit of despair…

Help me accept this shattering blow, and not be wiped out by it.

 Ask God for help in transforming your pain, so you don’t transmit it. So instead you become in the words of Henri Nouwen: a wounded healer.

Through the practice of petitioning God for help and expansion of our hearts the sacred connection can grow stronger through our anxieties, wounds, disappointments.    God who is full of compassion is ready to receive us.  We can come just as we are.  Words of petition when we’re hurt – comfort, encouragement, reassurance, companionship, appreciation, acknowledgement, letting go.

Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.   Rom. 5:3-5

Prayer of Jabez I Chron. 4:7-10  – Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my border,and that your hand might be with me, and keep me from hurt and harm!    NRSV

that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.     NKJV


Jabez means pain.  Cursed with this unflattering name – Jabez doesn’t want to become a victim of the situation into which he was born.  So he asks God to iberate  him from  the misfortune of his name, and the way he has been labeled, to enjoy life in its fullness.

Bless me so that I may be a blessing to others rather than a source of pain to them.

Heal me, not just so I can be healed, but more, so I can be a healer for others.

Provide for me, not just so that I can be comfortable, but more, so that I can provide for others and bring comfort to them too.

Pastoral Prayer  Holy God, you called us to this journey.  We cling to our problems as though they provide some degree of comfort and stability. Help us to let go of the pain, the problems, the chains that bind our souls. Open our hearts to hear your word. Place us on the journey with confidence and assurance of your presence. As we have offered the names and situations of those near and dear to us in our prayers this morning, help us to remember that we, too, are always in your loving care. Amen.