Pastor Michael Swartz


In the gospel the disciples ask Jesus, “increase our faith.”

One way to understand the cumulative power of worshipping together on Sunday mornings is to develop an enriched language of prayer to strengthen our faith.  We can grow closer to God through prayer.

As a youngster I was coached to close my eyes, bow my head, and fold my hands.  This was to help me avoid distraction, I’m sure.  And also so I would not distract others, or poke my sister.  And I was guided to memorize prayer – “now I lay me down to sleep.”  And for a kid with an over-active imagination the line, “if I should die before I wake…”  Well, let’s just say that untimely death was not something I wanted to emphasize with my daughters.

 We sometimes prayed at the table – “God is great and God is good; and we thank God for this food…”  And later, “be present at our table Lord, be here and everywhere adored…”  And the efforts of my parents were supported by the Sunday School at our church.

Prayer in this part of my life focused on speaking with God as a conversational partner.  In the life of the church this “speaking with God” is expanded in several ways.

First, we speak with/to God not only as an individual, but also as part of a group.  We speak as part of a body of God’s people.  We pray to God in physical proximity to others.  We read the same words at the same time.  At its best the Pastoral Prayer is an articulation of the concerns of a congregation on a weekly basis, and dramatized with the pastor facing the altar and praying on behalf of the group.

Second, we expand the range of topics and moments of prayer.

  • We praise God together.
  • We thank God together.
  • We acknowledge our sin, or human foibles and vulnerability to God; we confess.
  • We are encouraged to acknowledge our personal shortcomings as well.
  • We dedicate our gifts and our efforts to God.
  • We dedicate our lives to God.
  • We lift into God’s hands our brothers and sisters who have died.
  • We bless and dedicate marriages, baptisms, confirmations, those serving as officers and leaders, ordinations, and more.
  • We bless bread and wine…

Third, the church uses a language of devotion that calls on the experience of the church over the centuries.  On any given Sunday we may be using a prayer with language of St Augustine, “and our heart are always restless til they rest in thee…”; or St Francis; “all creatures of our God and king.”  There are seldom footnotes.  The use of the Psalms is to model a life of common prayer that extends over millennia and cultures.   Over the months we pray together some of the great prayers of the church, and they work their way into our conciousness.  “Therefore with angels and archangels and the whole company of the heavenly host we praise your name …”  This is part of what is called “Christian formation.”

Together we develop a language of prayer.

“Those who sing pray twice!”  The great hymns of the church unite us with our fellow worshippers in praising God.  And they unite us with generations who have gone before.  Listening to service for Elizabeth the second, recently, I was transported by the singing of the Charles Wesley hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”  Not only is it hymn I have sung most of my life, it is part of my particular branch of the church.  And Elizabeth had chosen it for the service, and as I listened I remembered that it was Rev. Ken Kuenning’s favorite hymns.  Music can transport us closer to God, and knit together moments of time in remarkable ways.

Up to now we have talked about a language of prayer in terms of words – either spoken words or sung words.  But prayers can go beyond words.  The scripture talks of the spirit praying with us in sighs and ways too deep for words.

There is the emphasis on breathing, and mental images of our breath.  I am delighted that “centering prayer” is part of the experiences that our church is offering.

Many seek to develop a discipline of listening; my words can sometimes get in the way.  This is part of the genius of certain physical activities that so engage our concentration that they somehow free our souls and imagination.  There are some for whom sewing is a form of praying; some for whom coloring mandalas is a form of meditation.

It is possible to talk about prayer so broadly that it looses specific meaning.  But if prayer is being with God, and the message of Jesus is “the realm of God is neigh,” then prayer is all that draws us closer to God.  And God’s way.


One of the great developments in my lifetime has been a recognition that we are “all in this together,” which is an emphasis of World Communion Sunday, which has also emerged during my lifetime.

There is that photo of the earth from space taken by NASA – the Big Blue Marble.

There is the growing realization that we are impacting the environment and sustainability of our planet, our common heritage, by our stewardship of nature, or lack thereof.

Carefully passing the globe from one person to another during Children’s Time, as we sang “God’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” is something of a prayer, also.

Thanks be to God, Amen and Amen.

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