Every Word a Prayer, Luke 17:11-19

Katie Myers | October 20, 2022

Come and See Sermon Oct. 9, 2022

Every Word a Prayer, Luke 17:11-19

By Katie Myers

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.  As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19

What does prayer look like?  Let’s try an experiment.  Take out your phone and Google the word “praying”.  Then right below the search box, tap where it says “Images.”  Scan through the images and tell me what’re the most prominent things you see (pause) – it’s a lot of folded hands, bowed heads, kneeling, closed eyes, right? 

I don’t know about you, but most of my formative experiences of prayer looked something like this (bow head, clasp hands) and sounded like a running inner monologue or reciting a memorized prayer or listening to someone else speak formal and polished words.  There was praying and then there was not praying.  Although I’ve since enjoyed many varied modes of prayer, this early experience is still in many ways the default for me and maybe for many of us.  And frankly it’s been more than a bit of a stumbling block for integrating prayer into daily life. 

A decade or so ago, Anne Lamott wrote a book called, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  In the introduction she writes, “My three prayers are variations on Help, Thanks, Wow.  That’s all I ever need, besides the silence, the pain, the pause sufficient for me to stop…” Today’s story of the lepers being healed contains each of those prayers. 

Help!  “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” the ten lepers call out from a distance.  Have mercy.  Eleison! (sing) Christe eleison.

Thanks!  One of the ten throws himself at Jesus’ feet thankyouthankyouthankyou!  Euchariston.  Oh like eucharist.  Jesus took the bread, broke it, gave thanks to you…

Wow! “Then one of them when he saw that he was healed, turned back, — I imagine him running — praising God with a loud voice.” Doxazon – (sing) Praise God from whom all blessings flow….Doxology. 

Maybe the liturgical versions of those one-word prayers resonate with you.  Notice too the variety — we’re singing, standing up, eyes open, making gestures – in a restrained Methodist way. Maybe you’ve also experienced those prayers in a personal context. Maybe they sounded something like “Oh No! “Yes!” “Oh!”.  Or maybe just a sob the middle of the night when you can’t sleep, a sigh in your car, a smile around the dinner table, a little jig of delight in the kitchen. Look again at the lepers in this story.  Their prayers look like hollering, walking, shouting, sprawling on the ground at Jesus’ feet all out in the open air of the Samarian-Galilee borderlands.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, modeled a life of prayer so expansive that he said that he prayed just as well in the din and hubbub of the busy monastery kitchen as he did while taking the Blessed Sacrament.  That he was as much in conversation with God while washing dishes as he was during his “official” times of prayer.  How do we start to tap into a model of prayer so wide that snippets of our daily lives become prayer? A model of prayer where there is no such thing as praying and not praying.

I volunteer several days a week at the Greyhound station with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition.  We’re there meeting asylum seekers, handing out sandwiches, and generally making sure folks don’t miss their bus.  When the time comes for them to leave, we wave and say some variation on “Adios. Que vayan bien. Dios los bendiga.”  Goodbye.  Have a good trip.  God bless you. 

It’s a little ritual that I performed without much thought, until a few weeks ago when something happened.  When I said “Dios los bendiga” to a group of men about to head out to Dallas, they answered “Amen.”  And then it happened again. “Dios los bendiga.”  “Amen.”  Over the course of the week, it happened again and again.  Dios los bendiga.  Amen. 

Now maybe they’ve always said that and I just haven’t noticed.  I think we can all remember something that we were oblivious to until that moment when we were not. 

What I was awakened to by these interactions was the awareness that this routine phrase, this pleasantry I was saying might in fact be a prayer that I was offering.  And if that phrase could be a prayer, where else could prayers be waiting already in my life unnoticed?  Goodbye – short for God be with you.  Amen.  Ahchoo!  Bless You!  Amen.  Have a nice day.  Amen.  See you later.  Amen.  Get well soon.  Amen.  Let me help you with that.  Amen.  Thanks so much! Amen. 

What if every time you said Goodbye, it was a prayer and every time someone told you Goodbye, you responded Amen?  If we did just that maybe a crack would open in the wall between praying and not praying.  Perhaps we might find every word a prayer, every step a prayer, every moment a prayer woven into our day.  Help! Thanks! Wow!