When God’s Eyes Can Hear

1 Kings 8:22-30, 52-55
David A. Davis
November 5, 2023
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This morning’s scripture lesson comes from the Book of I Kings and like last week, it is prayer of King Solomon. This prayer comes after Solomon and the people finished building the temple, the house of the Lord. Solomon assembles all the leaders of the people of Israel to have them bring the ark of the covenant to the inner sanctuary of the temple. After offering a blessing on the ark in its new place and celebrating the fulfillment of God’s promise regarding the house of the Lord, Solomon stands before the altar of the Lord and before the assembly of Israel and offers a prayer. A long prayer. I will be reading the beginning and the end of Solomon’s prayers of the people.

I Kings 8:22-30,52-55

The 20 or so verses between the beginning and the end of Solomon’s prayer contain his intercessions for the people of Israel. The prayer list includes asking God to reward the righteousness. When drought comes, that God would bring rain amid if the people turn back to God. If there is famine and plaques in the land, that God would heal the land if God’s people repent. That God would welcome foreigners in the land who come to pray in the house of the Lord and turn to God. Solomon asks for protection for the people in battle and to return them from exile in a foreign land again if they repent and turn to God. The shape of the prayer has an extended “if-then” format built on God’s promise that when the people of God turn to God, over and over again, God will restore them.

I chose to read just the beginning the end of Solomon’s prayer for others for a few reasons. From a downright practical standpoint, long scripture readings in worship and before a sermon are a challenge both to read and to hear. Also, Solomon’s petitions have that rhetorical and theological pattern more easily summarized in the context of God’s covenant with God’s people. Lastly, and frankly, some of them are hard to read with war raging now in the region and so many innocent men, women, and children have been killed. Solomon’s prayer was so long and perhaps so fervent that he began standing and facing the people. By the end he is kneeling before the altar of the Lord. the beginning and the end of Solomon’s prayer provides insight into the relationship of God and God’s people and perhaps some insight into an understanding of intercessory prayer in our own lives.

Here’s a little pastor’s secret to share with you. For those of us who lead worship on a regular basis, whose tasks include preaching and praying and reading scripture and welcoming and passing information along about church life, the hardest part week in and week out is not writing a sermon. The most challenging part hands down is crafting the prayers of the people. When it comes to preaching, at some level most listeners acknowledge that a sermon represents one person’s thought and effort. Hopefully guided, informed, inspired by prayer, the Holy Spirit and grace of God. Praying the pastoral prayer on behalf of everyone is more of priestly role; petitioning God on your behalf. The prayer is your prayer. Our prayer language is your language. Our words, your words. So, form and content and word choice is of the utmost importance. There are some Sunday mornings when the one leading the prayer longs to be in a tradition where such prayers come from the prayer book week in and week. In our tradition the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving at the Lord’s Supper tends to be the only time our prayer comes from a book.  There are some weeks, like these weeks right now, when it takes much longer to write the prayer than write the sermon. And every Sunday the one leading the prayer has to find the balance between praying a list that is never long enough and can sound like a check list and asking God to guide and empower a congregation’s life of discipleship as God engages God’s people as part of God’s answer to prayer in the world.  Prayer, and especially intercessory prayer rests so very deep within our hearts. So very core to a relationship with God. And according to the witness of scripture, our prayer rests deep within the very heart of God.

Near the end of his prayer for the people, Solomon prays this: “Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant , and to the plea of your people Israel, listening to them whenever they call you.”  Let your eyes be open to the plea. Not let your eyes see, let your eyes hear. Let your eyes hear and let your ears see? A jarring combination just like last week’s prayer when Solomon asks for a “discerning heart”. Not wise mind but a wise heart. Let your eyes be open to the plea, O Lord. A striking turn of phrase. Perhaps a minor anthropomorphic, poetic move. But a move full of promise.

Because before God’s eyes are open our plea, God’s eyes are open to God’s world. We believe God sees before we ask. God sees the world for which we beg. God sees the war and the suffering we lament. God sees the hungry, the unhoused, the poor we lift up. God sees the lack of justice that sparks our voice. God sees the loved one for whom we pray endlessly. God sees the dying friend we grieve. God sees the newborn we celebrate. God sees the bounty for which we give thanks. God sees the reconciliation we ask for again and again. God’s eyes open to our plea. God sees before we ask.

No, the promise doesn’t guarantee all prayers answered. The promise doesn’t address all the questions about the omnipotence of God and the reality of a world so far from what God intends. The promise doesn’t render intercessory prayer meaningless. A prayer for others nurtures our faith and our relationship to God. It is God inviting us into an alignment with God’s own yearning for the world and for the new life God offers. The new life God is creating. God inviting us into relationship and a deepening faith.

Professor Don Juel taught New Testament at Princeton Seminary and worshipped here at Nassau Church for years prior to his death. Dr. Juel once preached a sermon to a chapel full of seminarians on Palm 139. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up…..whither can I go from you spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence.” When it comes to our lives and the world we live in, Juel proclaimed, “Such things are not unknown to God. God watches, and not from a distance…Does it not make you uneasy to think there is someone who knows all about you?….There will be times when the words of the psalmist will make you shudder. I hope so” he said. “For in that shudder, there is an acknowledgment of God’s real presence and also a sign that faith is still alive.” Or to put it another way, when it comes to our lives and our life in the world, God sees before we ask. Our asking is an acknowledgment of God’s real presence and a sign that faith is still alive.

Let your eyes be open to our plea. Perhaps a foreshadowing or an affirmation of the Apostle Paul’s writing about the Spirit’s role in prayer in the Letter to the Romans. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs to deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” The Spirit intercedes, sighs, groans, far beyond words. Because God sees our heart and see the world before we ask. If the Holy Spirit nurtures the divine mysterious relationship of the Trinity through intercessory prayer, so should we.

The Episcopal preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, tells a story of her granddaughter in a sermon about the parable Jesus tells of the unjust judge and persistent widow who kept knocking. The title of the sermon is “Bothering God.” They were celebrating her daughter’s 7th birthday with cake and candles and song. The little girl blew out the candles so fast that someone asked if she was going to make a wish. “I don’t know why I keep doing [this wishing thing]. Last year I wish my best friend wouldn’t move away but she did. This year I want to wish that my mommy and daddy will get back together” Her mother jumped in to assure that wasn’t going to happen and not to waste a wish. “So why do I keep doing this?” Taylor points out in the sermon that a wish is not the same thing as prayer and goes on to paint a meaningful picture of the persistent widow who demanded justice day after day after day. Saying it to the judge day after day was, in the preacher’s words, “how she remembered who she was. It was how she remembered the shape of her heart.”  At the very end of the sermon Taylor offers what we will say to her granddaughter when she inevitably asks her priest grandmother if prayer really works. “Oh, sweetie, of course it does. It keeps our hearts chasing after God’s heart. It’s how we bother God and it’s how God bothers us back. There’s nothing that works better than that.”

God’s eyes open to our plea. As we come to the Table this morning on this Sunday closest to All Saints Day, I find myself pondering Jesus’ intercessory prayer in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John. It’s the section of the gospel tradition labels “Jesus’ Last Discourse.” Jesus offers a long prayer for those followers God has entrusted to him. Jesus prays for them and for “those who will believe in me through their word.” It’s more than promise. It’s a breathtaking, life sustaining comfort really. To remember, not just at the Table, but every morning or every evening, to remember when you are praying for the world and for others, to remember that Jesus the Savior of the whole world, Jesus never stops praying for you.

Come to the Table. The one who prays for you invites you. Come and feast on God’s grace. For God’s grace opens God’s eyes to hear your prayer.