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Answered Prayers

Updated: May 13



“ANSWERED PRAYERS”

a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

May 12, 2024


John 17:11-19 NRSV

11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.


So “Mothers’ Day” and Stewardship themes…  there’s some natural connections: mothers are “stewards” of the children God gives – caretakers, caregivers of a life given by God.  But as a man and someone who has never given birth to a child I want to tread carefully on this territory.  As I listened to this passage of Scripture, which is part of the standard readings for this Sunday, what I heard was a prayer.  And as I thought about Mothers’ Day and stewardship themes the phrase “answered prayer” seemed to come to me as a starting point.  I know for many who are mother’s, children are an answer to prayer.  I know being a mother can be complicated and relationships with one’s mother can be complicated.  I can’t begin to parse all that out in a sermon.  What I can do is invite us to think about how Jesus prays for us, whether we are mothers or not, and how we can answer his prayers and others’ by our faithfulness.


I am talking about prayer here because this passage of Scripture is a prayer by Jesus.  John puts these words in Jesus’ mouth on the evening before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion began.  Some say John is sharing Jesus’ prayer not only for those first twelve disciples, but for all those who followed – those in John’s church some fifty or sixty years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection – and for us.  For you and for me.  That’s right, John is telling us Jesus prayed you and for me.  Can you imagine that?  But as great as that is, I got to thinking about it, and I wondered what it must be like to be the answer to someone’s prayers.  I’m not trying to get all egotistical here, or claim that I was the answer to my wife’s prayers because I am so wonderful.  I mean it more deeply than that.  And so that leads to me to the connection I believe between stewardship and answered prayers.


In 1984, after finishing seminary, I was called back to my home church to be the Assistant Pastor and I was ordained there.  In one of our first conversations the Senior Pastor, Julius Rice asked if I “tithed.”  I said I didn’t know.  Literally, no one had taught me about tithing in almost 25 years of being in church from a baby to a graduate of Harvard University.  I began to explore what tithing was and to make a long story longer I made a commitment to begin tithing.  When Tammy and I were married she had a long history of knowing what tithing meant so it was a natural thing for us to continue. 


As I studied tithing I learned several principles that helped me.  I learned that giving 10% of my income was just part of the story.  As I read the Bible, I recognized that first, tithing was a way of honoring God first in my life.  So I decided to make it the first check I wrote after each time I was paid.  It was a symbol of putting God first.  I had also learned that tithing meant giving of “first fruits” in the Bible.  The Jewish people were expected to bring the best fruits and best animals as offerings, not the leftovers or the runt of their litters.  So for me, making it the first check I write was a way of doing that.  I learned that by doing that, by giving first out of what I had, it made it a lot easier to give than waiting until I had paid everything else and gave my offering out of leftovers.  I learned that many people suggest that if you aren’t giving 10% and aren’t there, start by figuring out where you are and make a goal to increase by 2% a year until you get there because most people give 2% or less of their income and jumping to 10% in one step can be overwhelming.  Tammy and I have continued to give 10% ever since those first years with one short interruption.  I want to share that interruption as it illustrates for me what I think of as the blessing of tithing and how that can be an example of answered prayers.


It is a story of a boat and as most boat stories go, it is perhaps both a tragedy and a comedy.  When we went from our first church to start a new UCC Church in Sebastian, Tammy was working as a teacher and needed a car.  As we were buying that car, right across the road was the Indian River and right on that river was a boat yard.  To cut to the chase we ended up buying a small used boat.  The foolishness of that decision – my foolishness - should have been obvious from before we bought it, as it took three tries to get that boat running before we ever paid for it and went putt-putting down the Indian River.  The extra costs of boat ownership began with the fact that the boat did not come with a trailer, so we had to buy a trailer separately and that was a major production.


Then came what I call “my Boating Black Friday.”  On that particular day Tammy was still finishing up at school but students were out.  I decided to take 2 teens from our youth group out skiing.  The primary reason I wanted a boat was so I could go skiing.  But it is hard to drive a boat and ski at the same time, so I needed company.  I hitched that used boat on that new trailer to our new car and headed out.  As we went over the railroad tracks the trailer came off the ball of the trailer hitch and when I realized it, I slammed on brakes.  Bad choice.  The trailer kept going forward and punched holes in the rear bumper of that brand new car.  Things only got worse from there. 


We got to the ramp and launched the boat.  Just AFTER we got it in the water, I asked the teens if they had put the plug in the transom.  They said “the what, in the what?”  I pulled the boat back up and let it drain and put the plug in.  Then I realized we had a flat tire on that new trailer.  To shorten this long story a bit, we couldn’t find anyone who could fix the flat for us on that day.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about that, but I was sure I was going to go skiing.  We got the boat out into the water and the two boys took turns skiing.  When it came to my turn, the one driving hit the throttle and the boat began to plane.  Then the engine suddenly sputtered and quit.  We got it restarted, began to come to plane again and it sputtered and died again.  We could not get it to restart.  I am no mechanic, so I didn’t really know what to do.  We were drifting off to the rather shallow side of the river.  I thought we would flag down a passing boat to maybe get help to tow the boat back to the ramp.  Every one of my friendly fellow boaters that went by waved happily at us as we waved trying to get them to come tow us.


At this point we were out of the channel and the water was about hip deep.  I jumped out of the boat to push it to a dock nearby.  I jumped out barefoot and as I did the thought occurred to me, “I should probably have shoes on because I could step on an oyster shell and cut my foot.”  Of course that’s exactly what I did.  Cut my foot. We finally got the boat to the dock and walked to a house nearby where we were able to call for help.  This was before everyone carried cell phones everywhere.  Now not to extend the story I won’t go into detail about how when one of our church members who came to tow us back to the ramp ran out of gas as he was towing us back to the ramp, or that after we finally loaded that boat back on the trailer and pulled it back out, the trailer had not one flat tire but two.  And it only had two tires on it.


Let me cut to the chase.  The bliss of owning that boat went on and the expenses of repairing it began to be so much I stopped paying my tithe as the first check, as first fruits to honor God.  Soon I found that there was never enough at the end of the month to meet that commitment.  I began to resent that commitment.  I prayed to God to guide me about what to do.  As I prayed about it I realized I had never had a problem giving what I wanted to give before but now I did.  I realized the problem was I had gotten my priorities out of order.  The very next payday the first check I wrote was our full tithe.  That required some sacrifices.  But within a couple of months, I was back on track and my resentment had disappeared and the things I couldn’t buy, I didn’t miss.  I was glad to have found an answer to my prayers.  More than 30 years later we still tithe and still find it a blessing.  By the way, when we were ready to buy our first house we sold that boat, at a pretty big loss, but we made enough to make the down payment, so that too was an answer to prayer.


I never feel like talking about tithing is a demand or a guilt thing.  You should never feel like you have to give or tithe because someone demands it or tries to guilt you into it.  I hope every person prays about it and seeks the answer that God has for her or him.  I know giving has always been one of the greatest blessings of my spiritual journey.  I believe every dollar I have returned to God has answered someone’s prayer, including my own prayer to a be a faithful steward.  A lot of people argue that tithing is too much to ask, that a lot of people don’t have enough to get by.  I believe everyone can give something if they do three things.  Pray about it.  Decide to give, and then plan to give regularly, as the first thing they do with any amount they receive.  If it’s a dollar I believe you will be blessed.  If it’s 10 percent or anything in between or more I believe you will be blessed, because I believe to give is to be blessed.  I believe this because I believe to give is to bless someone else, to change their life.  I know what each of you who gives that your giving changes lives and when you do that you are answering someone’s prayer.


Jesus prays, saying God has sent him into the world, and now he sends us.  I believe this church is an answer to prayers from the world around us in many ways.  I believe that the love of God answers prayers.  Above all, I believe God’s love never fails.  I want to be part of sharing that love with the world, and I thank each and every one of you who helps make that happen by your giving, your commitment, your faith, and love for this church and for God.  AMEN.

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