Sermon for 6th Sunday after Trinity

Colossians 1 15-28, Luke 10, 38 -end


May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Spirit of life,

Amen


"Lord, teach us to pray" a disciple asks Jesus. What follows are a series of short, titled reflections on prayer, the meaning of prayer, and Jesus' words about prayer today.


Prayer is not about words and lists

For reasons unclear to me the Western Christian church has inherited a form of prayer that is about words and lists. In gathered worship it seems traditional to talk to God about our concerns, the world, those who are suffering. Make no mistake intercessory prayer has its valuable place in worship. But words can also keep us at a distance from God. This may have a disastrous impact on our growing spiritual sense of God's presence. If you are always talking it is much harder to sense the subtle but profound reality of God's presence within us and among us. When you really love somebody you can be in their presence and be silent. Remember in Matthew's Gospel Jesus says, 'When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases... for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.'


Persistence in Prayer

In today's gospel Jesus draws attention for the need to be persistent in our spiritual lives, 'Because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.' For many of us we stay stuck, I suggest, at a very early stage in our relationship with God. Because we have often imbibed the idea that God is a very important, distant, big being who does things like run the universe and we have to sort of tell God about what worries us and can he/she come and sort things out. We stay with an image of God which, in the end, can actually lead us to rightly doubt the reality of God. So we need to find ways to break through old notions of God as a big, distant being. Instead we may find that God is the source of all being, a power, a love, so unknowable, so intimately present, that we move beyond our words, and meet with this presence in the silence of love. We need to be persistent in our hunger for a greater connection with this presence of God which holds all things in being. Just as the person keeps knocking at the friend's door, so we need to not settle for second best in our relationship with God. Always go deeper into that sensed presence of love. Let go of what you know.


Prayer is a way of life not something you do

These words of Jesus', 'Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened.' These words can be mis-interpreted as implying that you just have to keep praying and the things you ask for will be achieved. Again, this is a stage of faith where we can get badly stuck and indeed lose our faith as this is a fairy tale faith. But Jesus here is talking about a particular kind of consciousness. For a lot of us we can face our lives run by our past, past hurts, past worries. We approach the world, often, suspicious, defensive, anxious and wanting to be liked. If we approach the world like that what we ask for will be rejected and the doors will remain resolutely shut. But. What if we practice prayer as a way of life? That difficult, stuck relationship. What happens if you consciously bring God into that difficult place? That thing you fear so much. What happens if you consciously bring God into that fear? Somebody I know went through a traumatic experience but through the experience they said a silent mantra which kept them connected to the divine. The traumatic experience remained traumatic, but another dimension had come alive within it as well. A door had been opened. The more we learn to practice prayer as a way of life the more we may find doors opening in situations where doors have often remained closed. The doors Jesus speaks of are doors into an ever deepening awareness of the divine, within us and among us. The more we bring that divine awareness to stuck situations where there seems little awareness the more the situation grows, transforms.


Prayer as participation in God

That old god who is a big person who never existed. Once we get through that god we can begin to discover the living God. This is a God you will never get to the bottom of, this God can never be named or tamed. But we do need to learn a bit of stillness and silence so as to sense this living God more. This silence of love, which surrounds us and sustains us, is a love we can participate in, live out of. As Jesus says, 'If you then… know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.' The invitation is, travel deeper, through the door, to that depth of divine life within you. Make God, as it were, come alive within you, as you go about the challenges, the difficulties, of your day. The more you seek this divine depth the more you find it. I can remember a long walk through London. I silently recited the Jesus Prayer. 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me.' As I walked God somehow came alive. There was a beauty in the people who passed by, a depth opened up both within me and around me and God seemed to show up.


Nothing is More Exciting Than Prayer

If we think of prayer as saying our prayers and working through our lists and petitions, we might well feel that nothing is less exciting than prayer. But prayer as a way of life, participating in the divine life, bringing God into the heart of the complexity you live through, nothing I suggest is more exciting than that. You begin to look at people, the world, with the eyes of Christ, you begin to love with the heart of Christ. Don't take my word for it. Go out and practice.


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