Sunday, July 25, 2010

9 Pentecost

July 25, 2010

Colossians 1.6-19; Luke 11.1-13

+ On Tuesday afternoon, Pastor Mark Strobel of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church called me and asked if I wanted to go over to St. Mary’s Cathedral downtown and see the relics of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which are “ on tour” at the moment. I didn’t think twice about it. I very eagerly went.

Now, my reason for going didn’t have anything to do with the fact that they were Mother Teresa’s relics necessarily. I didn’t feel one way or the other about her particularly. I went because I am a self-confessed, fully diagnosed relic junkie. I love relics—especially what is referred to as “first class” relics—which are bones or other actual physical items of a saint. I love looking at the little pieces of bone and other fragments of different saints. As some of you know, I am the very proud possessor of a first-class relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Episcopal-born founder of the Roman Catholic Order of the Sisters of Charity. So, of course when I heard about Mother Teresa’s first-class relics, I HAD to go.

I’ll admit it was a bit eerie filing past her photos, her sandals in a glass case, her rosary and profession cross and the reliquaries containing a bit of her blood, two strands of her hair forming a cross, and a piece of bone. But what amazed me more than anything else was how the people there responded to these relics. There was a reverent silence there that was amazing despite the number of people who were present. And for several people who went forward to kiss the reliquaries and to kneel in prayer before them, it truly was a sacred experience.

For all our Anglican criticism of such things, it was one of the moments in which God truly seemed to be at work. God was present there, in a very real way. God was using these relics to speak to people—even to me. God was using these relics to “break through” in a way. And people responded to that “breaking through.”

Now, for most of us here this morning, bones and bits of blood and strands of hair probably are not going to do it for us. We’re good Episcopalians, after all. And despite our love/hate relationship with the Reformation (or maybe I’m just speaking for myself), it is moments like this that we may actually find ourselves (God forbid!) giving thanks for Martin Luther and John Calvin and the Wesley brothers. But, even for us good Episcopalians, there are these wonderful moments when God just breaks through to us, wherever we might be. And God does break through to us in wonderful ways.

Last week, in our reading from Colossians, we heard Paul talk to us about how Jesus is the eikon or image of God. We heard him say that “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” In other words, when we look at Jesus, we see God-fully and completely.

Today, in our continued reading form Colossians, Paul continues his discourse. He expands a bit from this view of Jesus as the eikon or image of the living God. Today, we hear him pulling no punches in his view. Paul writes,

“For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…”

That is no light statement. That is a whopper of a belief. In Jesus, we find God—full and completely—in this one Body. Or, as the great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“In Jesus Christ the reality of God entered the reality of this world…Henceforward one can speak neither of God not of the world without speaking of Jesus Christ. All concepts of reality which do not take account of him are abstractions.”

In a sense, what we are witnessing here is the ultimate “breaking through” to us by God. God has truly, full and completely broken through to us in the physical human form of Jesus. So, if this is the case—if Jesus is truly the fullness of God—then, how do we respond to such a “breaking through? How CAN we respond?

Well…I think all we can do is pray. All we can do in the presence of something that incredible and that intense, is to …. Pray. Now, at first, when I say that, no doubt the first thought that comes to your mind when I say “Pray” is to make petition. But that’s not what I mean. I am not saying that in those moments when we recognize God’ breaking through to us that we kneel down and start asking God for things—as tempted as we might be to do so.

When I say Pray, I mean that we should simply open ourselves completely to God. We should take on a prayerful attitude. Or, as the Catechism we find in the back of The Book of Common Prayer defines prayer:

“[It] is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.”

Prayer in the face of God’s coming to us and revealing God’s self to us, we do find the need to respond in some way.

In our Gospel for today, we find Jesus talking about this response. We find him talking about prayer. The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus responds by teaching them the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Then he goes on to share a parable about a friend asking another friend for a loan. In the midst of this discourse on prayer, Jesus says those words we find quite familiar:

“For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knows, the door will be opened.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the complaint from people about unanswered prayers.

“I prayed and I prayed and nothing happened,” I will hear.

And I definitely not going to tell you how many times I have complained about unanswered prayer in my own life. But when we talk of such things as unanswered prayers, no doubt we are zeroing in on the first part of what Jesus is saying today:

“For everyone who asks receives.”

But rarely do we ever get beyond the petitionary aspect of prayer. Jesus shows us that prayer also involves seeking and knocking. Oftentimes in those moments when a prayer is not answered in the way we think it should, we just sort of give up. But if we seek out the reasons our prayers are not answered, we may truly find another answer—an answer we might not want to find, but an answer nonetheless. And if we keep on knocking, if we keep on pushing ourselves in prayer, we will find more than we can even possibly imagine. The point of all of this, of course, is that when God breaks through to us, sometimes we also have to reach out to God as well. And somewhere in the middle is where we will find the meeting point in which we find the asking, the seeking and knocking presented before us in a unique and amazing way.

In that place of meeting, we will find that prayer is truly our response to God “by thought and deed, with or without words.”

Jesus is clear that prayer needs to be regular and persistent. I have found that prayer is essential for all of us as Christians. If we do not have prayer to sustain us and hold us up and carry us forward, then it is so easy to become aimless and lost.

As some of you know, I lead a very disciplined prayer life. I do so not because I’m acetic or overly-pious or saintly ( I don’t think there’s anyone here this morning would call me any of those things—and if you would, you don’t me know at all). I lead a disciplined prayer because I can very easily become a lazy person regarding prayer. I pray the Daily Office every day—the services of Morning and Evening Prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer. I pray for everyone at St. Stephen’s by name through the course of the week. And I take regular times during the day to just stop and be quiet and simply “be” in the Presence of God.

The Daily Office is sort of the skeleton of my day. I have prayed the Office every day, without fail (well, there have been a few times when I’ve just been too sick to do so), for the last seven years. Actually I was praying the Daily Office long before that, but beginning at my ordination as a Deacon on this day seven years ago, I promised I would never miss praying the Daily Office. And, for the most part, I have not.

I made that promise, because I know that I am a creature of habit. I need the discipline of the Daily Office to keep me in check and to lay down the boundaries, because without those boundaries, I would too easily be led astray.

Of course, the Daily Office was a requirement for all Deacons, Priests and Bishops. Although in our current Book of Common Prayer it is not laid out so clearly, in earlier versions of the Prayer Book, it was emphatic. . In the 1662 Prayer Book it says this:

“All Priests and Deacons, unless prevented by sickness or other urgent causes, are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or in the Church.”

And, I have tried to do so every day over the last seven years. Some days not so well, other days better. I have prayed the Daily Office on wonderful days, when it all came together, on bad days when I really didn’t want to pray it all and, by far the majority of days, when I prayed and it was neither great nor horrible. And, as you’ve heard me say again and again, I commend the Daily Office to everyone who has issues like me of needing some structure in their prayer life. Fifteen minutes in the morning, fifteen minutes in the evening and a lifetime of spiritual sustenance.

The important thing, however, is not to be bound by structure or rules such as this. The important thing is finding a way in which we can each respond to God by thought and deeds, with or without words. The important thing is to recognize that God is breaking through to us, again and again.

We see it fully in Jesus, who came to us and continues to come to us. In response to that breaking through, we can each find a way of meeting God, whenever and where God comes to us, in prayer. In that place of meeting, you will receive whatever you ask, you will find what you’re searching for, and knocking, you will find a door opened to you. That is how God responds to us.

So, let us go to meet God. God is breaking through to us, wherever we might be in our lives. Let us go out to meet the God who asks of us first, who seeks us out first, who knocks first for us to open the door.


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Anonymous said...

在你一無所有的時候 是誰在陪伴你 他便是你最重要的人............................................................