SERMON PREACHED AT ALL SAINTS’, CHARLEVILLE
EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST (25th July 2004) 2004
A week ago Anne challenged us to spend three minutes a day in prayer. It is easy to hear such a challenge, easy to mean well at the time, but our lives of faith are such that it is likely that few of us, if any met the challenge. I don’t even mean this judgementally. If I did I would have to admit, if I have any conscience at all, that I too fall short in my life of prayer. For that reason alone I am not tempted to do a hands up if you failed Anne’s challenge. My hand, too would be up, for in the maelstrom of every life there can be no doubt that God is often squeezed out. It is as well that in the liturgy in which we connect with God Sunday by Sunday we are trained to say sorry, to seek God’s forgiveness where we sin in ignorance, weakness or deliberate fault, in co-mission or in o-mission. I make no claim to perfection in faith.
A week ago, we contracted also to pray for Fiona’s father. Perhaps there too we fell short of our intentions, though perhaps with an awareness of a concrete need more of us passed the test of integrity. Again, there will be no ‘hands up if’, for we do not need our noses rubbing in our failings. Yet it would do no harm to remind ourselves that our undertakings of faith are serious matters, and that we do need to learn increasing discipline in our walk of faith, our practice of the presence of God.
We need to learn the habit of prayer, in all its many forms. There is the sense in which we seek to make our whole life a practice of prayer: ‘make my life a prayer to you’ sang Keith Green. But our life is more likely to become a prayer as we are immersed in the practices of prayer.
These are many and varied. Prayer can be, at its least, no more than a bullet rattled off Godwards in a passing moment. These are the moments in which we remember a situation in passing: So and so has asked us to pray for him or her and as we head out to the washing line we are momentarily reminded to mouth a quick ‘Lord, bless or heal or be with so and so in his/her time of need.’ We could do worse, and if we are to be honest there is much prayer that takes this form. But it is hardly the language of an enduring and stable love life, and enduring and deepening relationship between beloved life-partners. When our married conversations become no more than ‘nice dinner, thanks’, then we are hardly living out our marriage vows to have or to hold, but merely to co-exist in a state of coincidence. Our lives pf prayer can reach the same stagnation. Nice day, God. Remember mum. See ya. A focussed and intentional quiet time or use of the daily office is more likely to build a strong and growthful relationship with the God we claim to love.
The prayer Jesus teaches his church is a more disciplined and demanding effort. It too can become no more than a vain repetition, to talisman to be rattled off to make a day go well. This was not the intention of Jesus. This is a carefully crafted prayer that should not only be repeated in its form as we have in Matthew and Luke’s gospel accounts, but should also be the basis of most if not all prayer. It is a carefully crafted prayer, a template for focussed approach to the creator.
The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to God in a tone of respect, its phraseology located in the distance yet recognizing the accessibility of God – our God. This is God, our God, accessible yet beyond us ‘in the heavenlies,’ the unreachable-but-by-grace places.
The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to God in a tone of praise. It is not a tone of mere flattery or obsequiousness but a tone recognizing the distance between divine perfection and our too flawed humanness.
The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to God in a tone of petition. It is ‘other-centred’, praying for a Reign yet to come. This prayer is not for our benefit alone but to the benefit of all creation: come lord, come, come and wind up into your eternal self all of creation.
The Lord’s Prayer is also addressed to God in a tone of petition that is self-centred; give us bread of heaven today, give us bread of heaven tomorrow? The Greek tense is uncertain but this may be as much a plea for the food of the eschatological banquet as tucker for the day at hand. Either way it is a gently and appropriately self-focussed petition.
The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to God in a tone of challenge, challenging not God but as we speak it: forgive as we are forgiving, forgive us to the extent that we are forgiving. Dare we pray thus, making our being forgiven dependent on our offering forgiveness? Yet Christian doctrine hints that we do not stand alone in this, that by the help of the Spirit of God we too can learn to be forgiving as the Christ, with whom the Spirit invades us was forgiving even of his executioners.
The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to God in a tone of challenge, not a bad way but in a manner that God has given us permission to use. Luke’s exclusive story of the importunate widow gives us permission to pester God as we pray for those we love, for those who suffer, and as we continue to see no answers to pester all the more.
The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to God and challenges us to believe in answers. The analysis of countless thinkers before us is timeless, however trite it may seem: the answer to our petition may be yes, or no, or wait. However trite that response and analysis may be we must spend a lifetime growing into its wisdom.
And always, The Lord’s Prayer challenge us to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies as we say liturgically, to be an answer to our own prayer. Can I expect an answer to prayers for those who suffer when I and my lifestyle impose suffering on those around me? The implications of this dimension are myriad, endless, and take a lifetime of self-offering to be realised.
Finally, The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to God in a tone of doxology, of praise and adoration, that takes us back to an ‘Otherwards,’ outwards, away from ourselves focus. By immersing ourselves in life with that focus we may at last become the Christ-bearers we are called to be, living for others as or Messiah did and does.