Saturday, 27 July 2013

Lord, teach us to pray

Luke 11:1-13
The Lord’s Prayer
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Perseverance in Prayer
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him. ’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything. ’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, 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!”

Lord, teach us to pray.
A few months ago when I visited our BCs(youth group) through in the lounge, I was really pleased that, when it came to prayer time, the young folk were encouraged to take up comfortable positions before spending time talking to God.
For too long, prayer has been perceived as something we do in a prescribed way rather than being perceived as a relationship that we have with God.
Most of you will remember when the school day started with prayer. You bowed your heads and clasped your hands. And recited the Lords Prayer.
Recently I did some school assemblies based on the Lords Prayer and discovered that very few children could actually recite the Lord's Prayer.
That's just the way it is.
It doesn't mean that folk no longer pray.
They just do it without a prescribed form of words.
And while Jesus, in response to the request: Lord, teach us to pray, taught his disciples a form of words, his stories spoke much more of what prayer is - of how and why we should pray rather than what we should say.
The story Jesus told, of someone going to the door of a friend at midnight, demanding entry seems to tell a story of persistence.
But I don't think we should take from that the message that if we ask often enough, God will deliver.
This is more a message of audacity.
The audacity of asking that one can only have when we know well the one of whom we ask.
Jesus is not saying that if we are persistent, our prayers will be answered.
Jesus is encouraging us to build up such a relationship with God, a familiarity if you like, that nothing will seem too bizarre to ask.
A relationship that will survive, that will see us through when it seems that our prayers seem to go unanswered.
Lets face it, if the desires of our heart depended on our being able to ask efficiently and persistently, we'd all be experts in prayer, wouldn't we?
We'd all have it off pat - we'd know what to ask and how to ask.
But prayer isn't like that.
It is not a magic formula.
It defies logic.
For every one who has rejoiced in the miracle of answered prayer, there are countless others who continue to wait - or who have long since given up hope.
That's why Jesus, when asked: Teach us to pray, focused on relationship and not requests.
Getting to know God.
Honouring God in all things.
Working for God's Kingdom of justice and peace for all here on earth.
That's how we learn to pray. - by building up a relationship with God.
Earlier this year, I enjoyed reading a book on prayer by Anne Lamott, called, Help, Thanks, Wow!
In it, the author suggests that humans, knowingly or not, indulge in three main prayers - Help - prayers that we breathe, imploring God's help, Thanks - prayers in which we concede that there is a higher power to whom we can direct our thanks for the many blessings in life and Wow - prayers in which we acknowledge that words are not enough to express our awe at the sights we see every day.
Help, thanks, wow.
Lord, teach us to pray.

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Saturday, 20 July 2013

Extreme hospitality

Luke 10:38-42
Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

A couple of nights ago, I went down to the beach to watch the sun set.
I'm sure lots of you have witnessed the nightly spectacle this week.
And, if you've been too busy this week, there must be very few people who can't conjure up a time when they've been captivated by the beauty of the setting sun.
The beach and the prom was busy that night.
There were even some folk still in the water, taking the opportunity to cool down after a scorching day.
There were many folk with cameras, some set up on tripods to capture this marvellous sight that we see played out time and time again, through all the seasons.
But what struck me most that evening was the way a kind of hush descended on the prom, a stillness.
Folk stopped.
And, at that point where the sun makes its final drop behind the hills, there was a kind of collective sigh.
Before folk moved on again.
Being the preacher that I am, I wondered just how many of those folk, stopped in their tracks by God's handiwork sensed the divine presence.
Whatever the motivation or the meaning we import to them, it is good to have moments that stop us in our tracks.
Moments that divert us from our daily round, give us breathing space and pause for thought.

In the story of Martha and Mary, we encounter two Jewish women, well versed in the social norms of their day and, in particular the expectations on their ethos of hospitality.
When a guest entered a home, all the stops were pulled out, nothing was too good, nothing too much effort for the one being entertained.
Great value was placed on the culture of extreme hospitality.
So, Martha was doing all that was expected of her, a shining example of a proper Jewish hostess.
Attending to her guest's every need.
There was, however, little sense of fulfilment in her service
She didn't see those gifts that she offered as valuable, as vital in the everyday round.
She was, quite simply, frazzled by her service and couldn't see any other way to give that didn't result in her feeling overwhelmed.
So, when Martha implored Jesus to tell her sister Mary to help her, Jesus helps Martha to see her predicament - to name what's going on.
He's not, by any measure, saying that what she is doing is wrong.
Rather, he is empathising with her in how difficult it is to provide the kind of welcome that she is trying to provide.
He notices that she is worn out by her efforts.
For a man in Jesus position to notice the cost to a woman of extending hospitality was earth shattering.
Jesus not only notices, but helps her to name her feelings and encourages her to seek healing and rest.

It's easy to see, in Jesus response to Martha, a note of censure.
And often this gospel has been interpreted as an admonishment to those who busy themselves with work like Martha did.
Perhaps that's because so many of us today identify with Martha.
It seems we have so much to do and are constantly worried and distracted as Martha was.
And, if we ever feel like we're getting anywhere near the end of our to do list, all we're fit for is collapsing in a heap, ready to begin the relentless round again.
Jesus is not diminishing that role.
Nor is he advocating that we should all let the work go so that we can indulge in the luxury that Mary had, sitting at Jesus feet, absorbing all that Jesus said.
It's not the absorption that Jesus holds up as desirable.
It is the focus.
The ability to focus on one thing and to do it well rather than being distracted by the enormity of the tasks we see in front of us.
Sometimes that will involve pitching right in.
Other times, it involves taking time to listen and discern what God's Spirit is saying.
Always, it involves us listening carefully to God in our midst.
In our work and in our resting.
Catching the Spirit of God.

In this gospel for today, Jesus acknowledges the hard work that it is to welcome others, be they strangers or friends.
He acknowledges the vitality of that work.
And invites us to find some balance in our service.
So that we don't come to resent the task of making space.
Jesus invites us, in our making space for others, to find also space for ourselves.
Space in which to encounter the divine.

Hospitality is an important feature of our life together.
Making space for each other and for those we have not yet met.
Building up and creating space in this community of faith where all will feel welcome and valued.
Jesus invites us to find a way of doing that without becoming worn out, without feeling isolated or out on a limb.
Jesus invites us to find meaning in the work of building a welcoming community together.
And to take that meaning into all of life, whether gathered together or in our individual lives.
If our gathering here on a Sunday morning has no effect on the rest of our week.
If our service, be it welcoming a stranger or greeting our neighbour makes us worried and anxious, we've lost something in the giving.
If our service does not bring us closer to those we serve, we've missed the point of our time together.
The learning and the serving that we undertake here enrich our whole lives and the lives of those we encounter every day.
Jesus invites us, in all that we do, in all that we are, to discern the presence of God.
To be stopped in our tracks.
And to focus on the perspective gained from encountering the Divine in every part of life,
Seeing God in all of life affects our whole being.
Jesus tells us today: you need only one thing.
Lets endeavour to see the presence of God in every thing.
And, from that perspective, encounter God in each other.
Then we will have chosen the better part.
And it will not be taken away from us.
Thanks be to God.

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