Sermon for Sunday 24 July 2022
Luke 11.1 The disciples said to Jesus, Lord teach us to pray.
Our hearts are restless until they rest in God. So we pray. I love reading books on prayer. They delay getting down to prayer itself. It’s really very strange. I haven’t met many who are entirely satisfied with their prayer life, like the many people who never find the right diet. Why is that? It should be so simple. Today Jesus teaches the disciples the Lord’s own Prayer, which through the medium of St Luke, becomes the standard prayer of the early church and the Church today. So why do we hesitate?? The truth is that we are wary of a real encounter at the throne of mercy with the living loving God. Christian prayer is more than just a helpful chat with God. Prayer is putting our lives on the line. It has to be that way. We know that, deep down, because we have heard to the call to follow the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our spiritual life, our praying and our church life, is not separate from the real life we live. Your life is a seamless robe. So, could it be, that if we are not satisfied with our spiritual life, our prayer life, it is because we are not satisfied with our life as it is, and don’t know what to do about it. So will we ever learn to pray, as Jesus prayed?
For Christians, the answer is yes, we can always pray, because of a simple discovery which Jesus made for us in his own life and ministry, and then acted out physically in the drama of his Passion. The story of the Cross, His death and a resurrection, becomes the story of our death and resurrection. When we know the reason we can’t pray is that our life is not entirely satisfactory, then the acting can stop, and real prayer begins, welling up from the heart, not from the books, and it’s going to work because this time it’s Christ praying with us. Prayer is a sort of death, a Passover, a passing over into the Kingdom of God, where Christ went before us. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, in my life now and in the lives of those I am learning at last to love and forgive. To pray deeply, to pray truly, to ask for bread each day, is to have already decided to live in a new way, in a new place. St John is good on this; he talks to us of the experience of dwelling, living, resting, staying, abiding, making our home with God. It is there, in that new place, that the inner and outer levels of our life can be synchronised. That is what prayer is, discovering and enjoying that harmony.
When we pray, Christ prays with us. It’s very tempting to aim for success. Well, perseverance is a great Christian virtue, and prayer does demand discipline, it is daily bread, but prayer can not be forced, imposed by the ego. When we find Christ already praying in us, our life becomes our prayer without effort, the prayer of our whole life offered to God – Hallowed be thy name – and this constant prayer will be unique to you, special, like every part of Christ’s body living today, and will fit you exactly. Whatever unlocks the human heart unlocks the heart of God as well [St John Chrysostom]. Your prayer is your integrity.
Prayer is a narrow path, and never an easy path to take, but it will take you beyond the boundaries you have set, away from easy mumbled words into the truth and into the healing silence where God lives. One secret of prayer is that instead of increasing our efforts, trying to pray harder, praying for everything we can think of, we should decrease our efforts, silence our anxieties and all the fantasies of our imagination, remove ourselves, our egos from the scene, and let Christ pray in us and for us. This was all in today’s epistle: As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, that is what prayer is. We’re so lucky as Anglo-Catholics to have access to the rich experiences of past Fathers and Mothers of the Church. I love them all because they write my sermons for me. This is what St Teresa of Avila said about prayer in the sixteenth century. It’s all very simple, she said. It’s like watering a garden, she said. The first method, for beginners, is by drawing water from a well by means of a bucket attached to a rope. Activity, full of effort and satisfying, getting on with it. The second method of watering a garden is by means of a waterwheel , that’s for those of us who have advanced a bit, and use lots of books to help us along, always a new technical method to try out. The third method of prayer, and of watering a garden is by irrigation, by means of a running stream. A little more advanced prayer system, you see. We make use of nature, we relax a bit more into prayer, it becomes more mystical, more centred on God, we let divine life enter our hearts. But there’s one more method. So what is the fourth method of watering a garden, the final stage of prayer, as defined by St Teresa? It’s this. We let it rain. No human effort. Just refreshment, cleansing, abundance, gratitude, drenched with God. Teresa called it the prayer of union. God will water your garden. As Jesus, said, ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find. God gives His Holy Spirit, eternal life, His divine life, to those who ask him.
Fr. Julian Browning