Sunday, July 28, 2019
Pentecost 7, 2019-C: One foot in each realm
Lectionary: Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13
Note: if the above player won't work on your device, click HERE for alternative audio format.
En el nobmre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.
I love our Collect for today, particularly the part where we pray that “we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.” As we journey on this earthly pilgrimage, we do it with, as they say, one foot in each realm… earth and heaven. It’s a gift of our baptism, our oneness with Christ who joined his divinity to our humanity, being the first-born of this reality and making us the next-born of it. We are, in our earthly bodies, temples of the heavenly Spirit of God. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Colossians: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him…”
This story is hard to read but it isn’t any harder than living in conflict. When one community has two opposing factions, the whole community is harmed. Think of our own Civil War. The only casualties were us. We died on both sides, and the fallout from that conflict lives in our own divided northern and southern “kingdoms” to this day. We still haven’t healed. We’re still arguing over flags, memorials, and “heritage.”
This isn’t a story about way back when. It’s about now. It’s about us.
This is why it’ so important to remember that while we live in the temporal realm of earth for a moment, we exist in the heavenly realm eternally. Both at the same time. It’s only when we shift our focus away from the eternal presence of God and toward the temporal circumstances of the world that we can see our sisters and brother as “other” or worse yet, as our enemy.
We remember this eternal reality when we pray and enter the presence of God. This is why the gospel lesson on prayer is vital to our temporal life on earth.
Since we will soon begin a book study on The Lord’s Prayer, I’ll wait for that setting to go more deeply into this prayer. For today, I hope we’ll notice these two things:
1. That it begins with praise and acquiescence to God’s kingdom: your kingdom come.
2. That God’s supply to us, whether in the form of earthly or spiritual nourishment, is what we need for today only: give us each day our daily bread.
This bread reference points back to the Exodus when God sent manna to feed the Israelites each day. They couldn’t store up this manna as it would spoil at the end of the day. As they wandered in their wilderness, being remade by God, they had to let go of all pretense of future destinations and lifestyle as well as any sort of long-term security they could muster up for themselves. In order to be reborn, they had to trust God entirely, for as long as it took – and it took way longer than they had wished.
This kind of wilderness, where new life is formed in a people, takes time. It’s especially hard on our modern sensibilities to be patient while new life be formed is being in us. We want to make a plan and get it done. But that’s focusing on the temporal. Anything we can devise for ourselves is temporal.
When God is working new life in us, each step may take us where we need to go, but it may not be a direct path to the goal. Like a labyrinth, God may lead us near to the center, then back out to the edge where we can’t see the way back to the center. But there’s only the one path and it leads only to the center where God is, where we are illuminated by the spirit of Christ and reinvigorated for the journey back into the world.
When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he followed the prayer with a parable to teach persistence in prayer. Interestingly, Jesus’ parable includes three main characters: God, the host, and the neighbor, which harkens back to Jesus’ recent teaching on the summary of the law: love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus’ parable shows how that looks in the temporal realm.
A little background first: Middle Eastern culture takes hospitality very seriously. To fail to be hospitable, even when it’s the middle of the night, is to bring shame upon yourself and your whole community.
So we must be persistent in prayer not just for ourselves but for our whole community. In prayer, we enter the heavenly realm where we experience again that all are truly one in the unity and love of God. There is no other, no stranger, no enemy. It’s all us. We’re all one.
When we persist in experiencing that in the heavenly realm, then we are in a state where God can manifest that through us in the temporal realm. The persistence isn’t to nag God until God does what we want, but to stay close to God so we can recognize how God is already providing for us each day.
As Jesus said, if we ask God for a fish would God give us a snake? Of course not! If we ask for an egg, would it turn out to be a scorpion? No! That isn’t how love works. But when our attention is focused solely in the earthly realm we can forget that. It may look like God isn’t present, doesn’t know or care about what we need, and isn’t responding. But God is, so we must persist in our prayer.
When we ask, God provides – not necessarily what we ask for, but always what we need; and not just what we need, but what our whole community – the family of God – needs. That may be why it seems to take God too long – because God is patiently working with another soul or souls, trusting we will remain faithful while a larger plan is being worked out.
Sometimes what we need is the comfort of God’s assurance that there is a goal for us. In that assurance we can let go our own temporal goals and our earthly plans for long-term security, remembering all we have is today, and all we need for today is given to us.
Sometimes what we need is insight or revelation that expands our vision and our hearts so that our temporal plans link with God’s heavenly plan and we are in unity and in step with God’s plan which is for us but also for the whole world. In prayer, we remember that God’s plan, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. (Eph 3:20)
I close with a portion of the “Psalm to Enliven Habit Prayers,” from the book "Psalms for Zero Gravity, Prayers for Life's Emigrants" by Edward Hays.
May I invest each word of my spoken prayers
with a whole and sincere heart…
May I feel the Spirit’s spur in my side
speedily rousing me to become my prayer.
May I feel the Spirit’s wind filling my soul
with a holy windmill power.
May I pray not only for what I know I can do
but also for what I long to do in you.
May my habit of heartfelt prayer
being me ever closer to your blessed side.