Sunday, October 16, 2022

19 Pentecost, Proper 24, 2022-C: Praying into the light of God

Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:27-34; Psalm 119:97-104; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8 

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen. 

Did you know that the roots of our Anglican-Episcopal tradition are Celtic? It wasn’t until 664, at the Council of Whitby, that the Anglican Church voted to shift from the Celtic tradition of the monks in Iona, to the Roman tradition under Pope Gregory the Great, thereby solving the perplexing problems of how to calculate the date of Easter and how monks should cut their hair.

It’s important to know our history especially as we celebrate Creation Season this year. In the creation-centered Celtic tradition, God is feminine in nature and the institution operates within a relational, monastic structure. In the Roman tradition, God is masculine in nature and the institution operates on a hierarchical, militaristic structure. 

Today we are both and evidence of that can be seen woven into our polity and our practices. How we pray, for example, reflects which tradition has had more influence in our experience.

Do we pray to God who outranks us and whose orders we must follow or be punished? Or do we pray to God whom Julian of Norwich described saying, “our heavenly mother, Jesus, may never suffer us to be lost, for we are his children. And he is almighty, all wisdom, all love…For now he wants us to behave just like a child; for when a child is upset or afraid, it runs straight to its mother with all its might.” (John Skinner, ed., Revelation of Love, Julian of Norwich, 137).  Note: Julian icon written by Anne Davidson. Used with permission.

There are times we need God to be strong, protective, and ready to kick some opponent butt for us. There are other times we need the tender, loving God from whose womb we came and to whose womb we’ll return, as Julian said. Thankfully, we have both. God is all of that and more.

When we pray, it is always in response to God. When we think we need to ask God for help, or strength, or health, it is because God has nudged us to acknowledge our need and come close, trusting God to provide. There are times when our prayers seem to go unheard, and our pain or heartache remains undiminished… justice unobtained. We cry out to God, ‘Do you not care that this is happening? Where are you God? Why don’t you do something?’

When that happens, we remember our belief that God desires the reconciliation of the whole world, including those who cause us pain and heartache, which is why Jesus told us to pray for our enemies and for those who persecute us. They are to be redeemed also and we participate in their redemption by our prayer. What seems like a delay in God’s response to our prayer for justice may actually be the result of God’s continuing efforts to redeem a lost soul or the souls of those involved in the corrupt systems doing the harm.

Luke reminds us to pray always and not lose heart and Jesus’ parable contrasts God with the judges of the world, assuring us that God hears and answers our prayers. “Listen to what the unjust judge says… I will grant justice.” Jesus promises that God responds to our prayer for our sakes, not for God’s own sake, and that God will act quickly to give us justice. Do you believe that? Jesus asks his listeners… Do we?

Prayer is the way we go from knowing about God to knowing God. When we enter into a deeply prayerful relationship with God, we find that God’s desires soon become our desires. Over time, we begin to notice that our will submits more easily and more quickly to God’s will, and we become accustomed to experiencing a oneness with God, one another, and all of creation that is real and true. The things of the world that divide us (power, money, privilege, position) begin to look ridiculous in the context of the Love that connects us and makes us one.

Prayer is a discipline – a strength we build by practice. Setting aside time to pray alone every day and praying in community every week are important habits to foster and they are especially helpful when we find ourselves in crisis, whether it’s a crisis in our lives or a crisis of faith. That’s when our discipline of prayer carries us through, even when we don’t know what we believe anymore. And when we are experiencing the hardest of times, the emptiest of dark nights, the prayers of our community join with the prayers of the company of heaven to uphold us until we emerge victorious again into the light of God.

The way of God and the way of the world hardly ever agree as Jesus’ parable illustrates. That’s why we are wise to heed St. Paul’s advice to be steadfast in believing and guided by Scripture. It’s why we need to remember Luke’s reminder that we should pray always and not lose heart.

But how do we pray always? It seems like an impossible task. I think we are better at this than we might think.

We are praying when we rest quietly in the presence of God, when we read Holy Scripture, pray the Rosary, walk a labyrinth, or contemplate an icon. We pray when we lose ourselves in the magic of a sunset, or when we sing hymns to God. We pray when we joyfully tend to mundane tasks grateful for the gift of life and the ability to work.

When it’s hard to pray, and all we can do is wait in darkness, feeling no real connection to God or anything else, even that is prayer, because it is in the darkness that the transforming light of Christ, promised and delivered to us by Jesus, breaks in most dazzlingly.

I close with a prayer from St. Columba of Iona: 
Be to me, O God, a bright flame before me, a guiding star above me, a smooth path beneath me, and a kindly shepherd behind me, today, tonight, and forever. (St Columba 521-597AD, Iona)  Amen.

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