Sermon given at Evensong on Sunday 18th August 2013
18 August 2013 at 15:00 pm
The Reverend Ralph Godsall, Priest Vicar
Like all good Jewish rabbis - and like John the Baptist before him, Jesus gave his disciples a prayer - ‘The Lord’s Prayer’—The ‘Our Father’ - that has come down to us through the centuries. It is the prayer that followers of Jesus have learned to say and use in personal and public moments ever since he taught it to his first disciples. Following in that tradition, we have already said it together and heard it sung this afternoon.
But learning to pray is much more than saying a prayer—though that is a good way to start. Learning by heart The Lord’s Prayer, as many of us have done in our childhood, gives us each a deep personal sense of intimacy with God as we grow. This intimacy is the result of having engrafted within us a vocabulary with which we can engage in a kind of conversation with God.
But there is much more to prayer than simply saying the words of a given prayer. It was St Augustine who wrote “Prayer is the affectionate reaching out of the mind for God.”
We do this in our stillness and in our times of reflection. In an experience of a love that overwhelms us, of a thankfulness that elates us, of a wonder that exhilarates us—we have in all these experiences a sense of one reaching out of our mind—indeed out of our whole being—for God. This is a form of prayer—a reaching out for God.
But also in times of danger and turmoil, in fear and grief, in tragedy and despair, we cry out for help, we ponder why it happened, we seek re-assurance and comfort. Our hearts and minds reach out for God—for that power, beyond us and these events, from whence cometh our help. This is a form of prayer—a reaching out for God.
You may know or not know The Lord’s Prayer—you may or may not find it useful—but the fact is that you pray—everybody prays. It is a characteristic of human life that we pray.
All prayer begins with desire and we all have desire. Desire comes in many forms. We long for contact, for connection at the centre, for completion and fulfilment. We long for that grounding that brings full-hearted peace of mind and soul. Desire motivates prayer because in fact, we pray for what we want!
Like children who pray the weather will be warm enough so they can go swimming this afternoon, so as adults, we pray to get this job, to be given this opportunity, to be offered that relationship. Desire in prayer goes on your whole life as you pray your baby may be healthy, your sick child—or friend—will recover health, your parent may know an easy death, that peace and justice may prevail, that you and your loved ones may be safe and secure.
The only individuals who cannot pray are those who have no desire at all. As such they are in the grip of a clinical depression and cannot even desire to escape its power over them.
And then there are those individuals whose desires have only to do with self-satisfaction. Such blind desire finds itself content in the isolated experience of self-directed gratification.
But depression and blind desire is not enough for most people. The heart and mind seek more.
Prayer becomes that language of reflection in which we engage in a moment in our own lives from blind desire, from depression and indifference, to insight into ourselves and our situation which brings self-understanding and freedom from the emptiness of blind desire.
In this act of taking notice of ourselves, of putting ourselves in perspective, we receive one of the main by-products of prayer—an enlargement of our life, and of the self that God has given us.
Prayer entered into seriously can mark an unmistakable break with one way we have been living. It is never simply another little part of our lives. Prayer is struggle—struggle to grow and to understand in a deep and engaging way. We want to experience our beliefs and live our faith.
How might we do this—you and I? How can we experience our beliefs and live our faith?
The answer is to enter into prayer with this desire. That is to pray with an affectionate reaching out of the mind, the heart, and the soul for the mind and will of God! When Jesus taught us to pray, he gave us a framework for doing this.
We start the prayer with “Our Father.” If God is our Father, then we are sisters and brothers. The fatherhood of God leads to the brotherhood of all people. By praying “Our Father” deeply and continually, our desire is deepened to be part of the global human family, to work and struggle for it in every way we can.
This leads to the prayer “thy kingdom come.” To truly desire this kingdom we must begin with ourselves. “Thy kingdom come within me” is a desire that connects us to the prayer. This means to seek the truth about ourselves and to confront all resistance to that truth in order that resistance does not blind us to God’s will in our own lives.
“Give us each day our daily bread.” This prayer puts us in touch with our desire for consumption and possession. For some, daily bread may be all they can hope for and prayer becomes a desire to find it and a desire to be guided to obtain it. For others, prayer needs to give them a sense of proportions and limits. The truth for them is that they have too much—they are the victims of greed. No matter what your situation in life, you have to deal in one way or another with greed or jealousy and this prayer opens up for you the desire to do something about it. To face your greed and your jealousy.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” This gives us a framework in which to recognize that the Father of all mankind treats us equally. We cannot expect forgiveness from God if we are not willing and able to forgive each other.
We struggle in prayer to be able truly to forgive another’s activities that threaten and endanger us, but unless we desire to do this we are not living this prayer.
Prayer, then, is a part of daily life and experience and is the means through which we put our own lives in perspective and open up ourselves willingly to that wider world of God’s truth and will for us. Prayer arises from our desire for wholeness and truth for ourselves. Prayer is a means by which we discipline our motives, express our love, seek comfort in our distress, plead for help, and reflect on our grief and anger. Through prayer we mature. With prayer we grow. In prayer we reach out affectionately for God and so find that our desires are grounded in Him who abides in us so that we may abide in Him for ever