Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity
24th Jul 2016
Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity Year C
Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find… Luke 11.10.
1. Prayer as Awakenness
In this morning’s gospel reading we are presented with the Jesus who is a teacher of prayer. And his teaching opens up for us the necessity of prayer not only from the point of view of saying prayers but of prayerfulness as a way of being; akin to breathing. This is to say something about a sensitivity to the elements, an awakeness, a persistent waiting, and the image used of the opportunity for prayer is as a door which opens for the one who knocks. Asking and searching are suggested. And a certain amount of discipline and daring are called for, a commitment to prayer. To be truly awake to these things and active in response to them is to pray and to say to God in the words of the old spiritual: “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer”.
2. Prayer and Persistence
In the Gospels, honest persistence is rewarded. Remember the crippled man at the Pool of Siloam, The Syro-phoenician woman, those examples of people who push their way through the crowd into the presence of Jesus. And getting to him they are not afraid to make demands. They are those whose intention far outweighs the dictates of polite manners. And in their approach lies the human instinct for survival. And Jesus is always receptive to this struggle for survival and the instinct for direct language ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ “My daughter lies sick at home – come quickly. And always powerful, the blunt and angry and accusing words of Mary, the sister of Lazarus to Jesus “If you had been here my brother would not have died!”. But in all these examples God’s teaching on prayer is the one which is the reaching out for God in prayer as a life source, and issuing forth out of God’s own being of his very life. Vital stuff for the soul’s survival.
The goal of our life is to live with God forever.
St Ignatius Loyola
3. Prayer and the Vitality of the Soul.
In the London of today it is no small matter for the members of Christ’s Church to be expected to pray. It is not easy to find the right space, the right times, the time to stop, and to speak to God. Never before have we been bombarded with so many images, so much news and information, so many concerns, a surfeit of so much life and so many choices. In this context the suggestion of a prayer life might seem slightly absurd. But a life of prayer lies at the heart of how Jesus Christ functioned as a human being, and the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ offers us the profoundest insight into the being and the person of Jesus Christ. It is the prayer from which issues out of the relationship he has with the Father. And so we must learn to pray, and to persist in prayer, however fumbling or awkward it might feel. We mustn’t ignore its vitality. If we do, we suffer the equivalent of spiritual dehydration. Try in a spare and distrated moment on the tube to say The Lord’s Prayer for your fellow passengers.
4. Prayer as Work
Two years ago I spent some time in a monastery, at which prayers are said seven times a day, beginning at 5 am without let up, and in which the ringing of the bell dominates the daily existence. It had always seemed to me that the monk’s existence was a heroic one, and extraordinary. But it really is ordinary. The life of prayer is only daunting if you accept is as such. It is really ordinary. It is something which is just, well, done! Pray as you can and not as you can’t!
Above all else this is a prayer life which is dogged and persistent andsomething of a job of work, and a real sweat. This is how it can be. The attempt to erect a barrier between spirituality and reality is always misguided. The prayer of those monks, once viewing their lives from the other side of the cloister was a job of work, and it is out of the life of prayer as work, in ways beyond our knowing, that prayer’s answer is being worked out, and is being seen and heard, and however unfathomably, known. But in a vital sense this prayer is not done because of anything that can be achieved through it, but because it begins and nurtures in us a vital kind of self-emptying. If, as Ignatius says, ‘The Goal of our life is to live with God for ever’ then God, who is always and everywhere present for us, is beckoning each one of us to inhabit that presence and to live and thrive in it to our soul’s own well-being. As one of our prayers for the preparation for prayer tells us:
Closer is he than breathing; nearer than hands and feet.
5. St Ignatius Loyola : Prayer and the surrender of the self.
The idea of the persistent seeker after Christ and his healing has also become a type of Christian who seeks God in that which lies beyond his own devices and desires. In the writings of St Ignatius are various vital ingredients which are as necessary today as they were when he wrote and thought and prayed five hundred years ago. One of these marries prayer as a kind of radical attentiveness with the accompanying idea of prayer as a radical letting go or leaving off of our own preoccupations. In our self surrender we leave behind those things which so often get in the way and cause us disquiet and enter a place of peace. The attentiveness is the prayer as both a waiting and a letting go of these things. We let them go in prayer as we recognise them and leave them behind, if only for a while… It is in this state of being that we understand Ignatius’ greatest prayer in its own context. It is a prayer which knocks at the very frontier – the door that opens into the presence of God and which, if we did but know it, lies open for us at all times.
Young Toby discovers climbs the convent wall in Iris Murdoch’s novel, The Bell, and falls badly, injuring his leg. The kindly nun who takes him in and bathes his informs him that the massive doors, which seemed closed to him, were in fact always kept unlocked. The enclosure was there only to concentrate the spirit of prayer within. He had only needed to try and see…
What we seek when we knock and enter the way of prayer is something that lies open for us at all times. The way into prayer lies in our own glad surrender as betokening a real and ever more certain trust.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory,
St Ignatius Loyola from The Spiritual Exercises.