Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity
28th Jul 2019
Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity Year C
Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find… Luke 11.10.
In this morning’s gospel reading we meet with the Jesus who is a teacher of prayer. 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. Our spiritual oxygenation. This is to say something about our always being ready to pray, 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 is called for, a commitment to prayer. To be truly awake to these things and active in response to them is 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”. God remains the One who beckons and we the ones who respond in kind. On this week in which we celebrate the Feast of the Founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius of Loyola, a great teacher of prayer all these things are understood in a refreshing fashion.
Jesus’ teaching on prayer is the one which sees prayer as a life source, issuing forth out of God’s very life. It is vital stuff for the soul’s survival.
The goal of our life is to live with God forever.
St Ignatius Loyola
In the London of today it is no small matter for the members of Christ’s Church to be called to pray. It is not easy to find the right space, the right times, the time to stop, and to come to God. There is so much static and this prevents us from wanting to pray. There are so many excuses! 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 to some. But a life of prayer lies at the heart of how Jesus functioned both as a human being and as Son of God, and his ‘Lord’s Prayer’ offers us his loving guidance in this matter. The Lord’s Prayer is a universal prayer given to provide us with our necessary compass bearings. It is the prayer which lies at the heart of our existence; the prayer for all time. Something of this sense of prayer was present at the time of the moon landings in 1969. Many thought this a supremely momentous event which had meaning beyond anything mere words had the power to express. It was an experience of being caught up in an atmosphere of awe and a wonder which is the prerequisite for prayer. And so we must learn to pray, and to persist in prayer, however awkward it might feel. We mustn’t ignore its vitality. If we do, we will suffer its loss. ‘Pray as you can and not as you can’t…Our PACTS leaflets are a simple guide to prayer.
If as St 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. It’s a great calling. As Carl Yung once said, ‘Bidden or Not Bidden, God is Present’.
Closer is he than breathing; nearer than hands and feet.
The idea of the persistent seeker after Christ and the healing power of prayer also recognizes a type of Christian who seeks God in that which lies beyond their 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 integrate those things which so often get in the way and cause us disquiet as we (correspondingly) enter a place of stillness and peace. . 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 between the human and the divine – a door that opens into the presence of God and which, if we did but know it, has always lain open for us at all times, though we so often imagined that it had been closed.
In Iris Murdoch’s novel, The Bell, young Toby climbs over the wall of a convent in which he hears the strong and strange tones of the nuns at prayer. He slips and falls badly, injuring his leg. The kindly nun who takes him in and bathes his leg wound informs him gently that the massive doors, which seemed closed were in fact always kept unlocked. The enclosure was there not to keep people out but to concentrate the spirit of prayer within. He had only needed to open the door and let himself in…
The way in, the entry point, lies in our own glad and willing surrender. God is the One who is a beckoning God, inviting you and me to come to the source of our own life and hope. He is love and so we need not be constrained.
In Prayer, we have merely to seek to find...
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory,
St Ignatius Loyola from The Spiritual Exercises.