Category Archives: Prayer

Two prayers

Reading
Luke 18.9–14

The Pharisee is not a venomous villain and the publican is not generous Joe the bartender or Goldie the good-hearted hooker. Such portrayals belong in cheap novels. If the Pharisee is pictured as a villain and the tax collector as a hero, then each gets what he deserves, there is no surprise of grace and the parable is robbed. In Jesus’ story, what both receive is ‘in spite of’, not ‘because of’. When the two men are viewed in terms of character and community expectations, without labels or prejudice, the parable is still a shock, still carrying the power both to offend and to bless. — Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation series

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We heard the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector today. So I have given in to the temptation of telling you this story:

Two ministers are on their knees at the front of the church, crying out to God, saying, ‘I have sinned. I am unworthy, I am unworthy’. Just then the cleaner walks in, and seeing this rare sight she also kneels with them saying: ‘I have sinned. I am not worthy, I am not worthy’. The first minister turns to the second. He sneers, ‘Now look at who thinks she’s unworthy!’

I had a conversation over coffee with a friend this week. She’s had very varied church experiences over the years, but for a number of good reasons it’s hard for her to be part of a local church right now. She told me that she had difficulties with the idea of going back to a pentecostal-type church because of the need they have to hide their vulnerabilities and present themselves as ‘victorious’ Christians. All. The. Time. 

Later that day, the thought came to me: Thank God I’m not in a church like that! And I fell straight into the trap of the Pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. 

See how I did that? It’s so easy to do, a game anyone can play. So let’s look at this parable, and let’s have a bit of empathy for the Pharisee from the word go. 

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‘On earth as in heaven’

Reading
Luke 11.1–13

The hinge of the prayer is ‘as in heaven so on earth’ or, if you prefer the usual translation ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. That centrally key phrase insists on mutuality and reciprocity, on an interaction between the heavenly ‘Your’ of God’s name, kingdom, and will and the earthly ‘Our’ of bread, debt, and temptation. — John Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer

The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations. Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friends, is what it really means to be a Christian. — Brendan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

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Luke tells us,

[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’

What is prayer? I remember being told ‘Prayer is talking to God’. Yes it is, but it’s so much more. It’s listening, too. It’s an openness to life. It’s an awareness of injustice. It’s a longing for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven. 

In the film Shadowlands, the fictional CS Lewis says:

I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me. 

I’m convinced we pray more often than we realise. Let me tell you a story. 

I used to have an atheist friend. We’d have coffee together regularly. My intention was to show him friendship; his stated intention was to hone up his skills for arguing his atheist case. But we had a mutual respect. He had to go into hospital for surgery, and before he did he asked me for this favour: he asked me not to pray for him. 

I was a bit taken aback, but I agreed. I agreed because I wanted to respect my friend’s wishes, and I believed God would care for him without my prayers. 

I learned something about prayer in those days, a bit like ‘CS Lewis’ (actually Anthony Hopkins) saying ‘I pray because I can’t help myself’. 

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Love your what?

Readings
Genesis 45.3-11, 15
Luke 6.27-38

After I finished my lecture Professor Jürgen Moltmann stood up and asked one of his typical questions, both concrete and penetrating: ‘But can you embrace a četnik?’ It was the winter of 1993. For months now the notorious Serbian fighters called ‘četnik’ had been sowing desolation in my native country, herding people into concentration camps, raping women, burning down churches, and destroying cities. I had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. Can I embrace a četnik—the ultimate other, so to speak, the evil other? What would justify the embrace? Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat? It took me a while to answer, though I immediately knew what I wanted to say. ‘No, I cannot—but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.’ — Miroslav Volf, Preface to Exclusion and Embrace

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Perhaps you’ve heard this before: ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’ Or so they say.

Joseph’s brothers were lucky he didn’t subscribe to that little piece of wisdom. They had thrown him into a hole, sold him to slave traders, and never expected to see him again. Years later, they were begging for food while he had risen to the top in Egypt. Now, they were at his mercy. Would there be any mercy, or would they get what they deserved? Would they get the reward for their dreadful actions toward Joseph, or could something else be born out of their situation?

Well, the story goes, Joseph treated them with grace. Unmerited favour. And Jesus today speaks about treating people with grace, even our enemies.

One of our kids came out from preschool after his first day there. His face was beaming, and I wondered what he would say to me about his day. Excitedly he said to me, ‘Dad, I made two […pause…] enemies today!’ I never did get to the bottom of that; but most of us like to think we don’t have any enemies. 

But suppose you do. Just suppose there’s someone in your past or present who’s tried to do you harm. To damage your reputation, or undermine you at work, or just dead-head your favourite flowers in the garden. It could be anything. Enemies don’t all come in one size or shape. They’re not necessarily obvious at first. 

(Maybe you really don’t have any enemies; but there may be people who annoy you, irritate you or rub you up the wrong way…)

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Failure is fine; God is here (Year A, 13 August 2017)

Readings
1 Kings 19.9–18
Romans 10.5–15

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. — Deuteronomy 6.4

Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words, ‘Lord, lead me in the way of salvation.’ And a voice came saying to him, … ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the sources of sinlessness.’ — Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
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I have a granddaughter, E., who lives with her mum (my daughter) and her dad in South America.

E. is two in October, and she is growing up bilingual. She is learning to speak Spanish and English. At the same time.

My daughter is fluent in Spanish, but she speaks to E. in English.

E.’s dad is improving his English. His English isn’t bad, it’s better than my Spanish. But he speaks to her in Spanish.

E. is growing up hearing both languages all the time.

One day, she’ll separate them out and speak both English and Spanish fluently, but right now anything goes. She was playing with the family cat the other week. She calls him ‘Gato’, which is Spanish for ‘cat’.

Gato is ve-e-ery patient with her, but when he gets tired of being poked and picked up in awkward ways, he just trots off.

It happened the other day. As he was moving somewhere quieter and safer, E. called out, ‘Bye bye, Gato’.

As far as she is concerned, ‘bye bye’ and ‘gato’ are words in the same language. (Maybe it should be called ‘Spanglish’!)

It’s cute for her to speak Spanglish right now. But by the time she’s my age, it won’t be cute any longer. She’ll need to have it all sorted out.

She will do that by listening to her parents, and to others, and sorting out which words belong in which language. E. is going to make lots of mistakes. We can’t call them mistakes yet, it’s all too cute, but one day she may embarrass herself be getting English and Spanish all mixed up. She could feel a failure if she does that.

Failure’s bad, right?

And success is everything, yes?

You know, success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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Lectio Divina

Using the Bible in prayer. An ancient way of finding God’s Word for ourselves in the scriptures today.

via Lectio Divina.

HT http://liturgy.co.nz

 

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“When Worry Breaks our Troubled Hearts”

A wonderful new hymn from Stephen Fearing, with a good trinitarian form:

“When Worry Breaks our Troubled Hearts”.

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No other name…but other sheep (Easter 4, Year B, 29 April 2012)

Readings
Acts 4.5-12
1 John 3.16-24
John 10.11-18 

I was sitting in my office one day. Not here, it was a few years back when I was head of the Pastoral Care Department of The Wesley Hospital. I’d just picked up the phone. There was a very angry woman on the other end, who was a member of the Uniting Church.

Let me start at the beginning. The chapel at ‘the Wes’ is open 24/7. As you’d expect—people want to come in and pray in a hospital chapel at all sorts of times. Sometimes, staff came in to pray too. There were a couple of staff members who at that time were coming daily to pray.

One had been coming for some time; she was almost part of the furniture. The more recent ‘pray-er’ was a student in the hospital. Like the first, she’d come in around mid-morning to pray. Unlike the first, she’d unfold her prayer mat, kneel and bow low to the ground. You see, unlike the first, she was a Muslim.

Sometimes, the two women would be in the chapel at the same time, the Christian and the Muslim each at prayer in their own way. The angry woman who rang me thought we were setting a very bad example to ‘young people’ by allowing this student to use the chapel to pray her Muslim prayers. She wanted to know why we hadn’t forbidden her.

I told her we were showing hospitality to a stranger in our land. That’s quite a biblical value, by the way, and to her credit she realised straight away that it was. She didn’t give up her objections, but she did eventually run out of steam.

What do you think our responsibility was in this situation? Especially in the light of Peter’s confession of faith to the leaders of his people:

There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

If there is ‘no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved’, should we have done something different? Should we have offered her another space to pray? Should we have told her that Jesus is the Saviour of the world? I’m comfortable with what we did, though I do understand that for some people it’s not clear that we were right.

‘There is salvation in no one else…’ What does that mean?

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Cyclone Yasi—a terrifying prospect

We have just come out of severe flooding in southern Queensland, and now North Queensland is bracing for Cyclone Yasi, with a destructive power greater than that of Hurricane Katrina. Aussies will recall Cyclones Tracey (1974) and Larry (2006); they are dwarfed by Yasi. Here’s a comparison:

If you pray, please pray for the people of North Queensland.

 

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Brisbane, 2011 Flood: a personal view

It seems the floods that hit Queensland and Brisbane have hit the headlines all over the world… It’s been a bit hard for us to tell because we’ve been without power for several days. We got it last night—ah, that hot shower this morning!!

The picture below is of our stretch of the Brisbane River. Our house is arrowed; we were spared inundation, thank God. The house is normally a fair bit above the river, I’d say about 10 metres below the road. The river got within 2 metres in the end, and was closer than it is in this photo (original here). We were a tad nervous. You can see the width of the river here; I’m sure that helped to save us too. In the end, the river was probably a metre below 1974 levels.

Again, this is NOT the flood at its height! I’ve circled the part of the road that was under; we were cut off by road, but we could walk to higher ground to stay a night with friends.

Here is A Collect of the Morning, from An Australian Prayer Book:

Lord our heavenly Father,
almighty and everlasting God,
we thank you for bringing us safely to this day.
Keep us by your mighty power,
and grant that today we fall into no sin,
neither run into any kind of danger,
but lead and govern us in all things,
that we may always do what is righteous in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Praying in weakness

On holidays at the moment, so no sermons… I’ve been re-reading Henri Nouwen’s With Open Hands, an absolute gem of a book on prayer. I love this section, which speaks of the necessity of praying always from within our weakness. I take it as commentary on 2 Corinthians 12.9:

[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

We males especially have to listen to this; I think the first few words apply to males more than humans (my copy is from the 70s, and the language is exclusive; I’m sure the latest edition will have changed this).

In the thinking of modern, active, energetic man, praying and living have come to be so widely separated that bringing them together seems almost impossible. But here lies the central problem: How can your prayer be truly necessary for the welfare of your fellowman? How could it be that you should “pray always” and that prayer is the “one thing necessary”? The question becomes important only when it is posed in its most exacting form. The question of when or how to pray is not really the most important one. The crucial question is whether you should pray always and whether your prayer is necessary. Here, the stakes are all or nothing! If someone says that it’s good to turn to God in prayer for a spare minute, or if he grants that a person with a problem does well to take refuge in prayer, he has as much as admitted that praying is on the margin of life and that it doesn’t really matter.

Whenever you feel that a little praying can’t do any harm, you will find that it can’t do much good either. Prayer has meaning only if it is necessary and indispensable. Prayer is prayer only when we can say that without it, a man could not live. How can this be true, or be made true? The word that brings us closest to an answer to this question is the word “compassion.” To understand this, you must first examine what happens to a man when he prays. Then you can comprehend how you can meet your fellowman in prayer.

The man who looks prayerfully on the world is the man who does not expect happiness from himself, but who looks forward toward the other who is coming. It is often said that a man who prays is conscious of his dependence, and in his prayer he expresses his helplessness. This can easily be misunderstood. The praying man not only says, “I can’t do it and I don’t understand it,” but also, “Of myself, I don’t have to be able to do it, and of myself, I don’t have to understand it.” When you stop at that first phrase, you often pray in confusion and despair, but when you can a so add the second, you feel your dependence no longer as helplessness but as a happy openness which looks forward to being renewed

If you view your weakness as a disgrace, you will come to rely on prayer only in extreme need and you will come to consider prayer as a forced confession of your impotence. But if you see your weakness as that which makes you worth loving, and if you are always prepared to be surprised at the power the other gives you, you will discover through praying that living means living together.

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