Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this horrific tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family in this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all affected by this event. Our thoughts and prayers… What do we mean when we say this phrase? Well. its often heard around tragic events, delivered in a matter of fact way, and has come to mean very little, because our thoughts and prayers don’t seem to stop the violence or the tragedy. However, the phrase carries two potential explanations for its use: a response to a deep desire to be with those who are hurting, and the challenge of not knowing what to do. What connects them both is a desire to participate, to be present with, the presence of God, which is unraveled for us in this mornings Gospel.
In Luke's gospel, we are two chapters away from arriving at the destination we’ve been traveling towards with Jesus. Jerusalem, his crucifixion is just on the horizon, and here Jesus is stopping again to ask us to reflect on our actions as we follow him. This reflection is an invitation for us, an invitation to grow deeper in prayer, which is a growth in Christian Humanity, suggest Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. This Christian humanity is about an identity that we share, all of us, by Christ’s incarnation- an act of moving into our neighbourhood which means we can never be the same again. This is the Juxtaposition that Jesus is opening for us this morning, that the mystery of prayer, with all of its unknown and silence, is the bedrock of how we come to know God more deeply in our everyday because of his presence in our world. It is from prayer that we start to build and understand God's movement in our lives, God's presence at the birth of our children, or marriage. God's presence at our convocations, at the gas pumps, bank lines, at our high and our lows. We start to see the impact of God's incarnation, gods moving into our neighbourhoods everywhere, which invites us to see the world and our lives differently. Prayer invites us to change.
So how does prayer change us? How do we see the world differently because of it? Is this just a moral reminder to pray the right way, or to take ourselves less seriously, or is it literally about a change within ourselves? I believe it's about a change. Our world presents us with an image of self sufficiency, of independence, where our survival is dependant on our ability to get the job done. Those are concrete actions, which can be measured or corrected for performance. Life makes more sense when it is concrete, so the idea of praying, of talking, to something which is not concrete or tangible, is harder to understand and rely on in our everyday. Yet, when we sit in the unknown of prayer and move beyond the base of “God knows what I’m going to say” and move into a space of trust and faith, prayer becomes about letting go of our own need to control, and emptying ourselves for God's love to fill us, to show us the way in our lives, to sit with us, to be with us, to surround us with an all encompassing love too deep for words. Prayer is about practicing presence, a presence with God and for God. It is when we lean into this practice of presence-based prayer that we start to see the change -- because we start to live life through heavens eyes, the eyes of the kingdom.
Throughout scripture, we are reminded that the presence of God, and our faith and trust in him, increases, as our senses and control of ourselves and the world decreases, revealing within us room to embrace God more deeply. This process of decreasing is not about self abasement, or blind trust that if we get on our knees and pray for a pay-day, it will come. No, rather, it's about seeing the places in our lives where God's compassion is working in and through us, to see the places where our action because of God's grace is overcoming the barriers we put up between people, and the justice of God's reign is entering in. To see where human dignity is being returned, were we all thrive, where as the psalms say -- enemies can come together and share a meal, and our swords can be turned from wars and death into plows for food. In our decreasing, we start to see in faith just how all of this is possible only because of God's presence in our lives, a presence which asks us to act within the world in which we live. But how do we act, there are so many issues, how do we know where to start? Well, I think, we continue with what's infront of us and like any relationship, what's in front of us in prayer takes communication to flourish.
Prayer is the most intimate relationship we will ever have. Which means sometimes it feels like we don't know how to pray, or that God isn't listening, or that our problems or worries aren't important enough for God. What our Gospel is offering this morning is for us to worry less about what God thinks, and rest more in the depths of our own hearts as we speak with God, and to know that our transformation in prayer comes from our willingness to talk, ask, struggle, cry, and rejoice with God. God acts through us, because we offer ourselves to his service. Sometimes that speaking is silence, like the beauty of a sunset, or the mystery of a wooded enclave. Sometimes that speaking is a pleading to find a parking spot, or at the news of a tragedy. Sometimes that speaking is in our own confusion, muddled words, or tears of frustration and anxiety. God is present in all of them and more, all he asks is for us to keep listening and talking with him.
In our development as disciples of Christ, which is a lifelong process, we are on the course of deepening relationship and active presence which takes us to the very center of the cross in our everyday -- a cross that challenges our faith and humanity to understand, because of where it calls us to act -- to be the change we want to see in the world because of who we follow. It is this intimacy of prayer that changes us, that transforms us, because through it we see our own humanity reflected back to us, the places God’s touched our lives and the lives of those around us, which leads us into a world brought alive by God's providence, power and presence, a world full of God's glory. As St. Ireneus said, “the glory of God is a human fully alive.” being fully alive is about being fully engaged in the intimate conversation of divine love in prayer, the longing prayer of your soul, mind, body, and heart, which reaches out to touch the God who reaches into us to touch the very depth of our humanity. It is in this divine conversation that we are asked to pray with unceasing persistence, for active presence, throughout our day, and only when necessary to use words. The Gospel is calling you and me together to pray with everything we are, to act in our world, and use words only when necessary. How will you live this Gospel, this week?