Sermon St Eustachius 8 & 9.45 Sunday 24 July 2022 Trinity 6 P12 Prayer (Sea Sunday)
Genesis 18v20-23 Psalm 138 (as responsory) Colossians 2v6-15 [16-19] Luke 11v1-13
Let us Pray: May I speak in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Do you ever struggle with prayer? Or does prayer come quite naturally and easily to you? For me prayer is an essential part of what I understand as our Christian life and walk with God, but that does not mean I find prayer easy.
Mother Teresa also believed prayer to be an essential part of our Christian lives and walk as we need to learn to hear from God if our faith and service for him is to grow. She firmly believed that it was in “the silence of the heart that” God speaks, saying “If you face God in prayer and silence”, in other words ‘give God time to speak’, “God will speak to you”. But in the midst of this busy and frenetic world in which we all now find ourselves, do we make that time, and do we prioritise prayer? In fact, do we believe it to be necessary?
I wonder what the pattern for each of our Christian lives is? Do we believe, that as believes, as followers of our Lord Jesus, our lives need to be different, even radically different, from those around us? There are many, but one simple litmus test is given to us by Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans (12v12). “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer”.
With our hope in God, with our faith and trust placed in Jesus our risen Lord, our hope is of an eternal life in the coming new creation. With all the chaos around us in today’s world, that hope should give us a joy beyond measure as we look to the things promised that are beyond our imagination. Our walk is not promised to be an easy one, but as we remain faithful in prayer, we are also assured of God’s continual presence with us through his Holy Spirit.
Paul also tells the Christians in Philippi (4v6) that ‘we have no need to be anxious about anything’, echoing our Lord’s words from the sermon on the mount (Mtt6v25) not to be ‘anxious’ about our lives, ‘but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God’.
This seems to be very much the experience of the seventeenth century Carmelite lay brother Lawrence. He is remembered for his intimate relationship with God writing, ‘There is no greater lifestyle and no greater happiness than that of having a continual conversation with God’. In other words, being in prayer with God. I wonder, would you agree with him?
Do you look for, hope for and desire, that sort of relationship with God our Father, and with our Lord and Saviour Jesus? It is a relationship soundly based on prayer as we daily walk our pilgrim path as disciples and followers of Jesus.
As Rosie reminded us a few weeks ago, ‘Prayer is the life blood of the Church’, and prayer should be our guide in all that we seek to do.
That sort of intimate relationship with God was also the experience of the patriarch Abraham that we read of in our Old Testament (Gen 18v20-32). Abraham whose faith was reckoned unto him as righteousness, was not afraid to talk to God in an intimate way, but also to argue with God in order to get God to change his mind over the destruction of the unholy people of Sodom, and he almost succeeded. Sadly not even ten righteous people could be found among the population, and so the ‘judge of all the world’ had no choice but to deal righteously with the remaining population, and destroy the city once lot and his family had escaped.
There are perhaps times when each one of us has felt the need to argue with God, but, ultimately we have to bow to God’s sovereign will and accept that the ‘judge of all the earth will do what is just’, and for our good.
In psalm 99 God is described as the, ‘Mighty King, who loves justice and will establish equity and who will execute justice and righteousness’.
Do you recall a parable that Jesus told us concerning prayer recorded later in Luke’s gospel (18v1-8). A widow kept going to a judge who neither feared God or had any respect for people. She wanted justice against an opponent but for a while he refused her request. Then because the widow kept ‘bothering him’ with her continual coming, he granted her request for justice.
In that parable Jesus recognises that we may not all find prayer an easy discipline to practice, but he reminds us to be persistent, and of our ‘need to pray always and not to lose heart’.
And that is the same point Jesus made in today’s reading, where we are to be like that man going to a friend at midnight and to be persistent. Maybe like me there are times when we are easily tempted to give up on prayer, but brothers and sisters, do not lose heart, and continue to be persistent in your prayers.
Perhaps this little story may help us in that respect.
We have just passed through the time between the ascension of our Lord and Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. A time for the past few years designated by the Church as a time of prayer to pray ‘thy kingdom come’. It is a time during which we have especially been encouraged to pray for five people to become Christians. But that initiative is not in fact a new idea.
Have any of you heard of George Muller? He established a group of homes in the Bristol area towards the end of the nineteenth century for orphan children. He ran those homes by prayer and faith, looking to God through His people to meet their everyday needs. But from the age of 35 he started to pray each day for five of his friends to become Christians. In fact the last two of those friends did not become Christians till after Muller’s death at the age of 92.
So what does that teach us?
Yes, to be persistent in our prayers, not to lose heart, and to trust that God will work out his purpose in due time.
Prayer can take much of our time but as Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
And for me, I believe that the time now seems so ripe for the next move of God across this community, this country and across many other nations as well. I wonder if you feel the same? Would it not be wonderful to see the grace of God revealed as in the former Welsh and Hebredian revivals experienced last century? Now is the time to recognise just how far we as a nation have strayed and moved away from the ways, the commandments and ordinances that God set out for this our world to flourish. So what will it require for us to see revival and a return to the ways that God purposed for human kind?
Prayer, prayer and even more prayer.
It has been said by many Christian leaders that, ‘There is no great movement of God that has ever occurred that does not begin with the extraordinary prayer of God’s people’, and we see that has been true from the very beginning of the early Church. After our Lord’s ascension we read in Acts that, ‘all these’, the disciples, ‘with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers’. And what followed? Pentecost. It has been the same ever since down through the ages.
The American evangelist Jonathan Edwards is credited as the man behind a great awakening in the US in the nineteenth century when over one million people turned to God. He said, ‘Be much in prayer and fasting, both in secret’, that is individually, ‘and with one another’.
If we wish to see that same sort of awakening, a revival, and a return to God in this country, we would do well to take heed of Jonathan’s words.
Perhaps when the disciples saw how Jesus often woke early to pray, or when they saw how he went out all night to a lonely place to pray, it spurred them to ask the question of Jesus we read of in our gospel, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples to pray’.
Perhaps the disciples were starting to realise just what a significant part prayer had to play in Jesus ministry as Jesus sought to follow the will of God. If prayer was necessary for John the Baptist’s disciples and for the disciples of Jesus, it is certainly necessary for us his twenty first century disciples. And as we pray our Lord’s prayer shortly, let us make it a sincere prayer, and a real desire of our hearts as we say together, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done’.
The psalmist, in psalm 141 (v2) has a wonderful way of describing our prayers saying, ‘Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice’.
You will remember that worship in both the Tabernacle and the Temple celebrated morning and evening prayer at the third and ninth hours, that is at 9 in the morning and at 3 in the afternoon, and at both of these times incenses was also offered, bringing a beautiful smell before the Lord.
Saint John also takes up that picture for us believers (Rev5v8, 8v4) describing the result of our prayers in heaven saying, ‘The 24 elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints’.
So let us rejoice with the company of the heavenly host over the wonder of our prayers, and perhaps you would consider joining in with our regular services of daily morning and evening prayer.
But in the meantime, as we wait earnestly for the realisation of God’s kingdom here on earth as described by the prophets, let us also show forth how that kingdom is already breaking through to this our present generation through the way we live our lives, and in the work’s we are called upon by God to do for His glory in this our needy world.
And on this sea Sunday, we can do much through our prayers, and maybe also through our financial support, to further the work of ‘the mission to seafarers’, and also to encourage all those working among seafarers in these difficult times.
If you wish to help support this work there will be a retiring collection as you leave church this morning.
So, Let us pray:- A prayer of St. Ethelwold ‘Trinity’
May God the Father bless us,
may Christ take care of us,
the Holy Ghost enlighten us all the days of our life.
The Lord be our defender and keeper of body and soul,
both now and for ever. Amen,