Sermon Archives

Sunday, October 16, 2016
The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24, Year C)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Pray Always

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Pray always.

What could Jesus possibly mean?

Surely, he cannot mean that we are always to be kneeling beside our beds, unceasingly praying the Lord’s Prayer and our daily petitions and thanksgivings as we were taught as little children. 

Even if we took away the part about kneeling beside our bed, and just left the part about perpetually praying the Lord’s Prayer and stating and restating our Daily petitions and thanksgivings, Jesus couldn’t mean that, could he?

Of course not!  Not only is this inconsistent with the life he and his disciples following him led, we all recognize the complete futility of such an interpretation -- nothing in this world would get done if we were never to turn out attention away for such direct and conscious prayer.  In fact, Bishop William Temple said it rather succinctly:  “It is our duty for a great part of the day to forget God, because if we are thinking about Him we shall not be thinking whole-heartedly about our duty in the world.[1]

We have real responsibilities and real obligations to attend to, not only as individuals with families and careers, but as faithful Christians charged with building the Kingdom of heaven here upon earth, all of which takes time and whole-hearted effort.

So long as we think of prayer as a thing to be done, a finite task of the Christian life:

  • Read one chapter of the Bible
  • Be kind to the checkout lady, the customer, or my co-worker
  • Say my prayers
  • [REPEAT]

. . . So long as we think this way, that prayer is a finite task, Jesus’ instruction to his disciples that they should “pray always” will, at best, make no sense and, at worst, prevent us from the real work of discipleship, that is, building up his kingdom.

There is, of course, another way, a way, I believe, that is consonant with Jesus’ teaching and the Church’s teaching through the ages.

Prayer, you see, is not a singular Christian task toward building the Kingdom of Christ, it is the fundamental work itself. 

On the contrary, prayer is a way of being.  More concretely, for the Christian, prayer is the way of being.  To pray, with and as Christ, is to be in the world in such a way that one is ever and always in fellowship with him, and that His Kingdom is ever present and real for you and for others about you.

The prayer-filled life, is not a life of ceaseless “Our Fathers,” but a life in which God’s fellowship and God’s love are perpetually made real.

So, what then do we do with our times of quiet and direct prayer?

Well, for one, we keep them!

It is impossible to expect that such a life of endless prayer, a life which is perpetually immersed in God’s fellowship and always revealing God’s love and grace, would ever be possible were it not to have, also, times of concrete prayer.  William Temple gets to this as well, saying:  “If our life is to be a life of fellowship with Him . . . we should have our times which are [prayer], pure and simple.”[2]

But we must realize that the purpose of such time and prayer is not about changing God, but about changing our selves.  The time we spend in prayer, be it here in worship this morning, or quietly upon our bed tonight, or in the still of the morning dawn tomorrow, is about the transformation of our life – it is about immersing ourselves in God’s fellowship and love, such that his Love becomes our way of being in the world.

And so we are called to make a daily practice of immersing ourselves in His fellowship.  We are called to offer ourselves – our hopes and dreams, are cares and worries, even our sins and brokenness, to God each day, in order that we may come to understand the breadth and brilliance of his Love. 

We are called also, to offer in daily prayer the needs of the world – to pray for the poor and the dispossessed, to pray for sick and the dying, the imprisoned and the lonely.  We offer these prayers not because God needs our daily reminder to care for those hungering for his love and life, but because we need the daily reminder that this is the very point of God’s life and love . . . and if this the care of the poor and dispossessed, the sick and the dying, the imprisoned and the lonely, are the daily concern of God, perhaps they should be my daily concern as well.

Of course, our time of quiet and direct prayer mustn’t only be an out-pouring of ourselves to God; it must also be an opening of our “selves” to God.  As Heather Ward notes in The Gift of Self, “prayer is primarily something God does in me, it is allowing God to flow through me.”  “My part,” Ward continues, “is to make myself available for this.”[3]

As so, part of our practice of prayer must also but be contemplation and silence, listening again to and for who God is.  In fact, this is how the daily rhythm of Morning Prayer begins.  Following the opening versicle:  (Lord, open my lips), in which we ask God to open us; we immediately move to an ancient song of praise taken for the Psalm 95:

Come, let us sing to the Lord; *
   let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
   and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God, *
   and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
   and the heights of the hills are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it, *
   and his hands have molded the dry land.

Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
   and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. *
   Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

With these daily words of prayer and praise we begin to hear and to contemplate again the mystery of God, who wonderfully created, and more wonderfully restored, all that is.  With these words, we are invited to remember again the Beauty and Goodness that is God, in order that such goodness might show forth in our lives.

Yes, prayer is what we offer to God.  It is the offering of cares and thanksgivings to him who receives our needs.

But it is not only what we offer in word; even more, it is the offering of our “selves”, our heart, mind, soul and strength, to God in order that we may live in, and be transformed by, fellowship with Him.

And that is not a task to be accomplished, but a life to be lived.

So friends, let us pray always.

[1] Temple, William, Christian Faith and Life, Morehouse-Barlow Co., Inc, page 12

[2] Temple, Christian Faith and Life, page 12.

[3] Excerpt taken from Celebrating the Seasons: Daily Spiritual Readings for the Christian Year, compiled and edited by Robert Atwell, page 421.