Follow by Email

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Prayer: the original self-help

In today's Gospel passage (Luke 11:1-13), Jesus introduces us to a prayer that we now know as The Lord's Prayer.

First, the introduction and focus on this prayer give us the opportunity to reflect on our own personal prayer discipline.

We in the Anglo-Catholic tradition have a great tool in our formulaic prayer books in that the repetition of a prayer often enables us to appreciate the prayer on a more profound level, however our familiarity with a prayer can also enable us to mentally "check out" as our mouths form the words of the prayer.  So the first thing I would invite you to do is perhaps revisit some of these familiar prayers and refocus on them, phrase by phrase, word by word.  I am fairly certain your will rediscover a sanctity that is in those prayers that you had perhaps lost through familiarity.

Second, it also gives us the opportunity to reflect on what prayer is, and perhaps more importantly, what prayer isn't.  Many of us have probably gone through the child-like phase of prayer where we pray for things: wealth, possessions, etc.  What we are actually doing is confusing God with Santa Claus, and we need to grow past that.

We have likely gone through periods where we have prayed for a particular outcome, either for ourselves or others, and that outcome has not come to pass.  Although our motives are perhaps more laudable, we are nonetheless still treating God like a wish-fulfillment cafeteria.  Once again, we need to grow past that.

The truth is that prayer is much less about the results, less about the answers, and much more about the questions.

Most modern psychology and self-help invites us to something called "mindfulness".  This is the act of taking the time and effort to be more aware of our feelings and to ponder where they come from and what we are going to do about it.

This is the power of prayer.  Prayer is not a manifesto or ultimatum.  It is not magic.  It is the act of bringing something from our subconscious into our conscious.  It is the act of conversing with the divine.  It is the act of outwardly expressing that which is lies on our heart.

To hear my sermon from this week, click here to download the podcast.  It's not in MP3 as I had to record it on my phone:)  Hope that doesn't cause any problems.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Honest Politician

Today's Gospel passage, Luke 10:25-37, tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  Unbeknownst to most of us, this is a title which would have drawn scoffs and laughter from Jesus' original Jewish listeners.

Jews and Samaritans did NOT get along.  I will spare you the details, but I invite you to Google it to find out more.  What we need to understand is that the hatred between these two ethno-religious groups was so severe, that Jesus' Jewish listeners were likely not able to conceive of such a thing as a "Good Samaritan".  The very phrase itself would have been considered to be a contradiction in terms.  It would have been like us saying "an honest politician".  Hence why the story is specifically called "The Good Samaritan".

But the story is familiar, even to most non-churchgoers: a man is waylaid by bandits on the road, stripped, beaten and left for dead.  The first person to find him is a priest, the second a Levite (a tribe of Judaism consecrated to work in the Temple).  Both men pass him by.

Many people assume they passed him by simply because they did not want to get involved, or that they simply had no compassion or concern for their fellow countryman.  This may or may not be the case, but another possible reason exists, and given the context of a discussion about the law, it is likely the scenario Jesus is trying to paint: ancient Judaism was hemmed about by a multitude of ritual purity laws and prohibitions.  One of these prohibitions was against touching a dead body.  If you touched a dead body, you defiled yourself and became ritually impure.  For a priest and Levite, this would have been inconvenient.

So the irony is that according to the strict letter of the Law, the priest and the Levite were totally justified in passing the man by.

But is this really what the law intended?  To instruct people to leave a man on the side of the road because he may or may not be dead?

It makes me think of that maxim, "There's the letter of the law, then there's the spirit of the law".  In many ways, most modern religions are still hemmed about with ritual, instructions, prohibitions, and so on.  It behooves us as modern, rational beings to reflect seriously on these laws and submit each and every one of them to that great acid test: does it show love to God or neighbour?  Yes?  Then keep it up.  No?  Reevaluate.

To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dirty words

There is a word which had become dirty in most modern mainline churches.  That word is "evangelism".

When most of us hear that word, we likely conjure images of manic street preachers, people knocking on our doors, judgement, tent revivals, conversions, and so on.

In reality, we are actually thinking "evangelicalism" when we think of these things.  Evangelism is something else entirely, and it is in fact the duty of all Christians, and I would even argue that it is the duty of all faiths and even those who do not adhere to a faith.

The reason being is that the word "evangelism" comes from the Greek for "bearer of good news".  Yes, this word was specifically generated within the context of Christianity (the word "Gospel" meaning "good news") and it referred specifically to bringing the good news of God's love to others.

But at least within the context of today's Gospel passage (Luke 10:1-20), there is no mention, implicit or explicit, of trying to convert people to any ideology.  Jesus calls his disciples to simply go into the world and do good things: to heal, to cure, to help, to assist, to companion, to bring peace.

What would the world be like if we all just went out and did good things for one another, not to try to change their minds or convert them to our way of thinking, not to criticize their lifestyles or ideas, not to get anything out of them, but just because it is better to do good in the world than to do evil?

This is, I think, the actual call of Christ, and in fact the call of most credible prophets and thinkers from the majority of world ideologies, whether they be religious or secular.

To hear my sermon from this past Sunday, click here.