Sermon August 11, 2019
St. Andrew’s, Marianna
The Rev. Canon Renee Miller
“How to Pray, Part 4”
May the sacraments and the Word and the hunger of our souls meet and lead us ever more deeply into the heart of God. Al-hamdu-lillah. Amen.
So, what’s the first thing you think about when I say the word prayer?!?! We’ve had several answers over the past few weeks: we’ve had the answer of the Lord’s prayer, we’ve had the recitation of the little prayer I gave you, “God help me trust in your love and care,” we’ve had a shorter version of that which was “trust in God’s love and care.” Then, we had the Bishop! And, he was wonderful! Now we’re back to the same question again. So, what are your answers today?
Have you still been using the little prayer, “God, help me trust in your love and care?” or the first prayer inside the Lord’s prayer, “God hallowed be your name?” How has it been going for you?
The second prayer in the Lord’s Prayer is this: “Your kingdom come.” Vince noticed two weeks ago when we had the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel reading that it seemed to be missing the next phrase that’s so familiar: “Your will be done.” In Luke’s version, those words are not present in the prayer but let me just say briefly that in many ways “Your will be done” is just commentary on “Your kingdom come.” Because if “Your kingdom come” is happening, then God’s will is also happening.
What is God’s kingdom anyway? It seems like something other-worldly, mysterious, out of context for our daily lives. We may think that it’s most likely to be experienced in heaven after we die, or during specifically spiritual times - like in worship or when we witness a miracle. Scripture teaches that God’s kingdom is a peaceable kingdom. God’s kingdom is present when there is peace, love, trust, fearlessness. When the lion and the lamb lie down together. When there are no distinctions, disturbances, or difficulties between us, no matter how different we may be - just like the lion and the lamb. In other words, God’s kingdom is present when peace and love are evident. God’s kingdom is present when we bring peace in the world. God’s kingdom is present when we, ourselves, are at peace. The kingdom of God is present when we are unmoved, unruffled by what unfolds in our life that threatens to destroy our peace.
In the modern world, things happen every day that threaten our peace. Someone hurts or betrays us, we get cancer, our money fails, we’re lonely, we’re afraid of dying, the line is too long at the grocery store, the check we were expecting in the mail is late, too many demands are placed on us, we can’t find our phone or our keys, we have to attend yet another social event, our spouse is inattentive, we’ve lost our spouse, and on and on. Our response to these things is stress, agitation, tension, frustration and fear. These emotions are what pull us away from the peace of God’s kingdom. It’s not the event or the problem itself, but what the event or problem causes within our minds, bodies and souls. The truth is that when the event or problem unfolds, nothing of substance really has changed in terms of the peace of God’s kingdom. What has changed is our inner equilibrium and peace.
Here’s a simple example: Think of a time when you’ve been concentrating deeply on something and your phone rings. You’re jolted out of your concentration, your body jumps inside, you quickly try to make a new transition from what you were doing or thinking to answering the phone and getting into a conversation with someone. The peace of your concentration has been disturbed as you’ve had to move in another direction.
Life does this to us all the time. The goal of prayer is to be so deeply rooted in God’s kingdom that when life happens we aren’t disturbed. We simply respond to the new situation with the same peace that we had in the old situation. We are able to move in and out of whatever comes our way with equal peace. So, how do we get there? In today’s Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
God’s good pleasure. God wants us to live in peace — in ourselves, with each other, with all of creation. But quite honestly, we can’t have peace without cultivating peace. We won’t know the Kingdom if we don’t spend time in the kingdom. It’s no good having life hit you like a ton of bricks and simply beg heaven to change things, so you’ll be peaceful. You have to know what that heavenly peace is before you get hit in the head by life so that when you are hit in the head you know exactly what to do to return to your space in God’s kingdom of peace.
Let’s take another very simple example. You know what it feels like to eat and be satisfied. And, you know when you’re hungry that you want to return to that feeling of satisfaction. And to get that feeling of satisfaction you need to eat. When you’re suddenly hungry, you don’t beg heaven to make you full. You go to the kitchen, open the refrigerator and prepare something to eat. If you didn’t know the feeling of satisfaction after eating, you wouldn’t know what to do when you’re hungry!
It’s the same with the kingdom. If we don’t know what the kingdom of peace feels like or how to get there, then when life throws us a curve ball and we’re twisted up in knots of fear, stress, frustration and agitation we have no idea how to get back to the peace of God’s kingdom. So instead, we worry and fret, we’re unhappy, we escape by distracting ourselves (sometimes unhealthily) or we beg God to fix our problem.
So, we have to practice. I’m still learning and practicing, that’s for sure. I am a stress bomb as many of you know! I can get wound up as tight as an overwound wristwatch and then come all undone like a flying spring or get stuck in that overwound position where I can’t perform at all. While I was home these past three weeks. I kept to my regular meditation and prayers, but also tried to notice when I was being pulled away from peace by my stress, worry, fear, and agitation. I think I made some progress in recognizing what the peace of the kingdom looks and feels like and I know I can get myself there - not always immediately, but I don’t have to completely spiral out of control before figuring it out.
During this time, I nearly lost one of the closest people in the world to me. Thankfully, healing came, but while it was uncertain, I was reeling with shock and grief. I cried and felt my breath stopping – as fear and the possibility of grief can do with us. One day was particularly painful and that night, I went into my prayer space in the closet and just asked God to help me through the night. I went to bed weeping — but I slept. The following morning, I went back to my prayer space and said nothing. I just sat there in God’s peaceable kingdom in the closet and four words formed in my mind and soul. I took them as words from God. They were, silence, waiting, unconditional love, and sanctuary. I thought of God’s silent, yet abiding, presence and how God waits for me in that silence. I thought about the unconditional love God shows me. I thought of the sanctuary God is for me. Did I still grieve? Yes. Did I still want my problem fixed? Yes. But, the intensity lessened. When it started to ramp up, and the tears began flowing again, I could halt and go back to those words and regain my seat in the peaceable kingdom of God. The point I am trying to make by telling you this story is that without spending time in the peaceable kingdom of God in the closet and saying nothing, I wouldn’t have had it to return to and I probably would not have been quiet enough to hear my four important words: silence, waiting, unconditional love and sanctuary.
When I’ve done meditation classes with you before, I’ve suggested two things to help bring you into God’s presence. Not everyone has been in those meditation classes, so I want to repeat those two things. The first is to create an inner sanctuary where you go to be with God. To begin, close your eyes and go inward. In your mind create a room inside yourself and decorate it as you would like. Make all the details very clear in your mind. This becomes your inner sanctuary where you can go at any time to meet and be alone with God. After you’ve created your inner sanctuary, go there, feel God’s peaceable presence with you and pray “Your kingdom come...your peaceable kingdom come ... your kingdom come.” See if you can feel the peace of the kingdom.
The second suggestion is to create an outer sanctuary in your home. I know some of you have already done this, but if you haven’t, you might try to get it set up this week. It doesn’t need to be a closet or even a separate room. It can be a chair, or a cushion on the floor, or a window seat, or a space on the porch. But, prepare it as a sacred space for yourself and God to be together. Put something in it that sets it apart - a branch of a tree, or a candle, or a cross, or a favorite blanket, or a rock, or a Bible, or a prayer book. Sit down in it and feel God’s peaceable presence there and pray, “Your kingdom come... your peaceable kingdom come...your kingdom come.” See if you can feel the peace of the kingdom.
During this next week spend some time in one of your sanctuaries. Get to know the place. Get acquainted with what it feels like to be there. Come and go. Come and go again, until it’s natural to come and go without any kind of drama or ‘shoulds’ or guilt. Just go and be in God’s peaceable kingdom for a bit. Sometimes you may there 30 seconds, other times 30 minutes. The goal is simply for it to become natural to you to ‘come and go.’ Then when the problems unfold that you feel need fixing, you’ll immediately think to go there and you’ll sit quietly and you and God will align – you will be reduced to a single straight line. And, words (like the four words that came to me) will come and you will have the courage to face whatever it is you must face. And you will face it with peace. “Your kingdom come...” Amen.