Thursday, March 09, 2017

First Thursday in Lent-2017

If we look for spiritual recompense
let us perform our good deeds in secret;
let us not proclaim them in the streets,
but keep them hidden in our hearts.
The the one who sees the secrets of all will reward us for our abstinence.
Let us complete the Fast,
not with a sad countenance,
but praying in the inner chamber of our souls;
and without ceasing, let us cry:
Our Father in heaven,
lead us not into temptation, we pray,
but deliver us from the evil one.

--Byzantine Vespers

Prayer is our subject today.  Prayer and how to do it, and why do do it, and what it means.  "Pray without ceasing," Paul tells us.  There are practical directives for that, a most impractical command.  Prayer is connected to the fast; so fasting needs prayer, and perhaps prayer sometimes needs fasting.  But the fast need not be merely food; it can be abstinence from evil itself.  We pray, as Christians, to be delivered by God from the evil one.  It is sometimes true that means deliverance from ourselves.

When we pray, we do not pray for ourselves alone.  We do not say "My Father, who art in heaven" or, "Give me this day my daily bread"; we do not ask for our own trespasses alone to be forgiven; and when we pray that we may be delivered from evil, we are not praying only for ourselves either.

Our prayer is for the general good, for the common good.  When we pray we do not pray for our own single selves; we pray for all God's people, because they and we are one.

--Cyprian of Carthage, Third century

Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,
But don't forget the potatoes.

--J.T. Pettee

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

--1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Everyone stops at the "Pray without ceasing" and wonders what that could mean.  There are answers practical and metaphysical, but no one stops at "rejoice always" and wonders what that could mean; or if the former could lead to the latter, and both to giving thanks in all circumstances.  But the purpose of Lent; or, let's say, a purpose of Lent, is to consider these things.  If we rejoice always, for what are we rejoicing, and how do we do that?  If you can answer that, maybe praying without ceasing begins to make more sense; and if you do both, giving thanks in all circumstances suddenly seems childishly simple.

I used to tell my congregation that Sunday in worship was not the "filling station" where you got your spiritual and emotional tank topped off again so you had fuel to get through another week.  That was backwards, I said; it meant you needed God once a week, and the rest of the time you were fine on your own.  Rather, I said, in worship you should encounter the living God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.  The famous throne room scene in Isaiah 6 is the acknowledged model of Christian worship, right down to the pipe organ meant to replicate the voices of the seraphim (my congregation's German roots included opening every worship service, once upon a time, with the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy."  It was not just because they had always done it that way.).  You do not lightly enter the presence of the living God; and if you enter into the experience of worship, if you open yourself to the possibility of the presence of God there, and experience it, you aren't charged up for a week until your batter runs down.  Your perspective on the world will change, your relationship to the world will change.

You may not rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances because of that; but you'd be a lot closer than if you just expect prayer to be something that is answered, and worship to give you something to get through the week.

And don't forget the potatoes....

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