Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Knowing God

(This was my sermon from June 21st, but I delayed posting due to other blog entries)

At her mother’s funeral Thursday, Sam Anderton told us that it was ok to be selfish, and weep and mourn for Deborah’s passing. It would be wrong, she said, to remain only there, for her mother’s life was a blessed one and she provided love and inspiration to friends, family, and even a daughter. Our lives are richer by Deb’s life with us, and we should rejoice over the blessing that was...and in some sense still is...the sacred relationship of her life.

Our scriptures for today and the events of this week...from here in Littleton to across the globe in Iran...once again echo the truth that two things that appear to be different...even contradict...are both true.

We know God: through our teachings passed to us by our families, our shared community in the church, through our reading the Bible, through our witness to the beauty found in the world, and through our experiences and interactions with other human beings. We know God loves the world.

In the same breath, I wonder: how dare we claim to know God? How dare we claim to know how God acts, how dare we claim that good fortune means blessing from God, how dare we assume that violence or injustice means God has turned away and forgotten, and how dare we assume that we know what God should do.

God is God, and we’re not.

Many a preacher has said this, but it’s true in more than the obvious sense. So often, our sense of God is powerful, based on a notion of control. Blessing or curse, it is God who has the power to impose God’s will over everyone else.

The power to impose one’s will over another...that’s such a human understanding and pursuit.

Why do we suppose that this would be the way of God?

Is God diminished in our eyes if the ability to control and orchestrate everyone and everything is not an aspect of God?

That’s been the fear of many a religious person: The classic understanding is that God is in control, so everything has to have a reason and a purpose, unless power has been temporary been wrestled away by the devil. So things that point to new understanding...away from what we’ve attributed to “God’s way,” be it science or social custom...gets met with suspicion, resistance, and even violence.

But it’s clear in our scripture, in the Old Testament as well as in Jesus’ way, that God transcends our fears and expectations. It is often in the new understanding that God shows us a new way to live. It should be no surprise that God points us to a way of life that is not based on control: be it power, wealth, or domination.

Control over all...at least in the way we understand it...does not appear to be God’s way.

Charles LaFond, The Canon for Congregational Life of our Diocese, suggests that the evil one has a new strategy: to get us to do too much. Even if we are doing good things, we end up isolated and exhausted. In the attempt to control, we fall away from God.

This works like a charm, and best of all it leaves no paper trail. We end up over stimulated, over tired, over committed, and under prayed.

Prayer is a way to counter this.

But what do we ask of God? How do we pray to a God who does not control all…at least, not in the sense of control that we understand. If prayer is not an asking God to do or not to, to bless or to curse, than what purpose does it hold? How should we pray?

First off, prayer is a multi-facetted thing. It is a conversation that God has already started, long ago at Creation, which we are invited into. It isn’t so much about right and wrong as it is being open and honest with God.

When we’re stressed or hurting, when we’re overwhelmed by fear or sorrow, and when we feel alone, it is more than appropriate to voice our hearts desires to God...asking for this or that, venting our frustrations and anger, confessing our fears and worries, or begging forgiveness. It’s not about getting what we want, but the open invitation to unburden ourselves to God.

When we know someone is struggling in one way or another, it is helpful to name them in prayer…be it formally praying a list of names, or whether it’s remembering them as we go through our day…keeping us connected to God and those in need.

When we come together as a community to pray, like we’ve done today, our corporate prayers that we say together work well to voice what binds us together as the community of God.

But what about praying in general? How might we pray to a God that isn’t sitting in a massive control center, choosing to bless or curse us at every opportunity?

Bishop Spong once said that he thought prayer was the time that he spent at the beginning of his day, before he started the day’s work...but that he later realized instead that the minutes of practice and mediation at the beginning of the day centered him, so spend his day in prayer, doing what God called him to do. Paul’s call to “pray without ceasing” being lived out.

I think that’s at the center of our Christian living.

So I have something for you. (I passed out candles to everyone).

Charles shared this mediation technique with the vestry the other night.

You find a quiet place. You light your candle, and for five minutes you just listen for God.

There's nothing to ask...don't try and discern any questions, or find a particular action. Use no words, and offer nothing but your attention.

Just listen.

Upon hearing this description, one vestry member, in a light-hearted yet wondering way, asked:

“Have you ever heard God talk to you?”

Charles thought for just a moment, and said:

“No, I think God’s too busy listening to speak. We just listen to each other. Two hearts listening to one another…”

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