Sermon 3rd May 2015 – “Everyday life must itself become our prayer” – Karl RahnerMay 5, 2015
These words of Karl Rahner, a Jesuit and theologian, bring together the completeness of life and prayer. But this way of life is nothing new: the Celts have a history of having prayers and blessings for all aspects of life. This, of course, may have been glamorised by the development of contemporary Celtic Christianity where there are prayers and blessings for doing things like driving the car and switching on the computer. But then perhaps this is exactly what Karl Rahner meant and it’s maybe exactly what Paul was meaning when he wrote this letter to the Colossians.
Paul starts off the letter to the Colossians by praying for them and giving thanks to God for them and so sets into place the importance of prayer in life and life in prayer. These are people who are setting out into a new way of life, a new way of life in Christ. Paul, in writing to them from prison, sets out to affirm them and encourage them, so that they would be able to live the life in Christ, a life that they had been called to and a life for which Christ had been crucified, died, buried and rose again.
As the letter draws to an end, Paul calls the people to a deep and meaningful life of prayer: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving”. Paul called for the people of the church to make a commitment – to pray constantly and continually. He used similar words to the people of the church at Thessalonica, words we read last week: “Rejoice always, pray continuously, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus”. So everything that they did was to be prayed about and prayed for. Paul also asks that the people pray for him also, so that his gift of proclamation may be used, the gift of preaching and sharing God’s word, the sharing of the mystery of Christ and that he would be able to reveal that mystery to others.
Paul entreats the people to speak to God about people and then to speak to people about God. But he also gave advice about how to speak to others about God. “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” Even in the calling to share the mystery of Christ, Paul cautioned the people to be gracious, to make the most of the opportunities provided by God to speak of God. They were to act in grace, to reflect the grace of God gifted to them through Jesus.
It’s the grace that Jesus highlighted when he spoke of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee believed in his own righteousness, a righteousness he felt because of his position, his status as a Pharisee, his status as a religious person. When he prayed, he looked only at his own righteousness, what he saw as his good points and spent his prayer listing these attributes, making judgemental comparisons with the tax collector and other people he thought were beneath him.
The tax collector, however, came with a different attitude entirely. He came before God in all humility and sought God’s mercy in his life. He knew that He was a sinner and came before God seeking his grace and mercy. He came to God in prayer worshipping God,
- the only one who could save him,
- the only one who loved Him so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, so that all who believed would have eternal life and would not perish,
- the only one whose grace is sufficient for each and every sinner,
The attitude of humility, repentance, worshipping and thankfulness where we lose sight of ourselves as anything other than one of God’s created children, broken and sinful, brings us truly before our God to worship Him; anything else is about putting ourselves up front, focussing on us only. That spirit of thankfulness and thanksgiving is vital. The presence or absence of that spirit functions as a test of whether a person has really understood that the gospel is one of grace. It is the mark, not of striving to attain the fullness of knowledge and experience of God’s presence as in the philosophy, but of having received that fullness of knowledge and experience of God’s presence freely in Christ.
So where does that leave us? What do these words in Scripture mean to us today? What is it that we are being called to? What does that mean for us as a church and as individuals?
We are commanded to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. But that is only possible in and through God’s grace and we can only begin to know that grace through a right relationship with God the Father, through God the Son and in the power of God the Holy Spirit. Paul’s letter to the Colossians called for them to devote themselves to prayer, just as that letter calls us to devote ourselves to prayer as individuals and as a church.
We are called to pray continuously and constantly throughout our life: that is part of our worship of our God, the one true God. “Everyday life must itself become our prayer” all that we do, say and think should be prayerful. It is our constant worship of God. The worship of God is context for all our life – not just the part we devote to him in the sanctuary. Our church services, our church activities, our personal life, our work, our school, all become one prayer, a constant prayer. We draw all aspects of our life together and bring them into a prayer; prayer is the way we communicate with our Heavenly Father. Sometimes we do that in private and sometimes our prayers are more communal or corporate as a group of people together.
But to bring together everyday life and prayer we must consider life’s depths and not just the surfaces. It’s about digging deep into ourselves, about facing up to who we are and our own desires. It’s also about including in prayer the bits we don’t want to be reminded of, as well as the bits that we’re well pleased with. It’s about praying for all that we see going on around us, in the streets, in the town, rippling out to take into account world events. It’s about lamenting for those in Nepal, for those who are being persecuted because they confess that Jesus Christ is Lord in their life even when their very life is being threatened and the only way to live is to deny Him.
Prayer is truly about body, mind and spirit and Paul tells us through this letter to be alert and to watch, being alert to pray for people and events as they happen, but also to be alert to keep praying. We sometimes become complacent and let things slip, letting our prayer life slip as well. In fact, at times when life is busy or stressful, prayers and therefore communication with God is sometimes the first to go. The book of Nehemiah is the story of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem after one of the periods of captivity. Nehemiah organises the rebuilding in the sight of numerous people who don’t want him to finish the job. Nehemiah 4:7-9
“We prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.” Being alert and praying, keeping alert and physically guarding the city. The city is protected through prayer and the physical presence of guards. “Everyday life must itself become our prayer”
We are called to devote ourselves to prayer with a thankful heart. It can be so hard to give thanks when the darkness is closing in on us and our lives. It can be so hard to give thanks in prayer when everything seems to be against us. It can be so hard to give thanks when we find ourselves grieving over the death of a loved one, or when someone is surrounded by the rubble and destruction of an earthquake. We can and it is right to lament about these things. Our souls have been made to lament and grieve; we just don’t let it happen though. But to pray with a thankful heart is not to constantly give thanks for the difficult circumstances we can find ourselves in but it is to give thanks to the Lord our God who created us, who loves us and who knew us before we were ever born. It is again to focus on God and not on ourselves. It is to build up that relationship with the one who loves us and to begin to know His will and presence in our lives. Thankfulness is an essential part of faith that recognises and acknowledges God as Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of life, which recognises, despite everything, that God’s grace in Christ is at the core of life.
God calls us to speak to Him about people,
- about ourselves, our worship of Him, our love of Jesus Christ, our desire to serve, our burdens as well as our delights
- about others, to intercede for them, to pray God’s presence in their lives, that He would enable them to use the gifts that He has given them, in His service
I want to encourage us all to pray, not just in our own private times, but as a church as central part of the life of this church; to do that I want to develop various different prayer meetings. Some would be a regular prayer group meeting with or without some sort of Bible study, some would be taking the opportunity to come together to pray for specific events or people, such as the earthquake in Nepal or the prayer vigil we held just before Christmas; some would take place around food, a prayer breakfast. These prayer meetings would focus on worshipping God and finding His will for us in this place and in this parish.
I would also want to make prayer points available on a regular basis, either published on the weekly order of service or an additional sheet distributed with the order.
“Everyday life must itself become our prayer.” Through God’s grace it can become so. In all this we should recognise and remember that we are only human and we can’t do this in our own strength and through our own striving. There are times when we slip but it’s God’s grace freely given and sufficient for us that enables us to keep on going, to keep on praying, to keep alert, to keep on being thankful. “Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus”
“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving”