When I worked at St. Margaret’s, one of the other priests put a sign on my office door that read “Prays well with others”. I’m not telling you this because I’m particularly “good” at prayer. In fact, I think I’m rather terrible at it.
Before going off to seminary, I imagined that my life as a priest would be filled with moments of quiet meditation, opportunities to sit in contemplation, and that I would devoutly observe the Daily Office. But the truth is, most of my day is filled up with pretty routine stuff…pastoral visits, administrative work, emails, phone calls, and meetings. And of course there’s the grocery shopping, dishes, laundry and litter box to attend to. Not unlike most of your days I’d be willing to bet. And by bedtime, I realize I haven’t had that moment of quiet meditation and contemplation; I haven’t even cracked open the Prayer Book. This used to really bum me out. I used to get really frustrated by it and think “what kind of priest am I…I never pray!” And since I had confessed my short-coming to my colleague at St. Margaret’s, I knew that his little sign was a bit of a jab. In retrospect, I now think of it as a bit of encouragement.
On one of my trips to Bend for a diocesan meeting, I ate dinner at a place called “Common Table”. The dinner was lovely and the wait staff was wonderful. Because Common Table provided meals for the homeless in the community, they tried to keep their expenses low, so the wait staff was all volunteer. We had a wonderful woman serving our table, and I noticed on the underside of her forearm a phrase in Latin “laudate est ora”. I asked her what this meant, and she said “my work is my prayer”.
When Jesus and his disciples are gathered together, he is always teaching them. He teaches them about healing, faith, gratitude and forgiveness. And he also teaches them about prayer. In this morning’s gospel (Luke 18:1-8), Jesus reminds the disciples to pray always and to not lose heart. He isn’t necessarily telling them to read their prayer books, or recite certain psalms, but he is telling them to be persistent in their prayer and not give up…the road ahead, the road of discipleship is not an easy one. Do not be distracted, stay focused, pray and do not lose heart.
And then he tells a parable that calls to mind issues of trust, justice and deliverance, judgment and faith, and persistence and resistance. Now all of these are wonderful lessons worth exploring, so I’m going to save some of them for future sermons and focus on persistence and resistance.
In this parable, we have two main characters—the widow who is persistent in demanding justice and the judge who is resistant to her pleas for help.
Can we, for just a moment, imagine God in the role of the widow? Can we imagine a God who is persistent in offering to us love, grace and forgiveness? Can we imagine a God who is persistent in desiring to be in a deep and loving relationship with us?
If God is the widow, then who is the judge? If we’re honest with ourselves, we find that sometimes it’s us. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in our own “stuff”—our anxieties, fears, and even routine daily living—that we can’t hear God’s persistent pleas to us.
And that’s what prayer is about. It’s about taking a moment and listening. It’s about our ability to stop being resistant to a God who loves us, and paying attention.
While it is traditional to celebrate St. Francis on Oct 4, we had some scheduling conflicts. Oh well. So we’re celebrating him today. (I prayed about it and it’s ok.)
Before Francis became a “saint”, he was a wealthy young man in Italy. His father was a silk merchant and his mother was a noblewoman from France. During his youth he was fascinated by troubadours who sang songs of love and chivalry. He also joined a military campaign, but upon receiving a vision, he returned home. When Francis got home, he became more contemplative and took a pilgrimage to Rome. He had stopped being resistant to God’s persistent gift of love.
When Francis came home from Rome, he took to begging in the streets in front of the church. There again, he had a vision; this time of Jesus asking him to repair the church. Francis thought Jesus was being literal and meant the church he was sitting in front of. So he sold some of his father’s cloth and gave the money to the priest to repair the church.
When Francis’ father heard about this, he was outraged! So, during legal proceedings, in front of everyone, Francis took off his fine clothes and vowed to leave his father’s house. He spent months as a beggar, and then went to live in the countryside repenting for his earlier ways. He spent the rest of his life repairing churches, preaching in the streets, and eventually founding orders of religious men and women who preached, served as missionaries, and did works of charity. One of Francis’ most important teachings was that people should be able to pray to God in their own language.
Once Francis had stopped being resistant to God’s calling to discipleship, he became persistent in his prayer. For Francis, just like those early friends and followers of Jesus, discipleship was hard. It meant traveling, working alongside lepers and other outsiders, and sharing the Good News of God. And while Francis may have taken time out of his day to sit quietly and meditate, I have a feeling he would have agreed with the waitress from Common Table—my work is my prayer.
I believe prayer is not a passive activity. Yes, it can be those moments of quiet reflection, but I also believe that any time we are working towards realizing the Kingdom in our midst, anytime we are bringing about justice in an unjust world, anytime we are persistently offering love to one another, we are praying. Praying is active. To pray means to be in conversation and relationship with the Spirit of God. To pray is to be receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And so I thought I would share with you one of my favorite prayers attributed to St. Francis, that reminds me that all that I do in my daily life and work, when done with God in mind, is prayer:
Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your holy and true command. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.