Friday, February 15, 2013

Shining with the Glory of God That Is in Us: Adoration

The First Sunday of Lent
17 February 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Shining with the Glory of God That Is in Us:  Adoration

Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm 91.1-2, 9-16; Romans 10.8b-13; Luke 4.1-13

            On this Sunday over the course of almost five centuries Anglican Christians have heard the familiar story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  Generations of preachers have warned their congregations of the dangers of the devil’s temptations and have, no doubt, occasionally equated the diabolic temptations with the preacher’s own favourite social ills:  coffee, smoking, women’s liberation, and the list goes on.
            This is not a tack I am going to take with you on this Sunday.  Rather I want all of us to focus on one part of Jesus’ conversation with the tempter as this conversation is told by Luke:  “Then the devil led him up and showed [Jesus] in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And the devil said to him, ‘To you will I give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’  Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’” [i] 
            Jesus could just as well have said, “Adore the Lord your God, and serve only him.”  Both worship and prayer have as their starting point ‘adoration’, an English word with roots in the Latin word ‘to pray’ or ‘to speak’.  To adore someone or something means ‘to pray to’ or ‘to speak to’ that person or thing.  It is unfortunate that our use of the word ‘adore’ has undergone a devaluation over the years.
            Words do undergo changes, both in meaning and in use.  For example, an Englishman or woman writing in the eighteenth century about their first visit to the Pyramids or some other marvel of human construction might say, “I have just seen an awful monstrosity of mediocrity.”  If you or I were to read those words today, we might think that our eighteenth-century writer was saying that the Pyramids were a horrible parody of substandard construction.  But to our friend in the past, the words meant that he or she had just witness an awe-inspiring demonstration of human balance and design.
            Just as the language of everyday communication has undergone change, so, too, has the language of prayer changed over the course of the last two hundred years.  Prayers that had meaning for our ancestors do not have the same significance for us; in fact, some ancient prayers are almost off-putting and prevent contemporary believers and seekers from praying to or speaking to the God whose love is made known to in creation and in Jesus of Nazareth.
            A little more than two weeks ago I was in Toronto with five of my colleagues from the Liturgy Task Force of the Anglican Church of Canada.  We spent three days reading the Scriptures and reading prayers composed by Christians from various traditions throughout the world, both Anglican and non-Anglican.  Our task is to develop a series of prayers that work well with the three-year lectionary we use here in Canada.
            But what we were really listening for in the prayers we read were words that we believed would help us pray to God, speak to God, words that have meaning for us as Christians living in the twenty-first century in Canada.  There were prayers we did not choose:  literate, theologically correct, true to the Christian tradition but not our words or images that spoke to our place in time and space.  Adoration, praying to and speaking to God, requires our words, our images, our cadences.
            Almost every Monday morning I arrive to a quiet office and I sit down to plan the worship service for the coming Sunday or holy day.  I have the work done by our music planning team of Sally Baker, Ruben Federizon, Walter Herring and Eleanor Phillips, who meet with me once a month or so to choose music for this congregation to sing.  I have the worship resources of the Anglican Church, whether in Canada or elsewhere, and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.  I look at the prayers prepared by the Consultation on Common Texts, an ecumenical group, who were responsible for the lectionary we use.  With all these around me I ponder what will help us adore God, pray to and speak to God.  And then I start working, in the hope that I have listened well to all the voices, in the hope that I have found ways to deepen our connection with the living God.
            If someone comes up to me after worship and says, “That hymn spoke to me,” or “I really liked that prayer,” or “I have never really heard God addressed that way,” then I rejoice.  I rejoice because someone has found a new way to pray to God, to speak to the God who is always more willing to listen than we are to speak.  I rejoice because someone may have heard God spoken to or spoken of in new way that may banish old hurts or old fears.  I rejoice because in that moment, whether a moment of song or a moment of prayer, there was a conversation between the God who loves us more than we can imagine and the seeker who wants to know that she or he is beloved.
            But adoration is not limited to our formal acts of worship.  Adoration comes when you and I abandon our fears of saying the wrong thing to God and simply speak to God in the words our times and our experiences have given us to give.  I wish that my paternal grandfather, a professional gambler, had learned to speak to God as one who took a risk in creating the world and who continues to take risks by entrusting to us the care of that world.  I wish that my maternal grandfather, a labourer all his life, had learned to speak to God as one who laboured to bring all that is, seen and unseen, into existence and who continues to labour in us and through us to bring about God’s purposes for all creation.  But neither of my grandfathers were ever encouraged to do so; they were taught to believe in a God who could only be addressed by a limited number of nouns, adjectives and verbs.
            My sisters and brothers, every human being is called to adore God.  God does not wait for us to have the right words before God begins the conversation; God only waits for our own words.  And the good news is that those words are in each one of us; they are in us to give voice to, to speak them and begin the conversation.  May you and I wait no longer; may we speak to our God and experience the welcome.
            And then, like Moses and Jesus, shall our faces shine with the glory of God.  Amen.

[i] Luke 4.3-8.

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