Saturday, March 16, 2013

Shining with the Glory of God That is within Us: Petition

RCL Lent 4C
17 March 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

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

            I have no memory of ever having wanted to be anything but a priest.  I toyed with the law, thought about mathematics and chemistry, even considered becoming a naval officer.  But when I stopped toying with the law, thinking about mathematics and chemistry and considering the navy, the thought of becoming a priest returned.  For better and for worse, this is who I am, not what I do.

            Every one of us wishes to become the person we are truly meant to be.  Sometimes we know who that person is from an early age.  For others the realization comes later in life.  But the knowledge is within us, because God has planted it deep within our very being.

            The second-century Christian theologian, Irenaeus of Lyons, once said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive.  To become fully alive we need to know who we are as persons.  In Jesus Christ we see what it means to be truly alive as a human being made in God’s image and throughout our lives we try, as best as we are able, to become more Christ-like.  The irony is this:  When we become more Christ-like, we actually become more ourselves.  We set aside the illusions and delusions that our society and culture lay upon us.  We see ourselves and our fellow human beings with greater clarity and with deeper charity.

            One of the means God provides us to become more truly ourselves is the prayer of petition, the prayers we offer not for others but for ourselves.  Sometimes those petitions can be petty and mundane.  But sometimes those petitions can point us to the heart of what prevents us from becoming who we truly are.

            I remember writing my Bishop while I was in seminary.  I told him that I had been praying for patience and finding it a constant challenge to be patience.  When his return letter arrived, I anticipated some episcopal wisdom.  What I read was this:  “Stop praying for patience.”  A few weeks later I was in Colorado and had an opportunity to chat with him.  I asked why he had told me to stop praying for patience.  “Because,” he said, “when you pray for patience, God sends you opportunities to be patient.  Your letter made it clear to me that you really weren’t ready for a challenge of that magnitude at this moment in time.”  But in order to become who I am called to be, patience is required, so I still pray for it.

            Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist tells this story.  Prior to coming to the monastery he had been a priest in a parish that had a weekly eucharist with the laying on of hands and anointing with oil of those who came for those own healing and for the healing of others.  One woman had a husband and a son who were both quite ill.  For two years the community prayed for the two men.  One day the woman came to the eucharist with ‘light in her eyes and a smile on her face’.  Thinking that one or other of her men had been healed, Curtis asked her whether her husband or her son were better.  She said, “Oh no; they’re the same, but I am so much better.”

            What I am trying to say is this.  When we pray for ourselves, we are also called to self-examination.  What do we see are the obstacles to becoming truly ourselves?  What attitudes or habits are preventing us from growing more Christ-like?  What patterns of behaviour are clouding the glory of God that is within us?  What is preventing us from being God’s healing and reconciling presence in the lives of those around us.

            Praying for ourselves is not about self-indulgence; it is about self-discipline in order to enter into self-discovery.

            Paul writes about this in today’s reading from Philippians.  He recognizes that he is not yet the person whom God wants him to be, yet he knows that the potential awaits him:  “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”[i]

            I pray because I know that the God to whom we speak is compassionate and passionate.  I pray because I know that the God to whom we pray is more ready to forgive than we to confess.  I pray because I know that the God to whom we pray is the source of everything that we often think is ours.  I pray because I know that the God to whom we pray changes the world.  I pray because I know that the God to whom we pray has a vision of who we really are and works to make it so.

            And when we pray, just as the faces of Moses and Jesus shone with the glory of God, so our faces shine, revealing the life of God within us.  Amen.

[i] Philippians 3.12-14.

No comments: