Epiphany 5A 2019
Rev. Adam T. Trambley
February 11, 2019, St. John’s Sharon
This morning, we are going to continue to talk about the Way of Love. The Way of Love is a set of practices for a Jesus-Centered Life that were introduced by our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at General Convention this summer. Last week, we learned some hand motions to help us remember the seven practices in the Way of Love:
To summarize where we are so far, we talked about how a set of practices to keep our lives with Jesus on track can be called a “Rule of Life”. A rule of life acts as a framework that gives meaning to our lives, and into which we fit the other tasks of life. Most of our rules of life might already include prayer times, times with loved ones, acts of service and generosity. The seven practices of the Way of Love are designed as a rule of life to let us live into the fullness of a life in Jesus.
Last week, we also looked at Turn. Turn involves our first big turn away from darkness, sin and a self-centered life toward a God-centered life of light and love and hope. Turn also involves the daily decisions to get back on the right track after we mess up. We may need to swallow our pride, to apologize, or just to recommit to Jesus. Finally, Turn involves falling in love with Jesus more and more deeply; allowing Jesus to love us unconditionally and completely, and accepting that love; and allowing our longing to be with Jesus to propel us forward in the God-centered life of the Way of Love.
This morning, I want to look at the next two practices, Learn and Pray. Learn and Pray are two ways to know Jesus more deeply, and they complement each other. Pray gives us a deeper personal relationship with God, and between God, us, and others. Learn helps us make sense of that relationship. Learn also lets us draw on thousands of years of wisdom about how to develop that relationship.
Today’s scriptures talk about both Learn and Pray. In our gospel reading, people come to learn directly from Jesus. They gather around the lake, and he teaches them. Then the disciples learn from Jesus in a more experiential way with their boats and nets. While on the one hand they seem to be learning fishing techniques, they are really learning about Jesus.
Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians says, “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received.” Paul learned about Jesus, and he is teaching the Corinthians and us the core of the Gospel. This good news is that Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. Just in case you have doubts about whether he really rose from the dead, Paul gives a list of the people the resurrected Jesus appeared to, including Paul himself.
Isaiah’s experience in the first reading is a good example of Pray. Isaiah is caught up in this profound prayer experience where he is taken up into the throne room of God. He has this vision with the Lord, lofty and uplifted, seated on his throne, with seraphim flying around in attendance, singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” with loud noises, billows of incense, and live coals that cleanse and purify Isaiah’s lips. In the prayer experience, Isaiah can respond to God with his “Here am I, send me.”
Much could be said about this vision, but right now I want to stop and recognize how Isaiah understood what was happening to him. Isaiah was a priest. He served in the Temple. He knew his scriptures. His may well have known as much about God as anyone in his day. Without the real experience of God in prayer, of course, this learning may not have mattered much. When he did have this life altering encounter with the living God, all of this learning helped him make sense of it. Think about what Isaiah might have thought without the knowledge of his scripture and tradition. He could have understood what had happened in bizarre, scary, or even demonic ways. He could have thought somebody switched his incense for a more psychedelic substance. He might not understood that he was encountering the personal Creator of the universe who loves us enough to make a covenant with his people, intervene in history, and call us as individuals to fulfill his purpose for us. Isaiah had done the work to Learn, so he was ready to Pray when God showed up so vividly.
And Isaiah did pray. He made time to be with God regularly, so he was open to this experience of God when it came. When we Pray, we develop that relationship with God so that God can come to us however he chooses. Most of our prayer experience aren’t going to be written in the Bible and preached on twenty-five hundred years later, but profound spiritual experience are not uncommon. And the daily, seemingly normal experience of being with God in prayer regularly can be as transformative for us as some ecstatic vision.
The ways we Learn can be broken into three parts, and I’m giving you these in order of importance. 1. Scripture. 2. Liturgy of the Church and 3. Other Godly Study.
The most important way we can learn about God is by reading the Bible, especially the four Gospels. The entire Bible is useful for learning, and different parts of the Bible contain essential instruction on different aspects of Salvation History and our life. We give priority of place, however, to the Gospels as those books that provide the teaching and life of Jesus. We give special weight to what Jesus said, and we take the accounts of his life, death, and resurrection as the core of our faith. The Gospels may be a small section of the Bible, but we include a Gospel reading every day in the church’s daily prayers and every week in our Eucharistic celebration.
We can read through the Bible in any number of ways. The church’s daily prayers, called the Daily Office, have an Old Testament, a New Testament, a Gospel reading and a number of psalms every day, and goes through the Bible in about two years. Other apps and reading schedules can also work.
Second, we Learn through the liturgy of the church. Every week we hear the scriptures. We profess our faith in the Nicene Creed. In the Eucharist, we recount the passion and death of Jesus as we proclaim his resurrection and await his coming again. Our liturgical seasons through the year help us learn from and live into Jesus’ life. The sermon is also a time devoted to Learn in the midst of the liturgical context.
Besides the Bible and our liturgy, we have countless ways that we can Learn about God and our faith. There are Bible studies, classes, podcasts, videos, and countless books on theology, scripture study, doctrine, and the practice of Christian living. One good basic book, if people are looking for one, is Walk in Love by my friends Scott Gunn and Melody Shobe, which provides an introduction to Christian and Episcopalian faith and practice. This book is especially good for those coming to the Episcopal Church from other faiths, and I have copies if anyone is interested.
Of course, to Learn with our head is not enough. We also want to Pray. Pray means that we set aside time to be with God. There are probably as many ways to pray as there are people, and many of us learned different types of prayer, including praise, intercession, thanksgiving, confession and adoration. Knowing about different types and techniques of prayer can be helpful. What is most important for our purposes today looking at the Way of Love, is that we make time and do it. Just Pray. Find a time every day and spend it with God. Tell God what you need to tell him and spend some time being quiet so he can talk to you, too. The goal is just to spend time with God.
Now, like spending time with anyone else, that time with God can feel different on different days. Some days it may give us a sense of peace and feel fantastic. We just want to keep praying forever. Some days we are distracted or bored or feel like we are wasting time. Either way, God is going to use the time, and he may even appreciate it and use it more when we don’t feel so good about it. The point of prayer is not to have a warm fuzzy prayer time. The goal of prayer is to let the Holy Spirit into our lives so that we bear more fruit when we are done praying. We Pray to be more loving people, not to become better at praying.
The best way to start is to pick a particular time of day and set it aside for God. Even starting with 10-20 minutes a day can be meaningful. Ideas for our prayer time could include saying the Lord’s Prayer, or telling God what you are thankful for, or reading a piece of scripture slowly and seeing what God says to you in it, or asking God for what you and your loved ones need, or singing, or being quiet and just listening. Some people find lighting a candle or lighting incense or putting on music to be helpful. Sitting in the same place even time, or even creating a little prayer nook of some type helps us focus when we are there. Experiment and see what works for you. The Daily Office of the church is one way to pray that includes scripture, praise and intercession. If anyone wants to talk more specifically about ways to pray or what they are experiencing as they pray, I’d be happy to have those conversations.
Jesus loves us, and he wants us to make time to spend with him, like we would for other people that we love. The details aren’t nearly as important as our desire to develop that loving relationship he offers us.
Between now and the beginning of Lent, we’ll look at the rest of the practices of the Way of Love. Let’s go over them together one more time: