Monday, October 24, 2016

prayer diary Monday 24 Oct 2016

Blessed are you when people hate you … on account of the Son of Man … for surely your reward is great in heaven. 
Luke 6. 22-23

Think of the unnamed, uncounted thousands who have been faithful to Christ until the last. Some were martyred; many more lived quiet, unnoticed lives of faith. All are now saints.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

God, be merciful to me a sinner

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is that of the parable of the publican and the Pharisee.* And just as he did for last week's Gospel, where St Luke very explicitly told us what was the Lord's intention in telling the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge was that we should pray always and never lose heart – he also tells us the purpose this week, to warn those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others against their behaviour – in other words a call to humility. It is a parable of particular significance, given that the prayer of the publican, which is praised by Jesus and thereby commended by him to us as an example and model of prayer, forms the basis of what is known in Orthodox spirituality of the Jesus Prayer – with the words 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner' being repeated slowly and reverently – a form of prayer whose value is being increasingly recognised and adopted by other Christian traditions. This makes it of great importance to consider this parable with great care.

First let us look at the Pharisee. Look at how our Lord describes the manner in which he prays: 'The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.' I think that phrase bears repeating: 'The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself.' He is not truly praying to God, but praying with himself. Some more modern translations render it that he prayed alone, but that he prayed with himself is the more literal and more accurate – to say that he prayed alone risks giving the impression that he had simply picked some quiet place alone in the temple for his time of worship; but the fact that we are told that the publican or tax-collector, with whom his behaviour is contrasted, stands far off, makes it clear that the Pharisee has not chosen some quiet spot, but suggests instead that he has taken a position of great prominence within the Temple – the man who thinks himself righteous wants all the sinners present to see him at prayer. The more literal translation, by saying he prays with himself, therefore helps to make it clear that what is going on here is not really worship at all.

In fact, as what comes after shows, it is really a form of self-glorification; for the Pharisee begins by thanking God that he is not like other men – other men are sinners; he is not. They are given over to all manner of ways in which they break God's laws; but he keeps the law. In his own mind he is apparently a man apart from all others – the lone righteous man in a world of sinners … and grievous sinners at that. But just in case God has somehow missed what a good man he is, he takes the trouble to list off for him how good he is, how exacting he is in keeping to the law. God, we may be assured, is not impressed with the manner in which this man commends himself to him, nor with the wonderful opinion he has of himself; and we may be assured of this because Christ is not impressed – and Christ is God.

What a contrast the behaviour of the tax-collector is. He stands far off – he does not think himself good enough to go further into the sacred precincts of the Temple, symbolically showing that he knows that he is not worthy to draw too close to the presence of the Almighty. He can not bring himself even to lift up his eyes to heaven – again showing his understanding of how unworthy he is. And his prayer is simple and honest. He is a sinner – he does not try to pretend otherwise or excuse his actions in any way. And he knows that he has but one hope for salvation – not his own actions, but the mercy of God. And because of his humility, because he understands that he is a sinner in need of God's mercy, he is the one who goes home that day justified. There is great irony in the prayer of the Pharisee: he thanks God that he is not like the publican; but the truth is that he should be begging God that he is more like him, that he would be better able to follow his example.

We should not, it should be clarified, turn the example of the tax-collector on its head and think that it is OK to sin merrily and wilfully, thinking that all we need to do after is to wink at God and say 'sorry about that' thinking that all is now well even as we plan to continue in the sins we have just asked mercy for begin some new one. The behaviour of the tax-collector makes it clear that he is grieved by his sins, that he is truly sorry for them, and that he wants not only God's pardon for having committed them, but his strength so that he might do better in the future. The prayer 'Lord, have mercy on me a sinner' is of little worth if it is not said with the understanding that not only is the person saying it a sinner in need of God's mercy but that they also wish to do their best to no longer be a sinner. Perhaps that is why the prayer is so widely used, as I said in beginning, in Orthodox spirituality. Indeed, perhaps our Orthodox brethren have found a way of combining the messages behind last week's parable about persistence in prayer and the dangers of pride and the need for humility. And that is in the frequent repetition of these words given us by our Lord himself.

The publican found his road to salvation through the humble uttering of these words, words that he did not merely say, but took deeply into his heart. Perhaps we also may use them to find our path to God and eternal life. Why would we not if we pray them with equal humility and sincerity of heart? They were, after all, given to us and commended to us by God himself. Amen.  

*Luke 18: 9-14 (RSV) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

prayer diary Saturday 22 Oct 2016

'If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' 
Luke 13.9

The time you have now is all the time there is to bear fruit. There is no guarantee of next year, next week, or even tomorrow. The Lord of the Harvest has done all that is needed for you to be fruitful; it is up to you to respond.

Friday, October 21, 2016

prayer diary Friday 21 Oct 2016 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'You know how to interpret the appearance of sea and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?' 
Luke 12. 56

When Christ spoke these words, it was to wonder at those who failed to understand who he was and what it meant for the world. If he were here today, would he have any reason to speak any differently of us?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

prayer diary Thursday 20 Oct 2016

'I came to bring fire to the earth & how I wish it were already kindled.' 
Luke 12. 49

There is more to being a Christian than being 'nice.' We are called not only to challenge ourselves but those around us also. Not from a desire to control or interfere, but from a sense of true Christian love, which means you are willing to risk offending someone for the sake of winning their soul for heaven. Something that is more important that being thought 'nice.'

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

prayer diary Wednesday 19 Oct 2016

'Whoever does the will of God is my brother & sister & mother.' 
Mark 3.35

The Way that Christ calls us to is always arduous. How can it not be? His challenge was to deny ourselves, take up our cross, & follow him. But difficult though that sometimes seems, the rewards are infinitely greater. And he is with us to support us always.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

prayer diary Tuesday 18 Oct 2016 St Luke

'... and say to them: the kingdom of God has come near to you.' 
Luke 10. 9

Let us give thanks this day for the work of the evangelist St Luke. Through his inspired words we walk with Christ, Hear his words, and are witnesses of His life, death, and resurrection.