I’m Gonna Pray so God Can Use Me

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Mark 9:2-9

Almost every morning, after breakfast and the paper… I have fallen into a pattern at home (and it has taken me years to find this pattern)… of reading my email devotions… sometimes reposting on facebook the ones that have spoken to me that morning … and then, I leave the computer behind to go to our sunroom… it is a quiet place without TV or computer … I listen to music and a meditative reading and guided reflection from pray as you go… which settles me down for a few minutes… and helps to quiet my heart and mind for a few minutes to focus… I’m trying to “be still” which is hard work for me.

Again, it’s taken me years to develop this practice… because life has a way of sucking you every morning into the tasks of the day… the busy-ness… and prayer/devotion seems like a luxury… until I remember that for Jesus, it was not a luxury… it was essential… how many times do we read that it was his practice to go out to a deserted place to pray… to be alone… with God… away from the teaching… the healing… those crowds… dealing with those hard headed disciples… the confrontations and conflicts… Prayer… time alone with God was not a luxury… or extra-curricular activity… but was essential to his work… his life and ministry.

This has been true of many of the great Christians… Marietjie in her outline for our study pointed out that those called the Desert Fathers and Mothers were those who sought this time with God… to be alone with God… Other great leaders we admire… Mother Theresa… Martin Luther… name them… knew the importance of silence… of time alone with God. Martin Luther depended on prayer… He is famous for commenting, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.”

We must learn to see prayer as the most powerful and efficient use of our time.

Prayer… for mystics… however, the goal of prayer is not to only get things done… the real goal of prayer… is not to do… but to be… to rest in the presence of God… To experience the presence of God… it is not a means to an end… it is the end.

The goal of our lives, they teach, is to be in the presence of the holy God… at the end of the Bible… we hear that there is no more temple… Why? Because there is no need of a temple… the Lord God will be with us… we will experience the loving embrace of God every moment for the rest of eternity.  For mystics… this is heaven… And what mystics want us to know is this: you don’t have to wait until you die to get a foretaste of that glory divine (to quote a hymn)…

We are blessed every now and then to get a taste… an experience… a mountain top experience… a place where heaven and earth come close together… what the Celtics call a thin place… There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places, that distance is even smaller.

As many of you know, my trip to Iona a few years ago was one of those places for me… It is an isolated island off the west coast of Scotland with an Abbey…  For a week first thing in the morning and 9 pm at night… you experience prayer and creative worship at the Abbey. Silence built in… Silence that becomes golden.

During the day, you might go on one of the spiritual walks called the pilgrimage… highlighting the holy sites… the thin places… People who go… often return speaking of the thin place… because they have been touched with the holy presence of God…  In my sunroom, I have a cross from Iona… with marble from Iona… so that I can remember… that time and that place when heaven and earth seem so close to each other…with an experience of the holy.

That seems to be what happened to Elijah that day on the mountain… Elijah has been working hard as prophet of the Lord… facing quite an opposition… and he sound tired and burned out to me… He feels alone… He is under attack… others are against him…

The Lord tells him to go to the mountain and wait… for the Lord is going to pass by… but the Lord does not come in the earthquake… or the fire… but in the sound of sheer silence… and there in the silence he experiences the presence of God…

It seems the same thing happened that day when Jesus and the three disciples traveled up a mountain in Northern Israel. We tell this story every year… they go up the mountain, Jesus is transfigured… Elijah and Moses appear (sort of a Mount Rushmore of Old Testament heroes)… the cloud appears (a sign of God’s presence) God speaks… the disciples are scared… and yet… they want to hold on to the moment… because this is a holy moment… filled with the presence of God…

That’s what mystics crave and desire…

It is one of many stories in Scripture where heaven and earth seem to come very close… First there was the very Garden of Eden before the fall (our separation from God)… complete intimacy with God before our ego and selfishness got in the way… still does… Moses and the burning bush… the giving of the law on Mount Sinai… Mount Sinai is a holy place… there is the tabernacle… where God traveled with the Israelites… the Temple… For Christians… Jesus, the word of God… who tabernacled among us according to John… Jesus is the thin place in the flesh… And get this… when we in the church are at our best… we are the body of Christ… we become the thin place… Where heaven and earth meet.

Lord knows we don’t always get it right… but every now and then… here… in this place… in the Lord’s Supper (aka- Holy Communion… hear the language… “Communion”—to be in union with God)…

Mystics remind us that there is more to faith than thinking about faith… faith seeking understanding… and faith is not just about enjoying the emotions… and faith is not just about “doing or serving”… The goal of faith or maybe I should say a gift of faith is simply to be in the presence of God… a loving and just God… That’s what is happening in those thin places or those experiences many of you share with me.

And if you listen to your friends here at the Kirk or other places… if you listen… you will hear them tell you about such places. The youth go to Montreat and wonder (as I wondered back then after coming back from a retreat or conference)… why can’t every Sunday be like this. We want to hold on to those moments… because they are so special. My sister and brother in law have been on Cursillo (aka  Walk to Emmaus) retreats where she tells me that they are bathed in the grace of God for a weekend… It transforms them…  Many make pilgrimages not only to Iona… but to Taize’ France (ask Amanda)… Thousands of youth gather to sing chants every year like the ones we are singing today…

I wonder if you noticed as I have noticed is that all of these experiences of God have some similar qualities:

             *  People take the time to be on the pilgrimage and leave something of the daily grind behind… like Jesus and others they leave the busyness behind to go to a mountain or a deserted                   place simply to be alone—sometimes alone with others… but a lone with God. They take the time and remove distractions…

            *  Their experiences often include some word from the Lord… in Scripture, in Song, in prayer… those are practices that draw them closer to God…

*    Often, there is silence involved. I don’t do silence very well, but I can tell you that one of the experiences of the holy that came to me years ago was in the Rocky Mountains at a 10                      day clergy retreat. We had learned some contemplative practices (meditation, contemplative prayer, journaling…) but at the end, our leader said he was going to take us on a silent                     meditative walk up the mountain… only with a drum beat. I have to tell you that this was way out of my comfort zone as a good talking and thinking Presbyterian… but I paid good                     money for this conference, so why not. I witness to you… that going out of my comfort zone was one of the best things I did that day… I have no way to describe the experience                             except to say… there was a sense of the holy… and to mark that experience, I brought home a rock from that mountain to remind me of that day. Oh, like those disciples I wish I                         could hold on to it… or like our youth at Montreat… I wish every Sunday could be a holy moment for everyone… but as Jesus knew… and as all the mature mystics know… sooner or                   later… you are called to go down the mountain… back to the work of life and ministry…

Some mystics would tell you… at least at Iona they tell you… that this is where healthy mystical experiences lead you… back to life… but not as the same person … but one that has experienced the loving grace of God… whose experience of the holy drives you to follow the Lord back into your Galilee… your home… your school…your place of work… this time transformed… transfigured, dare we say?

Perhaps even looking for thin places in your life every day… For as someone said, “the purpose of thin places is to help us realize that all places can be thin. Or, better yet, perhaps the purpose of a thin place is to train us to make the other places in our lives thinner. Moreover, when we realize that the Spirit of God dwells within us, we will come to believe that we are called to be thin places, as God makes his presence known through us.”[1]

Which is the goal isn’t it… for Christians… for us to become the thin place… (to be “in Christ” as Paul put it)  where others experience the grace of God in Jesus Christ…through us!

Which is why we encourage everyone to learn daily spiritual practices of prayer… and prayer not just as speaking, but listening… of reading the Scripture… not just for information or analysis…but transformation… of devotional reading… not just the kind to help you have a successful life… or do your job better or be a better spouse or parent or worker… but devotional reading/practices that help you create that thin place where you can be still and know that God is God…

I close today with a time of silence… inviting you to “be still and know God is God…”

For newcomers like me, and maybe like you… or for people like me who have a hard time with silence (all those other voices vie for their time) the spiritual teachers have encouraged us to repeat a phrase… during the silence… to draw us into the presence of God.

Often it is a word of scripture like…
“Be still and know, that I am God…”
Or “Come, Lord Jesus, Come”…
or “The Lord is My shepherd, I shall not want”…

So in the silence, I encourage you to rest, relax…as if you were with a friend… because you are… and if it helps, repeat a phrase that draws you into the presence of God…

As the hymn says, “I will come to you in the silence… I will lift you up from all your fear. You will hear my voice, I claim you as my choice, be still and know I am here.”

Be still and know… know… God is here. (move into silence)

[1] Mark Roberts article on Thin places

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