St. Giles’ Episcopal Church
December 9, 2018 – The Second Sunday of Advent
“The Way of Love”
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
Last Sunday we began our Advent series of sermons on The Way of Love and the seven “Practices for Jesus-Centered Life” which Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has invited us to reflect upon and use in our daily lives and in our worship together. The first two of the practices were “Turn: Pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus” and “Learn: Reflect on Scripture each day, especially on Jesus’ life and teachings.” Today we will consider the next two practices, prayer and worship.
“Pray: Dwell intentionally with God each day.” In Luke’s Gospel we read that “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). Before we look at Jesus’ reply, we should note that Jesus taught his disciples the importance of prayer by his own example. Luke makes it clear that Jesus prayed often and always at important times in his life and ministry – at his baptism, before choosing the twelve apostles, at his transfiguration, and before his arrest, to name a few pivotal occasions. As followers of Jesus we do well to follow his example of praying regularly to God.
Jesus replies to the disciple’s request with a prayer which we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” He didn’t respond with a lecture about the nature of prayer, or about ways to pray, or about attitudes toward prayer. He gave them a simple and significant prayer to pray. By praying this prayer intentionally and regularly, our understanding of prayer may grow and our relationship with God may deepen.
In the Lord’s Prayer what we pray for is the coming of God’s kingdom, God’s rule now and at the end of time. We offer this prayer as disciples of Jesus, as people whose work is to make God’s kingdom a reality to the best of our ability, in the ways God has called each of us to work. We ask for our daily bread, for what we need to sustain us as we work. We don’t ask for an abundance of bread, for much more than we need. The vision of God’s kingdom which we learn from Scripture is one where everyone has enough. As Bishop Curry writes, “We seek abundant life. A life where there is enough for all because we all share with abandon.” Of course, we sometimes fail to listen to God’s call and to work for the coming of God’s kingdom, so we ask God to forgive us, even as we acknowledge our need to forgive others for failing as we fail. The life of discipleship is difficult, there are many temptations, so we ask God to help us and, at the end, to save us. The kingdom, the power, and the glory belong – first and last – to God, our heavenly Father.
I invite you this Advent to pray the Lord’s Prayer daily. Pray slowly. Think about what you are saying to God. What does it mean to you to address God as “our Father in heaven”? What does it mean to you to “hallow” God’s name, to honor God’s name as holy? What is your idea of God’s kingdom? What would life be like if God ruled each of us and all of us? What might you do to live a “kingdom life” today and tomorrow? Take time to think of the “daily bread” you are blessed with, physically and spiritually. Then consider where and how you have failed to live by God’s way of love and how you might turn back to love. Seek to have compassion on others who also fail to love. Take an honest look at the temptations you face, whatever prevents you from loving God and your neighbors and yourself. Finally, ask God to protect you from evil, wherever you find it in your life and in the world. And offer all these prayers as God’s child, beloved by our Father in heaven.
The fourth practice for Jesus-centered life is “Worship: Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God.” Bishop Curry writes, “When we worship, we gather with others before God. We hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, give thanks, confess, and offer the brokenness of the world to God. As we break bread, our eyes are opened to the presence of Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made one body, the body of Christ sent forth to live the Way of Love.” This is an excellent description of our worship service, highlighting the main components of what we do when we gather on Sunday mornings.
Many Christians have discovered for themselves the value of taking on a discipline of regular Sunday worship. Underlying a commitment to regular attendance in church is the conviction that worship has the potential to shape us as believers and followers of Jesus. If we come to worship with minds and hearts open to God and with our attention fixed on God. If our being here together, doing what we do is centered in God and in Jesus, God incarnate. It is certainly not impossible for the Holy Spirit to reach us if we here but not fixed on God – after all, “with God all things are possible” – but it may be unlikely.
These days fewer and fewer people appear to make regular church attendance a priority. Bishop Curry reminds us how much worship can do for us as followers of Jesus. Living in a secular world, as we do, we need the support of regular worship, of the Good News we hear and remember, of the grace offered to us through the Eucharist. Many groups of Christians – for example, in communities such as the Shakers or the Amish or in monasteries and convents – wouldn’t dream of attempting to live a Christian life without the support of regular worship. We might remember their wisdom when we make our choices about where to be on Sunday morning.
“By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made one body.” According to St. Paul’s reasoning, for the body to function in good health, all the members must work together for the common good, with Christ as head of all. I invite you to consider your role as a parishioner at St. Giles in light of this ideal. Finally, we are to be “the body of Christ sent forth to live the Way of Love.” In some Episcopal churches, the deacon or priest gives this dismissal, “Our worship has ended; now our service begins. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!” This is a good reminder of the place of worship in the Christian life. Not an end in itself, but sustenance, spiritual “daily bread,” for our work of love in the world.
John the Baptist, described by Jesus as the greatest of the prophets, “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He was the fulfillment of the words of the great prophet Isaiah, calling people to “prepare the way of the Lord.” During Advent that is what we are called to do now, prepare the way of the Lord. For each of us that requires some repentance and some intentional turning toward God in our hearts and minds and lives. Prayer and worship help us in this process of preparation. May we spend this time well, making the path of the Lord just a bit straighter, a bit smoother, to the glory of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.