The Practice of Prayer

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Luke 4:1-13

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Acquire, this Lent, a practice of prayer.  One of your own, some way to pray.  Make of this Lent a time for the practice of prayer.

A long, long time ago, in a land far away, and there within a small village school, 16 kindergarten students were guided into the merits of learning, the rhythms of education.   Kristen George Kollevol.  Craig Risley.  Merilyn Loop.  Herbie Jones.  Robert Hill.  Jill Hance.  You could walk home for lunch, if you were in town, which many were not, coming from the farms nearby.  The day’s highlight was nap-time, a most precious practice, as those of you know who have lived on the Iberian Peninsula.  A respite. (At 10 below zero you trudge to church.  You find yourself in a warm sanctuary, under a familiar altar, wrapped in a comforting liturgy, alongside loved ones.  The Scripture is read.  The sermon begins.  And in the warmth, let us say, in the sheltered embrace of a particular grace, you find yourself drifting, sliding like a sled downhill, deep in the arms of Morpheus, the God of sleep.  Following the sermon some arise inspired and others awake refreshed.)  Those 16 5 year olds found nap the zenith, nadir, apex, pinnacle and crown of the day.  This is in the last year of the Presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower.  This is ten years nearly before the first woman is admitted to Colgate University, the beloved college on the town’s far hill.  This is in a land far away, a long time ago.

February that winter brought its gifts, and every winter brings its gifts.  The peace of Groundhog Day.  The justice of Lincoln’s Birthday.  The joy of Valentine’s Day.  And a cherry pie for George Washington, the father of our country.  One other day that month, the 16 5 year olds were assembled on the street corner with Mr. Hess, to practice crossing Broad Street.  Mr. Hess was large man with a round face, ‘duchy’ face our great aunts from Cooperstown would have said.  He was a farmer who fell in a grain elevator, and was hurt badly.  He became the elementary school traffic guard.  There was hardly any traffic, then or now, on Broad Street, but he justly performed his duties.  One by one he marched the class across Broad Street, with the three cornered admonition:  stop, look, listen.  Come February, rehearse again, learn again, and practice again.  We have our guide, as well, not Mr. Hess, but a physician, if legend serves, from long ago and far away, the most compassionate of the evangelists, and also the most inclined toward prayer.  Luke.  Luke who teaches by precept and example that we are meant to develop a prayerful meditation, a prayerful observation, a prayerful audition.  Catch his tenor tone today.

The Lukan Difference

Luke brings a different look.  Luke is our tenor guide this year.  He asks us, at virtually every turn, to find our way into a practice of prayer.

So, today in the shadow of our Lord’s temptation, we are invited to a prayerful resistance to the blandishments of wealth, power and fame.  Perhaps you are not ready to resist blandishments.  Maybe though, say at age 19, or at age 79, we may be ready, for different reasons, to observe the limitations, the fairly severe limitations, truth to tell, of wealth, power and fame.  If nothing else, a worship service, on a sleepy University Campus, in the frozen month of February, as all year, is meant to ring this bell, sing this song, tell this tale, recall in prayer that we are utterly mortal and lastingly fragile.

One shall not live by bread alone.  You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.  You shall not tempt the Lord your God.

You have noticed that here, again, Luke has amplified the story of Jesus he inherited from Mark.  Mark has only a couple of lines about wilderness, temptation, wild beasts, Satan and Angels.  But Matthew and Luke have both added in another story within the story, a spiritual temptation to accompany the physical deprivation.  Jesus cites here Deuteronomy 6 and 8.  Jesus models spiritual dimensions of spiritual temptation and struggle.  Not bread, alone.  Not power, alone.  Not glory, alone.  Not the blandishments of wealth, power, and fame.  But the struggles, the spiritual struggles, the tragedy that lines its way through life.  The tragedy that so impersonally and unfathomably upends life.

For example.  You could this Lent re-read Arthur Ashe’s autobiography, Days of Grace, as you have this month the poems of Robert Hayden and the story of Jackie Robinson.

A Religious Turn

Lent offers you a religious turn.

S. Eliot: “It is in fact in moments of moral and spiritual struggle depending upon spiritual sanctions…that men and women come nearest to being real.  If you do away with this struggle, and maintain that by tolerance, benevolence, inoffensiveness and a redistribution or increase of purchasing power, combined with a devotion, on the part of an elite, to Art, the world will be as good as anyone could require, then you must expect human beings to become more and more vaporous.”  After Strange Gods.

We turn this Lent to prayer.  To religion and not merely theology.  To religion and not merely administration.  To religion and not merely music.  To religion and not merely ethics.  We return this Lent to prayer.  To prayer, not merely theology.  To prayer not merely administration.  To prayer not merely music.  To prayer not merely ethics.  We turn or return this Lent to prayer.  A good thing:  it’s later than you think…

Our attention can be quickened, in all this, by focused concern for hurt, for others hurt.  Syria, today, comes to mind.  4 million immigrants.  6 million re-located.  Tens of thousands killed.  Today, along the Turkish border, children, old people, women, the sick, all.  Without presuming to possess a solution, we nonetheless have every prayerful reason to lament the hurt, and to do so publicly, in worship.

Lent offers you a religious turn.

Ernest Fremont Tittle: The only way really to get Christianity across to the people is to act out in daily life the faith and compassion of Christ (40)…Luke in particular emphasizes the inner life of Jesus, his habit of prayer, his experience of the presence and power of the Spirit of God.

Lent offers you a religious turn.  Said Wesley, Preach it until you believe it.   We could add, Practice it until you accept it.  Sometimes the bending of the knee forges the turning of the heart.

Kate Bowler, Duke theologian, diagnosed with 4 stage cancer at 35, practiced prayer, to stop, look and listen, when she wrote, movingly, graciously, and personally, this week:  The most I can say about why I have cancer, medically speaking, is that bodies are delicate and prone to error.  As a Christian I can say that the Kingdom of God is not yet fully here, and so we get sick and die.  As a scholar I can say that our society is steeped in a culture of facile reasoning…I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole.  I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: “Life is so beautiful.  Life is so hard” (repeat).  (NYTimes, 12/14/16)

Lent offers you a religious turn, a return to the practice of prayer.

A Lenten Practice of Prayer

You have grown to practice prayer—a quiet hour a day, a Sabbath day a week, a week of reflection a quarter, and a quiet quarter a year:  7am, Friday, Thanksgiving\Christmas\Spring Break, and summer.

You have come to pause before meals, to offer, if no other, the John Wesley table blessings, prayers before meals.

You have pressed ahead to commit treasures to memory:  Psalm 46, the Commandments and Beatitudes, selections from Corinthians, Romans, Philippians and John, the Apostles’ Creed, a modern (say the Canadian) affirmation.

Yours is a prayerful life, lived in the aspiration and expectation to become ‘whole’, made ‘holy’, perfected, if you will, through this life which is a valley of struggle, exercise, exacting and perfecting practice.

Good.

This Lent 2016, you might add a Marsh Chapel self-guided 7 stop prayer journey:

  • Begin in front of the chapel and consider learning, virtue and piety, embedded in the BU shield.
  • Ascend to the balcony, find there a copy of THE CHARM OF THE CHAPEL and read the account of the Four Chaplains.
  • Now walk downstairs and sit in the nave beneath the Abraham Lincoln Window and pray to live ‘with malice toward none.’
  • When ready, walk to the rail, kneel beneath the pulpit and before the interred ashes of President and Mrs. Marsh, a moment in gratitude for all who have come before us.
  • Then, take a seat behind the pulpit, there open the red Bible and read Luke chapter 15.
  • Next, descend to the Chapel’s ground floor, enter the Marsh Room, take down, at random, a book from the shelves, open to a random page, and read.
  • Last, in the Robinson Chapel, kneel before the altar, read a page or prayer from CHARLES RIVER: ESSAYS AND MEDITATIONS FOR DAILY READING.

 

Add your name, if you like with help from the office staff, to the list of those fellow pilgrims who have made the Marsh Lenten Self-Guided 7 Stop Prayer Journey.  Those so doing receive a small gift.

Man shall not live by bread alone.  You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.  You shall not tempt the Lord your God.

Acquire, this Lent, a practice of prayer.  One of your own, some way to pray.  Make of this Lent a time for the practice of prayer.

– The Reverend Doctor, Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

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