After taking a couple of posts to honor Rev. Joe Stephens' passing, I return today for the final installment of a series on prayer.
With this title, you’ll be relieved to know that I will not be using any specific visual images today. Here's what we have covered so far...
• Prayer that changes things begins in the Care-filled stillness of God that calls us to live out the life of God faithfully in the world.
• Both God’s care and God’s call, are always together in every circumstance.
• That confidence allows us to seek out the voice of God who is always speaking to us in every circumstance.
• Through the prayer of examen, we learn that as we regularly reflect upon our lives we can see where our consolations lead us and what our desolations teach us, and
• And then through the practice of discernment we apply the grid of obedience to the scriptures and the building up of God’s Community in every circumstance, and begin to develop wisdom to make life-changing decisions responding to God’s leading and teaching.
This morning we add in the final, but oh-so-important element: vulnerability. Openness, genuiness, authenticity: faith that allows the walls to be torn down, our souls exposed and our heart and actions left naked before God and evident to others. And like a house that is being remodeled so that the walls have come down and we can see the mess inside, we too feel the vulnerability of becoming more and more exposed as we open ourselves to the searching eye of God and recognize that our lives are always lived in public.
Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and
stepping on each other. Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned
them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. Whatever
you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have
whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for
all to hear!
“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—their hypocrisy.
The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all.
Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!
In this passage from Luke 12:1-3 there is a kind of double-entendre in the warning that Jesus gives his disciples about the Pharisees. In the first place, Jesus warns his disciples to be careful of the Pharisees. While they claim to be devoted to God, they are actually hypocrites who are just looking for ways to oppose the work of God that is happening in Jesus. He warns his disciples that whatever they say will be used against them. That whatever they whisper will be shouted aloud and that there will always be those who want to stop Jesus’ Kingdom work in the world and they are just looking for an opportunity to discredit Jesus by making known the faults and foibles of his followers.
And there is a good warning here for us, isn’t there? We need to know that the more we become serious about living out our faith, the more there will be people out there who are just waiting for an excuse to discredit Jesus by pointing out our faults of faith. By trying to tear us down, or waiting for us to fall down so that they can have an excuse for their own rejection of the way of Jesus.
But the second meaning also present here is that Jesus also warns his disciples not to become like the Pharisees. Jesus warns them of the hypocrisy that often follows when we try to get serious about living a God-pleasing life (sspecially when others are watching--v.1). We can feel so vulnerable, so messy, so incomplete and so much like a work-in-progress. It is so tempting to just start faking it. To playing religion, to talk about things that we are not experiencing or even attempting. To take on the appearance of having it so spiritually together that we start to put on layers and layers of religious garb, of spiritual masks, that hide the naked truth that we ourselves are still vso very far from what we are meant to be.
This is a good warning to us. A French writer of the 17th century said, "Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue." Hypocrisy often occurs because we who know better can’t live better. When our actual impact falls short of our intentions. And Jesus warns us that whatever we say or do in secret that only he knows will eventually find us out. The big problem with faking it till you make it, is that you never really make it.
The Greek word, hypocrisy, here is the word for the mask that was worn in a Greek play. Jesus warns his disciples to beware of the “leaven of the Pharisees”, the hypocrisy that they have mastered of appearing more spiritual and devoted than they really are. Because not only does it keep them from admitting to themselves their need for Jesus, but they also influence and intimidate others. Like “leaven” where a little bit influences the whole loaf of bread, a little hypocrisy can ruin a whole community of people.
I live in a community where people often seem so put together that it can feel very vulnerable when life gets messy. When the circumstances of life, our own faults and folly, our mistakes and miscues become apparent it is tempting to want to cover them up behind a mask, to make sure that no one sees the mess of renovation, the warts and wrinkles of our humanness.
And this is only all the more so when we know that others are looking at us because we have declared that we are followers of Jesus. It is so tempting to hide ourselves from others and to attempt to hide ourselves from God.
So many people in our community are actually struggling right now. Home values are plummeting, jobs are being lost, the stresses of a fast-paced life are taking their toll. And when marriages are strained and families are in crisis, and kids are making harmful choices, we often tell ourselves that the only way to go on is to cover up, put on a mask, where an extra layer of religious garb, make sure that no one sees the mess inside our hearts and our homes. And then we live in fear and isolation that we are all alone in our messiness and that eventually someone will find us out and make it worse.
So what do we do? How can we avoid this? If the answer is not to cover up, how do we really pray in such a way that things change for the better?
By trusting God with our mess. By believing that the one who saw us come into the world naked and vulnerable, and who will take us from this world naked and vulnerable knows and will be with us in every naked and vulnerable, messy and incomplete moment in our lives. And by learning to pray and live more honestly and authentically. Which leads me to this key thought:
Prayer that changes things comes from a heart that is honest before God and leads to a life that is authentic before people.
Today, I want to offer you one more way of learning to pray that uses the Scriptures to help us be more honest before God and more authentic before people. This practice of prayer is a way of insuring that when we devote ourselves to using the still times to listen to our lives, to read the scriptures and to pray, that we are doing more than just putting in the time and repositioning our masks and layers of religious clothing. That when we read the scriptures, we let the scriptures read us…
Lectio Divina (pronounced lex-io diveena) or “Divine Reading” or “Holy Reading” is a way of praying the Scriptures that emphasizes honest communion with God and obediently responding to God. Lectio Divina is one of the very oldest forms of prayer. It dates back to Origen in the second century and was formalized by the Benedictines in the 12th century. It has been called the original “evangelical” means of praying the Scriptures, because the emphasis is on hearing and responding to the voice of God that speaks to every open heart.
It is built on the conviction that the Spirit of God is always working through the Word of God, that in the words of the Second Helvetic Confession, “the preaching of the Word of God is the very word of God.”
And if practiced regularly and well, it will bring us become people who are attempting to be both honest before God and authentic before people. It will help us to continually ask, first
Where does this Word of God connect to my own life? In what ways, is this passage speaking to me. It may be very subtle, almost unconscious, but it can be very powerful. It was in a moment of using Lectio Divina that I knew that my time had come to leave Hollywood Presbyterian and that God was calling me to a new ministry. It was most often during times of praying the Scriptures in this way that God usually directs and leads my life, clarifies my motives and corrects my sins.
I remember very clearly hearing another passage about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the Spirit of God breaking my heart as I was convicted of my own pharisaic attitudes and hypocrisy before my students.
If we will let the whispers of Jesus speak into our open, vulnerable hearts, we’ll be surprised at what he says to us.
And then after being honest before God, we focus on what it means to live out our faith authentically before people by asking the question: Where in this passage is there an invitation from God to be or to do as a response?
I truly believe that we have not prayed until we have our marching orders. Sometimes that invitation is simply to trust him, to wait, to stay faithful in a hard time. Other times it will be to confess to a brother or sister, to confront a friend who has harmed us, to speak up or to shut up, to do something or stop doing something. To say yes to a ministry or to say no to something that will take you away from the life that God wants for you.
Prayer that changes things is always prayer that receives the care of God and responds to the call of God. It is prayer that is focused BOTH on God meeting our needs AND directing our days. God’s care, God’s call, always together changing us, and through us changing everything.
And lastly let me say that the prayer that truly changes things is the one that is first, foremost and most committed to becoming a changed person who truly pleases God.
God is the focus of our prayers. Jesus is the focus of our lives. The more that we make God’s word, Jesus’ life, and the Spirit’s leading the measure, focus, grid and pattern of our souls, the more that we will be changed and the more that prayer will change everything.