I preached my first sermon at St Mark’s on Sunday, at the 7pm service! Always nice to get a ‘first’ in the bag. One of the challenges that I’m finding around being a new curate – especially at a church as large as St Mark’s, and even more especially as a self-supporting minister – is working out where and how I (and my family) fit into the life of the church. On the one hand, just turning up on a Sunday and sitting in the congregation doesn’t really feel like the point; on the other hand, I’m still learning the styles and formats of the services, and my availability in the week is limited in terms of being able to meet with people and prepare. It is very early days, and I also know that much of ordained ministry is about being rather than doing… being present, listening, praying. About leading worship from within the congregation (which I know needs a little more unpacking, but that will have to wait for another post). But it was still nice to actually do something!
Anyway, I decided to approach this sermon in the TED style (and I do have to plug “Talk like Ted” by Carmine Gallo at this point, which describes a fantastic approach to public speaking in a way that is very accessible and easy to read. Highly recommended). Two of the elements Carmine advocates are “memorability” and “humour”, and I’d already thought I might use some of my photos to these ends. As I was browsing through my back catalogue, I spotted some of my Danbo Photos, and thought “Yes!”. Cue the rest of Friday evening spent with camera and lights and a makeshift studio on the kitchen table. I admit that I got a little bit carried away, but photography is one of my passions, and the chance to combine this with preaching seemed to good to pass up.
The passage was Matthew 6:5-13, which is Jesus teaching on prayer, including the Lord’s prayer. I like my sermons to have a bit of interaction, so we spent a bit of time talking about what prayer actually is (and isn’t), before I spoke a bit about my own experience of prayer, in particular praying the Daily Office. There is a choice we face each morning – a crossroads, if you like. We can set aside the time to pray; or we can allow it to be squeezed out by the inevitable demands of daily life. In my experience, whether or not Morning Prayer gets squeezed out sets the tone for the whole day. When I start the day with prayer, I find my approach to the day, my focus, and my responses are much closer to how I would want to respond. However, when I don’t prayer, the opposite happens, and I don’t respond well to the day’s events.
We also spent a bit of time thinking about Matthew’s gospel in composite, and the course that Jesus charts between a rock and a soft place; neither accepting the strict adherence of the law demanded by the Jewish leaders, but neither rejecting the law altogether. Instead Jesus gets to the heart of the law, which is good, and fulfills it. In fact, if anything Jesus extends the law to be more comprehensive (for instance a few verses earlier in Matthew 5, Jesus takes the law “do not commit adultery” and applies it to the human heart – “looking lustfully at a woman is to commit adultery”!!)
So as Jesus teaches on prayer, it’s neither the strict outward adherence to particular customs, but neither is it the “anything goes” of the pagans. Instead Jesus sets out a model, or structure, or approach to prayer, which we now call the Lord’s Prayer. I do not believe Jesus was intending this prayer to be said verbatim as the sum total of prayer. Never-the-less, the elements of looking UP to God (“Our father in heaven…”), looking OUT to His Mission (“Thy kingdom come…”), and looking IN to our own needs (“give us today…”) are each important. We also reflected on the need to be both intentional about prayer, and to do it every day. There is an analogy here with the whole “date night” thing if you’re married. Yes, on one level you could say it’s legalistic and lacks spontaneity – but on the other hand without it you easily end up never actually spending time together having fun, as friends and lovers. So the time together is intentional and protected, but within that space there is freedom and joy.
Because I think that one of the thing that God loves most is us spending time with Him. I think that He is thrilled and delighted with us, and He cherishes every moment we spend in prayer. So rest in His arms!
PS – You can read about how I came to have a back catalogue of photos on my 365 page of my personal blog. Be warned I will almost certainly be recycling them in future sermons, and St Mark’s also hasn’t seen the last of Danbo…..