Jesus prays, and then… Sun Jan 13, 2019
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
In this Year “C” of our 3-year lectionary, we focus on the Gospel according to Luke. One of the unique features in Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story is an emphasis on the presence of the Holy Spirit, particularly through Jesus’ prayer life. For instance, none of the other Gospel writers include the detail of Jesus’ prayer as the precursor to the heavens opening following his baptism, that we hear today in the story of Jesus’ baptism. Likewise, in the story of the Jesus’ transfiguration, Luke writes: “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed…” (9:28-9) None of the other gospel writers make note of Jesus’ prayer in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. The detail that “Jesus prays, and then…” is unique to Luke.
The Gospel of Luke also often notes how Jesus gets away, goes to a deserted place, to pray, sometimes through the night. And then when day comes, Jesus announces a clear statement of purpose, like the need to move on to proclaim God’s good news to many places. Or he announces a crucial decision, like choosing the 12 disciples who would be his closest followers. Prayer is also central to the beginning of the passion narrative, as Jesus goes out to the Mount of Olives with his disciples following. Jesus commands them to “pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” And then Jesus himself withdraws, a stone’s throw away, to pray. His prayer comes with blood, sweat and tears, as it were. And in some ancient manuscripts, an angel appears from heaven to give him strength. (22:40-44) Jesus prays, and then… he is strengthened. Jesus prays, and then… he knows where to go and what to do next. Jesus prays, and then… he chooses the 12. Jesus prays, and then… he is transfigured to reflect God’s glory. Jesus prays, and then the heavens open. Jesus prays, and then a revelation from God manifests one way or another.
I won’t be with you next Sunday as I will be leading a Eucharistic service at St. Paul’s in Golden. I am going there as one small part of a guest preaching series the leadership of the parish has put together as part of a “year of discernment” focusing on who Jesus is calling them to be, personally and collectively. St. Paul’s is a very small parish who had to lay off their last rector several years ago. In the wake of that loss, and with clerical leadership now rather far away, 4 parishioners in particular were determined it was not their end. They called themselves the “intention group” and continue to come together weekly to pray, to read the Bible, to discuss and to discern where to go from here. It’s been a few years now and other changes have come, but their faithfulness and their determination to be people of God together in the Anglican way has only strengthened. Last spring, they received a grant to host a preaching series from late 2018 through several months of 2019, as part of their on-going faith formation, growth and discernment. St. Paul’s intention group prays, and then… parish life continues.
Here at St. Andrew’s, we have a small group of parishioners committed to praying on a regular basis through the Prayer Circle. Prayer requests are shared among the group, mostly through email, for individual members to include in their daily prayer life. It’s an important ministry that would welcome new members. At the moment, we don’t have a set time of collective prayer for this group or otherwise, but Susan Chivers and I are talking about introducing this kind of opportunity in Lent. For some, the idea of being in prayer for, say, an hour, can be intimidating and so we are also talking about a possible workshop to help people get going. “I don’t know how to pray,” is a common fear but there are simple ways to get started in discovering the impact of prayer in our lives, personally and collectively. “We pray, and then…” what?
Prayer can take many different forms. A couple of Lents ago, we explored different types of prayer in a series titled “More God.” We experienced centring prayer, lectio devina, and walking a labyrinth, along with different forms of verbal prayer. The idea was to broaden our spiritual practice to experience more God in our lives. Because each person is different, we all connect to the Divine in different ways. Particularly in the Anglican world, we tend to think of prayer primarily in terms of words, and written down words at that, but there are also a variety of other ways to pray. Among the simplest forms of prayer is intentional silence. This week I received a reflection on the spiritual power of silence in an email newsletter from spiritual director Lois Huey-Heck of the Pacific Jubilee Centre. She writes: “We’ve heard that nature abhors a vacuum. It’s equally true that Spirit abhors fullness. When there’s no spaciousness, no stillness, no Silence – around us and within us – it can be hard to know the presence of the Holy. Periods of Silence can be healing. They can be integrative opportunities to listen for the stirrings of our souls, helping us discern and listen for guidance…” In silence, we pray and then know the presence and movement and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In today’s story of Jesus’ baptism, we hear of people moving from expectation to questioning. They hear John’s confounding and difficult answer to the questions of their hearts and still, they get baptized. When Jesus too “had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus prays, and then a revelation from God comes. Jesus prays and then the Holy Spirit descends upon him. Jesus prays and then he hears God’s affirmation of love.
Likewise, we pray, and then we too can experience the fullness of God’s presence, if only for a moment. We pray and then we too hear God’s words of love and acceptance: You are my Beloved Child. With you, I am well pleased.