Sermon on the Holy Trinity Church, Warsaw
Rogate, 6 May, 2018
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.
Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
Die Gnade unseres Herrn Jesus Christus und die Liebe Gottes und die Gemeinschaft des Heiligen Geistes sei mit euch allen!“ (2.Kor. 13,13)
It is such a joy to once again worship together with Lutheran sisters and brothers here in Poland. Thank you for your friendship! Even though we do not speak the same language, there is much that we can share and understand across language barriers, across differences in contexts.
And some words are pretty much the same anyway. When we had lunch here in Warsaw about two years ago, your bishop raised his glass of coke and joked: look, important words are the same in different languages, like Coke/Cola and Alleluia. And Kyrie eleison and Gloria in excelsis, we added. And the language of liturgy in general. Even if we don’t know the words, we can catch the spirit. And we can pray together. We can pray the Our Father together, regardless of which language is closest to our heart. Prayer unites. Prayer is not just an intra-net that unites people within one local faith community with each other. It is a vast internet that connects us globally and universally with God and with God’s people, wherever they are!
Maybe that is why we celebrate Rogate, the Sunday of prayer, at this time of the year. After Easter, the risen Jesus Christ has been with his friends, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible. Now the day is coming when he departs from them. Ascension Day is drawing close. In order to be with his disciples everywhere and always, to the end of the age, Jesus needs to leave behind all physical and material restraints once and for all. In order to be close to each and every one of us, he needed to be taken away from the physical world. No longer incarnated in a human body. Instead a presence in word and sacrament and through the Holy Spirit in the church and in the world.
The presence of Christ after Ascension Day is and remains a contested presence. By others as well as by ourselves. Sometimes we experience Jesus Christ clearly, strongly and intimately: in bread and wine, in a clear word in Scripture or in a sermon, as guidance, as comfort, as challenge, as admonition, as wordless peace. Sometimes we are longing for a special reassurance of the presence of God, and our longing seems to remain unanswered. Sometimes we recognize only when we look back that, in fact, God blessed us, although we weren’t aware of it back then. And yes, we all have questions about the presence of God in our lives, in the lives of others and in the life of the world. Questions that may never find their answers in this life.
And that is where prayer comes in – as a life line. Prayer is a very special life line, because prayer means: expressing how things really are. Let us remember that Jesus was a Jew. The biblical psalms were his prayer book. And we know, in the psalms, there are things that do not sound very holy and pious, yet they come across as the psalmist’s honest thoughts and feelings. Prayer means: expressing how things really are. A life line that in the messy middle of things keeps us connected with God, each other and all creation.
That is what today’s text from Colossians tells us: Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. A wonderful piece of advice! Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving! And praying makes us almost automatically alert to the needs of others. Intercession is a vital part of prayer. As our text puts it: At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ. Just do it! Such prayer affects how we use our every-day-words. The spirit and the words of prayer should impact how we speak to each other and how we as Christians speak in and to the world. Our text says: Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.
Gracious, seasoned with salt. I quite like that. It reminds us of Jesus’ words in the Sermon of the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13). It also reminds us of the fact that even a small church can have a big impact on a society. And that we need to get out there. Salt fulfils its mission only when it gets out of the salt box, mingles and mixes.
Prayer is the life line that connects the dots of our lives with the mystery of Christ and with God’s history with creation throughout the ages. Prayer is the music of our life. So, Thank you for the life line: “Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty, what would life be??”
In fact, prayer has been a human expression as long as we can go back in history. Long before the time of the Bible, people have prayed. And unto this day, surveys conducted in Sweden show that even people who say that they do not believe in God, still pray – at least in certain situations. It seems that prayer is alive in us, even before we put conscious words on it. Let us cherish and respect that part of our being human!
And let us catch some glimpses from the history of prayer. King Solomon, 900 years before Christ, asked in his prayer for an understanding mind, able to discern between good and evil (1 Kings 3:6ff). A thousand years later Colossians urges us to stay alert in prayer with thanksgiving. Five hundred years later yet, around the year 600, the Irish monk Aidan found a delightful expression for the prayerful rhythm of silent inwardness and presence in the noisy world. Aidan was based on the island of Lindisfarne, off the coast of North East England. When the tide was low he walked from the island to the mainland to meet people, care for them and share the gospel. The rhythm of the tide shaped what is known as Saint Aidan’s prayer – prayed to this day by those who visit the island:
Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
Make me an island, set apart,
alone with you, God, holy to you.
Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you.
And another 1400 years later it is us who carry the torch of prayer, trying to teach the next generation how to care for the seeds of prayer that lie in their hearts.
We share the longing of Solomon – we too want an understanding mind in order to work for peace and justice in our countries, in the European Union, and globally. With Colossians, we want to stay alert with thanksgiving in our prayers, and be empowered to share the gospel, seasoned with salt. With Aidan, we wish to experience the wholesome rhythm of peacefully resting in God and making a healthy difference in the business of the world.
“Leave me alone with God as much as may be” AND “prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond” – that is grace applied! Dear brothers and sisters: What a privilege to participate in this powerful stream of prayers that, for thousands of years, has given so much light and life to the world!
Und „Der Friede Gottes, welcher höher ist als alle Vernunft, bewahre eure Herzen und Sinne in Christus Jesus.“ (Philipper 4,7)