Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Sermon at Parish Mass Harvest Thanksgiving 2015

Joel 2.21-27
1 Timothy 6.6–10
Matthew 6.25–33

Do not worry, says Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading.

And yet we seem to live in a world of worry and anxiety. About food and drink in many parts of the world, also about jobs, housing, the violence and instability of so many places and regimes.

So is Jesus saying that we should do nothing or care nothing about these things, just sit back and let it all wash over us?

Let’s look more closely. This is part of the Sermon on the Mount, which is extensive, radical and demanding teaching. Jesus calls “blessed” those who are poor, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, those who are persecuted, and so on. He teaches us to be totally committed to following him so that we can be salt and light in the world, seeking the righteousness of God’s kingdom above all other things. He teaches us to be reconciled, to forgive, to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. He teaches faithfulness in all things, in marriage and in our word, so that there is no gap between our interior and exterior lives, between what we think and what we say and do.

And he teaches us to pray, in simplicity, and in total dependance on our Heavenly Father who knows what we need.

It is when he has taught his disciples all these things, and more, that he then says, do not worry about the necessities of life. So this is not saying that we can be lazy, or that we shouldn’t care about what we need for our daily lives. Rather, we have to get our priorities right. The most important thing is for our lives to be centred on God, and ordered by the values of his kingdom. That is what we should be concerned about above all. If we get that right, then the lesser things will fall into place more easily, and will be seen in their proper perspective.

The trouble with anxiety is that it consumes all our attention and drains our energy. And above all it distracts us away from what we should be focussed on, which is God. If we get the vertical dimension right – our relationship with God – then we are more likely to get the horizontal dimension right too, which is our daily needs and our relationship with our neighbour.

This begins and is rooted in prayer. A good definition of prayer is “raising the heart and mind to God”. Mostly we do this through words, at least to begin with, such as the words of the Psalms and scriptures, the Lord’s prayer, and other familiar forms. But prayer can take us beyond words into silence, where our hearts and minds are simply raised to God in love. And prayer should also be something that permeates our lives and daily actions. If our hearts and minds are raised to God then our daily duties will be illuminated and transformed. Then we won’t just live in the world, but by living we will raise the world to God.

If we can do that, then we will really be praying, and our prayer will encompass everything. Prayer is where we get our relationship with God right and so our relationship with the world falls into place too.

Part of prayer of course is intercession. Praying for those in need, bringing the sorrow, the anguish, the sickness of the world to God. We don’t do this to remind God of situations he would otherwise forget or not notice. We don’t do it to persuade God to change his mind. Rather, intercessory prayer is raising the whole world to God so that the whole world can be brought back into the right relationship with God in which everything falls into place.

As human beings it is our supreme privilege and duty to do this. We are the thinking, speaking and praying part of the material creation. Through prayer, we seek bring the whole of creation back into harmony with God.

This is an unceasing work, and it involves every part of our lives. When we lift the world to God in prayer we are lifting ourselves too, and so bringing ourselves with the world into greater harmony with God. So how we pray affects how we live. Pope Francis expressed this very simply: “We pray for the hungry, then we feed them. That is how prayer works.”

And our prayer always begins with worship and thanksgiving. We begin by acknowledging our total dependance on the Creator. This too we do on behalf of the whole creation. Praise and worship are the duty that the creation owes to the Creator, and we humans are the part of creation that can express that consciously. And, although we are sinners, we who are baptised are incorporated into Christ, and so take part in his perfect and sinless offering of worship to the Father. 

So today we give thanks for the good gifts of creation, and we do so in the Eucharist in which we are drawn into Christ’s own offering of himself for us. This is not just something we like to do, it is our duty and our joy. Through our worship and our prayer on behalf of the creation we are raising the world to God and doing our part in bringing creation and creator back into harmony.

This is why, at Harvest, we who have more than we need collect food and money for those who don’t have enough. This is part of our prayer and worship, part of our work to lift the world to God and restore the harmony and balance of creation. We recognise that everything we have is a gift from God, and therefore we recognise our duty to try to restore balance in an unbalanced world.

But our prayer is to be real and take root in our lives, not just today but every day, and in all that we do. We live in a world that is dangerously out of harmony with the Creator. Environmental catastrophe threatens in many ways, while the rich nations of the world are carrying on as if the earth could take as much damage as we can throw at it.

Agricultural communities are increasingly under pressure to produce more for less. We overload the soil with fertiliser to boost crop yield, while drenching the ground with pesticides and weedkillers to prevent the growth of anything else, and genetically modify the crops so that they are more resistant to the toxins with which we are filling the earth. Meanwhile farmers in the developing world find themselves undercut by bulk imports from rich nations. Workers are exploited, pollution chokes the rivers and seas, and yet the cycle of consumption continues to spiral out of control.

The good earth is profoundly out of balance, a situation that cannot continue without risking disaster. Humanity urgently needs to find the path of ecological conversion that Pope Francis talked about in his encyclical on the environment earlier in the year. Prayer is where this path of conversion begins, but it must expand to embrace the whole of our lives and how we live in the world. Then, when the creation is back in tune with the Creator, we will indeed be able to place our hope in the promise that the scriptures give us, that God will renew the earth and give life in abundance to all.

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