WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
January 18 – 25, 2019
Sermon: An Encounter with Jesus
Every year, between January 18 – 25, Christians around the world celebrate a week of prayer for the unity of all Christians. Regardless of denomination or religious organization, we Christians around the globe share in our faith, reflecting on scripture, and praying together. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was first begun by the Roman Catholic Church over a hundred years ago in 1908, but forty years later in1948, the World Council of Churches was formed, and Christian denominations wanted to celebrate this special week of prayer as well. So today, and in this week, our United Church of Canada along with the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations around the entire world promote this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We reflect on what it means to be the people of God and Jesus Christ, and how we are called to proclaim and respond to the acts of God and the gospel of Christ in our world.
Prayer is the means of talking to God and expressing our hearts to God. We literally connect with God’s Spirit and Christ’s Spirit. And this personal linking of our soul between us and the Divine is vital. God wants to communicate with us. God wants to be involved in our lives. Do you ever wonder if you’re praying the “right” way? If you’re expressing your words or thoughts the “right” way? Our scripture reading tells us that we may feel that way, but God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, will intercede for us, step in for us, translate our thoughts and petitions, communicate for us, and that God knows what we desire and what is in our hearts. God loves us and wants to hear from us. And we’re not meant to worry that we aren’t saying the right words or praying a right way. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” Ephesians 6: 18. God hears us.
Listen to a story written about Kevin, who prays to God in a special way:
My brother Kevin thinks God lives under his bed. He was praying out loud in his bedroom, and I heard him say, “Are you there, God? Where are you? Oh, yes, under the bed…”
Kevin was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled. He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.
I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his life? Up before dawn each day, off to work at a shop for the disabled, home to walk our dog, eats his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later goes to bed… this is his daily ritual.
But he never seems dissatisfied. He doesn’t know what it means to be discontent. His life is simple. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be. He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you are wrong, you apologize. Kevin is always transparent, always sincere, his heart is pure. And he trusts God.
Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with God in a way that is sometimes difficult to grasp. God is his closest companion. When he comes to God, he comes as a child. In my moments of doubt and uncertainty, I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith.
It is then that I am most willing to admit that he may have some divine knowledge which rises above my mental capabilities and understanding. It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap. I am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God’s care.
Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I will never discern? He has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, immersing himself in the goodness and love of God. And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts and in our lives, I’ll realize that God hears the simple prayers of a boy who believes that God lives under his bed. And Kevin won’t be surprised at all!
Our faith and our prayers can rest in simple trust. Just like Kevin’s.
Simple trust. It really comes down to that. We encounter God when we pray. We encounter Jesus when we come into his presence. And so, I’d like to invite you into a short time of meditation, a quiet time of prayer, for you to encounter Jesus:
I’d like you to relax, close your eyes, get comfortable, breathe deeply, quiet your body, your mind, your spirit, banish thoughts of work, home, all obligations from your mind, and imagine you are walking down a dusty unpaved street in the time of Jesus, you are going to the house where he is staying, you have been invited to come, it is evening, and quiet, there is a light ahead, you have been given directions, and you approach a small, square, white-washed house. Your heart beats a little quickly as you knock on the door. “Come in,” says a voice inside. You enter, and in front of you, sitting on a low, patterned mat is Jesus. He looks just as you always imagined he would look. Jesus beckons for you to sit down, and as he does, his eyes meet yours, and you experience an extraordinary sense of being known, accepted, appreciated, and loved in a way that goes beyond anything you have experienced in your life so far.
You sit across from Jesus, and his gaze lovingly rests on you. He gently asks you: “What is on your heart that you long to tell me? (time of reflection)
In the presence of Jesus, you are able to express your deepest feelings and thoughts.
He speaks to you again, gently: “You are a gifted child of God. What untapped gifts have I given you? (quiet time). Jesus says: “What talents do you have to use for me?” (quiet time). Jesus asks: “What skills can you use to bring joy to yourself, joy for me, and joy to others?”
You are enfolded in the love of Jesus. He asks you: “Would you like my Spirit to live in you, to fill you with my love, my peace, my compassion, my forgiveness? Just ask me.” You ask the Spirit of Jesus to come live within you, to be born within you, to stay with you always, and you sense a joy flooding in you – burdens are lifted – the way ahead seems clearer – Jesus is with you… It is time for you to go. Jesus blesses you. “My peace I leave you,” he says. He rests his hand on your shoulder. “I am with you always, till the end of the age,” he says. Amen.