Thursday, 1 March 2012

Prayer–or the Golden Rule?

Midweek Communion at St Giles – St David’s Day

Reading Isaiah 55

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
   call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
   and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
   and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,”
            declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.


Gospel Matthew 7

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
The Lord is a great God, O that today you would listen to his voice.
Harden not your hearts.
All Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.

When the Gospel is announced the reader says

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.

Ask, Seek, Knock

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.



Listening to gospel reading – might have concluded it is about prayer. One of those troubling gospel readings about faith and intercession. “Of course we all know God does not always answer prayer” – it’s a childish notion you might say, and anyway hedged about with provisos. For example, you have to have faith to move mountains. And in one passage, the only promise is that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask in prayer, not the winning numbers in the National Lottery.

Actually this passage from the closing portion of the sermon on the Mount is more concerned with how to treat one’s neighbour than prayer. The preceding few verses are a warning not to judge others. For you will yourself be judged in the same way, and it’s absurd to criticise the speck of sawdust in your neighbour’s eye if you own vision is obscured by a plank.

I wonder if you noticed any similarity between the gospel reading and the passage I read from Isaiah? It starts Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him when he is near. The reading from Matthew starts Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Seeking the Lord is what both have in common. Not asking for favours. And seeking the Lord not only directly, but through interaction with one’s neighbours. The Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

What Isaiah offers is that God, in his ‘otherness’ can still be found, and he will pardon our wrongdoing. His thoughts are not ours, and his ways far removed from human ones. Yet if we seek him out, God can be found.

Remember the man who knocks up his neighbour in the dead of night. A guest has arrived very late. The shops are closed. He has nothing to set before him. Why would his neighbour risk getting out of bed to help him? Because that man is his neighbour. And he will come to his assistance for that reason alone.

God wants the best for us – that’s the other theme running through both of these passages. His ways are far above ours, and we cannot fathom God’s thoughts, but we can be sure he will give good gifts to those who seek him in faith.

The punchline makes it clear. It’s not about prayer, but the Golden Rule. The conclusion is not about intercessions:

12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you...

...and the promise implied is that God, like a good neighbour, will do the same for us and extend his hands full of good gifts.


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