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Prayer: the place where Truth and Mercy Meet

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In these times of such free floating anxiety and anger, we are all in need of, longing for, helpful prayers. Which leads me to ask: just exactly what is prayer? Precisely what do we believe we are doing when we pray? Is it a monologue or a dialogue? Are we giving God our “wish lists”: specific requests for what we believe we require in order to survive, to flourish? Doesn’t God already know what we need? Or do we think that God will withhold what we need until we pray for it? Do we think that, in our prayers, we are telling God something God doesn’t already know, or that we are going to change God’s mind?

Anglican theologian and author C.S. Lewis – who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, from which we will be performing next month here with our VBS– C. S. Lewis said of praying, “Prayer doesn’t change God; prayer changes me.” Is it possible, then, that prayer is a process, a path, a place where “mercy and truth” can meet, where “righteous and peace” can kiss and make up? Not the judgmental kind of righteousness that the angry prophet Hosea spouts this morning (good gracious!). The Hebrew meaning of “righteousness” – sedech – has more to do with our covenant, our relationship, with God and with one another, than it has to do with “being right”. Perhaps prayer, then, is a kind of “recipe” for living into that covenant? A plan for living a life that is balanced and nourishing.

Today’s psalm always reminds me of one of my favorite “food” movies: Babette’s Feast. Based on a story by Karen Blickson (of “Out of Africa” fame), the movie follows the lives of two sisters in a small, austere religious group on the remote coast of 19th century Denmark. The 85th Psalm is included in a prayer by the leader of this group – “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other”. His ministry is continued by his daughters after his death: one of them lovely, the other a beautiful singer, these sisters gave up their lives to serve the dwindling and aging community. Then one day, Babette, a woman fleeing the violence of the French revolution, appears at their door seeking asylum. She stays with the sisters for years, cooking, and tending to their “flock”.

Then Babette discovers she has won a fortune in the French lottery, and asks the sisters’ permission to use this money to prepare a sumptuous French feast for the group, honoring the 100th anniversary of their father’s birthday! Rather than be excited, the isolated community is terrified of these strange, new foods; like Paul, they seem to fear the evil pleasures of an “epicurean” appreciation. This would have been one of the “new trends” in the Greek philosophy of Paul’s time, refuted by early Christians along with cynicism, neo-platonism, stoicism. It reminds me of those who are now asking, “is Pokeman santanic?” Our Christian culture is influenced by many philosophies, many countries, and now by many technologies.
Back in Jutland, the frightened, little community takes a vow not to say a word of appreciation about the flavors of Babette’s banquet! But gradually, the power of its loving, talented preparation – the bread, fruit, cheese, wine, real turtle soup and quail with truffles – magically overcomes them, and they find themselves forgiving old grudges with one another, and even rekindling forgotten passions.

Finally, through an unexpected visitor – a former cavalry officer who once loved and was rejected by the loveliest sister – they learn that Babette was formerly the most famous chef in Paris. She had spent her entire fortune feeding them, and she stays on to continue serving out her life there. Babette’s love connected their past and their future through this Feast. The way the Eucharistic Table is the place where Mercy and Truth, Justice and Peace finally meet.

Today, our “Feast” is offered in a new format from what you may be used to: 1) using prayers from the people of New Zealand, and music from the Taize community in France (OR) 2) outdoors, near our lovely labyrinth, using prayers from my home country of Wales, and celebrating God’s glorious creation. And guiding our Feast, the Gospel offer us Jesus’ “recipe for prayer”!
You may be most accustomed to hearing this prayer in the language of King James of England: translated from Aramaic, to Greek, and then to the English of the 16th century. Our contemporary Bible is closer to Jesus’ original words; and when we let go (however reluctantly) of the fancy English, we can more clearly see the format, the recipe, the meeting place.

  1. Honor God – whatever language you use to name God, honor your commitment to God in your life; 2) Participate in God’s reign of justice, in the Jesus movement; 3) Each day, care for yourself and others, and come to the feast that God has prepared for us all;

4) Practice forgiveness, both asked and given, received and offered; 5) Dwell in God’s Peace, in safety and in faith. Do not be afraid; as we sing in Spanish of 16th century Taize: “Nada te turbe, nada te espante: (let nothing worry you, let nothing frighten you) quien a Dios tiene nada le falta (those who seek God want for nothing).

This is Jesus’ invitation to all of us; His recipe for abundant living, for “growth that comes from God”.

Enter, find, and receive the change in yourself through prayers.

And let all of God’s children say together, AMEN!

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