Mark 1:29-39 | Philippians 4:4-9
So we’re here in a new year at the start of Jesus’s ministry. In the past couple of weeks we’ve read of his baptism by John, and of the first disciples called to follow him. Last week we reflected on the very different pathways of faith that the gospels describe and the followers of Jesus experience; those who know from the start that Jesus is truly the Son of God, and who spend their life of discipleship working out what that implies; and those who discover the man Jesus and slowly, in his life and teaching, discover that he is more than just Rabbi.
In a conversation at morning tea last Sunday we talked about how there is this sort of – not a divide, so much as just a different path to the same end – between those who first encounter Jesus Christ as Christ – as the anointed one of God, the word made flesh, part of Godhead, second person of the trinity – and those who first encounter his Jesus Christ as Jesus, the man, son of Mary, teacher, carpenter, friend.
And of course the Christian faith throughout the ages has striven to hold these two revelations of God in Jesus Christ together – the very doctrine of the dual nature of Christ – fully God, fully human – is on one level at least, just an attempt to recognise, to affirm, the truth of God experienced in each of these pathways.
Today, we move to a story – or a set of stories – right at the beginning of Jesus ministry, and we see both these sides of Jesus walking hand in hand.
He heals, he casts out demons and will not permit them to speak – he demonstrates the power of God in his life, his ministry, his teaching – and then he shows just how human he also is.
And I believe it is an aspect of his humanity that we need to lean upon, where we are in the world right now. Having done all these things – teaching, healing, casting out of evil – the next morning, Jesus gets up, finds a place of peace, and prays.
Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that Jesus prayed?
I mean, on one level, it’s kind of obvious. He was a Jewish man. He attended the synagogue. He grew in a family who knew the prayers of there people. As part of his community, he would inevitably have been part of the prayer life of his community.
Which, in a sense, is like what we do here each Sunday, and perhaps in the rituals of our family lives. We pray together as our liturgy, as part of those rituals that define who we are, that keep us part of the great tradition of the faith. We pray at baptisms, at communions, at weddings and funerals, and each week, in adoration, in confession, in our prayers for others.
We just assume that Jesus did the equivalent, in a first century Jewish context – because the Gospel writers don’t tell us, they just take it for granted.
But what the Gospel writers do tell us – and therefore, surely, expect us to take notice of, take guidance from – something else about Jesus’ life of prayer. There are a number of moments in the gospels, turning points, as it were, in the life of Jesus, where the writers makes a point of telling us that Jesus turned to prayer. Perhaps the most famous is the garden of gethsemane; but it’s here at the start, and elsewhere at key moments in his ministry.
So I ask again – have you stopped to think about the fact that Jesus prayed?
The one who only ever did what he saw his Father doing? Who knew more closely and intimately the character, the nature, the will of God than anyone ever born? Who so often is shown as just instinctively knowing what God would say of a situation?
That man Jesus, when faced with dramatic times in his life, needed to make space to pray.
And if he did, how much more do we?
As I’ve already said, of course, we do pray. It is a fundamental part of who we are; we pray every week in Church, every meeting opens and closes in prayer, and no doubt each of us also has our own rituals, family or personal, of prayer.
But again, as I’ve already indicated, this is something more. This isn’t the day to day prayer that infuses our lives and defines us as God’s people: this is the active, expectant prayer of a man who needs to know what God would have him do next.
And that is something that we in the Uniting Church aren’t so good at.
We’re good at praying as part of our liturgies, our rituals of life – and don’t hear me as saying anything against that, it’s incredibly, unbelievably important that we embed prayer into lives as individuals and as a community like that.
And we pray in a crisis. We pray for one another when people are sick, or struggling, or in pain. And again, that’s a huge part of being God’s people – that when we face the hard times of life we don’t avoid them, but we stand alongside one another even when all we can offer is prayer.
But I don’t know that we’re good – as a whole – at the sort of prayer that the gospel writers described in Jesus’ life. The prayer which seems to actually expect God to give us direction.
And when I say “I don’t if we’re good at”, what I mean is “I know I’m not”.
But I am challenged by this story, especially now; as I, and the Goringe family, face a new beginning, leaving this place where we have been so blessed; and as St. John’s faces the transition and uncertainty of what will come next.
I’m challenged by the fact that, when he knew something new was happening, even Jesus felt the need to retreat and pray.
And if he needed that, how much more do we?
We face a time of change. Here at St. John’s, but also in the wider world. Even the most casual follower of international affairs will have noticed that the Trump presidency has brought with it almost unprecedented uncertainty.
And the Christian response? Well, it must surely begin in prayer. I’m not going to say it ends there – I don’t believe it does – but if our response does not begin in prayer, then we have no more to offer than anyone else.
And so, the Apostle calls us “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”
In everything. In everything we face, in every uncertainty, in every fear, in every challenge. Let your requests be made known to God.
And what then? God will do whatever we ask? That’s not our experience, is it, and it’s not the promise, either. “Let your requests be known to God…”, it says “and the peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds”.
I don’t know about you, but peace guarding my heart, guarding my mind; that sounds like a good deal to me.
So we’re going to finish with something a bit different today. Instead of moving straight into our next hymn, I’m going to ask you to take the next couple of minutes, in silence, to pray.
To present, your requests to God.
In a few minutes of silence, present them to God.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”