(You may watch video of this sermon here.)
We’re undergoing a lot these days that is distressing and disorienting. There is a lot that is surprising and uncertain. These kinds of conditions confront us with some fundamental questions:
Who are we at our hearts, especially in the face of challenge?
How do we act? What choices do we make? How do discern what is urgent and what is not?
What guides those choices?
What values, what virtues are at stake?
Whose lives are at stake? Whose futures?
What vision do we follow for the future?
Whose voices do we trust?
What is wise and good and true?
Above all, how is God at work, how is God guiding us?
These are fundamental questions. Prayer is as important as ever in helping us with these fundamental questions – Prayer as a way for us to be real with what is real, before God, as a way for us to be open to guidance through the twists and turns of this journey.
It’s important to know that so often the deepest prayers don’t come from our feeling strong or wise or holy, but deep prayer so often comes from our weakness and confusion, before leading us beyond that.
There’s a wonderful, well known prayer by Thomas Merton, who was a great soul and teacher of Christian prayer:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
One tool for prayer I’d like to offer for those of you it may be helpful for, is the walking labyrinth. We have a walking labyrinth in the parking lot of our church. This morning we’re doing a prayer rock labyrinth walk event, where folks can come with masks and social distance, and paint on rocks prayers or blessings you want to offer our community. And we each take those prayer rocks to the center of the labyrinth, where they will gather.
Then in the days and weeks to come anyone is invited to come to the labyrinth, and walk to the center and take a rock if you’re led to, or leave another one, or simple be present there with all these expressions of prayer and blessing from our community.
The labyrinth is an ancient tool for prayer, reflection, meditation. The first known Christian prayer labyrinth is from the 4th century, in North Africa.
A labyrinth is not a maze – there are no dead-ends. The path winds and turns and coils, but it doesn’t branch. The path is trustworthy. It will bring you to the center and back out again. People have found that walking this kind of circuit can help us focus our minds and open our hearts for prayer. The labyrinth isn’t just a good metaphor for the life of faith, it helps us embody faith: Through all the twists and turns of our journey, we ca trust that in God’s hands we will arrive home at the heart of things.
So people have found this can be a good tool for prayer.
A lot of people find the labyrinth helpful for seeking guidance on some question.
People have also found it helpful in praying through grief.
People have found it helpful as a way to mark an important transition or transformation in their lives
The labyrinth can be a way for us to walk through death and rebirth, or a kind of pilgrimage to the center and back out again, a journey of seeking and discovery and return.
There is so much in this life that can turn us from a good way, that can lead us astray. Bitterness, fear, hatred, greed, negligence, selfishness, tribalism, trickery, all the seductions of power, whether on a petty scale or global. And then just life can surprise us with challenges and quandaries we may not feel clear about.
But the lesson we can find in the labyrinth as a sacred symbol, the lesson we hear in Psalm 25, which Alison read, the lesson we hear in Merton’s prayer, is that what is most important in all the twists and turns and uncertainties, we keep our sincere desire on God above all else, and on God’s truth, goodness, and wisdom. God is a God of grace, and so will graciously guide us through. We will make mis-steps and take mis-turns, we may meander and lose our way, we may run into what feels like a dead end – but our God is a God who can make a way even through no way. Our God is a God who will not let us go astray for too long before calling us back, as long as our sincere desire truly is for God and for God’s way, and truth, and life.
Thanks be to God.
Psalm 25 (verses 1-5, 8-10, 16-18)
To you I lift my soul, O Holy One Beyond Name.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you
Be put to shame;
Let them be ashamed
who are treacherous.
Make me to know your ways,
O Holy One.
Teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and
For you are the God of my
For you I wait all day long…
Good and upright is the Holy One
Therefore God instructs
the aimless in the way
God leads the humble in what is right,
And teaches the humble God’s way.
All the paths of the Holy One Beyond Name
Are steadfast love and
For those who keep God’s covenant
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
For I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
And bring me out of my distress.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
And forgive all my sins.