Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

Readings for (Proper 12) Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 29 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 12C / Ordinary 17C / Pentecost +9 Textweek

The first reading from Hosea is always a good place to start, and we miss a lot of that first reading unless we have some of the background to it. The backdrop is the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah and the impending fall of Israel to the Assyrians. But the important thing for us today perhaps in the readings is for us to reawaken an awareness of the prophet. Hosea speaks with the voice of the prophet, seeing and naming the socio-political situation and its unfolding, seeing and naming the unfolding of the immediate world in relation to the divine unfolding of creation. It’s as if the prophet sees with two different sets of eyes – sees the world around us and its unfolding and its movement, but at the same time sees the creation of the creator unfolding and its movement, and the prophet seeks to bring those together and to speak of where there are gaps.

If Hosea were to visit a modern day therapist he would probably be told that the narrative we’ve just read is a transition dream, worth looking at and that it’s probably all about himself. And for most people most of the time presenting such a narrative to their therapist, that would be a reasonable starting point. But the prophet differs, because the prophet is attentive to the divine; the prophet has an orientation that is not to self but of being part of a whole in its unfolding, and a whole that itself is divinely inspired. If I go to the therapist with my dreams, even those great momentous ones where the world shifts it’s very likely that it is my stuff that I see and seek to unpack. With the eyes of a prophet, the opportunity is there to see the unfolding of the whole, so one question that comes out of the first reading today, a question for us, is who looks at the world today with the eyes of the prophet? An even more telling question, how do we find such sight and such insight? Are we culturally so self-absorbed that we no longer have access to the prophetic sight and the prophetic insight? Have we lost an awareness of a whole that is divinely inspired and our part in it? We’re bombarded with agenda-driven, commercially-orientated images; these are given to us in a guise of sociological or political unfolding and it is becoming harder to discern where are we going, where are we being led? And where is the alignment in our world with the voice that calls us ‘children of God’? Where does the whole align with that calling?

Today, as we celebrate a hundred and fifty years of the Diocese of Perth, it probably is a good time as I said earlier, to just give a passing thought to the movements that have been realised. A hundred and fifty years ago there was an opening up of this land, a building up, a creation of opportunities and an encouraging invitation to people of many different lands and many different cultures to participate. Equally there was a cost to all that. Today, a hundred and fifty years on, we live in a different world, a world that is filled with fear and that withholds or cancels visas in order to protect what it has. The shifts that we see, happen almost without our seeing because our seeing is constantly distracted in the modern world.

If we move on to the second reading, what we find in Paul is almost a progression or a later development of the prophetic voice. Paul provides us with an appreciation or an illustration of living out those transitional dreams. The prophetic insight is given grounding in the every day – this is not something just to be spoken of in temples, rather, this is to be lived. And although the reading that we had this morning from Colossians is specifically written to the emerging church in Colossiai, and is written for specific reasons to address specific issues, what we find is that within it Paul’s teaching makes real the prophetic truth that is there in every age. You can almost run through this text with a highlight pen and see Paul’s grounding - the truth and the vision that he’s seen - grounding it into the every day. In verse 6, ‘you have received Christ, live in Christ’; verse 7, ‘your lives rooted and built up in Christ’; verse 8, ‘see no one takes you captive’; verse 10, ‘Come to fullness in Christ. Christ is the head of every ruler and authority’. Paul then goes on to provide two pairs of reference points to identify or to take bearings for our life’s transitions. In verse 12 we have, ‘buried in baptism, raised in faith and power’, and in verse 13, ‘dead in trespasses, alive together with God’. And from verse13 on he continues to explore the implications of those insights and points towards our growing up in a way, as it says in verse 19, that ‘grows with a growth that is from God’.

The Gospel then becomes quite apt, because what the Gospel narrative then does is it provides us with a starting point, a starting point for our prophetic transition: how do I move into that place of insight? And having seen, how do I ground that in the every day? We can stand aside from it and ponder it, or as the Gospel does, the Gospel provides us with an entry point into it. Using the disciples’ question, we find that the entry point is, ‘Lord teach us to pray’. And before we get to that question, we’re already given that illustration by the fact that Jesus was praying. I always think at this point that the Biblical literalists get totally confused, because if Jesus was praying and ‘I and the Father are one’, then surely all he was doing was talking to himself. The fact that Jesus prays, the fact that Luke captures that in the Gospel and uses that to provide, to set the scene for the disciples to ask a question of such import, means that it is itself an important point to get. Jesus is fully human, Jesus is fully divine, Jesus is fully alive, in prayer. The disciples’ question, ‘Lord teach us to pray’, is their entry point into realising that same fullness. The disciples don’t want a Sunday School lesson; what they’re asking is, ‘Lord, I too want to be fully human, fully divine, fully alive. Teach me the path that you walk.’

Prayer takes many different forms and Jesus then teaches them a mantra, the Lord’s Prayer. It is a mantra for orientation, it is a compass, it is a direction, and following the giving of a mantra, which is like the plumb-line that we heard of a few Sundays ago; it’s the place, it’s the cornerstone, it’s the starting point. It’s like a line on which we will find prayers that are spoken from us and to us, and having given the mantra he then tells those two unusual stories that follow. Now what he’s doing there is he’s teaching the process of prayer – ‘Here is a mantra, now I’ll teach you the process of prayer.’ He’s not filling them up with words, he’s not giving them a rulebook and paramount which we learn from the story, paramount in prayer is persistence. Paul got that – over and over again we hear in Paul, ‘Pray without ceasing’. Paul constantly comes back from prayer and constantly goes forward from prayer. And what we learn from the Gospel is that in prayer we are to ask: ‘ask and it will be given’; and we are to seek or to search – ‘seek and you will find’; we are to knock on the door and the door will be opened. So one of the ways that we may reflect on our own life transition is to consider the outcomes that have been identified in the Gospel. Ask of yourself, what have I received from the divine? What have I found in my searching for the divine? What has been opened for me?

As we look at today’s teaching on the prophetic transition into fullness of life, we might also contemplate the last hundred and fifty years of our life, our life as the body of Christ. We might wonder, are we stuck between those reference points that Paul gave – are we stuck between baptism and resurrection? I would say if we looked at the history of the Diocese of Perth, and wound that back and looked at the history of the Church we would find it stuck between baptism and resurrection, forever asking, forever searching, forever knocking. And that leads us to wonder then, are we unaware, or worse still are we unexpectant of outcomes? Are we unaware and unexpectant of what is given? What is given? The revelation of the divine in Christ is that all is given and so ‘greater things than these you will do’. What is found, what is found? If we’re looking, are we not seeing the wood for the trees? And what is opened, because in the culture that we live we are constantly being asked, constantly being asked, to ignore or reject that which is divine. The Church is the same as the world in that position, caught between the promise of baptism and the realisation of resurrection, [loud ringtone] …….distracted, forever.

Peter Humphris