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A Sermon on ” Approaching God in Stillness peached by Rev Jane Keiller at Eynesbury Church 26/2/2012

On Sunday February 25th the first of our St Neots Deanery Evensongs was held  at St Marys Church in Eynesbury.  The sermon was preached by Rev Jane Keiller who is Chaplain at Ridley Hall. The theme was ” Approaching God through stillness”

Jane has kindly agreed to her sermon being reproduced on this blog and I hope that those reading it will find it a useful addition to their Lenten reflections.

At the bottom of the  text, I will list the forthcoming  St Neots Deanery Evensongs and the themes.

Anyone will be most welcome to join us.

St Neot’s Deanery

St Mary’s Eynesbury

February 26th 2012

Approaching God in Stillness: Psalm 46; 1 Kings 19:9-13a; Matthew 6:6-13

Lord, prayer is your gift to us.

This Lenten time, teach us to pray.

 

There were once three brothers who lived with their father. After he had died, they wondered about their future. The eldest said, “I’m off to give health to the world.” The second said, “I’m off to spread education round the world.” And the third said, “I’m staying here.”

A few years passed and the eldest brother came back saying, “I am exhausted and dis-eased.” The second came back too and said, “I am weary and confused.” And the third one said, “I’m going to get some water from the river.”

He came back with a bowl full of water. It was dark and murky, but he asked his brothers to sit around it and wait. Gradually the water settled, and the mud fell to the bottom. In fact the water became so clear that the brothers could see their faces reflected in it. The peace of the stillness enveloped them.

“You see,” said the youngest brother, “It is only when you are still enough to know your own faces, that you can hear what God wants of you. Only then can you act in God’s power.” (1)

We are thinking tonight at the beginning of this Lent series on prayer about coming to God in stillness. As the psalmist tells us to listen to God’s invitation – “Be still and know that I am God.” But it can be easier said than done. I am reminded of something I discovered quite recently, the Chinese word for ‘busy’ is made up of two characters. The first means ‘heart’ or ‘mind’, the other means ‘lost’.

We live in a world where everything happens very fast and all the time. E-mail and mobile phones make it almost impossible for us to “get away from it all”; 24 hour shopping and the internet pressurise us to fit more and more into our lives. It is all too easy to understand the logic of those Chinese characters and to recognise how murky is the water of our minds.

So let’s take some time now

to hear again God’s invitation to come to him in stillness

to consider what happens when we pray in this way and then finally

to think how we might go about it.

So first of all the invitation

I am struck by the promises in scripture where God offers his people rest:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

‘In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and trust shall be your strength.’ (Isaiah 30:15)

or

Thus says the Lord:

‘Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls,’ (Jeremiah 6:16)

They remind me of Jesus’ invitation, to all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, to come to him for rest. (Matthew 11:28) Perhaps our Old Testament passage gives us the clue. Elijah, exhausted, afraid and alone is told that the Lord is about to meet him in a special way. But although he is treated to the dramas of a mighty wind, an earthquake and fire it is the sound of sheer silence that causes him to cover his head. It is in the silence that God speaks to Elijah, it is in the silence that his fears are allayed and he learns what he must do next. Hear is peace – maybe not the kind of peace that we might long for at the end of a long day – but certainly peace of mind. Peace – peace with God, peace in our hearts.

And perhaps that is the greatest gift for us when we pray in stillness For when we are quiet we too can listen and God is endlessly communicating. For some of us the scriptures will be the place we turn to listen to him, and of course he makes himself known in the Eucharist and in creation, but he also speaks through that still small voice, that inner knowing.

One writer describes it like this:

God comes to us precisely in and through our thoughts, perceptions and experiences, and we can approach our conscious life only through them, for they are the substance of our lives. We are therefore to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) God’s gracious incursions into our soul can make our thoughts his thoughts. He will help us learn to distinguish when the thought is ours alone and when it is also his. (Dallas Willard, Hearing God, (London, Harper Collins, 1999, p. 93)

I read an example of this recently. A widower used to cook his supper and then take it to eat in front of the television. One day he decided he would sit at the table and he laid two places and lit a candle in the other place. He found himself talking to Jesus about his day. Then the idea came into his head to invite a neighbour for supper – also a widower; they scarcely knew each other. But the neighbour was delighted and told his host; “You asking me round has been an answered prayer.”

God wants to communicate with us and when we are still, we are more likely to hear his voice.

So how do we let the murky water of our own lives settle? It is so easy to be endlessly preoccupied. However, it has been said the ‘the path of God leads through the very middle of my most daily routine.’ (Sue Monk Kidd, God’s Joyful Surprise (Hodder & Stoughton, 1999), p 117)  How can we help ourselves to find that place of stillness, where we can listen? Where we can hear God in the silence?

The little leaflet you were given when you came in with Some Helps for Stillness might be a start. Spiritual teachers down the centuries have taught that there are some simple tools that can help lead us into place of stillness. Our bodies, minds and spirits can all be used in this way. They are with us always and can become means of settling and focus so that we can be open to God’s presence and less distracted.

Let me also mention the elderly lady Metropolitan Anthony Bloom describes as using her knitting to help fend off distractions when she prayed. Or the missionary – John Colman – imprisoned in Iran who described how every morning he would stand, holding his hands like a cup and say simply “Lord, whatever happens to me today I will receive it as from you.” In the silence of his isolation, his hands made his prayer of submission and self-offering.

Silence can of course be uncomfortable. The American pastor Steve Smith (in his book, Embracing Soul Care) describes what happened when he left 5 minutes of silence in a Sunday service

For many it was difficult. For some, it seemed like forever.

After the service a woman said to me angrily, “I don’t like it when you make us be still and quiet.”

I asked, “Why is that?”

“When I am quiet and still, I begin to have bad thoughts.”

I couldn’t let that go, so I asked, “What bad thoughts do you have when you are still?” I was unprepared for her honest and courageous response. “When you made us be still, I started thinking of how unhappy I am and how miserable I am in my marriage.”

We can learn important things about ourselves when we come before God in the silence. Many of us find, when we try to be still, that we are distracted by anxieties or worries; things that have happened or things to come. A favourite verse of scripture can help us to concentrate.   “You are my rock and my salvation” or “Be still and know that I am God” from our psalm tonight would be ideal.

Over the years, I have found that the surest way for me of finding stillness is that ancient prayer known as The Jesus Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner. It is an amalgamation of the prayer of the Tax Collector in Jesus parable in Luke 10 and the cry of Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10. It has a wonderful capacity to bring racing thoughts under control, to calm fears and silence inner arguments.  But it can also be a way of lifting myself before God in prayer or others who are on my heart – family, friends, people who have asked me to pray for them and also of course for the needs of the world that can so easily overwhelm.

Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on the people of Syria,

Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on that homeless man I saw this afternoon.

Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on …

Who is on your heart this evening?

What story in the news has filled you with compassion?

My preferred way of being still is sitting, but there are times when I am so agitated that I can hardly bear to keep still and walking with a holding cross in my pocket can help to settle the mud.

Perhaps this Lent we can take a few minutes each day to listen to the psalmist’s reminder  “Be still and know that I am God.” And keep in mind the words of the younger son in the story I began with, “It is only when you are still enough to know your own faces, that you can hear what God wants of you. Only then can you act in God’s power.”

(1) Wanda Nash, Simple Tools for Stillness, (Grove Spirituality Series S29) page 4

Sunday March 4th at 6pm – at Everton Church:  “ Approaching God through sport and leisure” Speaker Helen Wright from The Kings School, Ely also  “More Than Gold” Eastern Region Co-ordinator.

 Sunday March 11th at 6pm at Great Staughton. Rev’d Scott Watts Chaplain at Hinchinbrook Hospital. “Approaching God through suffering”

 Sunday March 25th at 6pm at St Marys Buckden   Father Chris Newman “Approaching   God in the Roman Catholic Tradition”

February 28, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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