Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Mike Turgeon “A Summer of prayer: “Silence” July 10, 2011
‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.
Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!‘ Matthew 13:1-9
A Summer of prayer: “Silence”
In beginning our series on prayer last week, we started to focus on inner purpose and outer purpose, the journey inward and the journey outward. These two journey depend on each other because they both contribute to a balanced life. Of the two, your inner purpose is a higher priority. For those who may have missed it last week, your inner purpose is quite simple--remain alert to God’s presence.
I know this is going to sound simplistic, but one of our greatest struggles in life is learning to put first things first. Inner purpose before outer purpose. It is like the difference between a clock and a compass.
A clock represents our commitments, appointments, schedules, goals, activities--what we do with, and how we manage our time.
A compass represents our vision, values, principles, mission, conscience, direction--what we know to be important, and how we lead our lives.
The struggle comes when we sense a gap between the clock and the compass--when what we do doesn’t contribute to what is most important in our lives. Are you with me? The analogy of clock and compass originates from Steven Covey, the man who wrote the Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People. You have likely at least heard the title of that book.
Effective! What does that mean? Successful? Persuasive? Actually, by effective, Covey means balanced. Ordering your priorities and maintaining respect for them.
Our parable this morning certainly speaks to balanced priorities. The un-rooted seed gets eaten, scorched and choked. God’s word never has a chance. Only when the seed, the word of God, lands on properly cultivated soil, are the seeds able to go deep and settle themselves in order to be transformed into their outer purpose.
The garden giveth
I used to be a really, really avid gardener. I’m talking back in a previous life, not most recent previous but about 3 previous ago. I was obsessed with gardening, now I just like to turn dirt over. Because I like to dig, I’m quite useful to my wife who is the real gardner in our family. I would say I am invaluable to her in the garden maybe twice a year.
But back when I was really into it, I would experiment a lot and not all these experiments turned out well. One of the worst experiments I recall was that week when I planted the seeds of some new crop, a turnip or something, don’t remember. That was on a Sunday afternoon. Well, about 3 days later, I came home from work and my curiosity got the better of me. I went and dug up the seeds to see if they had sprouted yet. As I said, that experiment was one of my most glorious failures. I wasn’t willing to let the seeds settle into their inner purpose.
Just as there is an ordered priority to the cycle of life in the garden, there is priority to God’s purpose for us.
It is the rootedness of the grain seed Jesus is talking about that allows a fruitful yield. Everything about the wheat stalks above the ground reflect the genetic codes embedded in the seed but also the wheat stalks above ground reflect the environment in which the seed is hosted. This is a perfect example of how inner purpose blossoms into outer purpose. Our wheat will wave in the wind, if you will, when we remain aware and awake to God’s presence. This is known as prayer.
As much as our impatience would like to drives us, there are no shortcuts to a life of meaning and purpose.
Seven chapters earlier in Matthew, when he preached the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us another example of the balance of inner and outer purpose when he said:
“...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin..”
When we practice balance of purpose by entering into a praying relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we start to let go of the struggle between clock and compass; we become more lily-like.
I find it instructive that the first word and the last word of the parable of the sower and the seed is “listen,” don’t you?
“Let anyone with ears listen!”
Makes me wonder what was going on in Matthew’s world back then. What was the reading on the noise and static level in his time? I believe something was afoot, the chaos of a world in turmoil existed; perhaps times have not changed as radically as we sometimes think, for we also hear this in Chapter 6:
“...whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret...” Matthew 6:6a
Can you remember the last time you did this? I’ll bet there is one or two of you who prayer like this this morning. There may be one or two of you who have never done this. Most of us are in between somewhere.
A Summer of prayer: “Silence”
We have a second text as well this morning, one from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. It is from the First Book of Kings. It is part of the tale of God’s prophet, Elijah, the same Elijah our kids encountered in the Vacation Bible School a couple of weeks ago. Elijah is now the last prophet standing in all of Israel. Imagine what that must have been like. To say that Elijah was seeking his purpose would be a severe understatement. He was on the run from the wicked Queen Jezebel.
He was so at the end of his rope, so frazzled after having slain the 450 prophets of Baal, after having confronted the mighty warrior Ahab, after doing verbal combat in the royal court with the conniving Queen, (ever had a day like that?), Elijah was about up to here.
What did Elijah do? He lay down under a broom tree and was prepared to die, he said “God, take me, I’m yours, I’m done.” Yes, Elijah was quite the little drama queen himself.
Then Elijah started Twitter-ing and Facebook-ing to whine into the cyber-space for a couple of hours. No, wait, that’s not right.
What happened next? An angel touched Elijah and said, “Get up, eat something, God is not done with you yet.”
Now that’s not what we want to hear is it? God, just let me do my own thing here. I’m running myself ragged. Sometimes you do make it onto my to-do list, God. Not often, but I think about you here and there, now and then.
Elijah’s early retirement plan didn’t cut it with God. God’s angel said: ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’
“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.” I Kings 19:11-13
Silence is golden
It was in the silence that Elijah was able to hear God most clearly. Indeed, God was not through with him yet. He received a deeper understanding of his purpose. After encountering God in the silence, he was able to clearly step into his outer purpose, he went out and passed God’s blessing on to Elisha, God’s new prophet to Israel.
God’s call came at the most unexpected time and in the most unexpected way. Would Elijah have even heard it were it not for the silence?
It is in silence where listening for God’s direction may take place.
In answer to all the frenzied seeking and questioning aimed at determining your life’s meaning, let me say once again, ‘be a lily.’ Let go of your toil and spin. Silent prayer may sometimes be your best approach to life. In silence, listening may occur.
A man took his small son to run some errands and they stopped at a familiar diner for lunch. The father sat down at the counter and lifted the boy up next to him. They ordered lunch, and when the waiter brought the food, the father said, "Son, we'll just have a silent prayer." Dad got through praying first and waited for the boy to finish his prayer, but he just sat with his head bowed for quite a long time. When he finally looked up, his father asked him, "What in the world were you praying about all that time?" With the innocence and honesty of a child, he replied, "How do I know? It was a silent prayer."
Why would we even bother to preach silent prayer, particularly in a world that has thoroughly abandoned silence and prayer? Only one reason, because it is our inner purpose. We are not merely a collection of individuals, we are the body of Christ. Embedded in the church’s DNA is prayer as it’s foundation.
Our mission, our direction, our compass guides us to be in continual dialogue with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. To pray, to remain awake and alert to God’s presence is to walk our talk. From this place of balance, we will effortlessly be led to our outer purpose. May we constantly do so with God’s grace.