Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Proper 12, Year C”
July 24, 2016
Patricia Marks

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  +

Earlier this week, I walked outside to feed the birds in my usual place, under the crepe myrtle that has grown taller than, I suppose, crepe myrtles are supposed to grow in well-trimmed gardens. It’s a wild garden, I’ve been told!

In this place, the whole earth was singing—birds, with their myriad voices calling to one another, flowers speaking in the language of color, deep blue for the hydrangeas, yellow the zinnias, crimson for the roses. And all around, from treetop to grassy lawn, you could see the different shades of green, the deep emerald greens quietly crooning “I am wisdom—I have been planted here for a long time!” and the brand-new shoots reaching upward in their tender green garb, shouting in triumph, “Here I am! I am new life!”

I stood rooted to the ground, remembering the far-off sound of the wind and water on the holy island of Iona, where I went on pilgrimage; and remembering also the time I stood outside the time-worn walls of Penmon Abbey, a monastery in Wales. There, in the wee hours of the morning, on the green, green hills, the sheep were grazing, and the gentle rays of the sun held promise of new life among those ancient stones.

Standing in my own garden, I found myself planted in those holy places as well. So I quietly said a morning prayer—it’s one of my favorites. It comes from the Northumbria Community, which is in North-East England, and it embodies the Celtic belief in the sacredness of all places.

It begins this way:

One thing I have asked of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

This is what I seek. Perhaps we are all seeking something, all searching for health, or love, or happiness. Perhaps that is why many of us—like me—make daily lists. Let’s see . . . what do I need to do today? But even if everything is checked off, the next day—there’s another list. And we don’t always find what we want, or get what we want.

Recently we went to see Beauty and the Beast, the summer performance at VSU. You all know the story as it was adapted for film and stage: a wealthy, handsome prince refuses to give food to a hungry and ugly beggar-woman, who offers him in payment all she has—a single rose. The beggar-woman, a beautiful fairy in disguise, transforms the cold-hearted prince into what his pride has made him—a monster. She says that he can become a Prince again before the last petal falls from the rose, but only if someone will love him despite his beastly appearance.

The Prince goes into seclusion, and as he grows more mean-tempered, his entire household is slowly transformed as well. His servants grow into inanimate objects. Cogsworth becomes a walking clock, for instance, and the butler a lamp; the maid, Mrs. Potts, becomes a tea pot. Finally, a beautiful young girl named Belle comes to the castle to rescue her father, who is imprisoned there, and unselfishly offers herself as a hostage in his place. Eventually, Belle sees through the beast’s appearance and falls in love with the lonely and sad Prince inside. That transforms everyone.

What strikes me is that they are all—servants and Prince—searching for their humanity. It seems that a lack of charity, hardens the heart, saps one’s humanity, makes one into an object, not a human being. What we need is to know what to ask for and what to give.

And that, I think, is the point of Luke’s lesson. For once, the apostles weren’t arguing over who would get the throne next to Jesus. Rather, they make a very good request. “Teach us to pray,” they say.

In so doing, Jesus teaches them what really to ask for.  It’s not health, wealth, and happiness; it’s not power or possessions. No, rather it is “Give us each day our daily bread.”

This bread takes many shapes and forms. It is the loaf pulled fresh from the oven; it is the food on table and altar that we are so blessed to have; it is our family, our friends. It is what feeds us, body, mind and spirit. It is the Holy spirit.

Then, Jesus says, ask for forgiveness. And, he adds, we’ll get what we give. Don’t be like that Prince who refused to feed the beggar-woman. Open the door of your heart whenever someone knocks. Give a stranger a piece of bead, and get tenfold back. Forgive the meanness that someone has done, and your own meanness will vanish as well.

Finally, pray to be delivered from the time of trial, from temptation, from evil; pray to be delivered from seeing others as others, as objects, rather than as God-given brothers and sisters.

That prayer is life-changing for us, for everyone. And Jesus encourages us to ask again and again. We are to ask, and we will be given; to search, and we will find; to knock, and the door will be opened. We are, as Luke says, being offered the gift of the Holy Spirit. We only need ask.

I don’t know about you, but I want to ask for so much. I want the homeless man I met on the street to have a safe haven. I want to laugh and talk with the two friends who have died in the past couple of years; I want illness and pain to vanish and good will to enlighten the world. I want everyone to behold the beauty around them, to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

With all of that in mind, I invite you to pray the Northumbria prayer with me.

It begins, Who is it that you seek?
Response:     We seek the Lord our God.

Do you seek Him with all your heart?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.

Do you seek Him with all your soul?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.

Do you seek Him with all your mind?
Response: Amen. Lord, have mercy.

Do you seek Him with all your strength?
Response: Amen. Christ, have mercy.

In His Holy Name. +