Through our faith in the redeeming work of the cross; the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, do we have authority in creation, together with the Father, Son and Spirit? Is this the mystery of prayer: from the beginning, not only did we have dominion through technology and culture, we had dominion in the spiritual realm? Is our prayer of faith an exercise of the original authority given to us at creation? Is our prayer preparation for heavenly authority in the age to come? Is the outworking of God’s loving kindness that he only works through prayer? Are all prayers answered by God through the glorification of love and the defeat of principalities and powers through the way of love?
Love is defined by scripture as sacrificial, non-coercive and enemy loving. Love doesn’t hold a record of wrongs and does not insist on its way.
Matthew 5:43-46 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
Matthew 22:37-40 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
God is beyond anything we might understand. God’s love extends beyond what is revealed in these scriptures; beyond our conception. God is good, he is loving, and he is steadfast, in ways we cannot limit by what we may comprehend. God is faithful and has made a space for creation in which he may be glorified and pour out love. God cannot become more loving, he is complete love and in creation love is perfected. Love is freely given and freely received. This is what is essential, God has formed creation so that love is perfected. Love can be no less than what God says it is in the scriptures.
God is One, Father, Son and Spirit and is love. All creation is in God. God creates a space for love to be poured out and to draw in humanity. Humanity is made in the image of God, but we are not gods. God prepares humanity to love and be loved, to hear his voice and to choose to follow the narrow way of love. Christ, the eternal Son, is made flesh, in the form of the man Jesus. Through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection humanity is perfected in love. Christ came fully human so that we may be restored to our full humanity and original blessing. This event in time is for all time true, the eternal sacrifice revealed to us.
We are privileged to see and know this mystery. God shows us in Christ the dominion we have through faith and teaches us to ask. Christ forms our hearts so that he is in us, lives within us, and the words we hear are the words we speak. Our hearts are sanctified, trained in holiness, as we confess with our lips that Jesus is LORD.
The mystery of prayer is that God promises to work as we pray. Where people pray, the rule of God formed in people’s hearts, releases God’s blessing power in love. God does not force himself on creation but gifts humanity with dominion in the heavenly realm and on the Earth. This authority is the authority Jesus, who is fully human, exercises. We are called to exercise authority through prayer. God is alive and active and willing to exercise power, through the prayers of the faithful. This is the mystery of prayer, that we are to subdue creation through prayer.
The way the world is, is because of prayer and the neglect of prayer. We are called to labour in prayer as much as we are called to rule the creation and subdue it. Prayer is the power of the work of our hands and prayer defeats the work of the evil one, putting him to flight. Deliver us from evil, Jesus teaches us to pray.
Prayer begins with praise and worship; Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name! Your kingdom come your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven! Prayer continues, formed in the knowledge of the Holy.
In naming the One who brings blessing and the blessings he brings, our prayer gains content. We need to rest in the still small voice that speaks; in the thunder that proclaims. Each moment has purpose, and, in each moment, we are invited to choose life. Our purpose is to be gathered to God in the fulness of time. Where there is opposition we go deeper; where there is pain we experience pain and pray the more. This is the battle.
The battle is won on the cross. From the beginning, the Word, the lamb who is slain is slaughtered. In creation, there is forgiveness. From the beginning, this forgiveness is found in sacrifice, the victim is the life of the one seeking atonement; more than a substitute.
Genesis 22:11-13 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
Hebrews 11:17-20 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
Notice how Abraham chooses to sacrifice the ram to fulfil the command of God. It was not a command of God to sacrifice the ram. The sacrifice of the ram fulfilled the command of God to sacrifice Isaac. The ram was more than a substitute it was the life of Isaac. Figuratively, Isaac experienced resurrection.
The ritual of the sacrifice of an innocent victim in the place of the sinner covered sin through perfect love and the sabbath sacrifice brought peace. This ritual expressed the revelation of the Word, made sin for our healing. Satan perverts this ritual to include human sacrifice to include child sacrifice which is the work of the destroyer. Satan contorts the image away from the forgiveness at its centre, the reality in the heavenlies.
God says from the beginning,
Genesis 9:4-5 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning…
From the beginning, humanity is without sin, flesh is not eaten and able to choose life or choose death. Humanity chooses death and surrenders dominion to Satan. This is our story; we fall short of the glory prepared for us and we sin, becoming slaves to Satan.
In the fulness of time, forgiveness is revealed in Jesus. Jesus is fully human and Christ. Jesus is fully God. Only God is good and in Jesus’ life this goodness was perfected. Humanity through sin gives up its dominion but, in Jesus, humanity is redeemed and exerts its dominion. All hell breaks out to bring Jesus down. His life is a battle, as he draws all sin to himself, but he is without sin. He resists temptation. The fury of hell brings Jesus to the cross. The penalty of sin is death. Jesus has not sinned. All sin is put upon him and the wrath of God, his incandescent anger for the victims of sin and the perpetrators of evil and iniquity; those who sully the glory that is humanity. Wrath is poured out on Jesus by the Father as in Jesus God bears the sin of the world. Jesus the innocent victim is more than a substitute for all humanity and he becomes sin. God suffers the anguish of sin, the separation of sin and the wrath of the Father, as Satan seeks the downfall of Jesus and Jesus is slaughtered. Jesus is innocent of sin to the last and Satan who holds the keys of death and hell, slaughters the innocent lamb of God.
In this one act Satan is vanquished- death is the penalty of sin. Jesus did not sin.
In taking the life blood of Jesus, death is sanctified, and death no longer has dominion; the penalty is annulled. The keys of death and hell are relinquished and revealed to be in the hands of Christ from the beginning. All forgiveness is found in him. The truth is revealed that God takes upon himself our sin so that we might walk free. Love is perfected in Christ, in whom all sacrifice ends. Christ, the fulness of God, in whom we live and breathe and have our being, frees us from sin by grace through faith. The ground of humanity’s faith is the goodness of God revealed in the victory of the cross.
In death, Jesus regains dominion for all humanity in all time. The resurrection restores humanity and is the first fruits of what is to come. In Jesus’ sacrifice we gain our life, a life without end. We are new creations in Christ, a bride being prepared for the Son, filled with the Spirit. Let us pray in the knowledge of the victory of Christ our Saviour who restores all authority in Heaven and on Earth to humanity for the praise of his glorious name.
Did a prayer meeting really bring down the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War? http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/24661333
World Prayer News https://www.globalconnections.org.uk/prayer
Moving from the season of darkness into the promise of the returning spring, the lengthening days, gives us a prod to consider the old and contemplate the new, enriching the present. In our small, chapel meeting we contemplated what we had been doing and what we might do. The conversation started from an idea that examining the year was a good practice, just as examining our day in an Ignatian contemplation is.
The practice of being present in our lives, grounds itself in the truth that we are loved and blessed in God and asks the Spirit to reveal to us, firstly, a time of consolation; to enrich our imaginations with the source of this consolation. The practice moves on to invite the Spirit to reveal a time of desolation, to enlighten our imaginations with wisdom grounded in love and consolation. Then, routed in blessing, we allow the light of Christ to show us the way and rest in prayer, imagining the good.
The lengthening of the days and the promise of life and abundant light, calls us to hope. A practice that was shared amongst those gathered, was of putting a pebble in a jar when we felt particularly blessed so that on the days we felt that all was desolation we could look at the jar and draw comfort. What if on the days when we received a word of hope we were to write it on one of the stones? We could then pour out the pebbles when we were feeling low and search for the words of hope and allow them to kindle hope. What if we were to fill the jar to the brim with water so that every time we added a pebble the water flowed over?
For some of us the thought of this practice might appear exhausting. Maybe we could just make a practice of lighting a candle at the same time at the end of the day. In the dark times there is a light shining. There is a light within us and we can see the light shining all around us. We are gifted with creation and the mystery of goodness draws out of us a sense of the power of love; compassion, mercy, steadfastness. The light of creation and our creative looking embodies hope in our hearts. Our faith is that God is good; he is love. Just light a candle.
Yet, look at me; look at my lived life. Look around. Is there hope? Do not be overcome. Breath. Yes, hope is in the breath that I breathe, in the glimmer on the edge of the horizon. Beyond and very near; a gust of wind. The presence of God. Be lead. In this I can rest; God is good. He is calling me to peace, to joy. He is calling me to love.
Joy to the world? Looking within I discover dark places.
But some of those dark places are quiet and comforting, places of birth, places of security where God is knitting me together. Wherever each of us is, whatever the present darkness, there is also a darkness that comforts, a place of intimacy and secure solitude. Find joy in the comfort of solitude, in the silence of a lover, and allow the light to bring you to new birth, calling you out, grounded in security, to walk in faith. Be kind, be fully human just as Jesus our Lord is fully human, not ruled by world but in the world. Become joy in the world.
Put out the candle.
Think into this time of new beginnings. In the beginning, Eve was formed in Adam. The whole of humanity taken from one humanity sharing the breath of life with all life, from a humble micro-organism to the majestic ant. Jesus is the second Adam, formed in Mary, taking his full humanity from her. The created is God, and draws breath in humanity. In this age of reason, here is the challenge, God forms God in the dark, secure womb of a vulnerable woman, Mary. God Almighty formed baby Jesus, as he did us.
Jesus was formed, a man from a woman. Does this mean Jesus is not like us? None of us were formed in this way. How then is Jesus fully human? Is this just a story? The message is that Jesus is fully human and fully God and calls us to partake in his divinity and become fully human. The questions about Jesus conception are unsettling. Don’t walk away from them, explore the mothering of God.
Indifference to the challenge of Jesus is as deathly as a bluster that can’t allow questioning. Embrace doubt. Don’t try to come up with an answer. Truth has many dimensions and layers and is bound up in the person of Jesus. Live with the uncertainty and discover that dark place of solitude where the light might shine. Find yourself shining the light of the God of Love. Be fully human; be the hands, feet and mouth of God. You are a child of God, a little one, the word become flesh, as Jesus is in the Father so are you in Jesus.
Allow the light to challenge your assumptions of power and entitlement to respect, your sense of importance; allow those dark places of fear and loss of control to be exposed. Sin is lodged in your fear. It closes the door on the divine. Our sense of entitlement, our attachment to the world, our sense of status is our rebellion. Prideful entitlement to respect and selfish attachment to our own certainties is the path to rage. Breathe. Let go. Embrace the challenge of not knowing if you are right.
Watch the smoke of the extinguished candle rise.
If your reactions are more visceral, putting pebbles in water, or lighting candles might not do!
Ian Adams in his book, Running over Rocks, Spiritual practices to transform tough times, suggests doing as the title indicates. The danger involved in running over rocks might be a better practice for you than gazing at water running over rocks!
This is my version of Ian Adam’s practice of Discovering Your Thankfulness.
Firstly, breathe in the joy of the day, reflecting on God’s providence, how at each moment there was a good choice to make; in an act of worship open your arms to accept God’s approval as you recall each moment. Take time to feel the times of wrong choices in the pit of your stomach, the fear or the hurt ego and clasp it. Clasp it tight as the wrong done to you or to others surfaces. Clasp it tight as you face up to problems in your family or with health, times of weakness, judging, unkindness. Feel the pull to despair and name it with groans. Acknowledge your anger then breathe and listen, letting go and asking God to enter in. He may answer in a whisper, and he may bring to mind the good Let your arms drop and open them up in an attitude of receiving, circling up to a cruciform shape receiving the silence and the comfort then run, walk, move out and live. This can be a momentary practice, done in one movement, a prayer to begin a time of activity, adding meaning to a work out. Even if you feel nothing you have turned to the light.
In all your practices, even if everything remains as it was, you have put yourself in that place of humility. Christ is born into the mess of poverty and dies a messy death at the hands of authority. Jesus is at home in the mess.
Jesus brings us from the darkness into the light.
10 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house,
11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. http://esv.to/Ps45.10-11
If indeed we can accommodate this psalm to be a song to Christ and us his bride, the church at the marriage feast, then apart from the imagery here is the wisdom we need.
We are made beautiful as we hear and listen to the voice of Jesus. This is what Jesus delights in from the beginning- our personal and intimate hearing of his voice. Jesus calls us away to be with him and turn from all other loves, family and position, standing and tradition; to embrace him fully, new creations held in his all consuming love. And held so, we can love as he loves.