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  • Rev. Annie McMillan

"Watch & Pray" Sunday Feb 18, 2024

These two passages are from the very beginning and then the very end of Jesus’ ministry: right after his baptism by John where the Spirit came down and alighted on him, and then in the Garden of Gethsemane right before Judas arrives to turn him over to those who will have him crucified. In each passage, Jesus is preparing for a new chapter in his life: the beginning of his ministry, and the end where suffering and death are around the corner. At both of these times, he needs to encounter God. He needs to pray!


But getting away to listen to God wasn’t necessarily easy. Jesus needed to seek God without distractions. So, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was sent into the wilderness to be alone and seek God’s will. And at the end, Jesus sought help through the solidarity and intercession that comes with others praying, and also went deeper into the garden to pray alone, knowing that he needed to be with his Heavenly Dad. Both times, Jesus sought to be alone with God.


Our own experiences might be a bit different but there can be plenty going on in life. Have you ever had a major turning point and needed to seek advice? Needed to figure out what to do next or how to proceed? Have you ever needed to get away to be able to seek God? Those moments come: times of uncertainty and desperation where we’re compelled to turn to the Lord.


Sometimes God gets lost in the routine of daily life, even when it’s those good things we do like volunteering and serving. We can get caught up in doing good as much as we can in regular life. And in all of that busyness, we can lose sight of God. Sometimes, that means we have to be intentional, making the conscious decision to seek God.


I know that I encounter God far more often when I’m intentional. In seminary, I met with a friend every morning to read scripture, journal, and pray together. Other times I’ve journaled as I read psalms and prayed through a devotional with my morning coffee. Or praying before and after reading my study bible as I worked my way through scripture. I didn’t always have an encounter with God- sometimes, even though I was intentional, I felt nothing. I didn’t really hear God speaking. But I was more likely to feel God’s presence when I was intentional than when I was going through the motions.


How might you be intentional about your walk with God? It could be as easy as turning your morning cup of coffee or tea into fifteen minutes of scripture and prayer. Maybe it’s keeping a devotional in your car if you tend to be early. Maybe it’s writing or drawing in a journal while you pray and read the bible. Or maybe it’s meeting with a friend to talk about the scriptures. When I met with my friend in seminary, we engaged in something called Lectio Divina- we read a scripture together three times, listening for different things in each reading. Come to the Spiritual Practices class on Wednesday in one of the rooms off of Stevenson at 5:30 to learn more about this spiritual practice- which is great in a group setting or individually. There is so much we can do to intentionally set ourselves in the presence of God.


But even when we're intentional, we can't hear very well if we do all of the talking. Sometimes, we need to sit in silence and listen. Whenever Jesus went off to pray, he would be gone for hours and more. He’s gone in the beginning for 40 days, and at Gethsemane he questions the disciples inability to stay awake for one hour before he goes back to pray again, even though we only hear a few words that he speaks. It seems safe to surmise that at least part of Christ’s time in prayer was spent in silence.

Meditation, also known as contemplative prayer, is a great way to open up our ears to hear instead of always talking in our conversations with God. It helps us quiet the mind and enter into God’s presence. One of the best ways to do contemplative prayer is to recite a short phrase or word known as a mantra that can draw our attention away from our own thoughts and concerns. Through sitting in the silence regularly, reciting a word or phrase that can help keep us attuned to God, we can “bring our distracted mind to stillness, silence, and attentiveness.” We’ll learn more about this spiritual practice during the Lenten study on March 7th.


In the meantime, is there a time when you can intentionally listen for God in silence? Maybe start by spending just 5 minutes sitting still, saying a simple phrase to help you remember God and then just listening: letting those distracted thoughts come and gently pushing them aside to return to silence and your chosen phrase. Because prayer is essential. As the 16th century theologian and mystic, Francis de Sales, wrote:

I strongly recommend to you prayer of the mind and of the heart, and especially that based on the life and passion of our Lord. By looking upon him often in meditation, your whole being will be filled with him.” [Just as children] learn to speak by constantly listening to their mothers and chattering to them; so we, remaining close to the Savior in meditation and observing his words, his actions, and his loving desires, shall learn with the help of his grace to speak, act and will like him.


Over this Lenten season, take some time to watch and pray, listening for God in silence, while also remembering the other ways God continues to speak to us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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