Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time and last week my attempts to record the service failed. Well, we do the best we can. But last week I was talking about what do we do to grow closer to God, what are things that we can do. I want to continue that idea this week, especially since it’s lost somewhere in my computer. What do we do to grow closer to God? Last week I said there are things that we can do: read the Bible and pray. It’s simple. It’s not easy to do. Like so many things that are really the most important things we can do, they’re very simple and yet they are difficult. This is a reason why God is so forgiving, why He’s so lenient.
I read from of the Book of Wisdom a few minutes ago and it talks about God’s lenience and God’s forgiveness. God is that way. God created us, He knows how weak we are. He knows our failings better than we know them ourselves. It is hard, and, no, we don’t have to be perfect. But we can try – and trying yields results. I want to talk more about prayer this week.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans that we read from today, says we don’t know how to pray. That’s okay, because as I said a moment ago, we’re fallible. God knows that about us. We are fallible. We know that we can rely on God’s justice and mercy. We know that God will respond to our prayers. But what do we pray when we pray?
I was thinking what to say about it and I will tell you the kinds of things that I pray when I pray. Sometimes the most powerful prayers, I think, that I have are what one of our readings describes as an “inexpressible groaning”. That wasn’t talking about prayer, but that’s really the most powerful prayer that I experience. Sometimes it’s when I realize my own fallen nature that I feel closest to God. When I express that in prayer, not with words, but simply with acknowledgment of that reality of my fallen state and my imperfection. Sometimes when I pray, I pray for myself, not for specific things but for God’s guidance. I ask God for knowledge of His will for me and I ask for the strength and the courage to do that, whatever it is. Sometimes when I have a particular problem I’m dealing with, I just give it to God. If it’s something where I know that I’m going to struggle with this, I give it to God. I say, God, I’m giving this to you, I’m going to let you have this. Please take this away from me. God does answer those prayers. Why don’t I ask God for something like winning the lottery or something like that? Well, I don’t know if that’s what I need to have. Maybe. Maybe not. So I don’t ask for particular things like that, because I really don’t know. I think that praying for knowledge of God’s will is sufficient to cover those things. I don’t play the lottery, but if God wants me to win the lottery then God would give me the knowledge that I should do that and would let that happen. But I don’t pray for particular things like that, but sometimes when I pray for other people I do. If I know that a friend or a parishioner is struggling with something, I will pray for that person that God watch over them in that particular problem. I will do that. Those are the kinds of things that I pray. I say traditional prayers as the predominant thing that I do, from Psalms and other traditional prayers. Those are ways that I do that. You don’t have to do it that way. You can try anything you want.
But I do think that Paul’s message about we don’t know how to pray goes to that. We often are tempted to pray for a particular thing, and it may or may not be the very thing that we need. I find myself that those kind of general petitions to God, of knowledge for His will and the strength to do it, and sometimes that kind of groaning of the spirit to God, those are the kinds of prayers that I typically do.
One thing that prayer does for me, it reminds me that I’m not alone in this. That I have one who is much more powerful than me behind me and watching over me. Prayer does so much for us when we do that. We realize that we’re not in this by ourselves and we also learn that God does the hard part. I often say that, but it’s true, God does the heavy lifting. If I ask God, daily, to change me, God will do that. And I don’t have to have the strength to change myself, because I really don’t have it. God has it. But I can borrow God’s power. God can give me His power and enable me to do that.
Again, the reading today from the Book of Wisdom, which incidentally is one of the deuterocanonical texts, meant for teaching, for edification, to help us learn more about how to live in this world, but it tells us a great deal about our relationship to God. I’ll read it, because it bears reading again: “Though you are a master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you.” God has the power to do what needs to be done in us and around us. We can rely on that. We’re not in it by ourselves. God does the heavy lifting. We can count on that.
But above all, when we pray, we are inviting God into our lives and making Him present in us. Then our prayer becomes God’s prayer. Let me say that again: when we invite God into us, God becomes present in us. The spirit of God dwells in us and then our prayers to God become God’s prayers for us. We enter into an intimate relationship with God through prayer. We become one with God in that sense. The Spirit of God dwells in us – and we dwell in Him.
That’s a part of our liturgy, when we talk about Christ dwelling in us and we in Him. This is why we come each week to receive the Eucharist. It really shows us the spiritual presence of God in the Eucharist and within ourselves.
Now, more about what this does for us. I think the Gospel message illustrates what I’m talking about, what prayer does for us. In the Gospel today, there are three parables, all about growth. In one way or another, they all relate to something growing. The first is the parable of the wheat and the weeds. I’ll talk about these more in a second. The second is about the mustard seed that grows into the big bush, and then finally the third about the yeast being put into the dough to make bread. In each of these parables, the “thing” that’s the central concept, grows into what it really is. The mustard seed, which Jesus uses a few times in the Gospels to illustrate the Kingdom of God, starts out as a really small seed. It starts out as a small thing, but it grows into a really big, beautiful tree. I was looking this morning, just to see what they look like when they grow, it’s a bush, but it really is a tree. If you saw fully grown one, it would be about 20 feet tall and about 20 feet across, so it’s a bush, but it really is a big, pretty tree. And it starts out as a little tiny thing. The yeast being put into the dough; the woman in the parable kneads the dough, He says, until the yeast is dispersed and spread throughout the dough, so now it’s going to become leavened bread. So the little seed grows up into the big pretty tree. The yeast spreads throughout the dough until the dough becomes the leavened bread, and then, finally, the one about the wheat and the weeds. The key thing I think to underscore there is: be the wheat, not the weeds! We don’t want to be the weeds. We don’t want to grow up into something that’s really contrary to God. We want to grow up into what God intends for us to be. And there is something we can do to make all that happen in our lives: read Scripture and pray. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It doesn’t even have to be very time-consuming, but if we spend a few minutes each day with Scripture and prayer, we will grow closer to God. It will happen. We just have to keep doing it. And in doing that we will grow spiritually into the person that God created us to be. Just like the little mustard seed will grow into the big pretty tree that God created it to be.