Text of the sermon preached on Proper 27B (November 8, 2015) by the Rev. Katie Hargis at St. Cornelius’ Episcopal Church in Dodge City, KS.
1 Samuel 1:4-20
1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25
One of the interesting things about most seminaries(especially Episcopal seminaries) is the history behind their chapels. Except the small seminary chapel at Sewanee. Most seminary chapels have been worshipped in since that seminary was founded. 150 years or more. But Chapel of the Apostles,
affectionately called COTA by all in Sewanee, was only built in 2000. The architecture of it is much different than most churches, with the walls being made of glass so you are able to have a 360 degree view of the surrounding campus and forrest. One of the biggest complaints from my classmates was that it didn’t feel as if we were worshipping in as holy or valid of a space. There was just something different about saying our prayers in St. Luke’s Chapel, the old seminary chapel on campus, or All Saints Chapel, the large chapel for the entire campus. There is something to be said about kneeling in the same space as hundreds of others before you have for 150 years.
Many of us have felt this desire to kneel where prayer has been valid. For those of us who pray regularly, we may long to join our prayers to those who have gone before us. For those of us who have a hard time with prayer, we still somehow desire to kneel in that place where prayer has been valid. In either case, when we come into a place where truthful prayer has been made, many of us feel like falling to our knees.
People attend church services for a variety of reasons. The preaching. The music. The fellowship. The coffee hour. The stained glass windows. But one extremely important reason that people come to church, is to kneel in a place where prayer has been valid. Somehow, we want to put ourselves in that place where truthful prayer has been offered. Even when we feel like we don’t have the words ourselves, perhaps especially when we don’t have the words ourselves, we want to go to that place and receive the sustenance that comes from being in a place where prayer has been valid. Our churches are many things, but on thing that seems essential is that it has been and continues to be a place where truthful prayer is made.
In our canticle response in place of the Psalm from the Old Testament today from the First Book of Samuel, it begins with the simple statement, “Hannah prayed.”
It is such a simple statement, and yet is encompasses such depths that we will probably never fully fathom in this mortal flesh. Archbishop Michael Ramsey was once asked how long he prayed each day. He responded by saying, “Oh, I suppose only two or three minutes.” He then added that he had usually been at his prayers in chapel for an hour in order to get to that two or three minutes of prayer.
The Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer gives us a nice introduction to the principal kinds of prayer. This is helpful because often times we think of prayer as simply asking God for things. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that that’s not ok. These are indeed valid prayers, prayers of petition and intercession in which we bring before God our needs and the needs of others. However, the BCP deals with intercessions and petition only after explaining prayers of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, and oblation — and the order may be telling us something important. Perhaps there is a reason that adoration and praise and thanksgiving are at the top of the list.
The catechism in the English Book of Common Prayer says that the chief end of human beings is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Notice it does not say that the chief end of human beings is “to ask God for things and to keep asking for things forever.” It does not say “to confess our sins to God and to keep confessing our sins forever.” Rather, it says, “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” When all those other types of prayer pass away, adoration and praise of God will continue forever. As valid as all other types of prayer are, someday they will end. Someday all prayers will be encompasses by adoration and praise.
As the German theologian Gotthold Mueller wrote:
Praise of God…according to the witness of both Old and New Testaments is the only form of prayer enduring ‘from ages to ages.’ As with faith and hope, all other forms of prayer (petition, intercession) come to their eschatological fulfillment and so to an end. What ultimately endures is the praise of God which is, at the same time, the only true salvation of humankind and of the whole creation.
What then, is the chief end of human beings? To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
What is amazing about prayers of adoration and praise is not only that they will endure from age to age, but also that we can participate in these prayers right now. And Hannah, in our Old Testament reading for today, shows us how. Hannah’s prayer is a prayer of adoration and praise and thanksgiving. She prays, “My heart exults in the Lord.” Adoration. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one beside you; there is no Rock like our God.” Adoration and praise. “The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world.” Adoration and praise and thanksgiving. Hannah’s prayer then, now, and from age to age. Our prayers joined with Hannah’s then, now, and forever.
Richard Foster, in his book Prayer, says that adoration is:
not a special form of prayer, for all true prayer is saturated with it. It is the air in which prayer breaths, the sea in which prayer swims. In another sense, though, it is distinct from other kinds of prayer, for in adoration we enter the rarefied air of self-less devotion. We ask for nothing but to cherish him. We seek nothing but his exaltation. We focus on nothing but his goodness.
All true prayer is saturated with adoration.
We long to kneel in that place where prayer has been valid because in some way we know that when we do so we are joining in something that will endure from age to age. All true prayer that is saturated with adoration and praise and thanksgiving will endure forever.
Perhaps that is why people still come to church services today.
To join in the prayers of our forbears whose hearts exulted in the Lord, who praised God, and who gave thanks to God for his mighty acts of redemption.
To join in the prayers of all those ordinary and extraordinary saints who have gone before us who have lifted their hearts giving God their thanks and praise.
To join with the present company of the faithful, to add what God has done in our lives to the record of his mighty deeds in our own prayers of adoration and praise.
And to join our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven who forever sing hymns and proclaim the glory of God’s name.