A couple of weeks ago, NASA published the first images from the new James Webb Space Telescope beamed from two million miles away.
The telescope can see further into space, and therefore further back in time, than any other. It can see objects that were created 13.9 billion years ago near the dawn of time.
If you imagine holding out a grain of sand at arm’s length, this is the little tiny bit of sky you can see in this picture. Full of thousands of galaxies, revealing black holes and much more. With the telescope, scientists will find out more and more about our amazing universe in all its beauty.
It leaves us simply in awe at the sheer scale of the universe, just as the psalmist was two and a half thousand years ago or more when they wrote in Psalm 8 ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have ordained, what are mortals that you should be mindful of them? Mere human beings that you should seek them out?
Well, it’s a fair question to ask, isn’t it? How does God – Almighty, Creating God, Maker of all things seen and unseen – reach out to me and to you?
And in today’s psalm, 138, we hear something of a response, as the lived experience of the psalmist is shared:
“Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”
So, one of the central truths of our faith is that God knows us and answers our prayer, and that we can know what God is like because of Jesus Christ. Prayer connects the awesome bigness of God to our small human lives. But even so, I think if we’re honest most of us find prayer difficult at times. And we’ve all prayed earnestly for something and not felt God has answered it.
Today’s gospel is intended to help us with that. For all the times when our prayers fail, and we feel that God is distant, as well as for all the times when we feel truly heard and the Spirit dances within us, Jesus gives us his prayer.
In Jesus’ time, prayer was a regular habit for everyone – prayer on rising, on sleeping, when eating, when beginning work - every occasion had a prayer and the disciples would have known them. But they asked Jesus for a specific prayer they could use regularly that reflected his own teaching, and the Lord’s prayer was the result.
The Lord’s Prayer, sometimes called the Our Father, is used in every service we hold here, and most of us, I think, will know it by heart – if you don’t, maybe try to find time to learn it. The contemporary version we’ve used here for 45 years at the Eucharist is best to learn, though some of us will know the traditional version. Both are translations, of course, in any case.
The Our Father makes that deep connection we need when we pray.
Personally, I find the Lord’s Prayer one of the deepest moments in the Eucharist. As we prepare to come to communion we praise God, we pray for the kingdom to grow and for our needs, we ask forgiveness and pray for deliverance. It’s a fine preparation for receiving the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, I think.
And one of the joys of it is that we pray the Our Father together – that we are surrounded by prayer, as a community, and by the millions of Christians praying it around the world. And incidentally, if your first language is not English do be free to pray aloud in that language, for that celebrates our diversity and our sharing together. You may even like to raise your hands as the priest does, as a sign of that togetherness. I’ve known many churches where that happens.
So, the Our Father is a lovely encouragement and support for us, and yet… some of you might be struggling with prayer at the moment. Jesus says, ‘Ask and it will be given’?
When we desperately want something to change in our lives we want to ask and have it happen. But that’s not often how it is with God. Yet we do believe that God only wants good things for us, like any father does his children.
As we bring our concerns and intentions before God, what we’re doing is recalling them in God’s presence, and God’s response is to give us the Holy Spirit, as the gospel says. And the Spirit sustains us, comforts us, slowly changes us.
The Church of England says this about prayer on their website:
To pray is to make our hearts ready to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Praying regularly will help us to develop a spiritual rhythm. A discipline of prayer changes the way that we think about our lives, because it creates new habits of heart and mind. Prayer opens us more deeply to the transforming grace of God. We enter into God’s presence, allowing the Holy Spirit to pray in us.
So, as we work at our prayer life we slowly begin to be changed, and ready to handle the things that are going on for us, and we can pray that others might also be changed. As we pray that the Father’s name might be hallowed, holy-fied if you like, so we in turn are holy-fied by God.
And that process of “holification” – sanctification - continues throughout our lives. As we are deepened, we know the fulfilling joy and comfort of life in the power of the Spirit who sanctifies the whole universe of millions of galaxies, and also each one of us when we ask.
Derek Lancaster, Licensed Lay Minister