In the beginning was the Prayer Book – The Rev. Kathy Pfister – The Hill

December 31, 2017

    Some of you may have already heard the story of how I ended up in the Episcopal Church- but for those of you have not- I’ll spare you the details –but the long and short of it is- I got a job working as the youth minister for Trinity Church in New Orleans. Up until I got that job I wasn’t an Episcopalian, I wasn’t even much of a church go-er, in fact I was pretty suspicious of churches and organized religion in general.

    But the gig was better than my other job at the time, so I thought I’d do the job for a year or two and then go to grad school or something- but what can I say, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

    So at the age of 24, I found myself on staff at pretty big parish. On Tuesdays at 8am, the whole staff gathered in the chapel for morning prayer. I was a total neophyte. I didn’t really know a whole lot about the liturgy, or really a much about the church in general. But the staff was very generous and welcoming, and they showed me the ropes. And one of the Ropes- was the Prayer Book- The Book of Common Prayer, which we are attempting to use this morning, rather than a bulletin.

    And I remember holding that red, mysterious, well-loved book in my hands, and turning to page 80, week after week:

    Lord, Open our lips
    And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

    And so it was in the liturgy of Morning Prayer rather than the liturgy of the Eucharist- that I discovered this whole universe of meaning, and my spiritual journey began to take root in the Episcopal Church.

    The words were so astonishing beautiful- was both clarifying and mysterious at the same time. I found the words orienting, sense making, even when I didn’t fully understand what they meant- The best word I can think of to describe the experience is wooing- I was wooed by them.

    And because we have our prayer books today–I thought I’d share a few of my favorite sections with you-

    So turn to page 97. So the form for Morning Prayer is different than a Eucharist- in the Eucharist, the Eucharist is the main event- but in Morning Prayer the prayers are the main event. After the congregation says the Lord’s Prayer one of the suffrages is read.
    V. Show us your mercy, O Lord;
    R. And grant us your salvation.
    V. Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
    R. Let your people sing with joy.
    V. Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
    R. For only in you can we live in safety.
    V. Lord, keep this nation under your care;
    R. And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
    V. Let your way be known upon earth;
    R. Your saving health among all nations.
    V. Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
    R. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
    V. Create in us clean hearts, O God;
    R. And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.

    Now go to the top of page 101
    As you near the end of MP- a prayer for mission is offered- It’s a prayer that orients the pray-er back out into the world.

    Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on
    the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within
    the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit
    that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those
    who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for
    the honor of your Name. Amen.

    I had never heard anything so beautiful. One of the neatest things about morning prayer is that a lay person can preside/ officiate. And so eventually, I was invited to take a turn leading it. And that was really something too- to bid prayer, to guide a little group, to lend my voice in that way.

    My adjustment to life in the church didn’t come easily- I felt like an imposter half the time- but in this weekly rhythm. In this cadence. In this repetition. In the layering of meaning and wisdom. Something within me shifted, and settled down.

    In worship, I was allowed the privacy of my own thoughts so that the words took me where I needed to go within myself. No one needed tell me their meaning or what to think about them. Rather, they helped me make meaning of myself, my experience, my world, my life.

    And so this book of words, brought me into relationship with God, with the Living Word—and so I love it. I really love it. (The efficiency of the bulletin is good, and it is certainly easier for newcomers—but there is something lost in not getting this thing in people’s hands week after week.

    And so if you will indulge me, while we’ve got them out today- I’d like to lead you to some of my favorite spots.

    Page 461- Prayers for use by a sick person, In the Morning

    This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring
    forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I
    am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still,
    help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it
    patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.
    Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit
    of Jesus. Amen.

    Page 810- a series of prayers and thanksgivings-
    but head on over to page 836.

    1. A General Thanksgiving
    Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
    done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
    creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
    and for the mystery of love.

    We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
    the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

    We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
    efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
    and delight us.

    We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
    that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

    Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
    truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
    obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
    through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
    again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

    Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
    make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
    places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

    And on page 451, there is a confessional right- called the prayer of reconciliation-
    And after absolution—the priest says this…

    Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and
    are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus
    our Lord. Go (or abide) in peace. The Lord has put away all
    your sins. Thanks be to God.

    And there is so much more in here! The catechism, the historical documents, prayers for healing-

    In our gospel for today we heard these words from John—

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. This is the way the gospel of John tells the Christmas story- not with a baby in a manger- but with a hymn to the incarnate Word.

    Recalling the first words of the Bible, Genesis, chapter 1, “In the beginning” John names Jesus as the primordial Logos or Word with a capital W. That which moved over the void, and caused all things to be. The Word that God spoke at the start of it all- to give life to the world.

    Logos or Word in this context is God himself- God’s reason, God’s ordering, God’s very being spoken so that all that is– comes to be: the planets in the courses, the molecular architecture of our DNA- the deepest oceans and our deepest thoughts and highest mountains and highest ideals. All that is- seen and unseen.

    And now God’s very being, His Son, comes into the world again and inaugurates a new creation.
    That Word– that at the beginning brought all things into existence- becomes Flesh and lives among us, dwells with us in the person of Jesus. And just as the Word, brings all things to existence. The Word, in Jesus, brings us to a renewed existence as Children of God.

    There is a profound and mysterious analogy at work here- we (who are made in the image of God) in Jesus– are restored to that image. Our word, our words, our logos, participates in and is analogous to- The Logos, The Word. That quality of God is in us, our own ordering of chaos, our very own genesis, the means by which we create, craft, shape, and finding meaning for our existence.

    Reaching back to our Hebrew roots- the Christian faith has understood language, word to be sacred- God speaks creation into existence. We speak our existence into creation.

    When I speak- my voice, my breath, the muscles in my mouth and face- take an idea inside my head and incarnate it- make it physical, material- so that vibrations of sound move across time and space and reverberate in you- and we are connected.

    My hand picks up a pen and writes, or types- and your eyes receive the waves of the light from the page, enter you- and we are connected.

    In antiquity, it was thought that human beings were like the belly button of the cosmos, or the hinge between the visible and invisible realms, the sensible and intelligible.

    The visible or sensible what we know through our senses. The material.

    The intelligible, what cannot be seen- but can be intelligence-ed- discerned, deduced from our experience- the realm of ideas, concepts, emotion and thought-

    This realm is also thought be a part of God’s creation- it is where the angels live- those pure intelligences, the non-corporeal but created beings.

    And human beings are that creature, the only creature in all of creation to inhabit these two realms- and language, word, is the hinge, the bridge between the two.
    With words, we lift the material into the ethereal.
    With words, we substantiate the heavenly.

    And so words are powerful.

    They orient us, they order our experiences, make meaning of our days, and shape our thoughts. They allow us to express our inner world and make sense of the outer one. By imagination they take us beyond our sensory experience into whole other realms of existence. And they can pull us forward, woo us into realities which do not yet exist, but that we can aim for and create, and bring into being by our own enacted word. In this way, word is transcendent.

    Jesus the Word, the light of all that is—John tells us– is full of grace (that is to say the unmerited love of God for us) and truth. And from his fullness we have receive grace upon grace.

    And that is why our Words of Love and our Words of Truth- are the most powerful words.

    Why the prayer book, can woo a lost soul.
    Why the truth spoken in love can heal a heart like no other.
    Why true love spoken creates something new, a light the darkness cannot overcome.

    As you enjoy the rest of this Christmas season, as you ready yourself the new year— remember the Word in your words. Consider carefully, those words that you receive- that enter your being, and discern well if those words bring life and light into our world. Consider again the power of your words, and do your best to speak—(as best you can, with all humility) the truth. True speech is a creative act in and of itself, it will bring life to you and those around you.

    Claim the power of your words- Find more words for love, and use your words to substantiate as much good as you can- for yourself- and for this world God loves so dear.

    And when you find yourself at a loss for words, when you need a little solace or inspiration- PICK UP A BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER! go get your prayer book. And let its words take you where you heart needs to go.

    May they bless you- and may you bless others with all your words.