Reflectionary

Whisper Who Dares

(A sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost    Luke 11:1-13)

I was one of those little children who loved books, and I remembered the words the grown-ups read to me and sat “reading” the books myself. One of my favorites was an old copy of When We Were Very Young that had been my mother’s. I turned the pages over and over again, and long before I could pick out the words, I knew which poems and pictures went together.

I loved the picture with the poem at the very end of the book, “Vespers,” although I didn’t really understand the framing device used by A.A. Milne:

Vespers
Little Boy kneels at the foot of  the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush!  Hush!  Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

God bless Mummy.  I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath to-night?
The cold’s so cold and the hot’s so hot.
Oh!  God bless Daddy–I quite forgot.

If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing -gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.

Mine has a hood, and I lie in bed,
And pull the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes, and curl up small,
And nobody knows that I’m there at all.

Oh!  Thank-you, God for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said "Bless Daddy," so what can it be?
Oh!  Now I remember it.  God bless Me.

Little Boy kneels, at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush!  Hush!  Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

(A.A. Milne, 1923)

Of course, the little boy is being observed by his father, who wrote the poem to illustrate the worldly distractions that small children and grown people, too, feel when they try to empty themselves at the end of the day, to prepare for sleep. Milne was, perhaps, making a little fun at the expense of his child. But I think there’s something to be said for Christopher Robin’s prayer, even with its excursions, something to be said for having such a comfortable way of talking to God.

How do we pray? When do we pray? Where do we feel prayerful?

I pray everywhere and anywhere. I pray in the car, but I promise I don’t close my eyes! I pray in bed, late at night, most often lying in the dark thinking of one person and then another, simply placing them in God’s care. I pray on my way into your homes or on the way into hospital rooms. Everywhere and always I acknowledge that God is already with me. I raise my awareness and tighten my focus. I open my heart.

A friend once took me along on a visit to a house on Long Island, New York, the home of a very wealthy couple whose children she knew. The mother of the family had her own prayer closet, about the size of a large walk-in closet, with a window view of the garden, a kneeler, and a shelf of devotional books. I was a young woman then, and I thought of the whole idea as odd, but as a mother at midlife, I understand her desire to withdraw into a space devoted to God.

Hush, hush. Whisper who dares.

We do the same thing when we come to church. It isn’t as private, of course, because we are gathering together. In our historic faith, Congregationalism, the people understood prayer to be the act of the community. That’s one of the reasons we ask for joys and concerns, not because we want to gossip or to draw attention to illness, but because we believe prayer is a powerfully loving act, one that does not bring God’s attention to a concern but brings our collective attention to it, so we can all take it to God at the same time.

God, you see, already knows.

One day a few years ago, fighting the cross-town traffic in my car, I prayed. "Oh God, help me to know what to do and what to say. Help me to know how to be. Help me to bring you into the room." I had a keen sense of my lack of experience and my need for help in that moment. "Help me, God, to be there for Sarah."

Luke_skywalker_2
Sarah was an 8th grader in my Youth Group. That morning, her mother came home from her overnight job in a nursing home to find Sarah’s dad lying dead in their bed. He was 48.

The previous Sunday night at Youth Group, we had watched Star Wars, and we had a discussion about how we find strength to do things that we cannot do by ourselves. We reflected on that other Luke, Luke Skywalker, and the moment when he pushed the targeting computer aside and let the Force move through him. How could Sarah find the strength to deal with the shocking death of her father, a man who wouldn’t tell his family that he was ill? How could Sarah find strength to accept her own strange feelings of relief, because this father was a difficult figure in her life? We stood in a hallway, trying to find a moment’s privacy.

Hush, hush, whisper who dares. Sarah, while grieving, was saying her prayers.

My kids have troubles along the lines of "Shall I be 1st Clarinet in the Youth Symphony or shall I go away to Land o’Lakes instead?" Even for that they need to call on the Force who will be always with us, if only we will turn to God.

When I left Sarah’s grandmother’s house, where her six siblings and many extended family members had gathered, it was to go to the hospital to a deathbed. A smaller, more restrained family gathered around a much older father, dying of cancer, struggling to breathe as his lungs filled with fluid. I spoke of God’s arms, reaching out to embrace him, and the dying man spread his arms wide in response. He joined in prayer, arms still outspread to bring everyone in the room into holding hands, words garbled by the oxygen mask.

His oldest son, an evangelical Christian, worried that his father had not uttered the "correct" words about Jesus, and he sent his wife into the hall as I was leaving, to ask me a question: "Did you hear or see anything that indicated to you that my father will go to heaven?" I felt my heart leap in my chest, and said, "Oh, yes. Didn’t you see his arms, stretched out to meet God’s?"

Hush, hush, whisper who dares.

The father of that family was reaching to our heavenly Parent in prayer.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches us two very important aspects of prayer: intimacy and persistence. We’ve talked before about the use of the word Father for God, something that Jesus does to express a closeness he believed to be available to all of us. This is a long way from the Old Testament YHWH, threatening to destroy his own people out of anger at their behavior. Jesus gives us a bold prayer to say, one that is not full of “please” and “if it be your will.” No, it is a direct prayer that asks confidently for the things that really matter.

11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one
      of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his
      disciples."
11:2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
11:3 Give us each day our daily bread.
11:4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial."

Name your relationship with God and name God’s place in your life. Call on God to bring about God’s reign of love. Give us what we need to survive, our daily bread. And forgive us, because we forgive those who have taken things from us. That’s interesting isn’t it? God’s forgiveness conditioned on our forgiveness? And do not bring us to the time of trial.

Of course Jesus then goes on to imagine a trial or a test.

11:5 And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;
11:6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’
11:7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’
11:8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

He’s appealing to our common sense. This happens in more than one teaching moment. He tells the story of the widow who cannot get a fair shake from the judge dealing with her inheritance, a judge who finally helps her just to get her off his back! He’s telling us not to give up, but to keep praying. He reminds us that if we humans, who are by nature on the selfish side, will give in for the sake of peace, we can assume that God will be even more likely to care for us.

11:9 "So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
11:11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?
11:12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?
11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

BlackjesuschildrentJesus wants us to know we can count on God, the way a child can count on her mother or father.

And that brings us back to the little head, drooped on the little hands. How can we be as illuminated, yet matter-of-fact, as a child in our prayer lives? How can we make the sort of reverent space we see portrayed in the poem, a place where everything is included, because nothing is too small for God’s care?

We do it not by avoiding the world or shutting it out, but by opening our world to God’s presence. We do it by claiming our relationship with the God who loves us. We do it by becoming as authentic and unguarded as children. We do it by opening our arms to the One whose arms have always been open to us.

Hush, hush. Whisper who dares. You and I will be saying our prayers. Amen.

22 thoughts on “Whisper Who Dares”

  1. There is a musical setting of that poem…a Randall Thompson. I sang it for my senior recital. And now I have that song in my head…Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

  2. OOh ppb — Randall Thompson – I like! I will have to see if it is on his CD I have.
    Songbird, I really like the expression “opening our world to God’s presence” — so many prayers ask God to be with us, which I think is asking him to do something he is already doing. I much prefer “opening our world to God’s presence” or “make us aware of God’s presence in our lives.”

  3. I went to Amazon and found a newer edition of the book and looked at the excerpt.
    My how our language is evolving.
    There is beauty in that language we don’t hear every day now….

  4. Thanks, Songbird, for this sermon. I love the form and the content is moving and touching and very real to me this morning as I prepare for worship. Your words fed my quiet time this a.m.
    Peace to you as you lead worship this morning…

  5. Despite my scurrilous offspring, that was just lovely. I’d love to have a proper conversation about prayer with you one day, sweetie…
    (and I’m not going to post the young Flemings version here – I don’t want to spoil things…but if anyone does want to know then I do respond to emails 😉 )

  6. Reading with tears. I swear I remember this from before, but I am clearly a different person or in a different place, because I am so deeply touched. God’s arms, open wide to us.

  7. All I can say is “me too.” Through “indirection” (looking at a child’s prayer) you coax your listeners to examine their own prayer life. You must be learning from the Master.

  8. You know what else?
    I am in love with what you describe here:
    “We do the same thing when we come to church. It isn’t as private, of course, because we are gathering together. In our historic faith, Congregationalism, the people understood prayer to be the act of the community. That’s one of the reasons we ask for joys and concerns, not because we want to gossip or to draw attention to illness, but because we believe prayer is a powerfully loving act, one that does not bring God’s attention to a concern but brings our collective attention to it, so we can all take it to God at the same time.”
    Mmmmm. Prayer as THE act of the community. What is THE act of MY community? Eucharist probably, and so where and how where does prayer fit in? It’s done differently, obviously.
    I want to take a RevGals World Tour and visit all the different types of churches we represent, for worship and fellowship. I want to understand how others approach worship, and to fall in love with their differences and our samenesses.
    How cool would that be…?

  9. I like the author pointing out that Jesus, in teaching us how to pray, gave us the example of stating what we needed without any frills or embellishments.
    As children we have been taught to approach God with cap in hand, on our knees, pulling our forelocks.
    Would a human father expect his child to ask for something in such an obsequious way? Certainly not! and neither does God!

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