August 9 2020
We read in Psalm 34: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.” There is another version of the same verse which appears in the Book of Common Prayer, which reads: “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers.”
The first requirement of prayer is not “knowing what to say”, or how to say it. The first requirement of prayer is knowing that our prayers can be heard.
We have not long ago marked VE Day. In times of conflict, and of course in times of pandemic, we can be certain that every morning hundreds of thousands of individuals, if not millions, wake up wondering how well their particular loved ones are and how they are surviving. It is their love of them that makes them take this intense personal and detailed interest.
One of our fundamental convictions is that “God is love”, and that God loves us. Is this too much to believe? It sometimes seems it is. But if we do not believe it, why do we say our prayers? If we don’t believe it, then what sort of a religion do we have?
As individuals we have a certain measure of freedom. We can make and create things; we have the feel of eternity in our hearts. We can love each other, and care about each other. In a way, we are even a little bit like God.
Most of us feel the urge to pray. Is it not reasonable, therefore, to believe that the basis of our urge to pray, is that our prayers can be heard?
One of the fundamentals behind all biblical writing is that the relationship between the Divine and the human is personal. In the bible God has eyes, ears, arms and hands. It is anthropomorphism of course, but given that God is not personal in the way people are personal does not make God impersonal. The Divine is at least as personal as we are, and we believe even more so.
Let’s think for a moment, as we have done in the past, about Jesus’ own relationship with the Father, especially in this matter of prayer.
On previous occasions we have stressed this new relationship with God as Father which Jesus imparted, taking his cue from scripture, such as Psalm 103: “Like a father pitieth his own children, so is the Lord merciful to them that fear him.” And Jesus taught that we do not have to pray formally, repetitiously, or by rote. Simple statements are sufficient, as we remember from the Lord’s Prayer, and (contrary to the tone of many prayers still in use today), we are not called upon to advise God in what he ought or ought not to be doing. And despite the new intimacy which Jesus emphasised, the respect, the distance, is still there: “Our Father,… hallowed be thy name.”
“The eyes of God are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.”
Righteousness does not refer to our moral record. In other words, the verse from the psalm does not mean, “God only listens to the prayers of good people.” There wouldn’t be much point in that, because God would not receive many prayers at all !
Righteousness refers to our status before God. We are children of God, and so God’s eyes are upon us, and God’s ears are open to our cry.
A group of little children are playing happily in the park. A small group of mothers and fathers stand to one side. Every parent’s eye is on his or her child.
But supposing some other child, not their own, falls and cuts its knee, and cries out in fear and pain. Will those other parents stand by and do nothing? One or two will run over and help the child, whosesoever it is, and whethersoever it is now considered “correct” to do so or not. That child has the same status as their own child. We are concerned about them all, good or bad, little terrors or little angels.
Some time ago I read the following story. A number of ex-soldiers, ex-military personnel from various countries, had gathered in France for an ecumenical church conference. One evening a Belgian delegate asked if he might address the conference very briefly.
“Friends,” he said, “I must tell you something. I was a young person during the war years. My mother and father were both shot by the SS. I swore to myself that I would hate the murderers of my parents for the rest of my life. I did not know that there would be German delegates here at this conference, otherwise I would not have agreed to come.
“This morning (he continued), during the meeting for worship, a German came and sat beside me. It was cold. I had a coat with me, the German had none. So I spread my coat over both our knees. But I said to myself, “He is not my friend, he is a German, I must hate him.” Obviously he knew nothing of this, and he smiled at me. Later, at the evening meal, we stood side by side again. And we started to talk, and we have become friends. That is all I wanted to say.”
In the eyes and ears of the Almighty, no-one is an outsider, whoever we are, wherever we are, whatever we have done. This is the good news, which is all our hope: his eyes are upon us, and his ears are open unto our cry. Amen.
Our concluding prayer comes from the late Rev Ben Downing:
O Thou eternal spirit, grant unto each of us the sense of being in deeper harmony with Thee. May we feel linked, in body as well as in mind, with Thy spiritual order which abides behind all the confusions of the world.
May we sense Thy hidden presence as a Friend, and glimpse Thee as a glorious Light behind all the shadows of time and eternity.
And as we sense and see Thee as best we can, may we know Thy nearness in the pangs of conscience and in the spurs of hope and love, through which alone our lives in this world mean both more to others and more to ourselves.
Not because we pray as we should, but because we pray as we must, O God, hear our prayer. Amen.