Trinity 6 – The practice of the presence of God

Trinty 6 2017

Psalm 139: 1-11, 23-24  & Matt 13:24-30, 36-43

8.00 am, 10.00 am and Golden Green FS

May I speak this morning, in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“…I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to GOD, which I may call an actual presence of GOD; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent and secret conversation of the soul with GOD, which often causes me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great, that I am forced to use means to moderate them and prevent their appearance to others.”

This is an extract from a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God – The Best Rule of a Holy Life” written by Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite Monk in the 17th Century.

The Practice of the Presence of God is itself an interesting and instructive title.  I hope that during the course of your Christian life you have felt something of the presence of God.  Whilst it is very difficult to describe, and may well be experienced differently by every one of us, for me it is an ineffable holy excitement, a burning deep within me, but not of pain but of the presence of eternal love.  A sense of deep peace and a knowledge, not just a belief or a hope, but a deep knowledge that behind and beyond all things we are truly and deeply loved by the same source of love who called all creation into being.

Those experiences of the presence of God may take place in the midst of Divine Worship – I don’t mind sharing with you that when I lift the bread and wine together during the prayer of consecration and before the great Amen I feel a deep sense of completeness, of purpose fulfilled, of wholeness, even of holiness if you will.  In the midst of a busy and sometimes complicated life that is the one time that I know I am doing what God wants me to do at the time he wants me to do it.  Or I may experience a more fleeting sense of the presence of God as I go about my tasks during the week or even as I am cycling through the beautiful Kent country side or on a boat somewhere.

But the point is that for me, and perhaps for you, these experiences of the presence of God, as wonderful and welcome and sustaining as they are, can seem a little random and unpredictable.  Last week our gospel reading at the 8.00 am was the parable of the sower and it can sometimes feel as though waiting to experience the presence of God can be like waiting for a sower to throw a seed our way and hope that it lands in good soil.

But the point being made here by Brother Lawrence, and the point made by many other Christian so-called mystic and spiritual writers, is that it is possible to cultivate, sustain and experience an almost-constant sense of the presence of God.  That our most spiritual moments, when our souls commune most deeply with God, need not be subject to chance or external circumstances, but can be subject to our own decision to seek out God and to entwine him into every moment of our lives.

Brother Lawrence said: “I make it my business to persevere in His holy presence.”

How often do we make it our business, our busyness if you will, to persevere with God?  Jesus said “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, to all who knock the door will be opened.”

When we pray we often ask for lists of things, and there is nothing wrong with that, but how often do we pray for a knowledge of God’s presence?  And when I talk about prayer I don’t just mean our intercessions here on a Sunday morning and I don’t just mean even our daily prayer.  And if you don’t already spend at least some time in daily prayer then I do commend it to you.  But when Brother Lawrence talks about perseverance I believe he means a continual dialogue with God, both conscious and subconscious, at every moment of the day.  He calls it an ‘habitual, silent and secret conversation of the soul with God.’

This is not about pouring out long and impassioned prayers to a God who is ‘out there’ somewhere, rather it is about coming to a true sense that God is already closer to us than we are to ourselves. Most of us, I suspect, on some deep level are already aware of that but it is good to be reminded that we need only lift our eyes momentarily from the distractions and busyness of our lives, to ask, to seek, to knock, and we can come into the fullness of the presence of God anywhere and at any time.  I love the fact that Brother Lawrence experienced such deep joy and rapture at being in God’s presence that he actually had to moderate and contain his joy when around others, presumably lest they think him mad.

The reason for my foray into Brother Lawrence today is, of course, because of the great joy to be found in Psalm 139 which is an outpouring of the knowledge of the presence of God.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens you are there;

If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

If I settle on the far side of the sea,

Even there your hand will guide me,

Your right hand will hold me fast.”

And the reason we can never flee physically from the presence of God is because he made us and knew us before we knew ourselves.  We did not hear these words of the Psalm this morning but they speak deeply to me:

For you created my inmost being,

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

All the days ordained for me were written in your book

Before one of them came to be.”

Now we all know how cells divide in the womb to create a baby, and this Psalm has nothing contrary to say about that biological process, but how wonderful to look beyond the biology to see ourselves and all other people being knitted together by God in the womb, making us fearfully and wonderfully in his image, knowing from before the moment we were born how many days we would walk upon the earth.

God knows us better than we know ourselves, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves, and it is open to each one of us to cultivate a deep and perpetual sense of the presence of God.  We do so not by waiting for random spiritual moments when everything comes right in order to feel a fleeting glimpse of joy but by preserving in our moment by moment, habitual, silent and secret conversation of the soul with God.

I meant to say something about wheat and weeds, but it seems God had other ideas.