Renewal of Ordination Vows: February 24, 2015
at the Chapel at Bishop Gadsden
Bishop Buchanan's Sermon
Beloved colleagues in the proclamation of the Gospel, preaching to you is a privilege and brings a degree of joy, but a roomful of preachers intimidates me. Even so, my ambition is to speak a simple and brief word to you in the name of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
You, of all people, will remember that last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, and the Gospel reading appointed for that fast and first day of Lent was from Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 6, Verses 1-6, omitting verses 7-15, and ending with verses 16-21. The omitted verses are those appointed for this particular day of Lent. It is also the passage from which we get Matthew’s seven-petition Lord’s Prayer that is inserted into most of the liturgies of the Church and found ubiquitously in The Book of Common Prayer. Taken as a whole, the first 21 verses of Chapter 6 are a teaching by Jesus on personal piety. “Beware,” Jesus says, “Of practicing your piety before men.” He then considers four subjects: Almsgiving, Prayer, Forgiveness and Fasting.
Today the teaching is about the spiritual discipline of prayer, and about it Jesus makes only two points. Back on Ash Wednesday, Jesus reminded his listeners that some people love to stand in the synagogues and on the streets corners to pray; so that they may be seen by others persons. Anytime you hear or read in the Bible those two words – so that – listen-up and pay attention for something very important is about to be said. In Jesus' day, praying in a way that draws attention to the one who prays was obviously common practice. Perhaps it is the same for some in our own day, and Jesus is anxious that we not make a show of our prayer.
My grandmother resided in the mountains of North Carolina. She was a very simple woman – simple – in the way she cared for her family, treated her neighbors, lived her life, practiced her faith, and said her prayers. It was not uncommon to arrive at her home and find her exiting from a closet in the front guest bedroom. When someone would ask her what she was doing she would pass it off by saying, “Oh, I was just a doing.” Actually, she was taking literally and putting into practice the command of Jesus to offer to God her prayers in a closet – in private. I do not believe that Jesus’ injunction was in any way a discouragement against public worship or even all public prayer, but a reminder that prayer must be genuine and from the heart, and not a public show. His aim was to have us rise above common practice and pray knowing that God hears all prayer pouring out of the deep recesses of the heart and soul.