Acts 16:22-34; Mark 12:28-34

5th Sunday after Trinity

St Barbara’s 17.07.2022

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Last week we began to think about the way we experience God, about the way that God makes himself known to us. We recognised that we are all unique individuals and that God relates to us in unique ways. There is no one-size-fits-all model. The things that may most powerfully resonate for us,  that may help us have a deep sense of the presence and love of God, may vary immensely from those around us and may vary immensely at different times in our lives. Our series over these next few weeks is about recognising and affirming some of the myriad ways in which God seeks to make himself known.

Over the years I have been to many different types of churches and services. I’m sure many of you have too. I’ve been to services where the sermon would last 35-40 minutes, more like a university lecture than a sermon, and where most of the congregation would be scribbling down notes as they listened to an explanation of the complexities of the Bible reading, coming away inspired and enthused to grow in their understanding of God. I’ve also been to services where people would sing for 30-40 minutes without pause, allowing the music to touch them at a deep emotional level, allowing them to express their feelings, and to experience the love of God in an almost tangible way. I’ve been to services where there has been no written structure – people would stand up spontaneously and ask for a hymn to be sung, a reading to be read or would share what God had been doing in their life that week – but also services where every word that is spoken has been thought and prayed through beforehand, perhaps even for centuries, words that echo the words of those who have gone before us in faith.

The variety and richness of our Christian worship reflects the remarkable richness and variety of how God seeks to make himself known to us.

One of those ways is through our minds, through our ability to think and reason and wrestle with ideas. In this morning’s Gospel reading we are reminded of the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

For some people, God makes himself known, they draw close to God, when they are really using their minds. That may be through reading and studying the Bible, whether as an individual or with others. It may be through reading Christian books on theology and doctrine, or listening to podcasts.

But it may not be limited to those things. It may be the study of other things too. A surgeon wrote: “I know of no procedure that succeeds in improving the human hand… After operating on thousands of hands, I must agree with Isaac Newton, In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” Using our minds to explore science or history or geography can also lead us to be in awe and wonder of God.

Others I know find book clubs can be a really helpful way of drawing closer to God, as they wrestle with the ideas and the issues raised by the novels they read.

I wonder are there things you love using your mind for? Are there ways in which God may be seeking to make himself know to you through these things?

Another way in which God may seek to make himself known to us is through our emotions. In our reading from the book of Acts we see Paul and Silas praying and singing hymns at midnight, having been beaten and flogged and locked up in a prison cell. Nothing can contain their joy in Christ and so they sing at the tops of their voices, all the other prisoners listening in. They are not alone. King David in the Old Testament danced before the ark of the covenant; Jesus sang hymns with his disciples, and throughout the centuries Christians have found music a wonderful way to pray and worship, a way in which God draws close to us and we draw close to him. Music can help give expression to our feelings and emotions.

But God can touch us emotionally not just through music, but in other ways too. It may be through heartfelt prayer, through weeping with those who weep, and rejoicing with those who rejoice. It may be as we respond to a moving story or as we hear of someone’s testimony of faith.

I wonder, when are the times you feel deep emotion. How might God be speaking to you through those times?

Minds, emotions. God may also draw close to us through rhythms and routines. For centuries monastic communities have followed a pattern of prayer through the day, praying at set times seven or eight times a day, from the early hours before dawn right the way through to night time. That regularity has helped many Christians find that prayer becomes like breathing, an act that is always there, continuing amongst the busyness of life.

For others, it is the saying of familiar words, words such as the one’s we say each week in our services, that help us to be open to receiving from God, words of prayerful truth. At times of crisis, at times of illness or of approaching death, those words, said so many times before, often come to mind with renewed force and meaning, an expression of the intimacy and love of God.

I know of people who have developed rhythms that work for their lives, finding a one minute slot three times a day to pray the Lord’s Prayer, or using an app to help them join in with daily prayers first thing in the morning.

I wonder whether there are aspects of your life where rhythms and routines help, and places where God might be drawing close to you through these?