SERMON: The gift of attentiveness is the fruit of prayer

The gift of attentiveness is the fruit of prayer
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 25 September 2016

One of the many distressing things about us is our inability to see clearly or hear well. Of course I don’t mean that physically we literally cannot see or hear, though regrettably that is sometimes the case. Rather I’m referring to the fact that we have blind spots and selective hearing!

It’s always easier to spot this in someone else! And when we do we say of them:
‘They can’t see what they’re doing.’
or ‘They just won’t listen.’
It’s a frustrating experience!

But the same is true for us all. I’m sure that people say of me in exasperation: ‘He doesn’t seem to be able to see what he’s doing.’
or ‘He simply won’t listen.’

Blindness and deafness are not just physical impairments – they are emotional, intellectual and spiritual too!

So in Jesus’ ministry, on many occasions, he experienced people’s inability to see what his ministry meant, or what his teaching pointed to. Even after he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, many of the Jewish leaders who had witnessed it started to plan his death!

And in the parable that we read this evening, when the rich man appeals to Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his five brothers of the consequences for them if they didn’t change their ways, Abraham replies: ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

To which the rich man pleads a second time: ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

And Abraham replies, speaking with the voice of experience:
‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Miracles, even as significant as someone rising from the dead, are not necessarily going to open people’s eyes and unstop their ears. As one writer has said:
‘….it is difficult to see that any event which happens in the universe could be more indicative of the presence of divinity than the universe itself. If we cannot have religious faith, then, from our native experience of nature and humanity, it would be difficult to see that miracles could provide us with it.’

James P Mackey
Jesus the Man and the Myth
London 1979

What then can be done?
If someone is unable to see what they’re doing or just won’t listen, you can reason with them, shout at them, stamp your feet, go off in a huff, but none of these options are guaranteed to work are they! Often it seems we have to fall flat on our faces before we wake up and realise our own stupidity!

And in the meantime?
The parable invites us to be attentive as best we can to the things around us that we can see and hear, and attentive also to the spiritual disciplines that we seek to live by.

For the Jewish people of Jesus’ day this meant listening to Moses and the prophets. For us all it means constantly acknowledging our inability to see clearly or hear well, and pleading for God’s grace and mercy.

We need help; and the gift of attentiveness is the fruit of prayer.