September 16, 2018, Celtic Worship: Bless to Me #1
Text: Psalm 113
Title: God with Us
Many of us feel that we are always running. We wake up. We are late for the work or for the school for our children. We hurry to where we need to be. When we are busy, there is always someone who is blocking our way in front. We often grumble, “Why do they have to block the road at this time and do the construction work?” We quickly stop by a coffee house. We hurry to work. As we sit, we quickly go over the agendas for the day. I need to get this done. I need to meet someone. I need to travel to a meeting. We go and shop at the grocery store with so many on the lists. We come home. Our children are back from the school. We have dinner, but we rarely talk. Mother asks her child how his day was at the school. “Fine. I am done with the dinner. Can I just go to my room and play the game?” The couple sit at the table and frustrated with all the bills and mortgage that are due. Everyone is tired. They go to bed.
Every day, it is the same routine. It is about our works. It is about our children. It is about our marriage. It is about our plan for an upcoming vacation. It is about paying the bills. It is about checking with our doctor. It is about driving from one place to another. It is about volunteering here and there. It is about exercising at the gym. It is about planning for the retirement and how my pension will pay all the bills. Although we all come from different places, if you are like me, we tend to fill our schedule with so many to-do lists. After all, that is one of many legacies from the Protestants – the work ethics. We need to work every day and every hour. That is also what we teach our children. If you want to succeed with your career or education, you need to work hard and earn it. And often working hard means being busy.
In our busy schedule, whether retired or not retired, young or old, we often push God to the margin of our time because we just do not have time for God. Well, I go to the church on Sunday and give my time to God through worship. It is like another checkbox. Did I take my medication for today? Check. Did I call my friend for our upcoming dinner? Check. Did I buy the Christmas gifts for my children? Check. With all the lists in our schedule, we might ask, “Did I have time to read the Bible? Did I have time to worship God?” Check. If our daily schedule is like a zero-sum, we try to allocate our time to everyone who deserves our attention with equal piece of a pie. But we often experience that our life does not have time to give full attention to God, our relationship with our Creator. We just don’t’ have a time for prayer.
What if our everydayness is a form of prayer? What if our prayer is immersed in everything we do? We embark on a journey, or pilgrimage, to deepen our knowledge of Celtic Christianity from today for the next seven weeks. When we say Celtic Christianity, we refer to certain features of Christianity, distinctive from Western Christianity including the Catholic Church and Protestants. The word, the Celt, implies wanderers who resided outside the Roman Empire. By region, it covers Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Galicia in Spain. While many cities in the Roman Empire became urbanized with the philosophical and cultural influence that tended to rationalize Christianity, many people in Celtic Christianity lived in rural areas, touching the stone and water, overlooking the ocean, feeling the breeze from the hill, looking the sky touching the earth.
We will have more time to learn about these people. But one of the features common to many Celtic Christians was this. They lived their lives in the form of prayer. They considered their waking, breathing, working, resting, cooking, cleaning, or sleeping as a way to pray and please God. They lived their lives in a way that Emmanuel – God is with Us, was not just a statement of faith, but reality. Because they believed that their very being was grounded in the presence of God, many of their prayer words included, encircle, encompass, uphold, and surround. As Christ came through the incarnation and dwelled among people, Celtic Christians believed that God was in every moment of their lives from the morning to evening.
In Psalm 113, the Psalmist sings, “Praise the Lord, Praise the name of the Lord. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” We encounter the word “praise” in the Bible so many times. But there are seven different specific meanings to “praise.” The one used in Psalm 113 is Hallal. When we say, “Hallelujah,” it comes from this base word, “Hallal.” While the other Hebrew words for praise are translated as “praise God with extended hands, praise God with a musical instrument, praise God with knees on the ground,” Hallal is this. “To praise, to boast, to celebrate, to be clamorously foolish.” When we often pray, it is often about what we ask of God. “God, I want you to do this for me.” There is nothing wrong with it. But when we speak of Celtic blessing, it mainly our offering of a prayer of gratitude. We bless God for what God has done and given us.
Of course, we often have a hard time of praying to God or praising God in times of difficulties. How can we sing of the glory of God in times of death and sorrow? How can we praise God in times of earthquake and hurricane? How can we celebrate God in times of illness and emptiness? The tradition tells us that Jesus sang Psalm 113 along with his disciples before he went to pray at Mount Olive where he would be arrested by the soldiers and priests. In sensing the imminent danger and peril, Jesus still did not forget to praise God who was surely walking with him. Although we tend to have our own picture of the destination of success, health, and victory, Celtic Christians understood the Holy Spirit who blows where it wills. Jesus’ praise of God stemmed from his trust in God who knows where we come from and knows where we will go.
St. Patrick is one great example, a person who never stopped praising and praying to God, especially never losing his praise under challenging circumstances. In the 5thcentury, Patrick was born in Roman Britain. At the age of 16, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates. He was enslaved in Ireland for six years. In Confession, Patrick says that his time in captivity was critical to his spiritual development. It was during this time of slavery he encountered God and became a Christian while working as a shepherd and praying to God. Later, he escaped from slavery by traveling to a port, two hundred miles away. Although Patrick became a free man, he then had a vision in his dream that God was calling him to go back to Ireland and be a missionary. And he did. And he wrote a poem and prayer right before converting the king of Ireland. It is called “Breastplate.”
Christ with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me
For St. Patrick and many Celtic Christians who have gone before us, prayer was not a practice to be added to our busy schedule. Instead, prayer was the mode of our being. We praise God when we wake up for giving us another day of blessing. We praise God when we breathe for there is air provided by God. We praise God when we drink coffee, for those who worked hard to plant the beans, grew them, roasted them, and brewed them for us. We praise God when we are stuck in the traffic so we can sing a hymn praising God without minding others. We praise God when we sit at the table for a meal, for the day God has given us, for the friends our children met, for the meals that many worked hard. If we believe that God fills the earth with the grace of God, we let God also fill our hearts with gratitude, joy, imagination, love, and peace.
For this coming week, I would like to suggest this as a way of prayer for us. Adam Hamilton is pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. He once preached a sermon on baptism and invited his congregation to remember their baptism each day. To do so, he prepared a prayer card and encouraged his audience to hang it in their shower and recited each time they stepped into the shower. The prayer goes as follows,
“Lord, as I enter the water to bathe, I remember my baptism
Wash me by your grace. Fill me with your Spirit
Renew my soul
I pray that I might live as your child today and honor you in all that I do.”
Some of you might think that this is too long. Then I encourage you to say this instead,
“I am a child of God.” Let each morning begin with praise of God who walks with us from the sunrise to the sunset. Let each morning start with gratitude remembering that it is God who gives us another day with purpose. Let each morning also begin with excitement for what God will be doing in this world through us, and with us.