Sunday 15th  July 2018

Choral Evensong

Ephesians 1:15-23

The Rev’d Jenny Wilson

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

This Wednesday, July 11, we remembered St Benedict, the monk who established a way of living in community and a spirituality that is at the heart of the Anglican way of life and prayer. This evening we will spend a little time reflecting on our New Testament reading from the First Chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians using a way of sitting with scripture dear to the Benedictines, lectio divina.

One Benedictine writer, Fr Luke Dysinger, describes the heart of lectio divina in this way. He writes that after we have chosen our scripture text and sat quietly for a little time, “Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savour each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightening or ecstasies. In lectio divina God is teaching us to listen to Him, to seek him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, He softly, gently invites us ever more deeply into His presence.”[1]

This description of a way of praying with scripture highlights, particularly, two things. The first thing is that scripture is the living word of God, a word that is so alive that we might listen to it expecting a “still small voice” to call out to us, expecting that there will be a word for us for this day, this time, this place. The other thing that this description of lectio divina highlights is God’s part in all this. God is our teacher. And God is a gentle teacher. Not a teacher who would reach out and grab us or shock us with lightening or ecstasies, as the writer puts it, but one who softly gently invites us ever more deeply into His presence.

As we listen to a scripture reading such as our second reading tonight, we find that we are hearing a living word, given to us by our loving God who longs that we might be drawn closer to God, knowing God a little better, understanding ourselves and our blessings and frailties a little more. Each one of us will respond to a passage of scripture differently, for each one of us the “word” for us may well be different. So this evening we will go through the passage looking at what might possibly speak to us in each part. Our reading is taken from the First Chapter of the Letter to the people of Ephesus, verses 15 to 23.

Our reflection might begin with an awareness that what we are reading is a letter and we might allow ourselves to reflect on the letter as if it had been written to us by a friend who cares about our faith and who has nurtured us in that faith, a mentor perhaps. The context of a passage of scripture and the type of writing of the passage are important and will influence the way in which God reaches us through the scripture’s words.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love* towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.(Ephesians 1:15-16)

Our reflection may well begin and end with these words and, if it does so, that is absolutely fine. We might ponder with wonder or even disbelief that our mentor, the one who has written to us, perceives our faith and we might sit with that, and treasure it. My goodness, we are people of faith. We might give thanks for this. We might think about the one in whom we believe, we might call that one God, we might call him Jesus, we might know God as the one in whose story our life story is held. We might sit with the word “faith”.  Or we might notice that the writer of our letter has noticed the love we have for our fellows in faith, for members of our church community or for others that we pray for but have never met. And we might notice that love perhaps for the first time. We might notice how deep is our care and concern for those we pray with on a Sunday or a weekday or for those for whom we pray. We might wonder that our mentor in the letter gives God thanks for us and prays and that might come as a surprise.

And then we might read on.

I pray, our mentor writes to us, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

The writer of this letter, our mentor, uses long sentences at times and we may well need to read this one over a number of times before the part of it or whole of it calls out to us as the word for us today. Our mentor is praying for us and that is something we might notice in itself. We are being prayed for! And what is being asked for us is a spirit of wisdom and revelation that we may come to know God a little better, that the eyes of our heart may be enlightened. This verse could be the word of scripture that inspired lectio divina in fact. And we might sit with the strangeness of the image given here – “that the eyes of our heart may be enlightened”. Or we might find ourselves pondering the things our mentor, our letter writer, wishes us to know – we might sit with the word “hope” and wonder what “hope” looks like for us, or we might think about “the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe” – what would we wish that power to be to do for us and for those for whom we pray?

We might read on:

God* put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20-23)

Our mentor now goes on to talk about Christ and about what God has done in Christ in his death and resurrection. The letter now goes to the heart of our faith and the writer has put that in the letter as if to remind us about the core of what we believe. Almost a little creed woven into the letter in case we need that. Does this reach us, this theological language, does it inspire or reassure? It may not, this day. And that is fine. Or it may be just the way that God softly gently invites us into His presence. It may give us something to cling onto.

Once we have spent our time reflecting and found the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today,” Fr Luke Dysinger encourages us with the following words:

“Take the word or phrase into yourself. Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories and thoughts are simply parts of yourself which, as they rise up during lectio divina are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God. And then speak to God.”

Lectio divina a way of reading scripture, praying with scripture such that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we come to know him and the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened and we may know the hope to which God has called us. The gentle teaching of God.


[1] – interestingly, this Benedictine method of prayer was quoted as part of this 31 day Ignatian retreat!