Good morning, Friends!
This coming week is St. Patrick’s Day. How many of you here have some Irish ancestry? I read somewhere that over 30 million people in America have Irish blood in their family – that’s almost 10% of the whole country.
I’m lucky – I’m 50% Irish. All of my mother’s people came from Ireland, back during the terrible famine of 1845. So, St. Patrick’s Day has a lot of meaning in my family. I think there’s nobody who laughs more at Irish jokes than the Irish themselves.
One day a guy out was walking, and he noticed two men digging. One man was digging holes and the other man was immediately filling them in again.
‘Tell me’, says the passer-by, ‘What on earth are you doing?’
‘Well’, said the first man with the shovel, ‘Usually there’s three of us. The way we divide the work is that I dig, Fergus plants the tree and Shamus fills in the hole. Today it happens that Fergus is sick at home, but that doesn’t mean that Shamus and I have to take the day off, now, does it?’
One of the ladies in the neighborhood was scolding a man named Murphy because he wasn’t leading a very good life. ‘Murphy,’ she says, ‘why don’t you give up the drinking, the smoking and carousing?’
‘Oh, it’s too late,’ replied Murphy.
‘It’s never too late,’ says Mrs O’Leary.
‘Oh, well, there’s no rush then, is there?,’ smiles Murphy.
An Irishman named Shaughnessy opened the newspaper one morning and was dumbfounded to read in the obituary column that he had died. He got on the phone and he called his best friend Gallagher.
“Did you see the paper today?” asks Shaughnessy. “They say I died!!”
“Yes, I saw it!” replies Gallagher. “Where exactly is it that ye’re callin’ from?”
Well, that’s enough Irish jokes for a while. I do have a reason for all of the Irish stuff this morning, though.
Does anyone remember what we’ve been talking about here at worship for the last couple of months?
We’ve been talking about prayer. We’ve talked about faith moving mountains. We’ve talked about calming the storm. We’ve talked about feeling that the place we’re standing is holy ground.
Today I want to reach back in time and celebrate some prayers of God’s presence. A lot of the time we think that prayer is all about asking for things we need, or asking forgiveness for things we’ve neglected or done wrong.
But the most basic kind of prayer is the kind where we simply spend some time with God.
I remember one beautiful description of prayer where the person said, “I just look up at God, and God looks down at me. . .”
Sometimes prayer is just spending time with God, enjoying being together.
When you’re with someone you love, you don’t always have to talk out loud, do you? You can sit, side by side, or you can walk along together, without having to say a word.
That kind of prayer is called the prayer of God’s presence. And that’s what I want us to look at today.
Some of the best examples of prayers of God’s presence are in the Psalms. Let’s read one together, shall we?
I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day,nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Isn’t that beautiful? Don’t those words express our faith?
When we just spend time with God – lifting up our hearts, knowing that God is there – our faith is restored. Our hurts are healed. Our most important questions get answered – maybe not with all of the details we want, but by God simply telling us, “I’m here with you. It’s all right.”
I thought that this morning I would share with you some other prayers of God’s presence. One of the reasons we read about the great saints is so that we can hear their prayers.
Many of the Irish saints were particularly close to God in nature. They felt the special times and special places where God suddenly became more real to them. The Irish called these thin places – places and times when the wall or the boundary between heaven and earth suddenly seemed more thin, where the boundary between the two almost disappeared. Thin places were like gateways to heaven.
In the mountains or by the sea, at a spring or along a pathway, they felt that God was near to them, and they treasured those thin places and called them holy.
Many of the Irish saints chose to live in isolated areas – in the forest, or on tiny islands off the coast. Here’s a prayer by St. Colmcille. He was a gentle man – his name in Gaelic means “the Dove.”
Delightful to me to be on an island hill, (he says) on the crest of a rock, that I might often watch the quiet sea;
That I might watch the heavy waves above the bright water,
as they chant music to their Father everlastingly.
That I might watch its smooth, bright-bordered shore, no gloomy pastime,
That I might hear the cry of the strange birds, a pleasing sound;
That I might hear the murmur of the long waves against the rocks,
That I might hear the sound of the sea, like mourning beside a grave;
That I might watch the splendid flocks of birds over the well-watered sea,
That I might see its mighty whales, the greatest wonder.
That I might watch its ebb and flood in their course, that my name should be–it is a secret that I tell– “he who turned his back upon Ireland;”
That I might have a contrite heart as I watch, that I might repent my many sins, hard to tell;
That I might bless the Lord who rules all things, heaven with its splendid host, earth, ebb, and flood…
Another of my favorite prayers is a famous one attributed to St. Patrick, who lived sometime between 400 and 500 A.D. Patrick was kidnapped when he was a teenager, and he lived as a slave for many years. He escaped from slavery, and went home, and then he came back to the people who had enslaved him, to pray for them and teach them about Jesus Christ.
Patrick was a missionary, who faced great opposition from many people in Ireland. They were violent and believed in magic and curses and spells. He was often depressed, but he struggled to share his faith by living it.
Let me read a couple of sections from one of Patrick’s most famous prayers. Sometimes this prayer is called the Deer’s Cry – like an animal, wounded in the wilderness. Sometimes it’s called St. Patrick’s Breastplate – he felt that prayer was like the armor a warrior wears to protect him.
I arise today through a mighty strength, through praying to the Trinity, through a belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
I arise today through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism, through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial, through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
I arise today through the strength of the love of angels, in the hope of resurrection to meet with reward, in the prayers of the saints of old, in the preaching of the apostles, in the faith of witnesses, in deeds of the righteous.
I arise today through the strength of heaven; light of the sun, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of the wind, depth of the sea, stability of the earth, firmness of the rock.
I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s hosts to save me.
From snares, from temptations, from every one who desires me ill, afar and anear, alone or in a multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and evil, against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul, against spells, against false prophets, against black laws, against spells and false magic, against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ shield me today against burning, against drowning, against wounding, so that reward may come to me in abundance.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
That’s the way it should be, isn’t it? Whenever people see us, they should see Jesus, too. Our lives should reflect our own individuality, the things that make us special, because God made each one of us as a special gift to the world.
But our lives should also reflect the love of God, the peace of Christ. Our lives are supposed to reflect truth and goodness. Our hands should hold out faith and healing and blessing.
When people see us, they should see Christ. And when we look at other people, we should look for the face of Christ in them.
Our hearts and our hands should always be open. Our homes, our tables, our porches and firesides should always be places of welcome and hospitality. Every meal time is a time of communion. Every silence is a time of prayer.
Wherever we go, we see and hear and taste and feel the power and love of God. We know God’s mercy, every day. We bless God when we get up in the morning, and when we go to bed.
Every tear is a prayer. Every smile is a blessing. Every step is part of a pilgrimage, a journey we take with God. Every breath is God’s gift.
Let’s take all this into worship now together.
Closing prayer – an Irish blessing
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Brown