The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10

In T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Four Quartets,” he talks about going to a church at Little Gidding, the site of a small Anglican religious community founded in the seventeenth century. Eliot writes, “You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity or carry report. You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid.”

We know what it is like to pray in a place where prayers have been valid. Although this building burned in 1975, the stone walls stood. And these walls are permeated with a hundred years of prayer. I do not mean to say that fervent prayer anytime in any place is not valid, but there is something special—something holy—about praying in a holy place where payers have been offered for a century of time.

Many of us have felt this desire to kneel where prayer has been valid. For those of us who pray regularly in this place we feel our prayers joined to those who have gone before us. And for those of us who have a hard time with prayer, we still somehow desire to kneel in this place where prayer has been valid and has been lifted up to God in good times and bad—offered eloquently or clumsily or simply—offered in thanksgiving, distress and contrition, as intercession and in praise. In any case, when we come to this place where truthful prayer has been made, many of us feel compelled to bow our heads, fall on our knees.

People attend church services for a variety of reasons. The preaching. The music. The fellowship. Communion. Renewal. Obligation. (Which is not a bad reason. We are obliged to worship God.) Or maybe it’s the beauty of this place—the stained glass windows, the soaring beams and trusses that help us feel in touch with God. But one extremely important reason people come to church is to kneel in a place where prayer has been valid. Every week, during the week, people come here—strangers to us—asking if they can just come inside for a moment to pray. I’m sure they, like us, know that God can hear our prayers anywhere we pray them, but there is something in us—in those most needful times to be heard by the Lord—that brings us to a PLACE of prayer.

Somehow, we all want or NEED to put ourselves in that place where truthful prayer has been offered. Even when we feel like we don’t have the words ourselves, perhaps especially when we don’t have the words ourselves, we want to go to that place and receive the sustenance that comes from being in a place of prayer. Our churches are many things, but one thing that seems essential for each is that it has been and continues to be a place where truthful prayer is made.

In our Hebrew Scripture lesson for today from the First Book of Samuel we find Hannah praying at the temple—a place of valid prayer. The scripture says that she was distressed and traveled from her own village to Shiloh, the place of the temple, where she felt she had her best chance of being heard by the Lord. Archbishop Michael Ramsey was once asked how long he prayed each day, and he responded by saying, “Oh, I suppose only two or three minutes.” Then he added that he usually had to be at his prayers in chapel for an hour in order to get to that two or three minutes of true prayer.

The Catechism in our Book of Common Prayer gives us a nice introduction to the principal kinds of prayer. This is helpful because often times we think of prayer as simply asking God for things. And, indeed, these are valid prayers, prayers of petition and intercession in which we bring before God our needs and the needs of others.

However, our Prayer Book deals with intercession and petition only after explaining prayers of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, and oblation. And the order may be telling us something important. Perhaps there is a reason that adoration and praise and thanksgiving are at the top of the list.
The Westminster Catechism says that the chief end of human beings is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Notice it does not say the chief end of human beings is “to ask God for things and to keep asking for things forever.” It does not say “to confess our sins to God and to keep confessing our sins forever.” Rather, it says “to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.” When all those other types of prayer pass away, adoration and praise of God will continue FOREVER. As valid as all other types of prayer are, someday they will end. Someday all prayers will be encompassed by adoration and praise.

As with faith and hope, all other forms of prayer (petition, intercession, contrition) come to their eschatological fulfillment and so to an end. What ultimately endures is the doxa (the praise) of God which is the true calling and the only true salvation of humankind and of all creation.

What is the chief end of human beings? To glorify God and enjoy God forever.

What is amazing about prayers of adoration and praise is not only that they will endure from age to age, but also that we can participate in these prayers right now. And Hannah, in our response for today, shows us how. While Hannah’s initial prayer was a prayer of petition. Her response to God’s gift is a prayer—a song—of adoration and praise and thanksgiving. She prays, “My heart exults in the Lord.” Adoration. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one beside you; there is no Rock like our God.” Adoration and praise. “The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them he has set the world.” Adoration and praise and thanksgiving: Hannah’s prayer, then, now, and from age to age. Our prayers joined with Hannah’s, then, now, and forever.

Richard Foster in his book Prayer says that adoration is
“not a special form of prayer, for all true prayer is saturated with it. It is the air in which prayer breaths, the sea in which prayer swims. In another sense, though, it is distinct from other kinds of prayer, for in adoration we enter the rarefied air of self-less devotion. We ask for nothing but to cherish [God]. We seek nothing but [God’s] exaltation. We focus on nothing but [God’s] goodness.”

All true prayer is saturated with adoration.

Today is Commitment Sunday. It is the day we place our pledges—the expected oblations of our life and labor and blessings—on the altar, and we ask God to accept our offering of thanksgiving and to use it for the work of the church and the coming of the kingdom.

Just as Hannah offered back to God God’s gift to her, and praised him for the gift, we give back to God from what God has given us. And we say it is our pleasure; it is our thanksgiving; it is our prayer of praise and adoration to you.

We all long to kneel in that place where prayer has been valid because, in some way, we know that when we do so we are joining in something that will endure from age to age. Our pledges, like all true prayers, are saturated with adoration and praise and thanksgiving that will endure forever. I hope you take advantage of—and won’t miss—the opportunity to praise God and give thanks to God through returning from the blessing God has given you.

Today we are gathered in this place to join in the prayers of our forbearers whose hearts exulted in the Lord, who praised God, and who gave thanks to God for his mighty acts of redemption;
to join with those who built this place of prayer, for us and for generations to come; to join in the prayers of all those ordinary and extraordinary saints who have gone before us, who have lifted their hearts in this place giving God their thanks and praise; to join in this place with the present company of the faithful, and to add our prayers of adoration and praise for what God has done in our lives to the record of his mighty deeds; and to join our voices with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven who forever sing hymns and proclaim the glory of God’s Name.

For “You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity, or carry report. You are here to kneel where prayer has been [and is] valid.”
And to offer yourself in adoration and praise and thanksgiving, and as a living sacrifice to God.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.