You may know there’s a certain etiquette or protocol when greeting a royal figure – the Queen of England, for example:
…One must remember, if you’re a male, to offer a small bow of the head, and if you’re female, a small curtsey...
…A restrained handshake is permissible, but definitely not a back slap, embrace or bear hug.
In fact, touching any royal figure – outside of a polite handshake – is a major faux pas...
…You address the Queen beginning by saying: “Your Majesty”, and other royalties as: “Your Royal Highness”.
These rules of etiquette are there to maintain the longstanding tradition that royal figures are to be exalted, respected, dignified.
The downside of these rules of course, is that they can be highly intimidating...
… making the royal figure feel completely unapproachable, inaccessible, cold…
… discouraging any hope for a real, connection with a royal figure, any warm, heart-to-heart, genuine relationship with this person.
My sense is that we often tend to relate to God in similar terms.
God – we imagine – is some exalted, inaccessible Being, somewhere out there, in the farthest reaches of the universe.
God is merely some abstract concept we think about in our minds, a distant, detached Being we merely theorize about using the rational faculties of our minds, and logical, dispassionate analysis.
And so any communication with this kind of God remains calm, cool and polite, using only proper words, and addressing God only in the most exalted and majestic of terms: “Almighty and Everlasting God,” we intone in our corporate prayers.
Our scripture readings today challenge this way of communication with God.
They invite a deeper, more real and honest communication with God, a Holy Being who not only engages our minds, but also touches our hearts…
… much like talking to a trusted friend or long-time confidante, someone who’d never leave or reject us because of something hard, or crude, or harsh, or emotional raw we might say.
Author Anne Lamott says the three essential prayers, are really three short words: “Help. Thanks. Wow.”
Simple words. No flowery, long-winded, wordy prayers. No highly articulate, poetic flourishes.
Such is the kind of communication between humans and God we see modelled in today’s scripture readings...
… a kind of communication (or prayer) that reveals a living, ongoing and honest relationship with the Holy One.
Do we actually have a sense of God walking beside us, ever near, to whom we can share our deepest thoughts and feelings, and before whom we can remain silent, eager to listen, learn, and receive wisdom and guidance?
Do we have that kind of real, honest and ongoing relationship?
Because that’s what ultimately matters about prayer.
Different prayer methods and techniques are there to help us, but are secondary to forming and nurturing a relationship with the Divine.
When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray, Jesus models what has come to be known universally as “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Notice how direct and forthright it is.
No excessive, prolonged flowery language and majestic forms of address.
It cuts to the chase, asking, demanding, imperatively requesting and pleading.
Give us daily bread.
Don’t bring us to the time of trial. Save us from the time of trail!
Bring your kingdom to come on earth.
These “asks” are direct, persistent, forthright, coming from a position of need, almost desperation.
They’re spoken with that quality of intimate familiarity, like a child persistently asking one’s parent … revealing, more than anything, a real relationship between the two.
In the text from the prophet Hosea, God is so upset and frustrated by Israel’s unfaithfulness and disloyalty, that God, in an outburst unbecoming of a majestic divine being, compares Israel to a prostitute or whore.
Imagine that! God saying that!
You can tell God is angry, even threatening to disown and cast aside the Israelites.
We can be taken aback by the depth of frustration and anger displayed by God, and the harsh imagery and language God uses.
But that kind of upfront honesty and raw emotion invites us to consider our end of the relationship:
Can we be as emotionally raw and honest with God?
I like the story of the cousins building sandcastles by the seashore, as recounted in Ethan Hawke’s short book Rules for A Knight.
These cousins are busy fashioning elaborate sand castles out of the warm, muddy sand.
Each of them keeps their castles separate, announcing “This one is mine!” “That one is yours!” “Stay away from mine!”
When all the castles are finished, cousin Wallace playfully steps on and squashes cousin Ken’s.
Then Lemuel flies into a protective rage, gesturing dramatically, and guarding not only his castle, but that of his sister’s Mary-Rose.
Mary-Rose, however, thinks Lemuel is over-reacting, and she pushes him down to the sand.
Soon, everyone is fighting and yelling, throwing sand, howling with tears, and pushing one another.
Young Wally has to be taken home for a time out, sobbing in an aunt’s arms.
When he is gone, everyone goes back to playing a bit with the half-broken-down castles for a while, but quickly moves on to swimming and playing in the waves of the ocean.
Later in the afternoon, it grows cloudy, and soon it’s time to begin packing up for the journey home.
No one cares about their castle anymore. Idamay stamps on hers. Ken topples his with both hands.
All go home. And the gentle rain washes all the castles back into the surf.
Even though earlier the cousins were flying into blind rage with each other, fighting to protect their precious castles … this ultimately doesn’t destroy their relationship.
Their relationship with each other – having fun together on the beach -- is far more important.
Not only does this story remind me of the enduring strength and ultimate importance of relationship over all else, it also prompts me to ask:
What are the “castles” in our lives?
Things or preoccupations, which, at the time, in the moment, seem so important and overwhelming, but in five to ten years won’t really matter anymore?
Perceptions, opinions, material goods, anything which in the moment we would defend with utmost, heated intensity, but, in the long run, considering the bigger perspective, really won’t endure?
What “castle” can be more important … than the community of people we find ourselves in, … and the relationships which nurture, sustain, and uphold us … relationships with one another … relationship with God?
What “castle” can be more important … than the call of God in Jesus Christ … for us to be completely honest and genuine with ourselves and others, … and then boldly go there with acts of love, care and service to those in need?