This sermon was given by Rev Deborah on 23 July – St Margaret’s Day – 2017.
Today we celebrate our patronal festival, the feast of St. Margaret (of Antioch), hinted at by the marguerites by the altar and the statue of St. Margaret. According to legend her father was a pagan priest in Pisidian Antioch, Asia Minor (modern Turkey).
Her mother died when Margaret was an infant, and the girl was raised by a Christian woman. Margaret’s father disowned her, her nurse adopted her, and Margaret converted, consecrating herself and her virginity to God.
One day a Roman prefect saw the beautiful young Margaret as she was tending sheep, and tried to get her into his bed. When she refused, the official denounced her as a outlaw Christian, and she was brought to trial. When she refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. She was tortured in a variety of ways before being beheaded. Before suffering death she asked leave to pray, and knelt and prayed for herself and her persecutors.
Part of her story involves her meeting the devil in the form of a dragon, being swallowed by the dragon, and then escaping safely when the cross she carried irritated the dragon‘s innards.
Margaret then was a woman of courage, prayer and faith. The name Margaret actually means pearl. Last week Sue spoke to us about two parables – one about the kingdom of heaven being like treasure hidden in a field, and one the other being about the merchant that seeking a goodly pearl, finding it, and selling everything he had to buy it.
Pearls are of great worth. That is what prayer is about. As you came in this morning you were either given a pearl bracelet or a string of pearls. Because it is St. Margaret’s day we are going to use these ‘pearls’ to pray with, ‘Pearls of Prayer’.
It is a simple way of praying over the mystery of our life using beads.
‘Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than the excitement and gladness: touch, taste and smell your way to the holy and the hidden heart of God, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.’ Fredrick Buechner
Each of the pearls on the bracelet symbolises a part of our lived experience: each share a message and hears an invitation from God for us to ponder that message. To pray with these pearls simply listen to each pearl’s meaning for you in your life, and allow God to enter into that. It may be helpful to hold each pearl as you pray the pearls in order, but feel free to be creative.
The God Pearl
This is the gold bead or in some cases, the black and gold bead (in most cases the largest bead).
This pearl reminds us that we are completely wrapped in the love of one who gives meaning and life to our existence. It reminds us of the mystery and majesty of God. In our first reading we heard,
‘Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me?’
Use this bead to reflect on the power and majesty of God, yet he calls us his children.
The Silence Pearls
The smaller pearls are the silence pearls. Often our lives are full of noise and distractions which make listening difficult. These pearls invite us to make time and space for stillness where we may better listen to God. These silence beads hold and make space for all the others.
‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (Psalm 46:10)
What are your still places and times? How do you hear God in those moments?
The ‘I’ Pearl
I am made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27),
and God delights in us. In our second reading we are told, ‘when we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
- How does God see me?
- How is the God who loves me looking at me now?
- Am I able to be fully myself, vulnerable before God who knit me together in my mother’s womb?
The Baptism Pearl
This pearl signifies unlimited new beginnings, again and again, embracing the wonder, delight and trust of a child. God’s forgiveness is infinite.
‘You are my beloved child, in whom I delight.’ (Matt 3:17)
- What have been new beginnings in my life?
- What brings me hope and new life?
The Desert Pearl
This acknowledges the dry, barren, difficult times in our lives. Those times when the seed in our lives are eaten by birds, crowded by the situations around us or crushed by the rocks. Even though we have those times, the good seed can and does continue to grow, watered by God.
‘I cared for you in the wilderness. In the time of drought.’ (Hosea 13:5)
- What have been my desert times?
- Was there growth in or after these times?
- How was God with me in those difficult times?
The Serenity Pearl.
This taps into experiences that life giving, freeing and peaceful where we are living fully and not merely existing.
‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’ (John 10:10)
- What is life giving to me?
- In what do I delight?
- What gives us peace?
The First Love (A)
This is for the love that we receive, and our openness to accept it; from God, from others, from ourselves.
- How do I receive that love?
- What gets in the way?
- Whose love am I deeply thankful for?
The Second Love (B)
This is for the love we give.
- Who are the people that I love in my life?
- Who are those I find it difficult to love?
- What prayer might I make to God for that person’s good?
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John13:34)
The Three Mystery Pearls
In these pearls, we place our deepest secrets: our hopes, dreams, desires, fears, those we love and pray for, and often those things, hidden even to ourselves.
To hold the mystery pearl is to say: ‘God remember these.’
He reveals the deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.’ Daniel 2:22)
- Do I allow God to share my secrets?
- What might my mysteries be?
The Night Pearl
This pearl acknowledges our darkest moments and places, and reminds us that God s there, even in those. These are the places where we may most need God’s love to enter. Jesus himself said,
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt 27:46)
In our second reading we are told, ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.’
- What is my darkness?
- What are those difficult times in my life when I have known God’s presence and that he is with me?
The Resurrection Pearl
This pearl stands for hope’s victory over despair, life’s victory over death. This pearl reminds us that all is not lost, that there is always hope even when life seems to oppose us in every way.
‘Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said.to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned to him and said in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).’ John 20:15
- How have you experienced being enlivened by hope?
- Where in your life do you need renewal?
- What about our world?
We are encouraged once again by our Roman’s reading.
‘For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God…….For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’
Today, on St. Margaret’s day, after the meaning of her name, we have discovered pearls of prayer. Please take the pearls of prayer home with you and, if you find them useful, please use them. If not, please pass them on to someone else. May you discover the pearl that prayer is and deepen your relationship with God in this, our year of spiritual growth.