Monday, 30 March 2015

Simon of Cyrene

Mark 15.21-32

http://www.msgr.ca/msgr-7/stations_koder_main.htm
Simon was forced to carry the cross

We don’t live in a society where police officers or soldiers routinely order us to do stuff for them.

But Simon did live in such a society. He was the foreigner who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he got dragged into something that had nothing to do with him.

A man was being taken to his place of execution. He was going to be crucified. He had been severely beaten and he was too weak to carry his own cross. And so they had picked on Simon, possibly because he was black and different (he came from Cyrene, an ancient city in Libya), and they ordered him to carry the cross.

I wonder what he thought as he carried the cross: ‘This thing is heavy. How far have we got to go? Why did I get landed with this? I had my own plans for today. This thing is heavy. It is so unfair. I’m treated worse than a dog in this place. People will think I am the one who is about to be crucified. I can’t refuse. I can’t put it down and run. I am nobody; I am powerless. Are we nearly there yet? This thing is really heavy!’

There are times in life when burdens are imposed on us; when we have to do things we don’t want to do. The child is sick at 3am in the morning and we need to tidy it up; the elderly parent is confused and is getting to the stage when they can’t look after themselves, and we need to step in and make some decisions. Or maybe we are falsely accused, or we are given a responsibility that threatens to crush us. Or our partner falls ill with a long term, disabling, illness and we have got to take on the role of carer. We have a child who is born with a serious disability: all our hopes and plans are blown out of the water. It is not our choice but our life is going to be significantly different. Or someone we love is accused of doing something dreadful (one can only feel deep sympathy both with the families of the victims, but also with the parents of the co-pilot who crashed the German wing plane). Or maybe they tell us we have a life threatening, life changing illness. These are heavy burdens, maybe too heavy a burden, to bear.

But maybe Simon began to also think about the man for whom he was carrying the cross. Perhaps he glanced over at him as he walked beside him. Who is he? What dreadful thing did he do to deserve death by crucifixion?

And maybe when he got to Golgotha he hung around and watched.

He saw this man offered wine and myrrh (it was a sort of sedative) but he refused. He was thrown down on the crossbar and nails were hammered into his wrists. He was then hoisted up, and the crossbar was dropped into a position with a shock that must have torn at his wrists and put every bone in his body out of joint. That was just the beginning.

And then he began to get a hint of what this man was accused of. A written inscription was placed above him: ‘The King of the Jews’. He looked with more interest. A political, no doubt one of those many pretenders who claimed to be the Messiah. And he heard the mockery. There were the passers-by. They were laughing at him, saying that he had claimed that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.

What was unusual was that men who were considered pillars of the community were also there, senior religious leaders, and they were also having a laugh. They looked at him on the cross and they mocked him for his weakness and his powerlessness. He saved others, they said, but he could not save himself.

And even the two people crucified with him taunted him.

I don’t know what Simon thought. What is interesting is that Mark specifically tells us that this Simon was father to Alexander and Rufus – and Mark would not have mentioned their names if they were not personally known in the early Christian community.

So maybe this Simon did become a believer.

Maybe he came to realise that Jesus, forsaken by everyone, was indeed the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah.

Maybe he came to realise that Jesus chose not to save himself, but rather to go through with the cross in order to save us.

Maybe he came to realise that the temple Jesus was talking about was the temple of his body, and 3 days later the temple was rebuilt, he did rise from the dead.  

And as we read these verses we realise that injustice and bad things happen; we realise that there are times in life when we have to carry very heavy burdens – often burdens that others, or circumstances, have imposed on us. Simon is forced to carry the burden for Jesus, but Jesus is the one who has chosen to take onto himself the burden of burdens. He was falsely accused, spat upon, mocked, beaten and then crucified. He was, as we will see in a few minutes, cut off from God. And he didn’t do it, out of necessity, or for himself. He did it, in love, for us.

And when we find ourselves carrying heavy burdens – whether chosen or imposed, fairly or unfairly - we know that there is one walking beside us, who chose to take onto himself the greatest of burdens, so that as we carry our burden, we discover that he is the one who carries it with us. 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The triumphal entry: a talk for Palm Sunday

Mark 11.1-11



I’d like to show you an icon of the triumphal entry. This is a Russian icon from the 16th century. It depicts the event we have just read about in Mark 11.

In the centre we have Jesus. It is all about him. His head is at the central point. He has a halo (which has faded), and he is riding a horse (they didn’t know donkeys in Russia which is why they show Jesus riding on a horse). It is, in this depiction, a noble beast – which at one level slightly misses the point.

Jesus did not come riding into Jerusalem on a war horse, but on a donkey. It is not that a king would not ride a donkey, but he would only ride a donkey if he was coming in peace. And Jesus’ choice of the donkey was a fulfilment of Zechariah 9.9, ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ So Jesus is claiming to be King, but claiming to be a king who is coming in peace. He does not compel people to serve him. He invites people to come under his just and right rule.

In this icon Jesus is shown as one who has authority. He has in his hand a scroll. It might be the scroll of wisdom or the book of life.

What does seem to capture the humility of his coming is the way that he is seated. We are told that Jesus had ‘set his face’ to go to Jerusalem. His face is turned toward Jerusalem. He knew what awaited him there, but he also knew it was where he had to go in obedience to his Father. But he is seated with his back to Jerusalem, so that his body is towards his disciples. They are fearful. They are following on but they know that Jesus is a wanted man, and they know if they go to Jerusalem then Jesus will probably be arrested. If you look in detail, we can see that one disciple is pointing back, while Peter is pointing forward.

But I wonder whether the icon writer (we call them icon writers and not painters) wishes to show us something more. It is hinted at in v2, where Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to ride a colt that has never been ridden before. The whole creation joins in this scene. Jesus does not need to guide the beast. It knows who it is carrying and it knows on its own where it has to go. There is only one place that the King can go to: the city of the King.

And here the people wave palms and welcome him. The children climb the tree to cut down branches, and they lay the branches and their cloaks on the road for him. Of course we know that a week later the same city that cried ‘Hosanna’, cries ‘crucify Him’.

And at the top in the centre of the image, above Jesus, there is a tree. It is the tree that children climb to cut down branches. It also reminds us of another tree which, a week later, will be the throne of this king. A tree to which he is nailed.  

And behind the disciples on the left is a hill with a town on it. The town might indicate Bethlehem. The story begins with him being laid in a manger in Bethlehem. It ends with him riding on a donkey into Jerusalem. Or the town might simply represent Bethany and the hill the Mount of Olives.

What is significant is the cave. In icon writing, the cave represents both the absence of God and the presence of God. It represents both death and resurrection. It represents the absence of light and the overabundance of light – it is how they represent the light that is beyond light.

It is the cave where so many of the great encounters with God take place. It is the darkness, the night time, but the darkness with God. We think of Elijah in his cave on Mount Horeb. He thinks God has abandoned him but it becomes the place where he meets God. And the icon of the nativity shows Jesus’ birth as taking place just outside a cave.

But the darkness also represents that ultimate moment when it seems that God has abandoned us, the moment of Jesus’ death and the moment of our death. But it is the place above all where God is. It is the place of resurrection. And the fact that the cave is depicted here in this icon suggests that there might be something more going on in this icon, and that something more might be going on in the story.

Yes, it is an account of Jesus entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.

But it looks forward to another entry. An entry that takes place after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Now this city on the left represents not Bethlehem but the earthly Jerusalem. Now the city on the right represents the new Jerusalem. The people on the right represent the citizens of this new Jerusalem as they welcome their king to his city. He has triumphed through the cross and the resurrection – and the hosts of heaven gather to welcome him in grateful love. As our first reading stated, “Worthy is the lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5.12). And the children, robed in white, lay their cloaks before him – it is a symbol of lives laid before him. And the horse (donkey!) and the palms, show that all of creation joins in this adoration of the one who is king.

And Jesus is the bridge between the earthly church, represented by the disciples, and the heavenly church. And the cross is the bridge between our earthly cities and the heavenly city. And maybe I am reading too much into this, but the cross is transposed onto this icon. There is a vertical axis of the children in the tree and the clothes, and a horizontal axis of Jesus and the people.   

So what for us?

The story invites us to become part of it. This is not just about them, but it is about you.

We are invited to join with the disciples in obeying Jesus and in following him, even when it leads through dark and difficult places. And we are to be, with Peter, people who point forwards and not backwards. Yes, change and movement can be difficult, but we are part of a movement forward. From Bethlehem to Jerusalem. From the physical city to the heavenly city.

We are invited to join the children in the icon or the people in the passage, not by throwing branches or placing our garments under his feet, but by submitting our whole lives, freely and gratefully, before him. Whatever it costs I will, with joy, lay my life before you.

And we are invited to join with the heavenly host, of angels, saints, martyrs, apostles and prophets, of countless men and women who have been made perfect through his blood in their praise. When we gather, we are not coming to create worship. Worship is already going on – it has been there from the very beginning of creation. It will be there till the end of time. It is the worship and praise of heaven. Yes, it is but a faint echo, but when we come together we join in with that worship. And we worship the King – the one who came in humility, but who comes to reign; we worship the one who gave his life on the tree, on the cross; we worship the one who rose from the dead, who conquered death, and who reigns for evermore. To him be glory for ever.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Praying with the Desert Fathers and Mothers

WHO WERE THE DESERT FATHERS AND MOTHERS?

Egyptian monks, although later moved to Palestine. Flourished between 250-407. By 300, there were 10000 monks and 20000 nuns in Oxyrhynchus.

Story begins with Anthony (251-356AD) or possibly Paul of Thebes (who fled to desert [Gk: eremos = hermit] in persecution). [When they met, they had a saintly stand off to decide who would bless the bread! In the end they did it together.]

For Anthony it began with his response to command in Matthew 19.21: ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’.
(This call was also heard by people like St Augustine, St Francis, CT Studd)
 
Three groups:
Hermits – those who lived on their own out in the desert (Anthony)
Monasteries (Pachomius)
Semi-hermetical (Ammon). [People living as solitaries, but coming together for ‘love-feasts’ on Saturday and Sunday]
 
Monk – mono. Single. They lived alone. They were single minded.
They lived for Him, for holiness, humility and for heaven

Known for extreme feats of asceticism: eg. Simon Stylites (388-459), Aleppo (Syria). But generally the ascetic works included fasting, keeping silence, living on reduced sleep, standing for long periods or obedience. 

Note that when they speak of 'being saved', they are speaking of growing in perfection in Christ.  

Worked (weaving baskets). Prayed. Visited each other! ‘Work and Pray’


WHAT MOTIVATED THE DESERT FATHERS AND MOTHERS?

1. The command to become perfect (Matthew 5:48)
Somebody asked Antony, ‘What shall I do in order to please God?’ He replied, ‘Do what I tell you, which is this: wherever you go, keep God in mind; whatever you do, follow the example of holy Scripture; wherever you are, stay there and do not move away in a hurry. If you keep to these guide-lines you will be saved.’ (cf 1 Timothy 2.15) (TDF 1.1)

A hermit said, ‘This is the life of a monk: work, obedience, meditation, not to judge others, not to speak evil, not to murmur. For it is written, “You who love God, hate the thing that is evil” (Ps 97.10). This is the monastic life: not to live with the wicked, not to see evil, not to be inquisitive, not to be curious, not to listen to gossip, not to use the hands for taking, but for giving; not to be proud in heart or bad in thought, not to fill the belly, in everything to judge wisely. That is the life of the monk’ (TDF 1.11)

‘When he was dying, Bessarion said, 'A monk ought to be like the Cherubim and Seraphim, all eye.'’ (TDF11.7)

The themes they speak of include:
Quiet, Compunction, Self-control, Lust, Possessing nothing, Fortitude, Nothing done for show, Non-judgement, Discretion, Sober living, Unceasing prayer, Hospitality, Obedience, Humility, Patience, Charity, Visions

2. The command to sell everything and give to the poor
‘A brother was leaving the world, and though he gave his goods to the poor he kept some for his own use. He went to Antony, and when Antony knew what he had done, he said, ‘If you want to be a monk, go to the village over there, buy some meat, hang it on your naked body and come back here,’. The brother went, and dogs and birds tore at his body. He came back to Antony, who asked him if he had done what he was told. He showed him his torn body. Then Antony said, ‘Those who renounce the world but want to keep their money are attacked in that way by demons and torn in pieces’. (TDF 6.1)

‘A brother asked a hermit, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ He took off his clothes, and put a girdle about his loins and stretched out his hands and said, ‘Thus ought the monk to be: stripped naked of everything, and crucified by temptation and combat with the world’ (TDF 6.16)

Jerome (347-420) writes, 'if you will be perfect, go out with Abraham from your country and from your kindred, and go whither you know not. If you have substance, sell it and give to the poor. If you have none, then are you free from a great burden. Being yourself naked, follow a naked Christ. The task is a hard one, it is great and difficult; but the reward is also great.' [Letter 125]

A positive calling:
-       freedom from concern
One night thieves went to a certain hermit.
"We came to take your things," they said to him viciously.
Without losing composure, he said to them, "Come in and take whatever you like."
They emptied his poor hut of every last thing and left hurriedly. They forgot, however, to take a small flask that was hanging from a beam of the roof. The hermit took it down and, running behind the robbers, shouted for them to listen and to stop.
"Come back, brothers, to take this too." And he showed them from afar the small flask.
They were amazed by his forgiving nature and returned, not to take the flask, but to offer repentance and to return all of his things.
"This is, indeed, a man of God," they said among themselves. (TDF 16.13)

-       giving to the poor
A brother said to Serapion, ‘Give me a word.’ But he replied, ‘What can I say to you? You have taken what belongs to widows and orphans and put it on your window-ledge.’ He saw that the window-ledge was full of books.

-       freedom to trust God
Syncletica also said, ‘When the devil does not use the goad of poverty to tempt us, he uses wealth for the same purpose ..’ (TDF 7.16)

‘A brother asked a hermit, ‘Would you like me to keep two shillings for myself, in case I fall ill?’ The hermit, seeing that in his heart he wanted to keep them, said, ‘yes’. The brother went into his cell, but he was worried, asking himself, ‘Did he tell me the truth or not?’ He got up and went back to the hermit, bowed down and asked him, ‘For the Lord’s sake tell me the truth, for I am worrying about those two shillings.’ The hermit said to him, ‘I told you to keep them because I saw you intended to do so anyway. But it is not good to have more than the body needs. If you keep two shillings, you put your hope in them. If by chance they are lost, then God will no longer be interested in your needs. Let us cast all our care upon the Lord, for He cares for us.’ (TDF 6.22)
 
3. Recognition of their own sinfulness
(Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector  Luke 18.9-14)

Judging oneself
John the Dwarf: ‘We have put aside the easy burden, which is self-accusation, and weighed ourselves down with the heavy one, self-justification’ (SHC p46)
A hermit saw someone laughing and said to him, ‘We have to render an account of our whole life before heaven and earth, and you can laugh?’ (TDF 3.23)

Gentleness with others who sin:
‘In Scetis a brother was once found guilty. They assembled the brothers, and sent a message to Moses telling him to come. But he would not come. Then the presbyter sent again saying, ‘Come for the gathering of monks is waiting for you.’ Moses got up and went. He took with him an old basket, which he filled with sand and carried on his back. They went to meet him and said, ‘What does this mean, abba?’ He said, ‘My sins run out behind me and I do not see them and I have come here today to judge another.’ They listened to him and said no more to the brother who had sinned but forgave him’. (TDF 9.4)

Moses writes to Peomen, ‘If you have sin enough in your own life and your own home, you have no need to go searching for it elsewhere.’ And, more graphically, from Moses again, ‘If you have a corpse laid out in your own front room, you won’t have leisure to go to a neighbour’s funeral’ (Quoted Williams ch1)

C19 Anglican monastic reformer, RM Benson: Believed he should have ‘a heart of stone towards myself, a heart of flesh towards others, a heart of flame towards God’
Not self-loathing but a merciless honesty

Stories of monks caught in adultery or fornication, and another identifies with them and shares the shame. Or of the monk who gave too strict advice to a younger monk struggling with sin.

“Their suggestion is not so much: “I’m OK and you’re OK.” On a much deeper level, it is their awareness and admission that: “I’m not OK; and you’re not OK.” Yet, this recognition is also their reassurance; for, they know that: “That’s OK!”” (IHD, p106)

4. The rejection of pride
A brother came to visit Abba Macarius the Egyptian and said to him: “Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved.” So the old man said: “Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.” The brother went there and abused them, throwing stones at them. He returned and told the old man about it. The elder said: “Did they not speak to you?” He replied: “No.” The old man then said: “Go back tomorrow and praise them.” So the brother went there and praised them, calling them apostles, saints and righteous. He returned to the old man and said: “I went and praised them.” The old man replied: “Did they not respond?” The brother said: “No.” The old man finally said: “See how you insulted them and they did not reply; and how you praised Top of Form
them and still they did not speak. If you wish to be saved, you must do the same and become like a dead person. Like them, take no account of either scorn or praise, and you will be saved.” (IHD p155)

It once passed through the mind of Anthony to wonder what measure of holiness he had attained. God, however, who wished to humble his mind, showed him in a dream one night that a certain cobbler, who had a shop on one of the out-of-the-way streets of Alexandria, was better than he.
As soon as day broke, the Saint took his staff and set out for the city. He wanted to meet this renowned cobbler himself and to see his virtues. With great difficulty, he found his shop, went inside, sat down beside him on his bench, and began to ask about his life.
The simple man, who could not figure out who this old monk who came so suddenly to interrogate him was, answered him ever so slowly and calmly, without taking his eyes from the shoe that he was mending.
"I do not know, Abba, if I have ever done any good. Every morning I get up and do my prayers and then I begin my work. However, I first say to myself that all the people in this city, from the very least to the very greatest, will be saved, and only I will be condemned for my many sins. And in the evening when I lie down, again I think about the same thing."
The Saint stood up in wonderment, embraced the cobbler, kissed him, and said to him with emotion: "You, my brother, like a good merchant, have easily gained the precious pearl. I have grown old in the desert, toiling and sweating, but I have not attained to your humility." (AFD Section 6)

Ways to grow in humility: placing yourself under obedience to another; acceptance of false accusations or of insults (When Abba Moses was falsely accused of being father of a child, or when he was racially abused, he did not fight back or try to justify himself); acceptance of suffering or illness

5. Living in the light of the eternal.
‘Evagrius said, ‘While you sit in your cell, recall your attention, and remember the day of your death and you will see that you body is decaying  .. shrink from the vanity of the world outside. .. Remember the souls in hell. Meditate on their condition, the bitter silence and the moaning, the fear and the strife, the waiting and the pain without relief .. Remember too the day of resurrection, imagine God’s terrible and awful judgement. .. Bring before your eyes the good laid up for the righteous, their confidence before God the Father and Christ his Son .. ’ (TDF 3.3)

Syncletica said, ‘He inflicts severe sicknesses on people whom he wants to tempt and so makes them weak, and thereby shakes the love they feel towards God. But although the body is shattered and running a high temperature and thirsting unbearably, yet you, who endure all this, are a sinner; you should therefore remember the punishments of the next world, the everlasting fire, the torments of judgement.’ (TDF 7.16)

‘A brother asked a hermit, ‘I hear the hermits weeping, and my soul longs for tears, but they do not come, and I am worried about it.’ He replied, ‘The children of Israel entered the promised land after forty years in the wilderness. Tears are the Promised Land. When you reach them you will no longer be afraid of the conflict. For it is the will of God that we should be afflicted, so we may always be longing to enter that country.’ (TDF 3.27)

LEARNING TO PRAY

1. The goal of prayer: to become a flame of fire toward God
‘Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him: ‘Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and again as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then, the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him: ‘If you really want, you can become all flame.’ (TDF 12.8)

Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot: ‘You cannot be a monk unless you become like a consuming fire’. (IHD ch17)

A brother came to the cell of Abba Arsenius at Scetis. Waiting outside the door, he saw the old man entirely like a flame. (The brother was clearly worthy of this sight.) When he knocked, the old man came out and saw the brother marvelling. He asked him: ‘Have you been knocking long? Did you see anything here?” The other answered: ‘No’. So then they talked, and he sent the brother away’. (IHD ch17)

2. Taking away the distractions (detachment)
He was silent for a while, and then poured water into a vessel and said, ‘Look at the water,’ and it was murky. After a little while he said again, ‘See now, how clear the water has become.’ As they looked into the water, they saw their own faces, as in a mirror. Then he said to them, ‘So it is with anyone who lives in a crowd; because of the turbulence, he does not see his sins: but when he has been quiet, above all in solitude, then he recognises his own faults.’ (TDF 2.16)

One of the hermits said, ‘No one can see his face reflected in muddy water; so the soul cannot pray to God with contemplation unless it is first cleansed of harmful thoughts. (TDF 12.13)

a) The cell:
In Scetis a brother went to Moses to ask for advice, He said to him, ‘Go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’ (TDF 2.9)

A hermit said, ‘The monk’s cell is the furnace in Babylon in which the three children found the Son of God. It is the pillar of cloud out of which God spoke to Moses’ (TDF 7.38)

A monk found a great deal of temptation in the place where he first began to struggle. Once he lost his patience and decided to go far away to find his peace. Just as he stooped to tie his sandals, he saw someone in front of him tying his sandals, too.
"Who are you?" he asked him.
"The one who is pushing you out of here. And I am making ready to precede you to where you plan to take refuge."
It was the devil who had tried to push him out; but he did not succeed at it, because the brother stayed in his cell after that and struggled with patience, until he conquered his temptations. (AFD Section 2)

For nine years a brother was assailed by the temptation to leave his community. Every day he got ready to go and picked up the cloak in which he used to wrap himself at night. At evening he would say, ‘I will go away tomorrow.’ At dawn he would think, ‘I ought to stay here and bear this temptation just today for the Lord’s sake.’ He did this very day for nine years, until the Lord took the temptation away.’ (TDF 7.39)

b) Silence:
Silence is a way of waiting, a way of watching, and a way of listening to what is going on within and around us.

Antony said, ‘He who sits alone and is quiet has escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing: but there is one thing against which he must continually fight: that is, his own heart.’ (TDF 2.1)

Sisois said, ‘Our form of pilgrimage is keeping the mouth closed’ (TDF 4.44)

“This is not about any kind of despairing silence, being silent because there is nothing to say or know or because you’re always going to be misunderstood. It is more of an expectant quiet, the quiet before the dawn, when we don’t want to say anything too quickly for fear of spoiling what’s uncovered for us as the light comes.” Williams (SHC ch3, p70)

The times when we can be absolutely sure that we are wasting words are when we are reinforcing our reputation, or defending our position at someone else’s expense

c) Others:
Allois said, ‘Until you can say in your heart, “Only I and God are in the world,” you will not be at peace.’ (TDF 11.5)

And see what Abba Moses says of prayer: "Take care to maintain deep in your heart cognizance of your sinful state, that your prayer might be acceptable. When you occupy your mind with your own sins, you will not have time to keep track of the faults of others." (AFD section 1)

3. The practice of prayer

Prayer as first and last resort
The brothers came to Abba Antony and said to him: ‘Speak a word; how are we to be saved?’ The old man said to them: ‘You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.’ But they said: ‘Yes, but we want to hear from you too, Father.’ Then the old man said to them: ‘The Gospel says: ‘If any strike you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.’ (Matt 5.39)’ They said: ‘We cannot do that.’ The old man said: ‘Well, if you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.’ They replied: ‘We cannot do that either,’ So he said: ‘If you are not able to do that, then do not return evil for evil.’ They said: ‘We cannot do that either.’ The old man said to his disciple: ‘Prepare a little soup of corn for these people, for they are totally incapable of doing anything. If you cannot do this and cannot do that, then what can I do for you anyway? What you need is prayers.’ (IHD p99)
  
Keeping it simple
A brother said to Abba Antony: ‘Pray for me,’ The old man said to him: ‘I will have no mercy on you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make any effort and if you do not pray to God.’ (IHD p100)

Abba Macarius was asked: ‘How should one pray?’ The old man replied: ‘There is no need at all to make long discourses. It is enough to stretch out one’s hands and to say: ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer, say: ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and He shows us His mercy.’ (TDF 12.10)

The discipline of prayer
Hyperichius said, ‘Keep praising God with hymns, and meditating continually, and so lighten the burden of the temptations that attack you. A traveller carrying a heavy burden stops from time to time to take deep breaths, and so makes the journey easier and the burden light.’ (TDF 7.20)
The place of saying the Psalms

Prayer as a battle
‘The brothers asked Abba Agathon: ‘Among all good works, which is the virtue that requires the greatest effort?’ He answered: ‘Forgive me, but I think that there is no greater labour than that of prayer to God. For every time a person wants to pray, one’s enemies, the demons, want to prevent one from praying, for they know that it is only by turning one away from prayer that they can hinder one’s journey. Whatever good works a person undertakes, if one perseveres in them, one will attain rest. But prayer is warfare to the last breath.’ (IHD p97)

Praying for your enemies
"Do you wish God to hear your prayer immediately, brother?" asks Abba Zenon. "When you lift your hands up to heaven, pray first of all, with your heart, for your enemies and God will grant you speedily whatever else you request." (AFD Section 1)

The power of prayer and humility
Then there was a woman who was suffering from cancer and, having heard of the reputation of Abba Longinos, decided to find him that he might restore her health. While she was looking for him here and there in the desert, she encountered an elderly monk cutting wood. She approached him and asked him where Abba Longinos stayed.
"What do you want with him?" the monk asked. "I advise you not to go to him because he is not a good man ... But maybe something is troubling you?"
The unfortunate woman then showed him an open sore which gave off an unbearable odor. The monk made the sign of the cross over her and told her: "Return to your home and God will heal you. Longinos cannot help you in anything."
She left, receiving the words of the unknown monk with faith. By the time she reached her home, not a trace of her fearful illness remained. She later learned from the other brothers that the one who made her well in this strange way was Abba Longinos himself. (AFD Section 1)

Unceasing prayer
Bishop Epiphanius of Cyprus, of holy memory, was told this by the abbot of his monastery in Palestine. ‘By your prayers we have kept our rule; we carefully observe the offices of terce, sext, none and vespers,’ But Epiphanius rebuked him and said, ‘Then you are failing to pray at other times. The true monk ought to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5.17). He should always be singing psalms in his heart. (TDF 12.6)

The prayer of the heart
Evagrius said, ‘If your attention falters, pray. As it is written, pray in fear and trembling (cf Phil 2.12), earnestly and watchfully. We ought to pray like that, especially because our unseen and wicked enemies are trying to hinder us forcefully’
He also said, ‘When a distracting thought comes into your head, do not cast around here and there about it in your prayer, but simply repent and so you will sharpen your sword against your assailant.’ (TDF 12.4-5) 

And so for keeping up continual recollection of God this pious formula is to be ever set before you. “O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me,” for this verse .. embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults. Since it contains an invocation of God against every danger, it contains humble and pious confession, it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear, it contains the thought of one’s own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help. For one who is constantly calling on his protector, is certain that He is always at hand. It contains the glow of love and charity ..
We must then ceaselessly and continuously pour forth the prayer of this verse, in adversity that we may be delivered, in prosperity that we may be preserved and not puffed up. Let the thought of this verse, I tell you, be conned over in your breast without ceasing. Whatever work you are doing, or office you are holding, or journey you are going, do not cease to chant this. When you are going to bed, or eating, and in the last necessities of nature, think on this. ..” (John Cassian, Conference 10. The second conference of Abbot Isaac, On Prayer. Chapter X: On the method of continual prayer)


HOW TO PERSEVERE WHEN THE VISION FADES

1. Remember the cross
A hermit was asked how a watchful monk could prevent himself from being shocked if he saw others returning to the world. He replied, ‘A monk should remember hounds when they are hunting a hare. One of them glimpses the hare and gives chase, the others merely see a hound running, and run some way with him, then they get tired and go back to their tracks. Only the leading hound keeps up the chase until he catches the hare. He is not deterred by the others who give up, he thinks nothing of cliffs or thickets or brambles, he is often pricked and scratched by thorns, but he keeps on until he catches the hare. So the man who runs after the Lord Jesus aims unceasingly at the cross, and leaps over every obstacle in his way until he comes to the Crucified (TDF 7.35)

2. Remember heaven and hell
A hermit was asked by a brother why, when he stayed in his cell, he suffered boredom. He answered, ‘You have not yet seen the resurrection for which we hope, nor the torment of fire. If you had seen these, then you would bear your cell without boredom even if it was filled with worms and you were standing in them up to your neck. (TDF 7.28)

Hyperichius said, ‘Let you mind be always on the kingdom of heaven, and you will soon inherit it.’ (TDF 11.35)

3. Meet with others who have passion
Poemen said that someone asked Paesius this question, ‘What am I to do about my soul? I have become incapable of feeling and I do not fear God.’ He said to him, ‘Go, and live with someone who does fear God: and by being there, you too will learn to fear God.’ (TDF 11.23)

4. Remember your death
The man who succeeds in having death continually before his eyes conquers faint-heartedness," an elder said to the younger brothers, who asked him for some beneficial advice. And another time, as he was spinning, he assured them: "I have brought death to mind as many times as this spindle has turned, up to the present." (AFD Section 6)

5. Read the bible
Macarius said, ‘Practise fasting till a little later .. Meditate on the Gospel and the other Scriptures; if a bad thought comes to you, don’t look at it but always look upwards, and the Lord will come at once to your help.’ (TDF 18.9)

Bottom of Form
 ‘The nature of water is soft, the nature of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above a stone letting water drip down, it wears away the stone. It is like that with the word of God; it is soft and our heart is hard, but if a man hears the word of God often, it will break open his heart to the fear of God.’ (TDF 18.16)

6. Remember who is on your side
It happened that Moses, who lived in Petra, was struggling with the temptation to fornication. Unable to stay any longer in the cell, he went and told Isidore about it. He advised him to return to his cell. But he refused, saying, ‘Abba, I cannot.’ Then Isidore took Moses out onto the terrace and said to him, ‘Look towards the west.’ He looked and saw hordes of demons standing about and making a noise before launching an attack. Then Isidore said to him, ‘Look towards the east.’ He turned and saw an innumerable multitude of holy angels shining with glory. Isidore said, ‘See, these are sent by the Lord to the saints to bring them help, while those in the west fight against them. Those who are with us are more in number than they are against us’ (cf. 2 Kgs. 6:16). So Moses gave thanks to God, plucked up courage and returned to his cell. (TDF 18.12)

7. Never become complacent
“Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he prayed to God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from. He went and told an old man about this: "I find myself in peace, without an enemy," he said. The old man said to him: "Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have. For, it is by warfare that the soul makes progress." So he besought God, and when the warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but he said: “Lord, give me strength for the fight." (IHD p60)

“It was related of Amma Sarah that for 13 years she waged warfare against the demon of fornication. She never prayed that the warfare should cease, but only said: "God, give me strength." (IHD p60)

 “Peter, the disciple of Lot, told this story. ‘I was once in the cell of Agatho, when a brother came to him and said, ‘I want to live with the monks; tell me how to do so.” Agatho said, “From the first day you join them, remember you’re a pilgrim all the days of your life, and do not be too confident.” Macarius said to him, “What does confidence do?” He replied, “It is like a fierce drought. When it is dry, everyone flees away from the land because it destroys even the fruit on the trees.” Macarius said, “Is it only false confidence that is like that?” Agatho said, “No passion is worse than confidence; it is the mother of all passion. It is best for the monk’s progress that he should not be confident at all, even when he is alone in his cell.” (TDF 10.8)

[Does confidence here mean self-complacency: The sin of the Pharisee in Luke 18. What Paul guards against in Phil 3 What then of assurance?]

ASSESSMENT

1. Are they guilty of excessive individualism?

“... Each recluse did what seemed right in his own eyes. Each man was entirely devoted to the saving of his own soul, and apparently cared for nothing and no one else." p.xli   The Paradise of the Fathers, Ernest A. Wallis Budge 

But it does all start with us and God. Note for instance, how Syro-Phoenician woman cries out to Jesus, 'Have mercy on me. My daughter is sick' . She loves her daughter so much that she asks Jesus to have mercy on her by healing her daughter (Matthew 15.22). If I love others, then I will pray for God to have mercy on me by saving the other.
 
Antony the Great: ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause out brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ’. (TDF 17.2)

A brother asked a hermit, ‘Suppose there are two monks: one stays quietly in his cell, fasting for six days at a time, laying many hardships on himself: and the other ministers to the sick. Which of them is more pleasing to God?’ He replied, ‘Even if the brother who fasts six days hung himself up by his nose, he would’t be the equal of him who ministers to the sick.’ (TDF 17.18)

2. Are they guilty of seeking justification by works?

".. Each tried to lead a more austere life than that of his neighbour, believing that through the multitude of his fastings, vigils and prayers he could make himself acceptable to God.

The fundamental ideas which underlay the words repentance, conscience, faith, as understood by modern Christian peoples, seem to have been unknown to the ancient Egyptian, and it seems to me that they were only partially understood by the earliest of the Christian monks. The Christian and Egyptian monks trusted very largely to the efficacy of their own works for salvation. Hence their prolonged fasts, their multitudinous prayers, the constant vigils, the excessive manual labour, and the ceaseless battle against the cravings and desires of the body. The greatest monk was he who could fast the longest, rest and sleep the least, pray the greatest number of prayers, keep vigil the longest, work the hardest, endure best the blazing heat of the day and the bitter cold of the night, and who could reduce his body to the most complete state of impassibility.” p.xli   The Paradise of the Fathers, Ernest A. Wallis Budge 

This may be true of some, but not of all.  There must have been many who did try to win salvation by accomplishing ascetic feats, but many would have been ascetic because of their love for Christ, and for the sake of the reward.
 
3. Are they guilty of denying the physical realm?

They show little or no concern for issues of justice
[Anthony’s reluctance to respond to letter from Constantine. In the end he wrote to say he was praying for his salvation and for the peace of the Empire]

And yet they show a gentleness to the other when the other suffers physical weakness. ‘When Poemen was asked how he dealt with any brother who fell asleep during public prayer, he replied, ‘I put his head upon my knees and help him to rest’. (TDF, Introduction)

IS THIS LIFE FOR ALL?
[One of the hermits asked the great Nesteros] ‘What good work shall I do?’ and he replied, ‘Surely all works please God equally? Scripture says, Abraham was hospitable and God was with him; Elijah loved quiet and God was with him; David was humble and God was with him.’ So whatever you find you are drawn to in following God’s will, do it and let your heart be at peace.’ (TDF 1.11)

Abba Poemen said: “If three men meet, the first of whom maintains inner peace, the second gives thanks to God in illness, and the third serves other people with a pure heart, then these three are doing the same thing.He also said: “There is a voice that cries out to each person until his last breath: ‘Be converted today!’” (IHD pg157)

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A FOOTNOTE ON THE PASSIONS:
‘If we want to honestly discern the passions of our heart, we should consider what we actually like to do and even need to do, or what characterises our way of life. Some of these passion might include: the desire to gossip or be judgmental; the desire to control or manipulate; the desire for perfectionism; need for constant approval; the distrust of others or mistrust of ourselves; the fear of stillness or of silence; the tendency toward irritation or agitation; an attitude of impurity or darkness; a lack of self-control; and cravings or addictions of many kinds. In brief, that which makes us feel "high," where we do not have to face reality; that is where our passions often lurk. (IHD p59))

Dealing with the passions
“Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3.5)

Two views.
a)             Need to be crushed. Can lead to a hard asceticism. Apatheia. Salvation by works: Syncletica also said, ‘We need these tribulations [illness] to destroy the desires of our body; they serve the same purpose as fasting and austerity. If your senses a powerful medicine cures an illness, so illness itself is a medicine to cure passion. A great deal is gained spiritually by bearing illness quietly and giving thanks to God.’ (TDF 7.17)

b)            Need to be redirected. Desire or anger is not wrong in itself (Jesus was angry. Jesus had deep desires). What is wrong is the direction in which it is set.

Abba Isaiah of Scetis claims that all of the passions (including anger, jealousy, lust) are given to us by God with a particular and sacred purpose. Unfortunately, writes Isaiah, we have misdirected and misused them, so that they have now come to be regarded as evil. However, the original purpose of anger is for it to be used against injustice in the world; the proper reason for envy is so that we may seek to emulate the virtues of the saints; And the natural goal of desire is to thirst for God. However, we have bent these natural forces out of shape; and so now we are angry at our neighbour over petty reasons; we are jealous about material things; and we lust after earthly things." (IHD p157)

Sources:
The Desert Fathers. Sayings of the Early ChristianMonks. (TDF) Translated by Benedicta Ward. Penguin books. © Benedicta Ward, 2003
Silence and Honey Cakes. The wisdom of the desert. (SHC) Rowan Williams. Lion books. © 2003 Medio Media





Who do you think you are?


Our own Clive appeared on the programme with Jeremy Paxman

But here it is the question that they ask Jesus.

They think they know the answer: You’re a Samaritan and demon possessed – and they’ve certainly got an answer at the end of the passage: he is a heretic. 

It is the question behind the whole of John’s story of Jesus. In John 20.31 he says that he writes so that we might believe ‘that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him we might have life in his name’.

Jesus, in these short verses, makes three astonishing claims

1. He can give us eternal life
‘If you keep my word you will not die’.

Jesus is not saying that we won’t experience physical death. I can think of only two people who have not experienced physical death (Enoch and Elijah)
But he is saying that if we keep his word we will not experience real death.

Jesus is claiming to be bigger than death. It is an astonishing claim, and I guess it needs to be justified. 

In Chapter 11 Jesus again says that he is the resurrection and the life, and he goes on to prove it by raising Lazarus from the dead. 
And in a few days time we will celebrate again Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead. 

So if we believe him, if we trust him, if we receive him, if we allow the seed of his word to come into us, if we remain in him and his words remain in us, we will physically die (not much escaping that), but we will not die. 

DL Moody said: ‘One day you will read in the obituary column that DL Moody is dead. Don’t believe a word of it’. 

2. Jesus claims to share the Glory of God
He says here, ‘God is my Father and my Father glorifies me’

J is saying, ‘I’m not glorifying myself. I don’t need to. My Father glorifies me.’ 

I was going to preach a very profound and deep sermon on the nature of glory – but it was so deep I couldn’t understand it myself, and it got binned! 

But basically we are speaking here of the glory of two lovers. They know each other – at the very deepest of levels. They see the beauty, the wonder, the truth, the creativity, the wisdom, the power, the love of the other. The lover forgets himself and wants everyone to know how beautiful, how wonderful the beloved is. But the beloved also forgets themselves and wants everyone to know how radiant, how marvellous the lover is. 

These are not two lovers obsessed with each other to the exclusion of all. We are actually speaking not of two, but of three. There is a Trinity of glory. And the Spirit holds out their hand to the world they created. So the person who comes to Jesus, who receives his word, who allows his word to come into them – just as in a few minutes we are going to receive the bread and wine deep into us – becomes part of that relationship. 

We are caught up in the glory and wonder of the Father and the Son – and even more remarkably we share in that glory. 


3. Jesus claims to be bigger than time and equal with God 

He speaks of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, longing to see the day when he would come. And by faith, even though he lived about 2000 years before Jesus, he did see it. He saw the day when one of his descendants would come and be the blessing for all peoples of all nations. And he was glad.

But then Jesus makes the most outrageous statement. When they say, ‘You are not 50 years old. How can you say that you have seen Abraham’ (in fact Jesus did not say that. He said that Abraham saw his day), Jesus replies, ‘Before Abraham was I am’. And that statement ‘I am’ is a clear reference to the sacred name of God that the Jews cherished. It was so holy that they could not repeat it. And the name was Yahweh, ‘I am who I am’. So it is no surprise that when Jesus said, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’, they picked up stones to hurl at him. He had just uttered the greatest of blasphemies. He had identified himself with God. 


Who do you think you are? It is a theme of this chapter. (cf. v25)

But Jesus turns it round

He asks us another question: who do you think you are? 

Are you someone who will throw stones at me or who will worship me?
Are you someone who will glorify my Father, and who will share in the glory that he gives to me?
Are you someone who is alive, and will never die, or are you someone who is dead?

John is very black and white
If we have not come to Jesus we are blind, spiritually blind. We simply cannot see our sin or see God.
If we have not come to Jesus we are dead, spiritually dead.

That is a challenge to those of us who like grey areas, who have been brought up to suspect any claim to absolutes.
From one perspective that can be helpful: we can be people who look for harmony
But from another perspective it is harmful: we become pick and mix people, and in the end we choose what suits me. 

But Jesus here does not give us that luxury. His claim on our life is absolute.
Either he is God, or he is a mad heretic.
Either he is bigger than death and can give us life, or he can’t

And what John seems to say is that the only way we will find out if that is true is to respond by faith to those feelings, those thoughts, those prompts which tell us that He is the truth and he is the way. In simple trust we need to pray (so-called sinners prayer – welcome him, bow before him; the Lord’s prayer), be attentive to his word, commit ourselves to come to worship and to seek to live daily for him and with him. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Freedom from anguish

Psalm 25

We are looking today at Psalm 25. 

It is says that it is a Psalm of David and I’m going to take it that it is a Psalm of David. It was either written by him, authorised by him, commissioned by him or approved of by him. 

David is in anguish. 

There are the enemies. They are mentioned in v2 and v19 (the beginning and end of this psalm). They hate him, and they have, it seems, betrayed him (v3). 

To be hated is to have other people wish that you did not exist. 
I know people sometimes say, ‘I wish you were dead’, but to hate another person is more than that. It is to really wish them dead, to see them crushed into the dust. It is to live as if they do not exist, and if they do have the temerity to continue to exist, to mock them, ridicule them, treat them as if they are a joke and do not matter. 
That is why Jesus says that we will not be judged simply on whether we have murdered someone, but on whether we have hated someone. Because if we hate someone we have murdered them in our mind. 

And David is surrounded by his enemies: ‘See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me!’ (v19)

He is lonely, afflicted, overwhelmed by troubles and in distress:
‘Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied .. Look upon my affliction and my distress.’ (v16ff)

David could have prayed Psalm 25 on several occasions. But I am going to suggest just one.

Psalm 34 is probably from about the same time as this psalm – there are some interesting parallels between the two psalms – and that was written after David had escaped from the ruler of Gath. [Note references in both psalms to 'the fear of the Lord', 'afflictions' and the emphasis on right living. They both follow the same acrostic structure, and both omit the same 2 Hebrew letters]. Possibly Psalm 25 was written when David was a captive of the ruler of Gath, and Psalm 34 when he escaped from him.

The situation was this. Saul was the king of Israel at the time, and David was one of his generals. He was completely loyal, and he was a highly successful general. He won many battles. The people began to compare his victories to King Saul’s victories. And Saul got jealous. So he turns against David and declares him an enemy of the state. He starts to hunt him down and David with a small band of supporters runs for his life. 

So poor David. He has been totally loyal to King, but the King wants him – and anybody who supports him - dead. He has had to flee, to abandon his family and his home. And the only option for him is to go to the neighbouring land of Gath, to become a political refugee. The problem was it was enemy territory. It was territory that he had attacked in the past when he had been Saul’s general. So for the ruler of Gath, a man called king Achish, it was Christmas, Easter and birthday all rolled up in one – he had, as his ‘guest’ or captive, the general who had caused him so much grief. And so, in order to survive, David pretended to be mad, as nutty as a fruitcake. And while they believed him, they laughed at him but they left him alone (1 Samuel 21.1-15).

Most of us do not have people out there who literally want us dead. Most of us do not need to feign insanity. And we do thank God that we are not in such a situation. 

But many of you will have your troubles and your anguish. We may have enemies who hate us. I trust that it is that way round and not the other. I remember talking with a 7 year old in Russia, little Dima, who told me that he didn’t want that person coming to his party because ‘he is my enemy’. But maybe we do find ourselves with enemies, falsely accused, betrayed by those we trusted. Or we are in anguish, simply in trouble, confused and out of our depth.

And it is significant to see what it is that David prays for in that situation. 

Note that in this Psalm he does not pray vengeance on his enemies. We do find that in other Psalms, and I guess it is better to take our desire for vengeance to God rather than to try to take vengeance ourselves. 

But here David prays

1. That he will not be shamed: ‘Let me not be put to shame’ (v2,20)

Saul wants him dead. But more than that. He wants him crushed, his reputation in tatters. And David is praying, ‘Please God, don’t let that happen’. It is the most human of the prayers that he prays. He does pray for God to release him from the snare and to preserve his life, but the worst thing that he can imagine is not his suffering or death, but his public humiliation before others. What he dreads is being captured and taken back to Gibeon (Saul’s city) and paraded naked through the streets, or being hung up to die on a tree.

We know how painful it is to be humiliated, shamed in front of others. We know how painful it is when others mock us or laugh at us, when they treat us as a joke or outcast, particularly when we are very vulnerable. And David prays the human prayer, ‘Let me not be put to shame’.

[There is, of course, another who also prayed to escape shame and agony. But he also prayed, 'Not my will but yours be done'. He was prepared to go through the shame, through the scandal of the cross, in order to bring many to God]

2. For guidance (v4f)

There is quite a bit of that here. 

David prays: “Show me your ways, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me.” (v4,5)  

David wants to know not only what is the right thing to do, the right decision to take, but also what is the right way to live.

For instance, while David is running for his life from Saul, on two occasions he has the opportunity to end his persecution – and even become king himself (he has been told by a prophet that one day he will be king) - by killing Saul. 
It is the obvious thing to do, the solution to all his problems. 

But it is not the right thing to do. 

On both occasions David says, “No, I will not take the life of Saul, because Saul is God’s anointed ruler of his people. And it is not for me to take the life of God’s anointed one”.

And we can speculate. If David had killed Saul, and then seized the throne, there would probably have been civil war. But because he did not kill Saul, instead when Saul does die, the people come to him and invite him to become king. And the foundation of his kingdom was peace and not violence. 

And later in this Psalm, he prays for integrity and uprightness (v21).

The reason that David is hungry to know God’s way, and the reason he is prepared to humble himself before God – and do what God wants - is because he is convinced 

- It is the path to well-being (prosperity) (v11)
- It is the road to securing your future (v11)
- It is the secret to friendship with God
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them” (v14)

And that leads us to his third prayer

3. For God’s presence and protection (v16)

‘Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted’ (v16)

I would love to be able to say that whenever we are in trouble and turn seriously to God in prayer, he will sort out the trouble and make the path of life smooth for us. 

But that is not the case.

There are many faithful Christians who have been in trouble, who have prayed for rescue, and whose prayer seemed unanswered. 

If our faith is based on a belief that God will immediately rescue us when we are in trouble, it is a faith that will not last. It is not a faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is not a faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is faith in a made up sugar candy father God. 

But if we look closer we will see that David seems to pray for something different. 

Yes, he does pray that he will not be shamed, and that God will protect him and rescue him. But what he really prays for is that he will know the presence of God. 

That is why he so bugged by his sinfulness. He knows that his sinfulness, his disobedience that  cuts him off from God. Three times, he asks for God’s forgiveness (vv7,11,18). And three times he throws himself on God’s mercy (v6), love and goodness (v7) and on God’s name (v11).

What he really wants is to know the friendship of God, about which he speaks in v14. 

David is in anguish. 
It may be that this psalm comes from when he is behaving like a lunatic in the court of King Achish of Gath. He may not. It doesn’t really matter. 
What does matter is that, in his anguish, in his trouble, he cries out to God. He asks God to deliver him, to guide him, but he also asks God to come to him. And even though, by the end of the Psalm there is no immediate answer, yet he holds on to the hope that God will answer him. 

‘No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame’ (v3)
Or as he simply says in v5 and 21, ‘My hope is in you’

You see, when we know that God is with us, the whole world can be against us, and it is OK. 
When we know that God is with us, our plans may crumble, our dreams may be shattered, we can be let down badly by people, but it is still OK
When we know that God is with us, we may suffer dreadfully, but it is still OK
We can be surrounded by enemies, be hated, be betrayed, but when we know that God is with us, we know that it is OK.