We live in a puzzling universe. I refer here not to the mysteries of dark energy and antimatter but the strange laws governing catching a bus, particularly if you are late.
This Wednesday Jacqui and I attended the massively uplifting Alpha vision day at Holy Trinity Brompton in central London,. We stayed at our friends’ house in Little Venice. This meant catching the 414 bus during the morning rush hour. And sadly we experienced all four laws of taking the bus.
1)At least two buses of the number you want will pass going in the opposite direction before your bus arrives.
2)Several buses of the same but wrong number will appear before your bus turns up. Three number 6’s arrived at our bus stop before the 411 finally appeared.
3)(The best known of the four laws) You wait for a long time and then two buses turn up. Yes, two 414’s arrived. Naturally, we took the second – there was much more room.
Sadly London transport, wise to this phenomenon, made us wait for two whole minutes at Edgware Road. This leads to a variant of the fourth law.
4)The length of time your bus spends at each bus stop is directly proportional to how late you are.
We were late – but in time to hear Nicky Gumbell tell a remarkable story of this strange world in which we live. I’m not sure how true it is but it makes a telling point. Here it is.
In the Texan township of Mount Vernon the owner of Drummond’s bar decided to extend his business and construct a new building. The local Baptist church decided to take him on and organized both prayer meetings and a petition.
Imagine the Baptists’ delight when within a week of opening, the new bar was struck by lightening and burnt to the ground.
However, the bar owner decided to sue the Baptists – we are in the USA – for their actions, direct or indirect, which resulted in this catastrophic fire. Naturally, they denied all liability.
The case went to court. The judge was non-plussed: “It appears we have a bar owner who believes in the power of prayer and an entire church congregation that does not!”
During the Vision Day we heard remarkable stories of how Alpha is transforming individuals and churches throughout the world. And the key is prayer. So we prayed for each other. I prayed with Hector from St Felipe in Chile. Neither of us could speak the other’s language. Our prayer was no less effective.
In fact, the Dean of Liverpool, Justin Welby, whom I quoted last week, was part of a Q&A panel. “What would be his priority as the new Bishop of Durham?” His answer – we depend on God’s grace and that means the first priority has to be mobilising prayer.
Later Karl Barth, the greatest theologian of the 20th century, was quoted, somewhat incongruously, by Peter Greig, the founder of the 24/7 prayer movement, a slightly wild young man with hair to match. “God is not deaf, he listens; more than that, he acts. He does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. God’s will is not automatic. His purposes and promises are contingent on prayer.”
And this is the strangest feature of this creation we inhabit. That you and I can change the way God works simply through prayer. A key priority for Christ Church has to be that we make sure that prayer is continually at the heart of all that we do. Otherwise we labour in vain.
The fact that we cannot understand prayer is not the point – Jesus urges us to persevere (notice the verb) in prayer to our heavenly Father.