Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Seeing Jesus

Luke 16: 19-31
September 25, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Jesus has been debating with the Pharisees. He is telling parables in an effort to get through to them. He has told them about a shrewd manager, about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and then about a lost son who left home and came back to a father’s welcome.

Jesus has been telling these stories hoping that the Pharisees and the scribes will have a change of perspective – hoping that they will begin to see the world in a new way. Jesus has urged them to repent, to return to God, and they have not yet seen him for who he is. So now he tells this story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Luke 16:19-31

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried.
In Hades, where he was being tormented,
he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me,
and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue;
for I am in agony in these flames.’

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

In Davidson, North Carolina, in the midst of an upscale neighborhood of well-kept homes, there is a sculpture in front of St. Alban’s Episcopal church. The sculpture is a bench, much like any park bench, and on the bench is a life-size figure wrapped in a blanket. The figure is a man, stretched out, his face and hands covered by the blanket. His bare feet are visible, uncovered. If you sit down on the bench and look closely at those sculpted feet, you can see the wounds in his feet. The scars are visible - scars of the nails of the crucifixion.

If you are farther away, or if it is night, the sculpture looks quite real. In fact, not long after it was installed, a woman who lives nearby drove past, thought it was a vagrant sleeping on a bench, and called the police.

Some of the neighbors think it is creepy, others find it insulting. One neighbor said “it demeans the neighborhood” to have what appears to be a homeless man sleeping on a bench outside the church.

The sculpture is titled “Jesus the Homeless.”[1] The sculptor, a Canadian artist named Timothy Schmalz, offered the statue to St. Michael’s cathedral in Toronto, but they declined. Then he approached St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York City, and they said “no thanks” as well. People have said they find the statue disturbing, inspiring, challenging.

At least they noticed it.

So often, people walk past homeless people without even seeing them. Last year in New Zealand, the Auckland Police Department tried a unique recruiting experiment. They paid a child actor to rummage in a trash can, as if he were looking for food. He was dirty, poorly dressed. Of the five hundred or so people who passed by the boy in about a half hour, most did not even look at him. Three groups – a total of seven people – stopped and spoke to the boy. They asked him if he needed help, if he was hungry, if he had family.

Seven. Out of five hundred.

The rich man must have walked right past Lazarus outside his front door, day after day.
He must have noticed the dogs licking at Lazarus’ sores. Surely he saw Lazarus, didn’t he?
Or did he walk past him so often that Lazarus just faded into the background?

Jesus’ story is rich in visual images –
the rich man in his purple robe,
sitting at his fancy table,
eating his sumptuous food.

What a contrast to this pathetic beggar, Lazarus, with dogs licking his sores.
He was so hungry he’d have eaten the food that fell to the floor.

So in the first scene of the parable,
we see Lazarus, miserable, outside the gate,
and the rich man, fat and happy, inside the wall.

Next scene, they are both dead.
Lazarus is carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.
The rich man – he’s just dead.
They both go to Hades, the realm of the dead.
It isn’t heaven, or hell – it is the place where all the dead go.
But the contrast continues.
Lazarus is with Abraham, and the rich man is suffering.
Between them is an abyss, a deep gorge that cannot be bridged.

Now, suddenly, in the third scene, the rich man notices Lazarus.
Recognizes him, even.
Now he even knows Lazarus by name!
Because now the rich man has a job for the poor beggar.
He is suffering, in agony, so he calls out to Father Abraham:
“Send Lazarus to bring me a drop of water. Cool my tongue.”
Nope, Abraham says, this gap is too wide – you cannot cross over.
Well then, says the rich man, send him to warn my brothers.

You have to wonder what Lazarus was thinking – how this rich man had acted as if he were invisible, and now the rich man wants Lazarus to do his bidding.

But Abraham denies that second request, too. He tells the rich man that his five brothers already have Moses and the prophets. They haven’t listened to the God of the covenant up to now, they aren’t likely to start listening. In fact, those brothers in the parable wouldn’t be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.

And that’s the end of the parable.

Like many of Jesus’ parables, it can have multiple meanings. Generations of preachers in many Christian traditions have interpreted the story in many different ways. Some have said it is a story about heaven and hell. But both Lazarus and the rich man seem to be in the same vicinity. Besides, Jesus is standing there telling it, in the context of other events, so it would seem that he has something else in mind.

One way to think about this parable is to consider the elements of the story. First we see the rich man, in his fine clothing, eating his luxurious meals. Luke has earlier identified these Pharisees as “lovers of money,” so we can be pretty sure that the rich guy is not the hero of this story.

Next we see Lazarus, miserable, poverty stricken, afflicted, poor. He is the only character in any of Jesus’ parables who is given a name! We don’t have any indication of his moral character, or how he came to be in such a dreadful state. But we do know that at that time people thought that someone like Lazarus was in such appalling condition due to some fault of his own.

So the judgment of a person’s economic condition went hand in hand with moral judgment – the person must be shiftless, or irresponsible, or careless, or depraved or corrupt. Many people still believe that about the poor and homeless today.

Certainly, the story focuses on Lazarus, but he is no hero. Then we have Abraham, Father Abraham, who signifies God’s covenant promise to the Jewish people. And then there are the rich man’s five brothers, who, apparently like him, also ignore the poor and afflicted.

But wait, there’s one more important image here ---that great chasm, the one that separated the rich man from Lazarus. On one side of the chasm, Lazarus is comforted in the arms of Abraham. On the other side of the chasm, the rich man suffers torment and pain.

Even though that chasm isn’t mentioned until the last scene, it is there in the first scene. It’s just that their positions are reversed, the rich man and Lazarus. The chasm that separates them is so wide and so deep, that the rich man can’t even see Lazarus, can’t even recognize his suffering. Presumably, the rich man’s brothers are still walking around on the earth, and the poor are invisible to them – too far across the divide to even be seen.

It isn’t so very different today.

I confess to you that I find it harder and harder to look at those who are afflicted in our society. Not because I don’t want to see them, or help them, but because it is so painful, and I feel so helpless. There are so many people suffering in this world, and it seems like there is so little I can do to help. You know what I mean?

We can’t go around handing out money to every panhandler.
We don’t have the resources to feed every child.
We don’t have the power to mend the broken relationships
between the races in our country.
We haven’t the means to heal all who are sick.

So maybe we need to change our perspective. Maybe we need to take a new look at the world, see things in a new way. Maybe, like the rich man, or like the Pharisees, we need to pay attention to those who are suffering in our immediate vicinity. Right outside our doorsteps.

It isn’t easy.
In fact, it might be painful.
We might feel like some of those people in Davidson, North Carolina, who see that sculpture of Jesus the Homeless and feel uncomfortable, disturbed, challenged. 

But as Christians, we aren’t called to be comfortable. 
We are called to serve.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says it explicitly:
I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.’
… ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

The second chapter of James echoes the words of Jesus:
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,
and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,”
and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?

In the parable, Abraham says, about the five brothers,
“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.

Throughout the scripture, Old Testament and New,
the words of the prophets, the disciples, the epistles,
God keeps telling us to really see people, to see their need and respond to it.

Are we convinced?

Our risen Lord has called us to service,
to reach across the chasms that separate us one from another,
to seeing those who are suffering and caring for them.
To love them as Jesus loves them.

Mother Teresa offered a simple method for that, a way to see people through the lens of Christianity. She said, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

Maybe that’s all that Jesus really asks of us –
to see the poor, the sick, the naked, the hungry, and to see him.

Maybe it is all just as simple as that –
as simple as seeing Jesus.

May we be convinced by the one who is risen from the dead.


[1] http://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/302019921/statue-of-a-homeless-jesus-startles-a-wealthy-community

The Lost and Found Box

Luke 15:1-10
September 18, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Before our reading from Luke 15, let’s take a moment with Luke 14. Jesus has been going from place to place, talking and eating. He’s been going to dinner with Pharisees and with the riffraff, and he keeps saying these troubling things – telling the rich to give up all they have and follow him, scolding those who mistreat the poor, talking about a great banquet that God is giving, and how all kinds of people will be invited to the table.

And he’s not going around calling these scruffy, disreputable people to come and follow him, or asking them to eat with him. They are crowding around him, and inviting him to dinner. They want to hear what he has to say. In other words, they’re looking for him, not the other way around.

Let’s listen to some stories about being lost and found in Luke 15:1-10:
1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying,
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them,
does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness
and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.
6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors,
saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them,
does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors,
saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”

This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

You know, the Pharisees in this story really have a point. They’ve invited Jesus to come to dinner with them, to talk with them. They’re really tried to engage with him in meaningful dialogue. But he won’t really listen to reason. He keeps saying these provocative things to them. He keeps company with these, well…deplorable people.

And he keeps telling these stories, these parables. Like these two stories, about a lost sheep and a lost coin. First with this shepherd story – speaking of riff-raff – everybody knows that shepherds are, well…socially unacceptable. They are dishonest and dirty and the lowest of low-lifes. So who cares about what they do, really?

Plus, it is a stupid premise – which of you would not leave the ninety nine? Nobody with any sense leaves ninety-nine sheep to go after one. If Jesus had asked for a show of hands, no Pharisee or scribe hands would have gone up.The story makes no sense whatsoever.

If you’re irresponsible enough to lose one of your flock, and then you’re irresponsible enough to leave the bulk of your flock, just to go after one idiotic sheep, would you really want to tell everyone about that? Let alone ask everyone over for a celebratory dinner! That’s what it meant to them – “Rejoice with me” implied a party. So that’s just nonsense, that story.

Not that the second one was any better – another negligent main character, this time a woman. She’s lost a coin – ten percent of her net worth, apparently. So she wastes valuable lamp oil to hunt for it. It probably would have turned up eventually. Then, same ending – when she finds it, she throws a party to celebrate. Ridiculous.

Those sinners and tax collectors probably weren’t all that happy with the stories either.
After all, who wants to be compared with a sheep or a coin?
That was what Jesus meant, wasn’t it, that they were lost?
But, the sinners were probably thinking, “Jesus didn’t come looking for me! I came looking for him! He didn’t find me! I found him!”

It’s all very puzzling. Who is the one who is lost, and who is the one who is found?
Then there’s the bigger question still – who are the righteous, and who are the sinners?
What exactly does Jesus mean to say? If you’ve ever lost something or someone– like some money, or a check, or your glasses or your keys or your homework or your calendar or your phone or your favorite jacket or a ring you know that the lost item does not know or care that it is lost. Maybe it ends up in the lost and found box.

Those things are always interesting, those boxes. You look at the items and think there must be a story to them – those sunglasses with the rhinestones on them, the one purple glove, the keys to who-knows-what, the pacifier, the cardigan, the single clip-on earring, the turquoise tie tack. There must be a story to go with each lost item, but it is not crying, looking for its owner, hoping to find you, hoping you find it. The thing you have lost is simply lost, sitting wherever it got misplaced. When you find whatever you’ve lost, if you find it, you are glad to have found it, but usually too embarrassed to call all the neighbors over for a celebration.

They would think it was weird, anyway.
“Hey! I found my car keys! Come have a glass of wine and a hamburger!”

With people, it is a different matter.
People don’t go in the lost and found box.
The search is more frenzied, the finding is more joyous.

Any parent whose child is lost is frantic in the search and usually the lost child is equally frantic. When a child gets lost, there are many anxious moments, maybe even hours, sometimes even days of worry until the child is found. When parent and child are reunited, there is much rejoicing, and others might join in the merriment. Like the angels in heaven, they share in your happiness.

A few years ago, there was a story in the news of a little boy, five years old, who got lost and separated from his mother. For twenty five years. Saroo was a little boy in India whose mother was struggling to raise four children alone. Saroo and his brother sometimes boarded trains to beg for food and money. But on the day he got lost, Saroo fell asleep on the train. When it stopped and he went into the train station, he didn’t know where he was. He tried to find his brother, tried to find his way back home, but it was no use. He couldn’t read, and he didn’t have any money, and he didn’t know where to go for help, and there was no way to contact his mother if he did know.

He kept getting on and off of trains, looking for something familiar. He boarded a train to Calcutta, and wound up begging on the streets there. Eventually someone took the little guy to the police station, as a lost child. They couldn’t make any sense of the names he told them of his village. So they declared that he was truly lost, and took Saroo to an orphanage.

He was indeed lost until he was found and adopted by a couple from New Zealand. He learned English, grew up in New Zealand, finished college, started a career. Twenty years later, at a party, something triggered a memory. He began to spend hours and hours late at night at his computer, searching on Google Earth, for photos of what might be his village. He had been such a little boy – he thought the name of his village was “Gunnestalay” but then an online chat group user told him, “Ganesh Talai.” Saroo found a picture of a fountain that looked familiar, then a water tank, a bridge, a street. He had found the village he’d last seen at the age of four. As soon as he could, Saroo traveled to the village called Ganesh Talai. Once there, he walked straight to the house where he’d lived as a child. But it was vacant.

He showed a picture of himself as a boy to the neighbors, said the name of his mother, sister, brothers, said them over and over. Finally a man who spoke a little English said,  “Come with me. I’ll take you to your mother.” Saroo’s mother had searched as much as she could for her little boys. Every day that she could, Saroo’s mother rode the trains, looking for her children. Saroo’s older brother had been killed by a train, but she still hoped that one day she’d find her other lost little boy.

That day, in the village, Saroo’s mother recognized him at once. She ran to him and embraced him, weeping. “Sheru! Sheru!” she said.

And Saroo realized that was his true name.[1]

You can almost hear the angels rejoicing, can’t you?
The son reunited with his mother was no longer lost.
The mother reunited with her son was no longer lost.
Sheru now knows where he comes from, knows his true name.
Rejoice with me, for that which was lost has been found!

See, the Pharisees weren’t feeling like they were missing anything. The scribes didn’t think they needed anything. There was nothing they had lost. So they weren’t searching. The sinners and the tax collectors had nothing to lose, so they went searching for Jesus, and found everything.

When the hands of love find you in the lost and found box, 
and pick you up and take you home, that’s joy.
When the good shepherd finds you lost in the night, 
and carries you home on his shoulders, that’s joy.
When the woman who treasures you picks you up off the floor, 
and weeps with happiness at the sight of you, that’s joy.
When you finally find your true home, and your family, 
and your real name, that’s joy.

Now the question for us is, where do we find ourselves in this story?
Which do we want to do – set out to search for that lost lamb?
light a lamp and sweep until we find that precious coin?
or sit in the darkness and hang onto what we have?

Are we sinners who need to repent, or do we really think we already have it all together?
What are we going to do, when Jesus brings us those riff-raff, those disreputable folks, and asks us to join in the celebration?
Are we going to call everyone we know and say, “Rejoice with me!”?
Or are we going to cross our arms and grouse about it?

When people who are lost and alone, find Jesus, or when Jesus finds them,
the invitation is always the same: “Rejoice with me!”

Jesus and all the angels in heaven celebrate.
This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them!
This Jesus, he’s happy to find us riff-raff.
Thanks be to God!

[1] Saudamini Jain, “The incredible story of Saroo Brierley.” Hindustan Times | Updated: Aug 31, 2013 Accessed 091616

School of Prayer

I got behind on posting - so I'm catching up with several sermons today!

1 Timothy 2:1-7
September 11, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Our reading for today comes from the first letter to Timothy, a part of one of the letters called “The Pastoral Epistles.” We in the modern church have a kind of love/hate relationship with these letters, once attributed to the Apostle Paul but now believed to have come much later and by another author. We love them because they establish order and organization to the church – something Presbyterians everywhere adore! We do not like some of the blunting of Paul’s radical gospel, nor some of the injunctions which attempt to impose a hierarchical order on Christian families. Taken in context, the effort to impose hierarchy is natural. It was a reflection of the first century world in which these documents were written. So it is almost paradoxical that our text today begins with an urging of prayer; every kind of prayer, for those who are in high positions. But then we hear the rest of the scripture, and the purpose for this prayer. Let’s listen for God’s word to us today in 1 Timothy 2: 1-7

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind,

Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

In the early Christian world, countries were governed by emperors, Empires ruled by brute force and power– violent power. The crucifixion of Jesus was but one example of the violence of empire. Those in power had the highest status, and were worthy of highest honor. As you worked your way up the ladder, your power and status increased.

Conversely, farther down the ladder, your power and status decreased – common everyday men, then women, then slaves, then children. You’ll enjoy knowing that on Thursday at the men’s prayer breakfast, I shared a few of the verses that come after this passage with the guys:

“I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”

You’ve never seen a bunch of guys so excited about some Bible verses!

But that was the domestic order of the day. In the household, order was to be observed like military ranking, or seniority. The husband ruled the household; the mother was second in command, then the sons, then the daughters.

Christians may have done this to demonstrate to the Romans that they were believers in order and obedience. But they were not willing to swear allegiance to the Roman Empire. Their first and only loyalty was to Jesus Christ. The message of the gospel then, opposing empire, opposing violence, challenging hierarchy and standing firm against persecution, was a defiant shout – a pledge of allegiance to God alone.

For the Romans from about the year 64 on, the Christians’ loyalty to Christ was an expression of disloyalty to the empire. To follow Christ was to deny the power of the Emperor. The Christians of that time were not afraid to die for their faith, and because they were not afraid, the Roman Empire was sometimes baffled by how to threaten them! First century Christians would have been flummoxed by this recent outrage over a football player who would not stand for the national anthem – in their world view, he’d have been doing the right thing!

So, imagine that you are a Christian in the year 65 AD, and Nero has just perpetrated a full scale persecution of Christians, and is literally feeding your fellow Christians to the lions. Tell me how inclined you would be to pray for him! Tell me how anyone could offer up prayers for a murderer who had terrorized your people and killed them by the hundreds.

Fifteen years ago today, we held our breath in horror as we watched, over and over again, news video of the twin towers falling, the Pentagon on fire, the wreckage of aircraft, the dust-covered crowds of people walking like zombies away from lower Manhattan. As the news reports of terrorist attacks showed us footage every hour, we felt a whole spectrum of emotions – fear, sorrow, uncertainty, and anger. 

Our first thoughts were for our families and friends, especially if any of them were in New York City, or at the Pentagon. Next, our concerns turned to others we didn’t know – the victims and their families, the first responders, the military, all the communities affected by this. Many of us prayed for our nation’s leaders. But I would bet that few of us prayed for the leaders of other countries. And I’d bet that fewer of us prayed for the families of the terrorists. And it was pretty darn hard to pray for peace. It’s hard for me to guess how non-religious people reacted. But somehow people knew that houses of prayer were a place to go. That Saturday and Sunday, September 15 and 16, 2001, the nation’s synagogues and churches saw a huge spike in attendance. Some churches reported a 25% increase in the number of worshipers.

The Barna research group reported the spike was short-lived, however. Robert Barna said, of the numbers, that "churches succeeded at putting on a friendly face but failed at motivating the vast majority of spiritual explorers to connect with Christ in a more intimate or intense manner." In a brief burst of faith, people turned to churches and synagogues for meaning and comfort, for help with fear and grief.

By 2002, the statistics on religious belief and worship attendance were back down to previous levels. Now, fifteen years on, the numbers are lower still. As often happens, the intense, spontaneous religious reaction to tragedy does not last – in fact is not sustainable for most people. Reflecting on this, a rabbi in New Jersey wrote:

“Transformative religion is rarely born in spontaneous reactions to events such as Sept. 11, because those kind of cataclysmic happenings are too infrequent and isolated to build permanent and long-lasting faith. The spiritual fires that they ignite are intense, but not durable, even among the already religious.”

He also wrote, “Lives are only transformed spiritually and permanently when religious experiences accumulate in regular life passages, such as birth, adolescence, marriage and old age, and when religion is given the chance to repeat itself in fixed rituals and prescribed prayers.”[1]

Spiritual transformation, this coming to the knowledge of God’s truth, takes time and attention. God desires everyone to know this truth, through Jesus Christ. But this can’t be done in intermittent doses, can’t be accomplished in a few Christmas Eve candlelight services and an Easter Sunday or two – not for children or for adults. That’s why we believe in spiritual formation and Christian education. That’s why we have Rally Day every year, and Sunday school, and confirmation and Bible study and prayer breakfast. That’s why we have Lenten Wednesday soup and study. These are not just to convey information – they are meant to be opportunities for transformation, for spiritual formation. Because it isn’t easy to learn how to pray. Oh, sure, it’s easy to pray for stuff you want, whether it is rain or a new puppy. It’s easy to memorize some prayers, and repeat them by rote. But prayer as a lifelong commitment, as a way of breathing, particularly praying for peace, praying for those we may not like – that is another matter altogether. That takes a long slow transforming experience, the education not just of instruction or Bible reading, but of the community as it gathers and prays together.

Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Building communities that practice understanding, loving-kindness and compassion may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of our world.”

One of the central practices for building that kind of community is the practice of the whole range of prayer for every person in the world.

What if we begged God every day for someone to know peace – someone we don’t like, someone we might find objectionable?

What if we actually stepped up in prayer for peace for our enemies?

What if we gave thanks to God for every living creature on this earth – even terrorists, or racists, or whichever political candidate we can’t stand?

On this day, as we remember the grim events of fifteen years ago, let us set aside all thought of revenge and turn our thoughts toward reconciliation.

On this day, as we begin anew our programs of spiritual formation and Christian Education, let us commit ourselves to be a school of prayer, where we build a community whose prayers are more than words – whose prayers are acts of understanding, lovingkindness and compassion.

On this day, as we come once again to the table of the Prince of Peace, let our joyful prayers of thanksgiving arise to the one who has called us, who mediates for us, who loves us beyond all telling, who desires for all to come to him, who shapes us as a people of prayer.

“Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves. Let us be aware of the source of being, common to us all and to all living things. Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion, let us fill our hearts with our own compassion — towards ourselves and towards all living beings. Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be the cause of suffering to each other. With humility, with awareness of the existence of life, and of the suffering that is going on around us, let us practice the establishment of peace in our hearts and on the earth.” (Thich Nhat Hanh.)


[1] Gerald L. Zelizer, Quick dose of 9-11 religion soothes, doesn't change, USA Today, January 7, 2002. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/comment/2002/01/08/ncguest2.htm