A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The readings for the seventh Sunday of Easter are here.
We’ve said and witnessed a lot of prayer this week. In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Uvalde – and so many others like it – we pray. We bring our emotions to God in in our need for comfort and guidance. And we should do this, it is the right, first response as we follow Jesus. And we keep in mind that prayer is not passive. Prayer is an action of love. In our prayer we are drawn closer in relationship with God our Creator. And the fruit of this relationship is how we love the world – actively seeking the greater good of all, working together to reveal God’s love in the midst of pain and suffering.
The purpose of prayer is to deepen our communion with God. Prayer isn’t access to some holy vending machine in which we tell God about all of our good works so God will dispense what we want. It isn’t a way to earn God’s favor or even to get God to change or punish others.
Prayer is entering into honest and authentic communion with God. It is both speaking what it on our hearts, the good, the anger, the joy, the sorrow, the pain, whatever it is we are experiencing, AND then listening in the silence, aware of God’s presence with us. Prayer is the first step in our partnering with God to make it on earth as it is in heaven here and now. Prayer is about aligning our will to God’s will, shaping our hearts so that what we ask for is in line with God’s will for all.
In our gospel reading today we hear a portion of the prayer Jesus prays for his disciples and us in the last moments before his arrest and crucifixion. It is a prayer full of anguish, urgency, and active love.
In the words of his prayer, Jesus reminds us that we are in this world but we do not belong to this world. We belong to God. That we have a purpose in this world – to reveal the love of God to the world, to be united as one force of love in the name of Jesus so that all come to know God. And that those who claim allegiance to this world rather than God will hate those of us who claim allegiance to God.
Following Jesus isn’t about leaving this world or transcending it but living in it in the name of Love so that we participate with God in making it on earth as it is in heaven. Love is stronger that hate. Love is stronger than fear. When we pray seeking deeper communion with God, our capacity to love grows so that we can counter the hate and fear in this world with all that we are and all that we do.
As we come together each week to collect all of our prayers together and raise our voice as one to God we are living into the unity that Jesus speaks of. Our Eucharist is framed as a prayer. We ask God to make real in us the purpose for which Jesus lived and died and rose again.
Prayers and Action are not separate options. For Christians, they must be used together. We thoughtfully consider the value of all human life and pray for God’s power and strength to reveal to us where we need to change so that everything we think, say, and do reflects God’s love for all people and a hurting world. We pray that our city, state, and country leaders will thoughtfully consider which policies will best serve the people and the common good and not their own political agendas or power trips. We speak the truth of Love against the fear and hate in this world. We use our votes to elect people of good character not to support a particular party.
We pray and we act. We participate with God to reveal the power of Love in this world.
We pray for the victims of gun violence and those who inflict it. And we act to prevent it happening again. We can join in with the group Episcopalians Against Gun Violence. We can participate in both Mental Health Awareness and Civil Discourse programs or organize and offer them in our community. We can donate to reputable victims groups. We can help groups like rawtools.org turn weapons in the gardening tools.
We pray for those who are sick and we help them get what they need to recover. We pray for those who are struggling, financially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and help them locate the resources they need. We pray for those who are hungry in our community and help to relieve their hunger.
Mother Teresa said, “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”
It is ours, as Jesus Followers, to reveal God’s love in this world. We vow to do so in our baptismal covenant, claiming we will, with God’s help, persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; and strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
We follow Jesus in prayer and in action, doing what unites and builds up, what puts the greater good of all over and above our personal desires, what reveals the power of God’s love even in the darkest of times.
I’d like to close this sermon on prayer with a prayer and then at the end of our worship I invite you to pick up the printed prayers and resources for action and make use of them. We pray and we act.
Let us pray for the community of Uvalde in the words of Bishop David Reed:
O God our Father, whose beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them: Give us grace to entrust your beloved children of Uvalde to your everlasting care and love, and bring them fully into your heavenly kingdom. Pour out your grace and loving-kindness on all who grieve; surround them with your love; and restore their trust in your goodness. We lift up to you our weary, wounded souls and ask you to send your Holy Spirit to take away the anger and violence that infects our hearts, and make us instruments of your peace and children of the light. In the Name of Christ who is our hope, we pray. Amen.