Sunday, June 11, 2017

God Doesn't Go It Alone

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 11, 2017

Year A: The First Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

God Doesn’t Go It Alone
            If you’ve been coming to St. Paul’s for more than a few weeks, you’ve probably noticed that we recently made what I think is a pretty big change to our Sunday services.
            It’s a change that I’ve considered for a while and I’ve talked about it with the other members of the staff and with the vestry.
            For some time now, our parish prayer list has grown very long – by my count there are more than 75 people on it right now, plus the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls and our friends over at Majestic and the people suffering under war, violence, and terrorism, and the imprisoned – so many people who feel they need our prayers – so many people who have asked for our prayers.
            But, when thinking about our service there’s a lot to consider. I know that for those of you who come from a more Protestant background our service doesn’t feel long at all (at an hour and change Baptists are just getting warmed up!) but for others it does, and we need to keep their – your - wants and needs in mind, too.            
            So, with a good bit of regret, starting on Easter we stopped saying each name on the prayer list, but, for the record, we do continue praying each name at the weekday services.
            Since that long prayer list had become kind of a distinctive feature of St. Paul’s, I’m honestly a little surprised that only a couple of people have mentioned this change to me.
            And, in case you’re wondering, I’m sure that we’ll continue to tweak it, maybe praying by name for those who’ve been added in the past week or those whose needs are especially critical.
            Anyway, thinking about all of this gives us an opportunity to ask some important questions about prayers of petition, prayers when we ask God for something – something for us or, more often, I think, something for others.
            First, can we agree that God already knows what’s best for us, and it’s not like we can talk God out of one thing and into another, right?
            So, why do people ask us to pray for them and for those they love?
            Why do we feel compelled to pray for our needs and the needs of others?
            Why does Jesus teach us to pray to God for the coming of God’s kingdom, and for our daily bread, for forgiveness, and to deliver us from evil?
            Well, I’m not sure! But I think I have an idea.
            Today is the First Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday – the day when we’re invited to celebrate and reflect on the mysterious inner life of God – our understanding that God is one in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
            Many minds far greater than mine have pondered and written about this deep and ultimately unknowable mystery and, truthfully, it feels like a fool’s errand to me, except to say that the Trinity teaches us that when we look as best as we can into God’s heart what we discover there is community.
            Even in God’s heart, God doesn’t go it alone.
            And so, it makes sense that when God decided to create, God made a real creation where our choices and our actions have real consequences – a real creation where the God who doesn’t go it alone invites us to be part of the action – invites us to be part of the healing – invites us to be part of the building of God’s kingdom.
            God doesn’t go it alone and so we are invited to be part of God’s community.
            God doesn’t go it alone and so we are commissioned by Jesus to invite others to be part of God’s community, too.
            What an honor, right?
            What an honor to be invited into God’s community, the community where everyone is valued and loved, no matter where we come from or what we look like, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made, no matter the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives.
            What an honor to be commissioned to invite others into God’s community, to invite maybe like the street preacher I saw and heard yesterday outside Lincoln Park, but more likely and, I’d say, more effectively, to invite by living the kind of joyful and loving life that others want a taste of, to invite by personally extending a hand to a neighbor and say, come and see.
            And, finally, what an honor to pray for those many, many people on our parish prayer list and the many people on our own personal prayer list, to pray not to change God’s mind or to talk God into doing what we want but to open our own hearts so we really can be part of God’s action, part of God’s healing, and part of building of God’s kingdom.
            No, God doesn’t go it alone - and God doesn’t want us to go it alone, either.
            So, God is always pouring out grace on us - and God has given us one another to do this work together, the strong supporting the weak, the experienced showing the way for the newcomer, the rich sharing their abundance with the poor.
            God doesn’t go it alone - and God doesn’t want us to go it alone, either.
            Finally, one last thing about our prayer list.
            One of the things that Susan, Vanessa, Gail, and I do at our weekly staff meeting is review the prayer list, adding people who’ve asked to be added and, especially when we used to read all the names, looking to trim the list whenever possible, if there’s been healing, if in some way, prayers have been answered.
            But, recently, someone still very much in need of our prayers asked to be removed from the list, saying that it bothered him to hear his name read aloud, bothered him to see his name printed among those long columns of names on the bulletin insert.
            I honored his request, but reluctantly, and I know a few others who know about this continue to hold this person in prayer.
            But, I’ve thought a lot about it and, while on one level it might simply be a case of embarrassment – you know, feeling shame to be in need of prayer – I think there is something even deeper going on.
            When we stop and think about it, if we really take prayer seriously, it’s nearly overwhelming to consider that people would care enough to give up precious time to pray for us, even if, especially if, they don’t even know us.
            And, it’s overwhelming to consider that the God of the universe would have any interest in hearing prayers offered for us.
            It can be hard to accept that we’re worth the time, or the effort, or the love.
            But, we are.
            All of us.
            And, we know this because the God whose very heart is community – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – this God doesn’t go it alone but invites us, every single one of us, to be part of the action.