Composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church, March 4, 2012
Sermon Passage: 1 Cor. 11:2-16, 14:34-35 (“Women in the Church”)
Lord, we thank you for this difficult passage that we have studied this morning, and for the call it presents to us to wrestle anew with your Word, the much-needed reminder that we cannot take Scripture for granted, but must be prepared to be confused, surprised, and even alarmed by it at times. We pray that we would embrace such opportunities; instead of accepting the temptation to shut the Bible and shove it away when it says something unpleasant, or to retreat immediately to the stronghold of our preconceived paradigms and interpretations, help us to study its words with faith and love, opening our hearts to the guidance of your Spirit. We pray this not only for us today, but for your whole Church, especially in Britain and throughout the West, where passages such as this have bitterly divided churches and congregations over the question of the role of women in the church. Lord, we repent for this division, for the stubbornness and the impatience that have provoked rifts, the unwillingness to listen to others and the pride that makes us imagine that we speak with the voice of God when we utter our opinion or interpretation. Lord, bless the churches with fresh light from your Word that may help resolve this and other issues of debate, and grant us the grace and charity, even in the midst of ongoing disagreement, to unite in the common work of the gospel.
We thank you for the immense blessings and gifts that Christian women have brought to your Church throughout the centuries, and which, in today’s world, they are more able than ever to contribute. We thank you for the many ways in which this church, Ps & Gs, is sustained and enriched by their enormous contributions to its life and work. Lord, the fields of Britain today are white unto harvest, and we pray that you would raise up a multitude of laborers, both men and women, to serve the Church in their different gifts and callings.
During this time of Lent, we come to you, Lord, especially mindful, as the Prayer Book says, of our “manifold sins and wickednesses.” We pray that you would enable us to, with holy grief, lament the great burden of our sins, and with holy joy, to rejoice in your gracious forgiveness of them. Remind us that penitence is no time for gloom, for the greater our sins, the more overwhelming is the realization that you have removed them as far as the East is from the West. As the days lengthen and the air beguiles us with the hints of spring, let us press forward with hope toward Easter, yearning for the Resurrection of all things when sin shall darken our hearts no more. We thank you for the gift, this past week, of the 24/7 Prayer, for the hundreds of half-formed but heartfelt appeals whispered in that basement room of 40 York Place. Thank you that your Spirit helps us in our weakness when we do not know how to pray, thank you that you hear our prayers; and we ask that you would hear all those brought before you this week. Make us people of 24/7 prayer every week, eagerly coming before you in joyful thanksgiving every time we have cause to rejoice, beseeching you for aid whenever temptation assails us, sharing with joy our needs and desires and receiving the comfort of your presence in return.
Lord, many of us this past week no doubt laid before you the sufferings of our world, asking for your healing power to be poured out on places like Syria and neighboring countries. For the innocent who suffer in that nation, we beg your protection; for the guilty, your forgiveness but also that you would act to overturn their plots and thwart their violent agendas; for those who stand by on the sidelines, unsure how to act, your wisdom. We pray also for the thousands of lives and livelihoods shattered this week by a different kind of violence—the violence of storms and tornadoes. Lord, we ask for your mercy upon those communities in the Midwest and Southeastern US torn apart on Friday by these terrifying forces of nature: for the injured, healing; for those left destitute, sustenance; for the bereaved, that comfort which only you can provide; for rescue teams, skill and perseverance. Remind us at times like this that, in a world where we might seem to have gained power over the earth itself and all its secrets, we remain very much at the mercy of forces outside our control. Teach us humility, but remind us also of the need to do what we can to maintain the equilibrium of our climate. Give wisdom to scientists and politicians who must make projections and plans, and then fight the long battle of persuading their opponents on this contentious issue.
Finally, we pray more broadly for our political leaders and our political process in a time when democracy seems increasingly to be an idle word, replaced in reality by demagoguery and deception. For many of us, we are now too cynical expect any honesty or constructive action from our political leaders, and yet so many of the problems that face us—economic inequality and instability, environmental degradation, wars and rumors of wars, social breakdown—demand meaningful political action. Give us leaders who will speak the truth and act on it, and in the absence of such leaders, give us the courage to do what we can in our own communities, and through churches here and around the world, to tackle these problems and transform lives. Above all, give us revival, that hearts long grown cold may turn to you and hear the word of your Gospel, and live new lives in the power of your Spirit.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Note: This prayer posed a particular challenge inasmuch as I had no idea in advance what the sermon was going to say about the passage, except that it was sure to, in some form or other, argue in defence of women’s ordination.
More thoughts about the sermon and this passage to follow later this week.