A Prayer composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church, 11/4/12
(Baptism: Marlowe Bede Smith; Sermon: Mark 10:17-31)
We come before you today humbled by the power of water, an instrument of both death and life in your all-powerful hands—water which, driven by unprecedented winds, can drown one of earth’s greatest cities; water which, cupped in the hands of one of your ministers, can wash away sins and welcome us into your household of faith. Of old you fixed the boundaries of the deep, but by our sin, we have turned this good gift of water into a source of judgment, ever-prone to escape its bounds and visit destruction on the human race. We have watched in shock and grief this past week the images of towns destroyed, tunnels flooded, lives shattered when the sea burst its banks in the northeastern United States. We do thank you, Lord, for the thousands of lives spared by ample warning, by prompt and decisive action from authorities, by courageous rescuers who entered flooding homes at the height of the storm, heedless of their own peril. And yet we lament, Lord, each life that was lost—whether by heroism, like the off-duty police officer who shepherded seven people to safety before drowning in a basement when he went back to check for others—or by senseless tragedy, like the stranded mother whose two young boys were swept from her arms when her neighbors ignored her pleas for help.
But by your grace, Lord, the water which in your fallen creation destroys, in your new creation restores; the water that can take the life of a young boy becomes for a young boy here the sign and seal of life eternal. We thank you for this joyful occasion, for the blessing the Smiths have been to this congregation and your whole church, and the blessing that Marlowe promises to be through the years and decades to come. With the waters of baptism, you are working to renew the whole world until the day when there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, when there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. While we sojourn in this valley of the shadow of death, remind us of this your promise of grace, and give us courage to proclaim it. But in the midst of earthly pain, Lord, we pray also for earthly comfort—for shelter, for food, for power, to those homeless, hungry, and in the dark; for love and consolation for those who have lost friends and family; for intelligent political leadership that will restore order, provide resources, rebuild infrastructure, and plan prudently to avert future catastrophes.
Lord, if the events of the past week have reminded us of the unequalled power of water, in the passage we have heard today, we are reminded of the frivolousness of what the world too often considers the most powerful thing on earth—money. All around us in the world today, and in each one of our thoughts, are signs of this idolatry. We pinch pennies and rationalize our stinginess, we consume ourselves seeking to advance our careers to ensure a ready flow of money in years to come, we worry and fret about the economy, about tax policy, about housing and commodity prices—forgetting your words “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” This preoccupation with Mammon has been apparent this past week in the response to the superstorm, as officials in New York City scrambled to get commerce flowing again in the financial district while, in poorer parts of the city, residents remained trapped in flooded houses or shivering on the streets, and as victims in places like Haiti and Cuba were forgotten altogether. We know that you are the God who hears the cry of the poor—hear the cry of all these suffering now, and those who regularly die, voiceless and forgotten, of diseases and disasters in the Third World. Give us who are rich hearts of compassion.
The US election campaign has also showcased our Western preoccupation with Mammom, as the only political issues worth discussing, it seems, are economic ones. Heal us of our blindness and give us hearts for justice. In this election, Lord, we pray for your guidance for the American people, torn between two less-than-desirable candidates. Even at this late hour, we pray that the election would provide an opportunity for intelligent political reflection and mature public discourse. We pray that the candidate who will ensure better justice will win, and that you will guide his heart and mind over the coming four years. In the passage we have heard this morning, you remind us that although men will always fail us, by your grace, all things are possible. Presidents and prime ministers will fail, shackled by the deceitfulness of riches, but you will work out your gracious purposes nonetheless.
But we do pray that, at this decisive moment in global politics, as key decisions are being taken about the leadership of the world’s two leading nations, China and the US, that world leaders would have the wisdom and the humility to set aside differences and work together on the dangers and injustices that face the entire planet. Break the irresistible hold that Mammon seems to have on so many of our societies, and help the leaders and citizens of the world to heed Jesus’s call to put the poor first.
Help each of us who has passed through the waters of baptism tread with confidence the way of the Cross, following you as agents of your kingdom, ready to heal the hurts of those who are suffering earthly pains and griefs, and to proclaim through words, actions, and our own faith, the grace that can bring eternal healing for a broken world.
In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.