Beloved, Let Us Love One Another

A prayer for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church, on St. Patrick’s Day, 2013.
Text for the Day: 1 John 4:7-12, 17-21

God of love, we thank you for these words of challenge and encouragement from 1 John today, and for all that you have been teaching us through this epistle over the past few weeks.  We thank you for the fortuitous timing of these messages as we prepare to celebrate the death and resurrection of your Son.  We have been exhorted over and over to “love one another” and, if we might be tempted to let familiarity breed contempt, to let the exhortation flatten into a platitude, we come, at the end of this series to Good Friday and Easter, when the true nature of love is on display: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  Lord, give us love such as this!  Or perhaps, Lord, some of us may have been tempted to be overwhelmed by John’s uncompromising exhortations to love our brothers and sisters, realizing how poorly we love.  As we look toward Good Friday and Easter, then, give us the peace and confidence that we are able to love, because he has loved us first.

Father, for the love you show to us in the beautiful gifts of creation, we give you thanks.  For the love you show us in the material blessings that sustain and enrich our lives, we give you thanks.  For the love you show us in the gifts of friends and family, a church to call home, we give you thanks.  But above all, for the love you showed us in the gift of your Son, for the love that is stronger than death and sin, we thank you with overflowing hearts.  Lord, send your Spirit and your Word throughout this world that people of every tribe and nation may hear and experience this love.

Lord, help us to love, as you have loved us first.  Strengthen our ministers with the self-giving love to teach and lead and pray and work on behalf of the community here at Ps and Gs, and give to each of those who serves here on the staff, or in volunteer leadership, the love to serve faithfully and patiently in their calling, not out of mere duty but care for one another.  Give those leading the Alpha Courses love for those they are teaching, a passionate desire to bring new hearts to Christ, and as the church considers new ways to minister to the homeless here in Edinburgh, give us prudence, but let it always be formed and directed by love.  Give to our missionaries, who have in love followed the call to serve you to the ends of the earth, fresh strength of love to sustain them in their demanding tasks; enable them to show the love of Christ to the lost, that your kingdom may be filled to overflowing.

Give parents among us love for their children, a love that expresses itself in dedicated concern and discipline, and patience amidst every provocation.  Give children among us love for their parents, a willingness to serve and obey, to honour and respect.  Give to husbands the faithfulness to love their wives as Christ loved the church, giving themselves sacrificially, caring for their every need, and to wives the faithfulness to love their husbands in turn, supporting, encouraging, enriching.   Help us to love all of the saints within our congregation at Ps and Gs; may our fellowship be constituted by sacrificial self-giving rather than the selfishness and competition that lies at the root of so many social relationships.  To the sick, the elderly, and the lonely in our congregation, help us to particularly show love, and may you pour out your own love upon them in their hour of need and despair.  Help us to love our neighbors, whom we may rarely meet or speak to, finding ways of shedding Christ’s light in our communities.  Help us to love our co-workers and employers, putting them before our own pride and our own interests, displaying the heart of Christ in settings where few may have seen what that looks like.  Help us to love the poor and needy whom we see and whom we do not see; do not let us deceive ourselves into thinking that love is something we need show only within our narrow circle of relationships, only to those with whom we feel comfortable, but even as you, O God, so loved the world, and Christ gave himself for all, give us the strength, in our own poor way, to love all whose needs you put before our path.

Knit your church together, so divided now in every place, in love for one another, and love for your truth.

Lord, we are oppressed on every side with fears—fears of violence, of material want, of insecurity and loneliness, of rejection and betrayal, of pain and loss, fears of inadequacy, and of being unloved.  Give us, O Lord, the perfect love which drives out all fear: fill us with the confidence of your love towards us, and in experiencing your love, may that love overflow within us so we have no room anymore to be preoccupied with ourselves.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is Love Incarnate, we pray.  Amen.

 


When Time Stands Still?

A Prayer for the First (and only) Sunday of Christmas, 2012
Composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church

Lord Jesus Christ, Incarnate Word, baby of Bethlehem, we come to you today with hearts full of joy and thankfulness for the riches you have showered upon us this Christmas season: for family, friends, food, and fellowship, for the exchange of gifts which knits us closer to our loved ones, for the more glorious exchange we have experienced in worship in recent days and weeks, as we bring our praises and our hearts before you and you give us your own presence in return.  We thank you for this opportunity to rest our bodies and refresh our hearts as we prepare to take on the challenges of a new year.  

And yet, Lord, we come to you also with hearts aching inwardly, sometimes weary of the world and burdened by its multitude of griefs, and weighed down by a hundred private cares of our own.  We like to imagine Christmas as a day when ordinary business stops,  when time stands still, when all the world holds its breath in memory of that day two thousand years ago when history turned the corner; we yearn to experience Christmas as a foretaste of eternity, transcending time in the midst of time.  And yet how insistently time presses itself upon us, how impossible it proves to shut out the world, in all its mundanity and its madness!  Stores open their doors early on Boxing Day for shoppers craving ever more stuff; investors rush to resume their trading; politicians return to Washington to continue their interminable squabbling and posturing while America’s fiscal cliff looms before them.  Duty keeps forecasters and emergency workers at their posts on Christmas Day as storms, fueled by a changing climate, batter Britain with floods and sweep through the American South with blizzards and tornadoes.  For hundreds of thousands of families in the Philippines, Christmas just means another can of cold food, shivering in a makeshift shelter, wondering how to pick up the pieces of lives shattered by a typhoon. For grieving mothers in Newtown, Connecticut, sitting bewildered by the graves of their children, Christmas brings only a redoubling of the pain, while elsewhere in the US, new shootings are reported on Christmas Eve.  Meanwhile, for grieving mothers in Syria or Afghanistan, Christmas is just one more day of bombings and bloodshed, and for a billion worldwide struggling in the deepest poverty, neither rest nor a feast is a luxury that can be contemplated.  Truly, Lord, we walk by faith and not by sight, confessing that the world has been reborn in the birth of Christ, when all around us it seems still to be groaning.  

 

And yet it is no different than the first Christmas, when the peaceful dawn in Bethlehem was so soon shattered by the tramp of boots, the ring of iron, the screams of children, when throughout Palestine, the days, weeks, and years after Christ’s birth brought more business as usual—soldiers abusing, tax collectors extorting, leaders plotting, peasants starving, criminals dying on crosses outside the city gate.  


Jesus, Glory of Israel, make yourself known to your church this Christmas and in the new year before us.  You have promised to call for yourself a new people, heirs of the promises of Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and yet when we look around us at the church all we see is a bunch of squabbling siblings, unable even to understand one another, much less agree, on issues such as women’s ordination or homosexuality.  You are the light of the world—shed the light of truth upon us in the midst of our confusion.  Feed the sheep who hunger for your word, in this church and throughout the churches of this land.  Strengthen the shepherds who are to lead and guide, especially Justin Welby, as he assumes the see of Canterbury; may your word be a light unto his path in a time of darkness and uncertainty.  

Christ, Desire of the Nations, make your rule felt among the rulers of the earth this Christmas and in the new year before us.  We repent of the foolish leaders we often elect, that their hearts are far from you and their lips do not honor your name.  We thank you for the witness of Queen Elizabeth, who reminded the nation and the commonwealth on Christmas Day of your blessed birth, and called upon us to give our hearts to you.  May many of those in power heed that call, especially now in the UK, as leaders forge ahead with plans for gay marriage, ignoring the voices of your churches, and as, throughout the developed world, politicians try to balance budgets by shielding the wealthy and powerful and abandoning the poor and weak.  In these days of violence, Prince of Peace, teach us to beat our guns into ploughshares, and our missiles into pruning hooks.  We are not naive; we know that peace is not easy in a world of sin, but, emboldened by faith in your promises, give us the imaginations needed to make peace a reality. 

Emmanuel, God-with-us, rule in all our hearts today.  Fill the doubting with faith, the fearful with hope, the lonely with love.  Lord, for each member of this congregation today, we pray that you would so fill us with the awareness of your presence, the comfort of your grace, the fire of your love, that we would be filled to overflowing, no longer obsessed with receiving the attention and affection we need, but eager to give it to others who need it.  On Christmas, we seek in vain in the world around us for that foretaste of eternity, that sign that the fullness of time has come, but by your grace, we can find it within our hearts, in moments of worship and fellowship with one another, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease.  Help us, as we face this new year, to draw strength from that peace in our hearts, and to carry it out into the world, that all eyes might see your salvation.

 

Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word: Grant that the same light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in  the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


The Power of Water

A Prayer composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church, 11/4/12
(Baptism: Marlowe Bede Smith; Sermon: Mark 10:17-31)  

Mighty God,

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.


A Harvest Prayer

Composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church, Harvest Sunday (Sept. 23rd), 2012

Lord of all Creation, we give you thanks and praise for the beauty and bounty of this earth, which we reflect on in this season of harvest.  As the Psalmist said,

You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst.  
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches.  
From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

Great gift-giving God, for most of us today in the West, this celebration is perfunctory, a reminder of a quaint and long-ago time when we depended on the rhythm of the seasons, depended on the bounty of summer and autumn to sustain us through the dearth of winter.  Today (even in Scotland) we live in a perpetual summer of bounty, well-fed, supplied with wine and oil in abundance.  We heartily thank you for these blessings, and ask that you would help make us more grateful day by day, but we pray also for deliverance from the blindness and callousness that such easy prosperity can cause.  Help us remember today the billions of our brothers and sisters who do not share in this bounty, many of whom still depend each year on a good harvest to keep any food on their table.

Lord of life, autumn is not only a time of bounty, a time to celebrate the vibrancy and richness of creation, but also a reminder of its fragility, of mortality.  The sun retreats, the warmth and light ebbs, the trees grow brown and wither; even as the fruits fall from laden branches and the fields yield their grain, the plants that give us life shrivel and die, until the cycle of new life begins in Spring.  For us today, Lord, who have been greedily harvesting from nature’s bounty without pause for generations, who have reaped where we have not sown, this reminder of fragility and mortality carries an extra uneasiness, a sense of urgency.  All around us are signs that the cycles of summer and winter, springtime and harvest as we have known them may not last much longer, that after our long harvest of the earth’s resources, creation as a whole withers under the weight of our demands—as Gerald Manley Hopkins lamented,

“all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil; 
and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil 
is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.”

Gracious God, forgive us our heedless ways, and give us the courage and conviction to change them.  Teach us how to care for this rich earth rightly, that it may yield its plenteous fruits for future generations, and above all for those in other parts of the world who suffer now in want—want that is magnified by the changing climate, as streams dry up that once were full, grain withers in unprecedented heat, and storms wreak havoc on homes and harvests. 

God our Father, you have created not merely earth, sky, and water, plants and animals, but also the human race, and blessed it with innumerable gifts of wisdom and skill.  At this harvest time, we can thank you for the rich harvest of another sort, in which our church is reaping the fruits of the many human labors that have gone into building up its worship and ministries over many years.  We thank you especially for the harvest of the Connect Groups, years in planning, and finally launched this month.  We pray that you would bless them to become places of loving fellowship and empower them to be beacons of light shining in our communities.  We thank you also for the harvest of our School of Theology, another ministry long planned that has come to fruition this Fall.  We pray that through these classes, your Word would be opened up as never before to those attending, that their faith would be strengthened and enriched.  Strengthen Jeremy and Graham as they lead this ministry. 

As these two examples suggest, this time of year is not merely a time of endings, but of beginnings, as new seeds are sown to prepare a future harvest.  As students return to their studies, and some are beginning university or postgraduate studies for the first time, we pray that you would watch over them and be a light unto their path.  Keep the students of this church faithful in your ways, remembering that the study of your Word is of greater value than all other earthly knowledge.  Bring new students through the doors of this church, and help us to welcome them and provide a home and community for them here.  

Finally, Lord, we thank you for the wine that gladdens man’s heart and the bread that strengthens it, more than any earthly bread and wine—the Eucharistic feast we are about to share with you.  We thank you for taking the labor of human hands, the harvest of the old creation, and returning it to us as the firstfruits of the new creation, the eternal life of your Son.

In His all-powerful name we pray.  Amen.


A New Creation Prayer

The world is charged with the grandeur of God*

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; 

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil  

crushed.  


Lord, we thank you for the glory of springtime, when the golden gorse blossoms on the sides of Arthur’s Seat, when Princes Street Gardens are transformed into a sea of green, when each day is longer and brighter than the one before.  It is not hard, when the sun shines out across the spires of Edinburgh, to believe that we live in the dawn of new creation, when “old things have passed away, and all things have become new.”  For your glory refracted in every flower, every sunrise, in the waves of the Firth of Forth and the cliffs of Salisbury Crags, we thank you.  For every good and perfect gift, which we take for granted; for everything that is going right in the world, which we somehow think it tactless to dwell upon, we thank you.  Make us mindful of your presence and your grace at all times, even when they are not so obvious; but at least do not let us ever be so callous as to ignore your grandeur when it flames out so blindingly as it does each Easter season.

 

Why do men then now not reck his rod?  

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; 

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod


Lord, we confess that each one of us has turned inward upon ourselves.  How rarely we look outward to admire your handiwork, instead of gazing, ever unsatisfied, on our own; how rarely we look outward to see the faces and needs of others, the bearers of your glory, instead of brooding on our own problems and desires!  We bend everyone and everything into the instruments of our own projects; we manipulate our family and friends in a hundred subtle ways; we treat the world around us as so much raw material for us to consume to suit our pleasure, or remake or unmake to make our lives a fraction more convenient.  The evil that we see and deplore on a national and global scale—of bankers for whom the pursuit of money has become a self-justifying end that knows no end, of politicians for whom the truth and the common good are values so frequently traded for short-term gains that they have lost all meaning, of tyrants and war profiteers for whom violence is a way of life, of an earth straining under the weight of our demands, reeling from our daily depredations on soil, sea, and sky—is merely the selfishness of our own hearts writ large.  Lord, have mercy upon us. 

 

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent 

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 

Blessed are you, our God, Redeemer, for you have had mercy upon us; you have not left us trapped within ourselves, cut off from one another and from you.  For you, O God, were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself, and you have given us the Spirit of reconciliation.  For the reconciling work of Christ, we thank you, and pray that you bring it to completion in each one of our lives.  For the reconciling work of this church in the power of the Spirit, we thank you, and we pray that you would advance it through the preaching of the Word, through worship, through service, through fellowship, and in every new endeavour we undertake.  For the reconciling work that you have tasked each one of us with, we pray for your grace to carry it forward.  May the love of Christ compel us to turn out of ourselves and become part of the new creation of which you have invited us to be a part, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again.  Reconciled to you, may we be agents of your reconciling, recreating work to a world gone stale and dark—to the needy right in front of us, in our church and our streets, to friends or family estranged from us or from you, to nations and men in power deaf to your word and to the cry of the oppressed, and to the voiceless victims of our preoccupations, in the creation around us.  Make us ready for the dawn that awaits this groaning world, when your grandeur will flame out for all to see. 

 

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery hast established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.**

 

(Composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church; 22 April 2012. Sermon passage: 2 Cor. 5:12-6:2)

* The poem used here is “The Grandeur of God,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

** For all you liturgical police out there—I recognize that this is the Collect for the 2nd Sunday in Easter, not the 3rd.  However, it fit the sermon passage so well that I decided to disregard calendrical propriety.