A Prayer for Insight

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.


A Prayer for Church Unity

Composed for St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church, the Second Sunday of Epiphany; on the passage 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

Blessed God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 

We thank you for this challenging passage before us today, and the challenging message we have just heard.  May the words we have heard today stick in our hearts and strengthen us to be your Body in the world, one in faith, hope, and love.  

We give thanks to you God for the grace that has been given us in Christ Jesus, that in every way we have been enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge, so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.  Lord, you have blessed us immensely.  You have blessed us with material gifts, with the gift of great freedom, with gifts of knowledge, as we today have the theological learning of two thousand years literally at our fingertips.  More particularly, you have blessed this congregation with gifts of preaching, of teaching, of counseling, of prayer, of singing, of serving, gifts of administration, gifts of evangelism, of fellowship, of hospitality.  Lord, within these four walls you have brought so many people empowered to serve one another, to serve this city, and to serve the wider world.  Lord, teach us to recognize these gifts, in one another and in ourselves, and to respond with thanksgiving and with zeal.  Send your Spirit to work in and alongside each of us, that these gifts may bear rich fruit—in sermons that build up your people here, in music that inspires our hearts and glorifies you, in Alpha Courses that bring your good news to the lost and questioning, in 24/7 Prayer that brings hope to the doubting and tears down strongholds of oppression, in small groups that study your word and strengthen your people, in projects that serve the homeless and lonely, in sacrificial giving that enriches lives not only here, but around the globe.  

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make us one in your love.


Lord, we repent that there are divisions amongst us, that some of us are of Paul, and some of Apollos, and some of Cephas.  Lord, we know that even within this congregation, there are divisions and quarrels, there is pride and prejudice, there are petty preferences and dogmatic convictions that can hinder the fullness of our fellowship.  And yet, when we look wider, how much darker the picture becomes?  Here in Edinburgh alone, your church is splintered into dozens of denominations, some of which will have no fellowship with one another, and throughout our country and our world, the same divisions are mirrored.  Truly, the world may ask, and does ask, “Is Christ divided?”  Lord, heal our divisions, put an end to our strifes.  Show us where arrogance, bitterness, and lack of love have held us apart where we could and should be one in Christ.  And yet, Lord, we know that goodwill alone cannot solve these divisions.  You have called us to be “united in the same mind and the same judgment,” to unite around common conviction of the truth, and yet this is precisely what eludes us; it is precisely the “truth” that so often divides us.  Lord, illuminate us by your Word and Spirit, that we may perceive the common truth that hides under warring expressions and doctrinal formulations, that we may drink deeply from the spring of your Word and perceive the truths that you have given us there, truths that we have too often lost sight of, substituting for them our own pet ideas and self-justifications. 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make us one in your  love.

 

Lord, you have called us above all to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  Remind us, Lord, that it is not anything we can do, anything the Church can do, that will make us effective servants of your kingdom, that will make us united in a world of division.  It is only the power of your Word, the power of your cross.  Lord, make that gospel powerful in this church, in our world, and in each of our lives.  By the power of your gospel, fill this Church the love that comes only with you, love that can overcome all our divisions, and with power and conviction to show that love to the lost around us.  We pray that your gospel would breathe new life into dying and divided churches around the United Kingdom, that pulpits would again be filled with the Spirit and with power, and that your churches would again be a powerful witness to the watching world.  By the power of your gospel, break down the walls of hate that divide not merely the churches, but the nations of the world, nations in the Third World torn by ethnic or religious war, nations in the First torn by political division.  Shatter the rod of the oppressor, especially, we pray, in Syria and North Korea.  By the power of your gospel, we pray that each of us would know in our own lives the glorious freedom from bondage that comes with the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of new hearts.  For those of your saints here who are struggling with sin, with despair, with doubt, we pray that your word would again illumine their hearts and minds, that they would feel again the power of the cross of Christ.   

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, make us one in your love.

 

O Gracious Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church, that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace.  where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it.  Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen. 


An Advent Prayer

(composed for Advent Sunday 2011 at St. Paul’s and St. George’s Church, Edinburgh)

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Lord Jesus, for whose coming Zechariah, Elizabeth, and all the faithful of Israel waited with longing two millenia ago, hear the prayers of your hungry people today.  We mourn in exile from your presence, conscious of the sins that separate us from you, conscious of our faithlessness in the task you have given us to be the lights of the world.  Lord, we are a barren people–our faith is weak, our hearts are cold, our churches are empty.  Lord Jesus, Hope of Israel, who once did condescend to born of a virgin in a stable, be born among us again today, and give us the eyes to see you in your humility.  Be born among us in the preaching each Sunday that we hear and the sacrament we share.  Be born among us in small groups where we fellowship and hear you speaking to us through one another.  Be born among us in our ministries to the lost and to the needy, in the Alpha Course as we display your truth, in our ministries with Bethany as we display your love, in our singing and worship as we display your beauty.  Renew this church, and all your churches, with the power of your presence, with the terror and comfort of your word, with the courage to follow you on the path of love without pretense, love without measure.

 

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave. 

Christ, Creator, by whose all-powerful word was all brought into being, re-Creator, by whose powerless death was all made new, redeem us again from the pit.  Only-begotten from all eternity, you were born, like each of us, to die, but death did not hold you, and now it has lost its hold on us.  And yet, Lord, the power of death, the stain of sin, remains every day with us–in the violence of the murderer and the rapist, in the despair of a mother who cannot feed her children, in the insatiable greed that defrauds and bankrupts the vulnerable; but also in the angry word that springs so readily to our lips, in the self-absorption that passes heedlessly by someone in need, in the restless discontentment that  drives the wheels of commerce.  Forgive each of us for these sins that are our own, and for the sins of others that we do nothing to oppose and to heal.  Remind us that you have forgiven us, and give us the confidence to forgive others in our turn.  Saviour, Redeemer, Deliverer, rescue us again by your power and love, show mercy to the downtrodden and strengthen us to do the same.  

 

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace. 

King of Israel, you are also Lord of the nations, before whom every knee shall bow, and whom every tongue shall confess.  And yet our rulers neither confess your name nor bow before you; instead we find the god of Mammon everywhere enthroned, and war a favorite tool to serve agendas of greed and power.  Prejudice and xenophobia divide us from one another, suspicion rather than sympathy is our default.  Lord, we pray for Britain, that you would humble its pride and restrain its greed.  Give us just leaders who protect the poor and the voiceless, rather than the powerful and influential, and who welcome the stranger, rather than turning them away.  Lord, we pray also for America, still infatuated with her power and intoxicated with her wealth, concerned only with maintaining her own position.  Give her leaders who will bow the knee to your kingship.  We pray for leaders in the Arab world and in Israel who maintain their position by violence, make them submit to the Prince of peace.  We pray for young nations that are leaderless and directionless–provide for them order and justice.  We pray for leaders in India and China, nations that will direct the destiny of our world in decades to come; fill those nations with the light of your word today, that they may advance your kingdom tomorrow.  

 

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
 

Light of the World, we see your light dawning already in every corner of our globe.  You have come, in answer to the longings of the ages, and the world is still echoing with the wonder of that great event.  In nearly every nation and tribe are faithful disciples who call on your name; even among those who have tried so hard to forget you, you haunt their imaginations.  Your kingdom has left its mark on our language, our music, our laws, our buildings.  Lord, fill us with hope and joy this advent, recognizing amidst these short days and long nights that the darkness is breaking, remembering during the cold and the frost that the winter is ending, that you both have come and are coming again.  Lord, let this exhilarating realization animate our every thought and deed.  When we are frightened, let us take comfort in the thought.  When we are tired, let it energize us.  When we are heedless and turned inward on ourselves, let it call us to attention.  When we are in despair, let it give us hope.  When we are angry, let it make us ashamed.  Lord, let each of our lives and each of our churches reflect the glorious proclamation that our King reigns and our King is coming.

 

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.  Amen.