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.


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.


Can Calvinists Love Their Enemies?

A few weeks ago, in a discussion on Facebook, it was suggested to me that we should have no qualms about killing our enemies if they are God’s enemies, that we cannot wish good upon them if God intends judgment on them.  A Calvinist, in short, cannot genuinely love his enemies if they are real bad guys.  I have encountered the same argument elsewhere, and certainly, it has some prima facie plausibility.  If we believe that God has already pronounced an irreversible verdict of judgment on the wicked, then who are we to second-guess that judgment?  Perhaps we are not normally called to be the agents of this judgment, to be Israelite holy warriors (though there is really no reason why the logic should not go in this direction), but if we find ourselves in a legitimate position to enact such judgment—in a courtroom, a situation of war, or a moment of self-defence—we should have no qualms about the death of the wicked, but rather, should rejoice at the opportunity to be co-workers with God, to be the means by which he has enacted his righteous sentence against the wicked.  

But doesn’t Jesus lament over Jerusalem?  Doesn’t Jesus pray for God to forgive his killers?  My interlocutor quoted Calvin to me on this point: “It is probable, however, that Christ did not pray for all indiscriminately, but only for the wretched multitude, who were carried away by inconsiderate zeal, and not by premeditated wickedness. For since the scribes and priests were persons in regard to whom no ground was left for hope, it would have been in vain for him to pray for them.”  Well, that cements it then, doesn’t it?  Calvin himself says that there’s no reason to pray for those who are damned anyway, and that even Jesus wouldn’t do so.  Is it possible then to be a Calvinist and to still take seriously the command to “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”?  

 

Well, thankfully, Richard Hooker at least thought so (and I’m told that Calvin himself elsewhere speaks more wisely).  The Puritans, determined most of the time to be more Calvinist than Calvin himself, had cried foul at the prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that asks that all men may find mercy, and be saved.  They argue, he says, “that all men’s salvation and many men’s eternal condemnation or death are things the one repugnant to the other, that both cannot be brought to pass; that we know there are vessels of wrath to whom God will never extend mercy, and therefore that wittingly we ask an impossible thing to be had.” (LEP V.49.1) 

Against this Hooker points out that of course, while we know that there are vessels of wrath, we never know who they are:

“Howbeit concerning the state of all men with whom we live (for only of them our prayers are meant) we may till the world’s end, for the present, always presume, that as far as in us there is power to discern what others are, and as far as any duty of ours dependeth upon the notice of their condition in respect of God, the safest axioms for charity to rest itself upon are these: ‘He which believeth already is’ and ‘he which believeth not as yet may be the child of God’ . . . And therefore Charity which ‘hopeth all things’, prayeth also for all men.” (V.49.2)

Hooker goes on to offer further arguments on this point.  For one, it is the mark of charity to desire what is good, and to desire it to the largest possible extent.  Since the salvation of men is a thing good in itself, charity will desire to see this good extended to all men.  Jeremiah, he points out, is not condemned for pleading for mercy toward his countrymen, even when God resolutely denies the plea.  

But how can that be according to God’s will which is contrary to it?  “Our answer is that such suits God accepteth in that they are conformable unto his general inclination which is that all men might be saved, yet always he granteth them not, forasmuch as there is in God sometimes a more private occasioned will which determineth the contrary.”  The former, he says, is to be the rule for our own actions, the latter not so.  Thus it happens that for our wills to be conformed to the will of God does not mean “willing always the selfsame thing that God intendeth.  For it may chance that his purpose is sometime the speedy death of them whose long continuance in life if we should not wish we were unnatural.” (V.49.4)

In conclusion,

“When the object or matter therefore of our desires is (as in this case) a thing both good of itself and not forbidden of God; when the end for which we desire it is virtuous and apparently most holy; when the root from which our affection towards it proceedeth is Charity, Piety that which we do in declaring our desire by prayer . . . surely to that will of God which ought to be and is the known rule of all our actions, we do not herein oppose ourselves, although his secret determination haply be against us, which if we did understand as we do not, yet to rest contented with that which God will have done is as much as he requireth at the hands of men.” (V.49.5)  

 

Hooker’s admirable spirit in this passage may be illuminated by reference to his words in a similar context—whether we should hope that God could show justifying mercy upon papists, even the Pope himself: 

“Is it a dangerous thing to imagine that such men may find mercy? The hour may come when we shall think it a blessed thing to hear that if our sins were as the sins of the pope and cardinals the bowels of the mercy of God are larger. . . . Surely, I must confess unto you, if it be an error to think that God may be merciful to save men even when they err, my greatest comfort is my error: were it not for the love I bear unto this error, I would neither wish to speak nor to live.” (From The Learned Sermon on Justification)


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.