Monday, November 16, 2015
The joy for our family ran deep. My son got married on Saturday to a remarkable young woman from a faithful family, surrounded by love and prayers of friends and relations who witnessed exchange of vows and pledged support for these two fine young people. There was a gracious plenty of feasting and dancing. It was one of the best weekends of my life. The whole thing filled me with hope for the future. The joy ran deep.
Alongside that stream of joy ran breaking news of a broken world, the human family one more time victim of violence, this time in a city my wife and I recently visited for our wedding anniversary. I heard the news as I walked into the wedding rehearsal. Joys and fears, sorrow and love, part of life at the same time. Perplexing stuff. How do we withstand when we can’t understand? How do we navigate such contradiction? Deny one or the other? Act as if one or the other is not real or pertinent? Stop watching the news? Give up hope? Hope for revenge?
Our tradition knows contradiction. When Mary is told that her child will be the savior, she was also told that a sword would pierce her heart. A few days after Christmas, we observe the feast of Holy Innocents, horrific violence visited on the powerless. These days, we read the story of Hanukah in the Daily Office: capricious cruelty of political and military power visited on the faithful, those who love God most deeply. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ hour of glory is his hour on the cross. Nothing new here. The Bible tells me so. But that doesn’t mean we have any greater clue how to respond.
What are people of faith to do? I don’t really know, but let me offer this thought. In our work with congregations, here’s one of the marks of spiritual vitality. They pastor the community. I love the phrase which researchers developed and which echoes Jesus’ charge to disciples. It suggests that the role of the faith community, and individuals in it, is to focus beyond self to pastor the community. That can mean hands-on service, like Habitat or Meals on Wheels or charitable giving. It can mean advocacy, lobbying with people in power for policies that move toward justice and peace. It can mean learning about what God is already up to in the neighborhood, perhaps much needed interfaith conversation. It can mean presence to those in need. It can mean prayer, in silence, in word, in action.
That ability to pastor the community, as individuals, and communities, comes from a place of grace and deep joy, allowing us to move beyond self to see self as part of the whole human family. And God knows, the human family needs pastoring. From a platform of grace, we pray for our broken world, in all the ways we pray.
This Monday morning, if you’re looking for a way to pray in the midst of things beyond understanding, try the prayer for the human family (Book of Common Prayer, p. 815). Precede that prayer with ten minutes of silent remembrance of those who died, in prayer for those who have been injured in body, mind, spirit, seeking comfort for those who mourn, seeking guidance for those who lead, in intercession for twisted hearts that give their own lives to inflict random violence and spread terror. Pray for enemies. Pray for the human family.
Maybe the Spirit will lead you to actions that build on those prayers. I don’t know what those might be. I’m baffled by the contradictions, constrained by a sense of powerlessness, which is why I commend prayer. Whatever the response may be for you this morning as you pray for the people of Paris, and for the whole human family, may all be done in the spirit of Jesus, who was never afraid to confront evil, but never did so in a spirit of revenge. May our life of prayer be offered in the spirit of Jesus who came to live among us, to give his life for us, so that joy might be complete. May our life of prayer, with our lips and our lives, move toward healing in the spirit of Jesus, the great healer. May our life of prayer equip us to pastor the community.
That’s all I’ve got this Monday morning, with a heart full of joy and a heart that is broken all at the same time.
– Jay Sidebotham
A Prayer for the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
Jesus said: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.