Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Prayer Breakfast

Yesterday, I was notified of a prayer breakfast that is being held here in Iraq for Black History Month. I was then told that they would like me to speak at this thing for 10 - 15 minutes. I warned them to be careful what they ask for because they will surely get it. I highlighted what me speaking in public about faith would mean and I was kept on the list to speak.

I mulled over the concerns of joint prayer services in my head all night and most of today. I have finally agreed to do it. The gospel is not being properly proclaimed where I am at and it seems it would be a greater sin for me to remain silent when given this golden opportunity to say whatever I want to whoever shows up.

This is what I have prepared so far. The event is in 10 days. Any feedback would be helpful.


I begin by reading from the Holy Gospel of St Luke the 10th Chapter:

"And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."

The Gospel of the Lord.

Today, in honor of Black History Month, we assemble together around this meal in memory of the great achievements that African Americans have given to this nation and the entire world. We remember the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglas. We point to great musicians like Miles Davis, astronauts like Ronald McNair, and great war heroes like Medal of Honor recipient 1LT John Fox.

And eventually, the thoughts about these contributions turn to the reason why we had to create this special month in the first place to recognize great events that went unmentioned and unrecognized for far too long. And why are these great men and women and great events only now being added to the common history of all Americans through this special month? The answer is simple: the blight that is racism. Instantly, we are confronted with the evilness of it.

Evil? Of course racism is unfair; maybe even unjust, but should we call it evil? Yes. It is evil make no mistake about it. In modern society we tend to have very fuzzy vision when it comes to evil. We tend to reserve the word for catastrophic events and demonic people who seem to be the devil incarnate. But is that only where evil is found?

There is a popular story about the great poet Maya Angelou who went to a conference in Texas that was called “Facing Evil.” A Soldier got up and spoke about going to war against the Nazi’s and his direct encounter with evil upon witnessing the concentration camps in Europe.

Maya Angelu stood and said, "Do you mean to tell me that we've come from all over the world and we're going to talk nonsense? You had to go to Germany, you here in Texas who refused Mexican-Americans a chance to vote, you who don't want them to even live next to you, you who have your own history of slavery--you had to go to Germany? I don't wanna hear it."

She is right. Evil not only exists, it is very real and abundant. It is not just some distant, external enemy that we must face once in a generation. Evil is not just present in this fallen world. Evil is pervasive and persistent. We are confronted by it every day. It even flows freely from our own hearts. As God tells us in the book of Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."”

What terrible words! Look at what flows from our hearts: all manner of evil thoughts, impulses, words, and deeds. We should be terrified that the LORD searches our hearts and gives us according to our deeds. We all sin and "the wages of sin is death."

If you need proof that you sin, just ask yourself, “Is there anyone of us who is totally free and pure of any hint of racism or bigotry?” And, as if it was possible to boast in that, ask yourself, “Am I free from the sins that give birth to racism and bigotry?” Hate, anger, gossip, lies, arrogance, greed, selfishness, vengeance, and resentment to name a few? These are our ways and deeds... and our rigtheous God sees them all.

When you get down to it, all of these things are sins that are born out of our sinful nature. Each and every day, we prove this to be true by our thoughts and actions. We rebel against God and His holy commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself."

When confronted by this command, we do as the lawyer who spoke to Jesus did: we try to weasel out of our own guilt. We ask, “Well, who then exactly is my neighbor?” in hopes that our sin is excused from judgment thru some technicality.

It is not. We lie to ourselves if we think that we are justified in how we mistreat that particular group, or this culture, or even that person over there. We all have people that we wish were not our neighbors. We don’t even want to be near them. We do not love them all, let alone them as much as we love ourselves. In truth, we secretly hate and despise them.

And so, in spite of decades of social reform and progress, we remain a divided people. We do not live in peace, unity, and love as we should. This is because man is separated from God and from his fellow man by the disease of sin.

If we examine ourselves honestly, we have to admit that we are miserable failures when it comes to how we treat other people and not just other races and cultures, but our own race even our loved ones and families. We inflict misery and create division so easily that we rarely notice the harm that we are doing.

We are quick to judge. We are quick to gossip. We do not forgive when we believe that we have been wronged. We are expert peddlers of evil who are filled with regret and guilt. Like the lawyer in the Gospel of Luke, we are forced to face the harsh truth that we do not “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Repent. All of our wars, laws, holidays, and even prayer breakfasts have done a great deal of earthly good to heal division and correct injustice, but they have done nothing to treat the source of this very spiritual problem: the sinfulness that is inside of you, me, and everyone else.

But there is good news! God the Father has provided a way of escape from our guilt. As we lay broken on the side of the road, our salvation is now at hand. The devil and his demons have stripped us, beat us, and left us for dead—an eternal death that we received in the Garden of Eden. It happened when Adam and Eve fell upon the greatest robber of all, Satan, and—when tempted—they disobeyed God and fell from grace thus bringing sin into the world.

But Our Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ the Son of the Most High, comes upon our brokenness and bandages our wounds. He saves us with the spiritual washing and regeneration of baptism. He gives us new life by anointing us with His Holy Spirit. The man that we despised as an outcaste, the one whom we hated enough to mock and crucify, has come upon our battered bodies and rescued us at last.

And so the answer to the evil that we encounter and create is not found by great marches. It is not healed in Washington D.C. Our emancipation from our slavery to sin and death does not come from wars or even diplomacy. It is not found behind a microphone or written on a poster. As good as they are, such works do not save us.

Salvation is only found at the foot of the cross where Christ died for the sins of the world. “For God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

While we are evil, Christ is good. While we are flawed, Christ is perfect. While we hate, Christ loves. While we are intolerant and vengeful, Christ is mercy. While we are doomed to eternity in hell, Christ promises eternal life for all who believe in Him by faith. God the Father counts none of your sins against you because of the sacrifice of Christ. By faith we are rescued from hell by His death and resurrection.

And now we are being made new by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. We are all equals; brothers and sisters in Christ. We are one church, one faith, washed in one baptism, and living in one Spirit. We are sustained by Christ’s body when we eat of the one bread and drink of the one cup of Our Lord’s Supper. In Christ, we find unity and peace that no earthly force can duplicate or enforce. In Christ we find true fellowship with God and with each other.

And as we walk by the Holy Spirit, we are called to one mission: to proclaim the good news about Jesus as we lift each other up and bear one another’s burdens in love and the humble charity that comes with a life of cross-bearing self-denial. The Christian life of sacrifice is painful and difficult, but we hear St. Paul’s words in Romans where he says:

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.


1 comment:

Thursday's Child said...

I love it! You might find yourself doing this on a regular basis.