Pandemic Prayers for Proper 18B

I confess to you that I can’t touch this Jesus who a woman has to remind of who he’s supposed to be. I appreciate what it says about the humanity of our Christ but that’s not who I need him to be right now. I need Christ to be the savior of the world when so much is going wrong.

To all of that is keeping you and me awake at night, I want to remind you that there are people of faith praying even when you cannot. There are people that continue to find words to what is beyond words. I offered two prayers from Maren Tirabassi last week but again this week she speaks to the horrors that climate change bring to the shores of the United States in this prayer as Hurricane Ida approaches landfall. And then, there is this lovely prayer from enfleshed for when there is only sadness. And then, there was this prayer by the Rev. Stephanie Crowder for back to school that arrived in my inbox and reminded me of what is possible.

Laura Stephens-Reed shared this prayer and it is what I needed to hear most. It could work well as a prayer in worship this coming Sunday as you lean together into trust. It’s that word that caught in my throat in praying through Psalm 25 and the center of the prayer I offer you this week.

A Prayer Seeking Trust

Inspired by Psalm 25

O God, we trust in your goodness.
We step into the unknown every 
day in the hope that that
goodness will carry us.

We want to trust
that it is there
and that it has always
been there but we have 
been moved. We have been
pushed to the edge and doubted
that goodness in the land of the living
but we are not as strong
as we thought. We are
not who we believed
we were. 

O God, we want to trust 
you with our whole hearts.
We want to believe that you
surround us with possibility.
We do. Is is in that faith
that we beg you to
be good. Be the goodness
that we cannot see in 
every headline. Be the goodness
that we cannot find in every
unmasked stranger and let
that goodness -- your goodness -- 
turn our crooked, jaded,
hurting hearts away from
every doubt and worry
so that there is only trust.
There is only your 
infinite grace.abiding 
within us. Let us 
find that goodness
again in you. O God,
we seek your goodness.
Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

The Only Hope for America

Most everything I know about democracy I’ve learned in church. It is in my particular tradition of being church that I’ve had the chance to practice all of the values and ideals that democracy claims.

Mine is the tradition that birthed democracy. They were not perfect people but they came seeking freedom. They came looking for something different than what they had known and so they imagined this new way of governance that would Abraham Lincoln would later declare to be for the people and by the people. Mine is the United Church of Christ, a denomination made up of four different traditions that dared to come together in the certain belief that they could be better together. Imagine that in our current political landscape because I surely cannot. Still, I cannot help but view every bit of coverage of the political process through my experience in church. Take yesterday’s headline in the Washington Post: GOP reaches ‘new level of panic’ over Trump’s candidacy.

It was only two weeks ago that the Republican National Convention wrapped up in Cleveland, Ohio with Donald Trump became the official nominee for the party. Granted, this particular presidential candidate has said some really egregious things since he received that nomination but I can’t help but view this from the perspective of what would happen in church.

Because it does happen in church. It happens in all kinds of churches, not just those in my tradition. So, I’m curious how this panic would play out in a local congregation where a pastor has just been called. (Let’s also keep in mind that pastors and presidents are not at all the same thing. Nor should they be. Good heavens.) I’m trying to imagine what would happen if that pastor was to make the same kind of remarks that Donald Trump has made, if that pastor was to disregard the tradition and teachings of the church and how the people in that church might respond.

Would it only create a stink if the members of that church didn’t agree with what the pastor was doing and saying? Would they question his integrity? Would they wonder if they had made a mistake? What would happen if the powers that be within the denomination would override their decision to call that person to be their pastor and teacher? Would it create a panic within the members of that church? Or would it only raise the temperature of those in the judicatory?

That’s what I wonder most about this particular headline. Is this a question of who knows best? Because this is a question I carry into my ministry every single day. There is a fair amount of distrust among the congregations I have served. They are ever suspicious of the role of the judicatory. In the United Church of Christ, the association, the conference, general synod and the national setting but in your tradition it might include presbyteries, synods and districts. They don’t see the other expressions of the church (that’s what we call these things in the United Church of Christ) as partners in their ministry. And they should be partners. That’s the whole idea. They don’t trust the other expressions and are far more comfortable seeing themselves in that one little congregation all on their own. That may very well be all fine and good until there is a problem with their pastor, which seems to be the issue that the GOP is having with Donald Trump.

They see Trump as a problem. They see the harm that he may cause and they want to try to help. But, how do you do that? In our understanding of governance for the people and by the people, both inside and outside of the church, how do you decide that the people are wrong? After all, the people voted for him. All of those delegates in Cleveland got behind him. All that I can see is broken trust. The GOP doesn’t even need to act. It has already doubted the people. Trust is already broken. So, then, what can be done to rebuild that trust?

I don’t think this is just a question for the GOP, but it’s a question for all of us who dare to believe that we share some common ground. How do we hold that ground together even when we disagree? What happens when someone – maybe even someone well-intentioned  – takes those values and skews them? How do we go back to the core of who we are?

How do we move forward together?

We must move forward together. We must.

I confess to you that I am not a Republican but I love a whole lot of them. They are in the churches I serve. I am their pastor and I always will be. I don’t support Trump but there are those in my church that I do. We don’t agree. And that’s OK. Church has taught me the value of building consensus. It’s taught me the wisdom of taking time to learn and grow together and Jesus reminds me every week in the gospels we share in worship that we really are better together. It is not a question of who know best. I don’t think it can be. It has to be about the kind of trust that we can build with each other so that we can move forward. Together, we must move forward. It is our only hope.