Saturday, March 9, 2013

Shining with the Glory of God That Is In Us: Intercession

RCL Lent 4C
10 March 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Shining with the Glory of God That Is in Us:  Intercession

Joshua 5.9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5.16-21; Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32

For an audio recording of the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist on Sunday the 10th.

            I have a confession to make.  My sympathies have always been with the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son.  Perhaps it’s because I am the older brother in my immediate family and the oldest cousin in my extended family.  Most of my life I have been very conscious of being the family’s standard-bearer in struggles of life and I am aware of how I have felt from time to time when younger members of the family seem to be given a lot more slack than I feel I was given.

            Perhaps some of you feel the same way I do.  Here we have this carefree and irresponsible boy managing to connive his inheritance out of his father’s pocket and then goes off to waste it on slow horses and fast women.  Once he is brought down to earth, he thinks, “I’ll go home now.  I know that I’ve done wrong, but, after all, ‘I’m the baby; they’ve got to love me.’”  And so he goes home and is forgiven.  I can hear the older brother thoughts, because I’ve had them myself:  “Here we go again.  Father has never held my brother accountable for anything.  Same old, same old.”

            But let me give you an interpretation of this story as written by Luke, a Gentile believer in Jesus of Nazareth.  For generations Jews had been praying for the conversion of the Gentiles.  It’s true, some Gentiles did convert to the way of Moses, but the majority remained unconvinced by the message of the law and the prophets.  But the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and his apostles began a sea change among Gentiles.  The way of Jesus, deeply rooted in the older way of Moses, was convincing to more and more of the Gentiles throughout the known world.  They begin to confess that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses and Jesus, is the only God.  What God began in creation, what God sustained in the covenants with Noah, Abraham and Moses, what God revealed in Jesus, was the way, the truth and the life.

            And so the prayers of the Jewish people were answered.  The prodigal son, having squandered God’s wisdom, is brought round to his right mind and returns to God, the Holy One, the Source of all life and love.  While some followers of the way of Moses can rejoice in the return of the prodigal Gentiles, others cannot.  The way of Jesus seems wider to them than the way of Moses, a width that challenges the integrity of the law and the prophets.  And so, some Jewish voices are raised in criticism of this new way.

            In a few words, this story might say to us:  Be careful what you pray for.  God may actually bring it about.  And then, the world will not be the same.

            In the past few weeks I have offered some reflections based on an old description of prayer:  adoration, confession, thanksgiving, intercession and petition.  I have shared some thoughts about what it means to adore God, to pray to, to speak to the One in whom we believe.  Our prayers of confession do not begin with words of sin but with words of hope and trust in the Holy One who is always more ready to forgive than we are to confess.  Our thanksgivings are an acknowledgement of all that God has already given us and all that God still sets before us.

            In intercession we dare to speak to God about those needs and concerns we have for the world, the church and our communities.  We name those who are in need of God’s compassion and those in need of healing.  We may even lay out our deepest sorrows for those whom we know are not yet living the fullness of life which God intends for every living creature.

            There are people who believe that intercessory prayer is quite pointless.  “Do you really believe,” they say to us, “that the Creator of the universe, if there is one, actually cares about your friend in the hospital?  Do you really believe that God will bring peace to Syria?”  To be truthful, there really is no satisfactory answer to their challenge.  We pray for people to get well who do not.  We pray for peace in the troubled places of our world and conflict continue to rage.  We pray for the homeless and the hungry who remain without homes and without food.

            But intercessory prayer, prayer for others, it not solely about asking God to fix our ills.  Intercessory prayer is a way of becoming self-aware, aware of the needs and concerns that surround us.  When we pray for the sick, God responds by asking, “Are you prepared to be an agent of healing?”  When we pray for peace, God asks, “Are you working for peace in your home, your neighbourhood, your country?”  When we pray for the homeless and the hungry, God asks, “What are doing to shelter those without shelter, to feed those without food?”

            When God asks these things of us, it is not God’s intention to make us feel guilty or inadequate.  No, God asks these things of us so that we will then offer ourselves as agents of healing, peace and dignity.  To be true, I have seen unexpected miracles and for these I give thanks.  But God’s most ordinary miracle, a miracle I see every day, is the miracle of transformation that God works in ordinary people who rise up and conquer their fears, their apprehensions.  They visit the sick by bringing the healing presence of community.  They bring peace by setting aside prejudices and, risking ridicule, bring old foes face to face.  They shelter the homeless and feed the hungry by serving as advocates for those who have no voice and by giving their investing their treasure in food banks and cooperative ventures to help the poor eat well and healthily.

            Let us be careful what we pray for.  God may actually bring it about --- in and through us.  And our world will never be the same.

            But just as the faces of Moses and Jesus shone with the glory of God, so our faces will shine, revealing the life of God within us.  Amen.

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