Prayer March 2020 – Lord in Your Mercy

Like many pastors, I received a formal invitation from Franklin Graham to attend the Prayer March 2020 in Washington DC, held in conjunction with an event called “The Return,” led by Rabbi Jonathan Cahn. Rabbi Cahn leads a ministry called “Hope of the World – An End-Time Ministry for An End-Time World.”   In Conway, our mayor is leading the local version of this March.  I took these invitations to heart and researched the materials.  I will not be attending in-person but will be praying.  

1. In D.C., the prayer march will start at the Lincoln Memorial with a call to humble ourselves in repentance, ask for forgiveness, and pray for the healing of our land.  These are worthy prayers. In the promotional materials, however, it does seem as if those leading the prayers have a very specific outcome already in mind, so I wonder where humility and repentance fit.  Is this call only for others?  So often, in my experience, true healing starts at the edges, beyond the centers of comfort and power, and often clash with those who think they have it all figured out.  Often healing comes with the piercing of hearts to see the need for justice, mercy, and deep redemption.  Are we open to that?

2. Next, the Prayer March will stop at the WWII Memorial to pray for our military, the police…and for the security and peace of the nation.  Again, these are worthy prayers!  My prayer, at this point, will include both thanksgiving for those work to keep us safe and the courage to truly hear those who do not feel safe when they see bias endowed with power to do harm with the protection of the law.  We do need to seek divine wisdom around this – and honor all who are so engaged.

3. The next stop is the Washington Monument with prayers for the salvation of the lost, the strengthening of families, solutions to the coronavirus pandemic, and an end to abortion.  In the promotional materials, Franklin Graham and Rabbi Cahn both acknowledge that abortion is what the upcoming election is all about.  Graham called this a greater sin than the holocaust.  In prayer, I do struggle here. A big part of my struggle comes from the fact that I do not know anyone who is pro-abortion.  At the same time, there are many faithful souls who feel called to compassion for those who are in circumstance where they feel like this choice must be made.  I also struggle with telling others what they can or cannot do with their own bodies in this regard, beyond spiritual counsel. I struggle with the relationship between the termination of pregnancy and poverty, illness, abuse, and fear.  In such struggles, I believe God meets us with grace, forgiveness, and redemption.  During our prayer around this issue, I feel compelled to add a host of concerns around the matter of respect for life – health care, education, equality, disparities of wealth and resources, etc.  There are many issues!  Holy Spirit come, transform our hearts, and give us courage to lift up one another up in love. 

4. At this point, on the map, the group in D.C will turn towards the White House and pray for the President, Vice President, and the executive branch.  I do wonder if the prayers here will include calls to humility, repentance, and wisdom to bring healing and unity, or if they will center around hopes for strength and resolve.  I’ll stop with that for now.

5. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, there will be prayers for compassion and kindness towards one another, respect and reconciliation between races, and healing in communities torn by violence and injustice.  Such prayers are so needed! For perspective, (as I have shared before), it was at this Museum that the whole notion of race as a social construct – to justify the slavery and oppression of others for economic gain – came to light for me.  The concept of multiple “races,” rather than one diverse human race, came after the crime – as a way to justify it. Today there are obvious systems that perpetual this deeply imbedded perspective and cultivate the fear around it.  In the light of recent events, it is not enough to say, “I’m not racist.” We need the courage and wisdom to be anti-racist.  That’s will be a part of my prayer.

6. At the National Archives the focus will be on religious freedom.  This phrase is often used as a code word to stir up fear. As we pray, I hope that the deeper biblical understanding of religious freedom will be affirmed.  We are to use our freedom “not as a pretext for evil,” but to “honor everyone” (I Peter 2:16-17) and “love and serve one another” (Gal 5:13-15). We are to “outdo one another in showing honor,” to “practice hospitality,” and “live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12).  In Christ, we have been set free for this kind of witness!  I cannot find any biblical justification for promoting bigotry and discrimination in the public arena, or for hiding fear and hatred behind the cross of Christ.  That’s not true freedom.  In this light, I do pray for religious freedom to come to the hearts of all. 

7.  As the march ends at the Capital and Supreme Court, I will trust that God is at work, bringing healing, and giving answers that transform and surprise. In this light, I believe that our collective tensions are struggles just might be signs that God is at work, rather than signs that we have turned away from God? I want to open my heart to that possibility.  Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Breaking Bubbles

img_0515A couple of weeks ago, our church received a call from a person doing grad school research on how people of different opinions interact or fail to interact with one another. Her research focused on the information bubbles that we can all too easily get trapped in.  We watch news that caters to our opinions.  And if we use the internet or social media for information, then over time, computer algorithms figure out what we want to hear and then feed us with that information. If we are not careful, we can easily get trapped in our own, personalized, information bubble and begin to see that as reality.

Now, why did this researcher call us?  She called because, at a conference in New York City, she got into a conversation with someone who grew up in our church and who had suggested to her that, at least in his experience, FUMC in Conway, Arkansas was a place where he could break through these bubbles and connect with others in a spirit of respect and love.  It was a place where his perspective grew through interactions with others.  He shared this story and she was intrigued.  She was in search of places where connections were being made in the midst of a world that pushes us all into our own individual information bubbles.  Now, she was considering at least some churches as places where this might happen.

As we encounter him during worship this Advent season, John the Baptist calls us to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” In the Greek, the word is metanoia – meta meaning “beyond” and noia meaning “to know.”  Repentance is to know or perceive from a perspective above our current perspective.  It means to allow our minds to be changed or transformed by a higher perspective. It is the key to being able to see and experience the kingdom of heaven that is right before us, if only we are willing to look up.

Building on the story above, we might say that repentance happens when we engage others in a spirit of respect and love and through these encounters begin to see life from a higher perspective – bigger than ourselves and our own opinions.  As a possible exercise, think of an issue where you have a strong opinion but you know faithful Christians who have a different opinion.  Then spend time understanding this other perspective, perhaps even making a case of it in your own mind.  If this doesn’t alter your opinion, the hope is that it will alter your appreciation for the other. As we seek to understand, rather than just defend our positions and demonize others, that’s when we begin to see Jesus in our midst and God’s kingdom at work. That’s when we get a glimpse of true love – love that is patient and kind, never insisting on its own way, always seeking what is good for the other and how we might honor them.  We can’t do that if are stuck in our own bubble.

These thoughts will be part of my sermon this Sunday, which is a Communion Sunday. It struck me how this holy act invites us to literally change our perspective.  We get up, come to the Altar, with hands held open, ready to receive Christ into our being.  As we bow down and receive we are also lifted into a higher vision. Even as we pray, God pours out the Holy Spirit upon us.  We become One with Christ, One with each other, and One in ministry to all the world. And then, with the strength given, we go out into the world to live this mystery of faith.

During this season, we are invited to move into this higher vision, even with our posture and posturing. We are invited to move from arms crossed to open hands.  We are invited to move from looking down at our screens to looking up into the eyes of others.  As we do this, may we truly enter the kingdom of heaven which is right before us, in our very midst.