Thursday, May 05, 2011

National Day of Prayer 2011

Isaiah 12

One need not look hard or far to see that the United States, once a beacon of hope to the entire world, has become a nation itself devoid of hope. We need only to look at the rhetoric of political elections to find that the essence of our hope, the source of our salvation, the fabric of our faith, the ones whom we are willing to put our complete faith and trust in, will be either Democrats or Republicans. Time and again we walk away disappointed, yet we never seem to learn.

With all the evil we face on an almost daily basis at home and abroad, we have mistakenly come to believe that the death of one man will somehow vindicate us in the world-wide war against terror and free us from the encumbrances and continued threat of evil. Yet our neighbors still ask: Where is the evidence of your religious faith and belief in something much bigger? Where is the evidence of your justification before Almighty God? Where is the evidence of your sanctification, your holiness, as St. Peter called you to holiness: "As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written: 'Be Holy, for I am Holy'" (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Yet we are actively witnessing a continuing decline in worship attendance. People are keeping the Church at a safe distance. The lone guardian and herald of the Gospel of the Lord, the "organized" Church, cannot seem to compete with organized sports. Faithfulness has been confused with convenience. Devotion has been replaced by consumerism. Our so-called "culture of death" has become the "new life". And yet as much as we are acclimated to these secular practices and philosophies, we bemoan the state of our nation and its moral decline. We curse those who lead us, both in and outside the Church, yet we fail to remember that the governed must consent to be governed. And we have so consented.

Dietrich Bonheoffer was the seemingly lone voice against the Nazi regime that so disdained the Church that it replaced the Bible with Mein Kampf and the cross with the swastika. And Bonheoffer recognized the primary reason why the Church was so silent and seemingly impotent during the rise of the Third Reich: the confusion that inevitably arises when the Christian faith becomes too closely related to a culture or to a national identity. When "we" become more like "them", we lose our sense of self, our sense of spiritual identity, the truest sense of who we really are conflicting with who we are called to be.

Israel had the same problem which led to the Exile. They by their acts chose to assimilate themselves into cultures that were not necessarily "foreign" to them but were, in fact, desirable. To this end, then, the Lord simply turned them over to the desires of their hearts and allowed them to be overrun by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. The Lord wept for His people, yet He was also strangely silent.

The prophets foretold, however, of a day when Israel would finally come to its senses, and perhaps the words of all the prophets are as relevant for us today as they were for Israel and Judah then. We too are in a sort of "exile", strangers in a strange land yet called to plant and to build, to pray and to worship, until that time comes when our "exile" will finally come to an end, that glorious day when we will no longer be "pilgrims" and "sojourners" in a foreign land - but "citizens" who are finally home. "'Return to Me, and I will return to you', says the Lord of Hosts" (Malachi 3:7b).

So this evening, Holy Father, I ask your blessing on this gathering and for the many other gatherings around our community, our state, and our nation as people of faith are lifting up their voices and praying as one. We lift up our prayers to You, Holy Lord our God, for the many who were unwilling to put aside the shackles of their exile and come before You. We offer our prayers to You, our Rock and our Redeemer, for the many who are unable to get out and about, the many who are physically incapacited, the many who are trapped in spiritual and emotional bondage who feel the pain of loneliness and alienation each and every day.

We pray as one this evening for our nation and for Your Holy Church. Restore to both the luster and the glory of the Beacon that once shone brightly for all to see. Find in us the image of Your Beloved Son who came not to be served but to serve. Entrust to us once again the majesty of Your grace so that we may work and pray with strength and with confidence as the ministers of Your Holy Word we have all been called to be. Teach us to once again be Light in a dark world so that those who cannot find their way will be encouraged and led by our faith and our example.

You alone are the God and Father of all nations from whose mighty hand all good things come. Help us to remember that it is You and You alone who has set us free. Grant to us the grace to remember that as unworthy as we are, You by Your Holy Word, the Word made Flesh who dwelt among us, have declared us worthy to share in the inheritance of Your eternal Kingdom. Let it be so, Holy and Heavenly King, as we come before You in and by the name of Your Holy Son who is Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, One Lord forever and ever. Amen.

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