Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

There’s been a lot of bad news this summer. Both here and around the world, we’ve had wave after wave of violence and tragedy; and if that weren’t bad enough, the back and forth we engage around it fans the flames of the deep political divides among us. The Book of Common Prayer tells us that “the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (855), so it seems a preacher has a responsibility to speak word of hope and life in the midst of it all the division. I’ve tried to do that in my preaching this summer, but I have to admit that when it came time to prepare this week’s sermon, I was mostly just feeling weary and cynical about it all, as I’m sure many of you are, too.

Then, as you know, I spent the past week at our diocesan youth camp. About a hundred of us spent the week playing, praying, singing, listening for God, and forming and incredibly loving and generous community. Part of the reason I’m committed to serving as a counselor each year is that camp paints a picture of what a community of Jesus’ followers ought to look like, and is a little glimpse of what I imagine God’s kingdom will be. There is a lot of joy and laughter, and every person is celebrated and loved for the unique person God has made them to be.

This year, the camp staff included four recent graduates of our camp program who were back serving as counselors for the first time. As I got to know each of them a little better over the week, I blown away by their stories, and their dedication to helping our campers know God’s love in very real ways. One counselor is working three jobs to help pay for college, and spent their only week of vacation to help with camp. Others continue to overcome challenges in their own lives, and are driven to give the love they’ve received in our program. I went feeling a little bit like a martyr for enduring the exhaustion and the heat, but I was quickly set straight by seeing the kinds of sacrifices they were making, and the kinds of odds they’ve overcome to be able to do so. It was hard to stay cynical for long in the face of loving, and hope-filled young adults who are passionate about sharing the gift of God’s love that they have received.

In today’s gospel lesson, when Jesus answers the disciples’ question about how to pray, I think he was hoping his answer would shape them into people just like that. He gives them what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer, and then a few stories about how God will be available and generous to us when we cry out to him. At the very end of the passage, Jesus gives us the punch line about prayer: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” It turns out that the benefit of prayer is the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. When we ask, and seek, and knock, we aren’t granted our every wish by a divine genie (we all know prayer doesn’t work like that anyway). When we ask, and seek, and knock, we are filled with the gift of God’s spirit, so that we can love as God loves, so that we can be as unrelentingly generous as God is, so that we can be agents of peace and healing and mercy even when the world is as divided and violent and tiring as it has been this summer. In the words of one commentator this week: “The point of prayer is not to change God’s mind but to shape ours, to make us fit for the kingdom, ready to live the only life possible in God’s household: one of love.” [1]

We pray for God’s kingdom, we pray to forgive and be forgiven, we pray for the small gift of daily bread, so that our whole lives might start to reflect God’s perfect generosity and peace in the midst of a hostile and hard world. The more we pray, in the big moments, and in the smallest details, the more we are shaped into Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.

Those four young counselors so easily and naturally gave of themselves because for years and years and years, they had been steeped in the kind of prayerful, loving community that Jesus had in mind.

On the last day of camp, with a lot of help from Trinity’s Suitcase Project volunteers, youth from all over the diocese prayed for victims of violence, and then packed eighty bags for women and their families who have survived sexual assault or domestic violence. Then we went and blessed the bags, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer again. You can’t be part of something like that, and not be filled with hope.The world is a violent, divided, hard, often tragic place to live. This summer has given us almost weekly reminders of that fact. But about 100 youth and adults from around our diocese spent last week soaking ourselves in God’s love and generosity through prayer, and play, and companionship. That’s a hundred more people who are ready to stand as lights in the darkness, as agents of hope in the midst of despair, as agents of peace in the midst of violence, as agents of life in the midst of death. And for all of us here, every single time we gather for anything here at the cathedral, we are invited to do the same—to soak ourselves in God’s love and generosity so we can be agents of the same in our lives—until God’s kingdom comes in its fullness, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

[1] Stamper, Meda. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2923

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