Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
This past week we held our first Interreligious Prayer Service in Fredericksburg at Market Square, with readings, reflections and a prayer from each of three representatives of world religion: Muslim Imam Sheikh Lamptey, Jewish Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt, and Christian Rev. Larry Haun of Fredericksburg Baptist Church. I was very touched with what Pastor Haun had to say, I must say I have seldom encountered a man with such authentic love of God and integrity. I wanted to share his message here for the World Day of Prayer. God bless you.
Social anthropologists tell us that humans are hardwired for worship. Evidence reveals humanity’s desire to locate a creator and offer words, songs, gestures, and ways of life in praise. Christianity, along with Judaism and Islam, trace their hopes and religious understandings to a common heritage. It is the heritage of a covenant relationship with God. This God revealed presence is to Abram, re-named Abraham, meaning “the father of multitudes.”
Abraham’s turn to the Old Testament God in Genesis 2 (vs. 1-3) is a turn from the many idolatrous gods of polytheism to the one Creator God who sustains the world. The covenant offered by God to Abraham is a promise of relationship fulfilled across future generations. It is an unconditional covenant, a gift from God.
Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
Through this covenant God offers God’s self for the sake of the world, giving all who would turn to him from family, from land, from any and all other claims that might call forth worship, the blessing of the Creator God. This is the common beginning of the three religious expressions gathered here today for prayer—they have turned to the Creating and Sustaining God, recognizing a truth larger than what they can see or know in gratitude on faith. This is our common ground—gratitude and faith for a God who extends God’s self to us first, wanting our response, wanting our relationship.
I would be unfaithful to my tradition today, however, if I failed to mention Jesus as the revelation of my Christian faith that informs my fuller knowing of God as well as the pattern of my response to God and the world. The biblical Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, shapes the way I know God, the way I speak of faith, and the way I love my neighbor. As Christians, the baptism with water and the Lord’s Supper at the table are distinctive acts that identify us with Jesus and should remind us of God’s love for the world—all of the world. Jesus’ living example of how to treat one another with truth, justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and decency helps me to know how I should be with others. The way of Jesus is not a way of separation for me but it is rather a way of loving and serving others. It is a way that benefits me as it deepens my encounter with God. And, I pray, that it is a way that benefits others, healing their hurts, and helping them to also begin to sense God’s love for them through me.
For me, as a Christian, it is Jesus who carries on the covenant of God, revealing the redemptive and sustaining care of the Creator God. Abraham is blessed so that the multitudes that come after him, through him, can bless the world. Blessing is giving. God gives to us that we might give. The distinctions between our religions could be counted as many. They could be called divisive. They could be called insurmountable. They could be called too large to be held by any one God. But, we must remember, it is the God who creates and sustains who has promised, who has covenanted to bless us for our blessing the world. That is a God greater than any difference humanity can claim. That is an overcoming God, a delivering God, capable of bringing peace, healing, and respect especially to those to whom blessing has been promised. Let us take up our blessing that we might bless the world together, realizing our common need of the sustaining God over and over and over again for the living of our days in this world. Let us lay down our suspicions, our fears, and our misunderstandings in recognition of our common humanity. Let us see one another as people who work, have families, know joy, feel pain, seek God, and have hope for a future. Although our worship lives take different turns, in different houses, with different ways, we have all received breath and being from God who creates and sustains the world. In that may we find great joy, great unity, and great humility— at least enough to keep our hands from violence, our words from hurt, and our hearts from unfounded fear toward each other. May God make it so. Amen and Amen.
Before we pray together, though, I will speak the unspoken here. The tension we feel between religions is a tension of finality, a tension of our ultimate destination, a tension of living lives directed by our end. The plurality of religions in our nation can be confusing, frightening, and insulating for those of us who profess faith; as a result, we cleave to our own and are suspicious of the other. When we who worship despise each other, religion becomes the world’s problem instead of the world’s blessing. But, I want you to consider something. I want you to consider Peter Ochs’ prayer; he is the Edgar M. Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies at the University of Virginia. He offered it at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture consultation in answer to the conference question, “Do we worship the same God?” He began by simply and profoundly stating, “I pray that we worship the same God.”
Take a moment and think on that. It is an answer fueled by hope in a God who would offer a human race of broken relationships and broken images the promise of blessing—the promise of being so blessed that they might bless others. In Peter Ochs’ words, “I pray that we worship the same God,” there is hope for peace; there is hope for God’s reconciling hand to come upon and between all the peoples of the world; there is hope for God’s ignoring of our more destructive prayers—prayers that would harm the other; there is hope for God’s hearing all of our hurts together as his hurting children and deciding for our mutual good, our mutual blessing.
Holy God, revealed most fully to we Christians through Christ of the Cross, we meet You today casting back to Your history of creating what is new from what is chaos, Your history of sustaining life in the midst of great struggle.
Help us, each one of us, to respect the other, loving the other as a child of the Covenant, a child of the Creating and Sustaining God.
Let us provoke one another to do good and not evil. Guide us to guard our ways and our words that they would be pleasing to You.
As followers of Christ, change us day-by-day into being more like the Jesus we know from Scripture.
For others, direct them to become the best of their understanding in service of others.
Hear our prayers as children that seek and acknowledge need.
We Christians, through the light of Christ, our clearest revelation of You, offer our prayers. Others pray here today as well, bringing prayers in the ways they know best. Hear us.
But truly, Holy God, we pray that it is You who will know us and claim us. We know You only as we have worshipped, but You know us beyond such earthly limitations. We give thanks for all You have provided, All You have freely given.
May our relationships with each other be worthy of Your gift of life. Amen.