Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In other words, “Clean up our messes, God. That’s why we call you ‘Almighty.’”
What if, instead of praying this collect, each of us committed to spending one hour a day for the next year working at specific projects to end divisions -- in our families, among our friends, in our local community, in our county, in our state, in our nation, and in the world. Take your pick, but commit to stay at it.
- Do you already have the contact addresses of your congressional delegation? See the Directory of the 111th Congress
- Have you read, marked, and inwardly digested the gray pages of your phone book?
- Have you checked the website of your local government to study the announcements and calendar for opportunities that will best engage your talents to influence public discourse and to be informed by it?
I have not stopped talking about prayer; all of these suggestions are part of prayer, as is all specific work towards bringing God’s realm on earth as it is in heaven.
If we are not careful, we can easily allow the sonorous collect to divorce us from God’s work rather than to engage us as God’s collaborators. It is too easy to treat the collect as a tip of the hat to God, as if to say, “Here is your work, God. You do your thing, and I will do mine.”
As the commencement speaker at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in May 2004, I audaciously told the graduates that I know the foolproof way to become a successful priest: “Feed my sheep!”
All other responsibilities are subordinate to this one, “Feed my sheep.”
Being a successful priest has little to do with building a good résumé, going to the right colleges, getting the plum appointments……
“Feed my sheep” wherever you find yourself, regardless of how long you are put there. Don’t consider yourself stuck.
We don’t choose where we will pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
The ‘acceptable day of salvation’ is always today.
It would be easy to love our neighbors as ourselves if we could just pick and choose them. Instead, God gives them to us, just as they are, and our assignment is to love them as much as we love ourselves.
Appearances of some Christian congregations to the contrary notwithstanding: God’s realm is not a gated community. God loves absolutely everybody.
“Feed my sheep.”
Jeremiah complains, speaking for God:
It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD
Feed my sheep in season and out of season. Feed my sheep.
Israelites longed for freedom while enduring the Roman occupation. Zechariah’s Canticle proclaims the baby Jesus to be “a mighty savior” someone who will “save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us.”
Those great expectations are a heavy burden to lay on the baby Jesus. Zechariah does mot mean them to be “merely spiritual.’ How could anything genuinely spiritual be ‘mere’? Zechariah expects the spiritual to have political consequences.
I did not understand this when I lived as a presumed heterosexual with male and white privilege intact. Then it was easy to think that Zechariah was a convenient minor character in the drama that secured my comforts. My perception changed when I came out as gay and married a man of color. Previously I did not perceive that I had any enemies, and no one hated any group of which I was known to be a part.
In embracing my wholeness, I embraced the stigma, the hatred, and the enemies. Zechariah’s canticle seemed less like service music for an interlude, and more like what scholar John Searle would call a speech act, a performative utterance that in itself makes things happen.
The Canticle became less like “This is a nice wedding’ and more like ‘By virtue of the authority vested in me…. I thee wed.’ Zechariah’s canticle as speech act initiated the baby Jesus, and can initiate us into core commitment and activity:
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Christ as King indeed, and us, as Christ’s friends and heirs.
Saint picks up where Zechariah left off, imparting not to Jesus, but to Jesus’ heirs, the same power to act:
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance
Guide our feet into the way of peace, O Lord, from this understanding that you enable us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” You place us where our enemies can destroy only our bodies, but not our souls.
Note what Jesus did not say to the second, empathetic criminal:
"You in my father's kingdom?! Do you believe in some kind of cheap grace? Get real. Now repeat after me, very slowly and clearly, 'I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and .....'"
Nor did Jesus say, “Go to hell!” to the first criminal, the one who taunted him.
Why is it that so many of us Christians have more trouble loving sinners than Jesus does?