Today it was my great joy to lead worship at Centennial. They are currently without a minister and it is my job to encourage them in the Search for a minister. I may have written about them before, a truly multicultural congregation with people from a multitude of countries and most continents. They embrace their cultural diversity and although there are some rough spots for the most part they work out the cultural expectations and differences well. It is a delight to worship with the morning service, it is like being at an assembly of nations, and the attentiveness of the people and the affirmation they send as I preach makes me realize that worship involves preacher and people; as well as God.
The congregation has a second service comprised of Anyuak speaking people from Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya. At least once a month I have the honour of preaching at their service.
Today was one of those days. I was preaching on the Epiphany texts from Isaiah and Matthew, talking about how the journey of the Magi was a proclamation that Jesus was King, but also a call to ministry. The Magi ministered to Herod and the Scribes pointing out the truth that the Messiah had come. They fulfilled the call to worship with their whole being and at great sacrifice. They listened to the Spirit and left by another route. They (and here I speculate, but with certainty) spoke of the Messiah to all the people they met in their homeland when they returned. Then I spoke of our calling to be as bold and as obedient as the Magi in worshiping the King and spreading the good news of what Jesus does for us.
One of the elements in the liturgy is that the preacher is blessed after giving the sermon. I sit, and the congregation blesses me with upraised hands as they say “God bless you, God bless you, God always bless you.” It is powerful and humbling. But today there was a difference, the person in charge of leading the blessing spoke at great length to the congregation. When she sat down the elder who had translated for me to the congregation, translated her words. What she said touched me deeply. She said this was a powerful message and we should listen and do all that the sermon challenged us to do. As humbled as I am in the blessing, her words humbled me even more. Every Sunday that I preach I begin the day praying that God would use me to be a blessing and that the worship would truly honour him. At that moment I felt as if my prayer had been answered and that the Holy Spirit had truly worked through me. Surely the Spirit’s anointing had been present and powerful.
When I again rose to my feet, I asked for prayer requests, which is the custom of the Anyuak ministry. Usually the requests are for healing, or for the church back home, but sometimes they involve a significant need in the lives of the people both in Canada and in their countries of origin. Today the prayer request was for one of the women whose sister in Ethiopia had been shot and killed; her husband shot and injured and two of the three children kidnapped. It took a while before I found my voice and was able to pray. After the service I went to the washroom and continued to pray, certain in my spirit that those children had been kidnapped to be enslaved as child soldiers.
When I returned to the meeting hall one of the elders confirmed my suspicions, telling me that in the summer, the dry season, it is much easier for the raiding parties to come across the border from Sudan and kill adults and take away the children to fight for them in the wars.
I left more convinced than ever that if we are to fulfill our calling in the service of the one who is the light to the nations then we need to do our part to see that all people, in all nations, are able to live in peace and in safety. We need to demand that our governments make more room to bring in refugees and make the process easier. I know from the work of the refugee committee I am on that we have been working for many years to secure visas for the refugees from Somalia that we are hoping to sponsor. We are having difficulty getting approval for the refugees from Syria that we are hoping to co-sponsor because they are living in “relative” safety in exile. Relative safety is not safe, not in the least.
If we are to fulfill our calling in the service of the light of the nations we need to encourage our governments to work diligently to be responsible in developing relationships with all nations that encourage and even to demand that leaders are open, honest, and just in their relationships with their own people as well as neighbouring people.
If we are to fulfill our calling in the service of the one who is the light to the nations then we need to be vigilant in our prayers for all nations and especially those who oppress others as well as those who are oppressed. We need to be diligent in our commitment to pray for peace and justice. We need to double our prayers that the Holy Spirit be the voice that leads governments and those who seek to develop industries in all nations that justice, compassion and the way of peace and prosperity for all be honoured.
WE NEED TO PRAY
So today let us pray: Light of the Nations
Lord of all, we lay this world at your feet
Immanuel, God with us, be present in this world with your overflowing grace
Grant heart of peace to all who govern
Hear the pleas of all who are oppressed
Teach us all to care for neighbour with the love you have shown us in Jesus.
Open our hearts and fill them with your grace
Fill us with the desire to save those who are hurting and to serve you with out countint the cost.
Train us in the ministry of compassion and fill us with a passion to do justice
Heal those parts of us that hold onto prejudice, help us to see all people as you see them
Envelop all nations in your love
Nourish a Spirit of Peace and a desire to share our goods and our blessings
Appoint each one of us as your ambassadors of Grace
Touch our hearts with a persistence to go where you direct and do as you ask
Instruct us in the ways of making peace
Open the hearts of all to see your truth
Never let us forget that you are God
Shine in our hearts that we may shine your grace into the world. Amen.