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August 21, 2011

This morning we reach the place in our summer prayer series where we lift up our concerns for the world. If you haven't already done so, today's prayer bead is blue and there are beads and several already assembled prayer chains in the narthex. As we begin looking at what it means to be in prayer for the world we'll start by looking ahead in time to a day that many say changed the world. In a few weeks we will be observing the tenth anniversary of September 11th. As newsletters from other churches come my way, I notice that several of my colleagues are planning sermon series to mark the event and encouraging people to observe 9/11 as a day of service. We will not be doing a sermon series, but our minister of visitation, Rev. Jinny Hubbard is planning to focus our worship service on that Sunday to be a time of remembering those whose who died on that day as well as a time when we recommit ourselves to working towards peace and justice in the world. As most of you know by now my youngest brother Bill died in the World Trade Towers that day, and I will be in New York City attending the family memorial service.

For me the tragedy of 9/11 connected with my meeting of a young girl in Afghanistan. Several weeks after 9/11 I called my parents to see how they were doing. My father answered the phone and said he'd call me back – the New Jersey state police had arrived at the house to take DNA samples from him in hopes of someday being able to identify the remains of my brother. I hung up thinking how awful it was that my father, and many others were having to go through this. In Afghanistan we met an eight year old girl whose family was killed in a bombing raid that went astray. Amina had gotten up early and was out in the back yard getting water for the tea, so survived the attack. She stood in our guest house and listed all the family who had died. We didn't need a translator to understand she was saying their name and after each name saying "killed." These two events connect for me this morning's prayer focus on the world. As God's people, the followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be in deep, deep prayer for the world. To works towards the kingdom of God so that parents aren't called upon to give DNA samples in hopes of identifying the remains of their children and little girls don't have to stand and list the names of their family members because they are the only ones left to speak. Also while in Afghanistan we visited and internally displaced persons camp or an IDP as they are known. These camps are set up usually by the UN for refugees who have fled parts for their own country and moved to another part. Whole towns become displaced for reasons such as violence or drought. We spoke to the village elder of the camp and asked him what they needed. At that question he drew himself up indignantly and replied – what do you think we are, cows? We need the same things that you need – food and water, shelter, clothing, medical care. We are human beings just like you – we all need and want the same things.

Whatever happens in one part of the world happens to all of us. We received a letter from the bishop of our Annual Conference, Bishop Devadhar late last week. In it he lifts up his hope that we will respond to some of the crises facing the world. In part of his letter he too reminds us of how connected we are in the world: "My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am currently enjoying my vacation! One of the reasons for my enjoyment is that I am playing with my granddaughters and watching her favorite show, Sesame Street. She loves the character Elmo. However, as I flip through the television channels there are several other images that cause me great sadness: unemployment in the United States, the pictures of food banks with empty shelves, and the current drought in the Horn of Africa. The drought there has cause nearly twelve million lives to be at risk, including millions of children. Experts say it is the worst drought in sixty years. I am reminded that the children craving water and food are no different than my grandchild – or yours." Bishop Devadhar goes on to call us to prayer and action for such situations. And so we bring this focus into our prayers this morning. We bring our prayers of action and our prayers of intercession. We bring our prayers of hope and our prayers that voice our sense of hopelessness when the enormity of the situation seems overwhelming.

We have, in our texts, for this Sunday both a mandate and a script for living. The mandate comes in the final verses of Matthew's Gospel: Go into all the world and baptize, make disciples. For me this text sends me into the world to be the living presence of the body of Christ, modeling my life after the example he set for us – to include the outcast, reach out to the poor and the hungry, to challenge the structures that lead to violence and oppression. Our script for living comes in the twelfth chapter of Romans. I was particularly struck this week of how Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City called his congregation to live out this text. You have probably heard of Fred Phelps and his congregation, of how they picket the funerals of those military killed in action. Currently his small church is targeting the funerals of the Navy Seals killed in Afghanistan. One of those funerals was held at the Church of the Resurrection last week. In a letter to the congregation regarding this, Hamilton used our text from Romans to remind the congregation of how they should respond. He urged that the congregation pray for the family of the Navy Seal, but also for the protesters, and then reminded them of the text: Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."

Yes, the needs and evils of our world are great. But don't let the enormity stop you from taking action. Let that text from Romans be your call – If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. In your prayers change out the last phrase, and add to it. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you … feed the hungry, visit the sick, reach out to someone, give to help the causes of hunger in this community and through the world. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you … as those who know the joy of the Lord, God's saving grace in Jesus Christ we are sent to be the body of Christ – God's love in action. Let your prayer focus this week be for the needs of the world, globally and locally.

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