My brother and sisters.
As we gather today with a heart to see the God of creation instill in the hearts of the peoples of the world an inclination to peace, none of us here are unmindful of the enormous distraction self interest is to leadership, policy and enterprise.
What is true and at the same time powerful, is the presence and will of the God we serve. As a Christian, I am made aware each day, of the presence of the Holy Trinity and the work of the Holy Spirit of God.
The veil separating us from life and the God of Creation is thin indeed. The thinness of this separation is denied if not ridiculed by a materialistic world that thinks only in terms of physical constructs, reducing life to an interaction of atomic structures that ignore or overlook the human heart. The human spirit, as understood within the Christian tradition, is made in the image of the Creator. This is not something to trifle with. It is mystical, linked to the transcendent and powerful in its outworking in the spiritual and physical world.
We have come together with prayer in mind. Early my parents taught us children both what prayer is, its importance in daily living and the ripple affect of its practice.
Let me lead you into two examples of what it means to me to engage the Holy God of life within the means made available by the conduit of prayer.
I was eight years old in the great prairie, farming region of western Canada. My father – and this was in 1950, long before organ transplants – was stricken with a deadly kidney disease and given a few months to live. Hospitalized, I was only allowed occasionally into his room. Mostly I would stand outside, looking up at him, as he sat by the window.
Often I heard his name raised in prayer, as at our Pentecostal church, people voiced clear and unmistakable confidence that God would – not could – heal. It was more than I understood, except I knew my father was very ill, and I was afraid our fishing days were over.
One Sunday morning, our national church was holding its annual meeting in Saskatoon. It was communion service, the Protestant version of Holy Communion. Before the service someone decided it was time to act. They went to the hospital, navigated my father from his room and brought him to the service. Before communion they did as was instructed by St. James: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. (James 5:13)
He was taken back to the hospital and within a few weeks, so astounded the doctor by his recovery that he was released for home, never to be afflicted by that kidney disease again.
I offer that personal historical account, for prayer is not ceremonial nor a perfunctory exercise, carrying on tradition or fulfilling a custom. It is powerful, effective and a gift so enormous, I suspect most of us here have hardly scratched the surface of what God has in store for those who will put their faith in his love and interactive presence.
My second reference is more recent.
Last year, we – The World Evangelical Alliance – were invited to South Sudan. The problem was that Christians were killing Christians. While border disputes defining national boundaries between Sudan and the new Republic of South Sudan were ongoing, troubling to this new and fragile African nation were killings and child kidnapping.
What surprised us was the hostility that had escalated into killing between tribes, primarily in the state of Jongeli, triggered by an age old problem: cattle rustling. Cows, the ultimate measure of personal worth was the igniting point. While estimates are hard to confirm, up to three thousand South Sudanese have died in the previous number of months from this internal conflict.
Nomadic, the tribes are rooted in centuries old culturally engrained habits and age-old resentments. Cattle, here defines life and shapes their sense of well being. This finds its way into the most central of tribal life – marriage. Who decides who will marry whom? matters. But possibly more important, How many cows will my daughter fetch? Dowry is the arbitrator.
Bishop Taban of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of South Sudan called together tribal chiefs, elders, government officials and pastors to the Jongeli Peace and Reconciliation Conference
As we met, none disagreed that peace is better. All affirmed Christ’s call to “love your enemy.” Commitment to these values, were loud and instant. But answers were less clear. Like many African countries its infrastructure is under resourced caught in centuries of tribal identity, ingrained attitudes and deeply entrenched in mores and expectations.
“What would it take?” we wondered. Missions have been active here for years. In the 1800s Christian missions—both Roman Catholic and Protestant—are rooted in the south. Today while many practice tribal religions, Christian faith is accepted as the common point in beginning this attempt to secure a peace.
Amidst much talking, arguing, finger pointing, laughter and tears we began to pray. We prayed together. We prayed in groups. We prayed one on one. We prayed alone. Then we sang. And my, could they sing.
I was asked, “Were you able to strike a peace accord?” “No, I responded, but they did pray together.”
Months later I received word from one of the participants and he said, since our peace meeting around prayer, no one has been killed over the issue which so divided us.
I know that isn’t the end of the story. But St Paul lifted us onto a new plane, reminding us of this: “For though we live in the world, we do wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3/4)
As we engage these days, and into the coming months, seeking peaceful solutions to huge and seemingly intractable problems, we us be aware that along side us, thinly veiled from our view is the God of life who invites us, indeed instructs us to call in faith, asking for power and enablement as we seek to do the will of the God of peace.
Let us be bold in faith as we intercede for a world in deep sorrow and peoples in languishing need. Prayer is God’s invitation for us to engage in what is in his heart, and that peace would reign.