Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
The restorative power of prayer is beyond what we can comprehend. We gain great strength, insight and peace through prayer. Perhaps we are touched by the light of God’s countenance when we seek to share with God our true countenance through prayer.
Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!
What are we to do when the Church itself is the stumbling block? This being the month of Gay Pride celebrations around the country has brought into focus the fact that for many LGBTQ people the Church is the stumbling block. We are excluded from full inclusion in many denominations, in some we are not welcome at all. For LGBTQ people of faith it can be hard to find a place to worship in which we feel welcomed and comfortable; that can lead to feelings of alienation not just from the Church but also from God.
But as for me, O Lord, I cry to you for help;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Lord, why have you rejected me?
why have you hidden your face from me?
Today is the day of the Gay Pride march in Hudson, the very small, largely liberal, city where I live. I am reminded of the many LGBTQ people for whom these verses are a daily lament, as they once were for me. They are rejected by their churches and told that they are sinners and deviants. They are made to feel unloved and unwanted. Many are battered, some in body, many in mind and in spirit by the people who support and nurture their straight peers. To those, my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, I say, though some churches may reject you, God loves you the way God made you, I love you and many people of faith love you and want you to feel loved and happy and whole. The Episcopal Church welcomes us all, but full inclusion in every diocese has not yet been achieved and is the only way to put the oppression of LGBTQ people to an end. Full inclusion means freedom to marry in the church and freedom to serve the church in every capacity, both lay and ordained.
O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you.
There is nothing that we can withhold from God. God knows us, and in God’s great mercy, God loves us with all of our faults. Our greatest challenge is to love ourselves as God loves us, so that we are able to show love to those who feel unloved.
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
A thorn in the flesh has been, or will be given to each of us, and the way in which we deal with that thorn is up to us. There’s a risk of becoming embittered by our suffering or we can learn patience and and trust. We might learn to accept limitations on our bodies or psyches and grow spiritually in ways that we otherwise might not. One of the most painful and yet spiritually fruitful times of my life was during a period in which I had two spine surgeries. Prior to those years I had been very active and athletic and my incapacitation forced me to become sedentary. I explored my spirituality in more depth than I had before and I grew closer to God. I was humbled in ways that I had never expected and certainly never wanted. I couldn’t care for myself and I was forced to accept, and rely on, help from family, friends and even strangers. What I first viewed as my humiliation, became something for which I was grateful. I was deeply moved by the love that was shown to me in the form of kind acts both large and small. God’s grace is indeed sufficient for us. Our weaknesses and our frailties can be opportunities for growth.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Jesus came to seek out and to save the lost, but sometimes we don’t feel that we deserve to be sought out and saved. If we think of ourselves as only the sum of our faults we can convince ourselves that we aren’t worthy of salvation. Those are the times that we feel most lost, and at those times we need to be reminded that God so loves us that he sent Jesus into the world to save us. All we have to do is let ourselves be found.
Taking the twelve aside, Jesus said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
We often don’t see things coming that in hindsight we think we should have, and perhaps in some cases that’s for the best. God, in his great mercy has not given us the ability to see into the future.
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
If upon taking leave of a friend, acquaintance or even a stranger, what would happen if we blessed them? It was common practice in former times. The word goodbye is derived from the phrase; “God be with you.” It seems that most of us have been parting with a blessing unintentionally since we learned to speak. Perhaps now would be a good time to restore the original intention to our goodbyes. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
All people of faith want to know God better. We long to comprehend the incomprehensible. We want to be filled with love and inner strength through the power of God’s Spirit. If Christ dwells within us we might even feel moved to manifest his love, and to visualize our hearts as inexhaustible, living vessels of God’s unending love.