Though certainly not entirely planned - our worship examination of the life journey of Jonah collided with the horror and tragedy in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Pastorally, I talked with several in our community and in my own family (include Mimi and me on this list) who are encountering fear, guilt, shame, and missional fervor in this week or terrible images and urgent need.
Jonah offered a portrait of courage (albeit misguided), nationalism (certainly misguided), thankfulness (perhaps short-sighted), stubborn participation in God's plans, and downright cussin'-tantrum throwin'-anger at God's mercy and kindness. One of the trajectories of this great Scriptural story is that of a gracious God who goes far beyond our meagre expectations and captivating prejudices. Jonah cannot accept the greatness of God's mercy. He is forefather of the workers in the vineyard described in parabolic detail by Jesus (Matthew 20). Those who worked only one hour are paid a full day's wage in the face of those who worked all day. The owner of the vineyard invites them to celebrate his generosity. But they cannot take this path. The cling to their own entitlements. Jonah also fails in this challenge. He cannot accept God's generosity to the notorious Assyrians. His proud nationalism creates a prejudice where his hopes for Israel (who will surely be punished by a penitent Assyrian nation) that stands above a relenting, mercy extending God.
As I said last night, Jonah creates great issues of worship for us. We are challenged to faithfully accept that God's intentions for our lives, community, and world are far greater than our plans, perceptions, and prejudices for our context. We must adore and worship in spite of inability to understand or accept God's mercy and sovereign planning.
The hurricane's wake is a context that confronts us squarely with this test of worship. The injustice of poverty and the implications of that poverty in escaping the wrath of the storm, the horror or human loss, the obvious failures of our government, and the failures of the human spirit have dominated our viewing of this tragedy for the last week. How does this context include a merciful and sovereign God?
So many of you have described intense shame, guilt, and fear in the aftermath. How can we be free of such suffering when we clearly are not specimens of perfect humanity? We are participants in a world that creates such a great gulf of wealth and poverty. Where does our confidence lie - in the mercy of God or the powers of our government? How have our prejudices affected our viewing of this tragedy? Many of us have cringed as Christians have incredulously claimed this as act of God's judgment. Despite the humor of some Christian being in consensus with Al Queda, such foolish words are clear examples of moral and political prejudice dominating one's perspective.
Our journey of response to this event should a path of both spirtual reflection and urgent mission. We will be offering many opportunities for mission to our community. But I also want to post the prayer liturgies that we used last night as part of our response. The words of these prayers are taken from Richard Foster.
I offer these as liturgies of ADORATION (we must embrace God as merciful despite human tragedy), SUFFERING (we are called to come close to human suffering), TEARS (we are free to let tragedy touch our emotive core), EXAMEN (we must confront our shame and guilt in the wake of our world's injustice and the pain of others), INTERCESSION (we must let spiritual reflection motivate us to mission), and HEALING (our acceptance of a merciful God demands that we embrace the reality of God's intervention into the horrors of our world).
A LITURGY OF ADORATION
Most high, glorious God, it is love that calls forth my speech, though it still feels like stammering. I adore you. I worship you. I bow down before you. Thank you for your gifts of grace:
— the consistency of sunrise and sunset
— the wonder of colors
— the solace of voices I know.
I magnify you, Lord. In the name of him whose adoration never failed.
A LITURGY OF SUFFERING
O Holy Spirit of God, so many hurt today. Help me to stand with them in their suffering. My temptation is to offer quick prayer and send them off rather than endure with them the desolation of suffering. Show me the pathway into their pain.
A LITURGY OF TEARS
Gracious Jesus, it is easier for me to approach you with my mind than with my tears. I do not know how to pray from the emotive center of my life… Still, I come to you just as I am…Break my stony heart with the things that break your heart.
A LITURGY OF EXAMEN
Precious Savior, why do I fear your scrutiny? Yours is an examen of love. Still, I am afraid… afraid of what may surface. Even so, I invite you to search me to the depths so that I may know myself, and you, in fuller measure.
A LITURGY OF INTERCESSION
Gracious Holy Spirit, so much of my life seems to revolve around my interests and my welfare. I would like to live just one day in which everything I did benefited someone besides myself. Perhaps prayer for others is a starting point. Help me to do so without any need of praise or reward. In Jesus’ name. — Amen.
A LITURGY OF HEALING
My Lord and my God, I have a thousand arguments against healing prayer. You are the one argument for it… You win. Help me to be a conduit through which your healing love can flow to others. For Jesus’ sake. — Amen.
May these prayers challenge and dislodge our prejudices, shame, fear, and finite expectations of an infinite God. May these prayers guide us into mission. May these prayers give us new eyes for the needs of our own community.