“God With Us Always – For the Long Haul”

Year B. I Kings 8 John 6, Eph. 6

Sermon to Pohick Church 8-22-21

The Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronaldi, Rector

It’s going to take a long time for us to erase from our mind’s eye the images of Afghan men, women and children grasping for the sides of planes as they take off from Kabul.

Our senses are assaulted with Taliban atrocities against the powerless: sounds of machine gun fire, crowds stampeding the airport gates, and great clouds of teargas.

As US troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan leaving the beleaguered nation without American support, our soldiers, veterans and others are wondering if all the heroic work and sacrifices were worth it. Many are also questioning…

  • Where is God in all this?
  • Is God absent or blind to such suffering?
  • And when we don’t see evidence of God’s presence and power over evil and suffering, how on earth are we to pray?

Ironically, today’s Scripture passages powerfully affirm the omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence of God. “Omni” means “all,” so these attributes describe God as all-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful. They assure us of God’s constant and abiding presence, steadfast love, and power over evil throughout the history of salvation. These passages also remind us how to pray.

Imagine the scene in I Kings. God’s presence fills the magnificent newly constructed temple as a great cloud. God’s majesty and mystery so overwhelm the priests, that they are rendered speechless.

(Btw, you may have noticed, we priests rarely become tongue-tied.)

As the temple priests are in fact struck dumb, King Solomon steps up to the altar to pray. Standing before Israel, Solomon praises God for his covenant promises of ongoing presence and provision. He prays:

“There is no God like you in heaven or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants.”

Solomon reminds Israel of God’s original covenant with Abraham. The promise God gave to the patriarchs and repeated throughout history was that the Lord always hears the cry of the poor and suffering. God will never leave his people, nor forsake them.

God makes and keeps this promise to other prophets and kings: Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon and Samuel. Repeating the promise, King David encourages Solomon to build the temple. Later, the prophet Isaiah will encourage and comfort his oppressed and exiled people by reminding them of that covenant.

After Solomon prays with remembrance and praise, he raises his hands to bless the gathered people of Israel. He rejoices that heaven cannot contain God, and that God cannot be limited to Israel. He insists God’s presence, provision and power extends to foreigners, adding: “So that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.”

Even with these promises meant for all humankind, people have often found it difficult to remember and trust in God’s steadfast presence, provision, and power over evil.

We see a similar dynamic of forgetfulness and lack of trust in today’s Gospel. Like Solomon and other prophets, Jesus is reminding his disciples about God’s everlasting covenant. Recalling the manna in the wilderness, Jesus explains that he is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise: He is the “Bread of Life.”  They are to eat this bread. As they do, he dwells in them, and they in him.

But many disciples “find this to be a hard saying.” Some turn away from Jesus. Apparently, partaking in bread for the long haul is not what they have in mind. The disciples prefer a quick fix – like their ancestors in the wilderness, who grumbled to Moses.

In this day and age, isn’t it hard for us to accept this teaching as well? Do you chafe about partaking and abiding in the Lord over the long haul? Do you demand a quick fix for all the world’s suffering?

Just as Jesus asks his original disciples, perhaps he is asking us: “Do you also wish to go away?”  

Do you want to give up on communal worship and partaking in the bread of life? Can you persist in an abiding relationship of prayer? Are you present to God now – or are you fixated on fears of the future?

In the context of our world today, this is still a difficult teaching. Jesus asks us the same hard question. And Peter provides our answer: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life…”

Corporately and individually, we can turn to the only One who reveals the steadfast, ongoing presence of God among suffering humans. We can trust in the Lord’s penultimate power over evil.

In corporate worship, we remember, share, and partake in God’s steadfast presence, provision and power. We listen to his Word, partake in his body, pray for others, and praise God for all he has done and is doing to transform evil into good.

As individuals, we reciprocate the Lord’s steadfast presence by being present to him in prayer and meditation. We trust his love and mercy. We grow spiritually as we dwell in his words and teachings, even when they are difficult. We praise God for all he does to transform us.

Meanwhile, as we witness the suffering in our world, particularly in Afghanistan, we want to know how to pray.

First, understand that when we pray, we are entering into the stream of Jesus’ own prayer. The Lord longs for us to come alongside what he is already doing. We pray for and engage the world not to change it, but because God has changed us.

With this understanding of prayer, we can pray for:

  • the vulnerable and persecuted in Afghanistan: Christian converts, women and children, and missionaries trapped there.
  • wisdom and humility for the world’s governments, particularly American leaders.
  • the sick in Afghanistan, remembering COVID-19 is raging there, and under the Taliban government, healthcare is challenged.
  • our American soldiers and their families, thankful for our brave heroes who have sacrificed much for the Afghan people. May they embrace the good and the new freedoms they brought in 20+ years of change.
  • not only Afghanistan, but also the people of Pakistan, who face infiltration and growing persecution from the Taliban.
  • But there’s another group we are called to pray for as well: the Taliban. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…” When Jesus commanded us to pray for enemies, he knew it would one day require praying for Islamic Extremists too. We pray for their conversion of heart. We trust God’s divine justice prevails.
  • Finally, pray as St. Paul once taught persecuted Ephesian Christians to pray: for ourselves, Afghans, and the world to “put on the full armor of God.” Neither an aggressive nor offensive weapon, this spiritual armor is a prayerful defense against evil overcoming us.

Going forward, remember the Lord’s covenant. Trust that he is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. As Solomon prayed, ““There is no God like you in heaven or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants.”

Persevere in prayer, believing Jesus dwells in us, as we dwell in him.

Finally, trust that over the long haul, in the fullness of time, the power of divine Love has defeated and is defeating all evil and suffering.

Amen.

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