Prayers amidst turmoil

During what has turned into a very difficult day in the life of our nation, these prayers may be helpful to you. They are taken from pages 814-835 of the Book of Common Prayer. Some are slightly edited, and their numbers are retained here.

4. For Peace
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince
of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion
and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

6. For our Enemies
O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

18. For our Country
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our
heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove
ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.
Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and
pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;
from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend
our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes
brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue
with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust
the authority of government, that there may be justice and
peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we
may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.
In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,
and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;
all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

19. For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We
commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided
by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant
to the President of the United States, the Governors of the
States, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength
to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love
of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful
of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

20. For Congress or a State Legislature
O God, the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and
gracious, and whose law is truth: We beseech thee so to guide
and bless our Senators and Representatives in Congress
assembled, that they may enact such laws as shall please thee,
to the glory of thy Name and the welfare of this people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

21. For Courts of Justice
Almighty God, who sittest in the throne judging right: We
humbly beseech thee to bless the courts of justice and the
magistrates in all this land; and give unto them the spirit of
wisdom and understanding, that they may discern the truth,
and impartially administer the law in the fear of thee alone;
through him who shall come to be our Judge, thy Son our
Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

22. For Sound Government
O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we
may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to
other nations of the earth.

To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors
of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative
authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their
duties.

To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our
laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and
foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to
fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.

To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding
and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and
justice served.

And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to
accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they
may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for
the well-being of our society; that we may serve you
faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name. Amen.

27. For Social Justice
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart and especially the hearts of the
people of the United States, that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

28. In Times of Conflict
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us,
in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront
one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work
together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.

33. For Cities
Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of
that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their
glory: Behold and visit, we pray, Washington D.C.
Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life.
Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate
poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail
with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and
women from different cultures and with differing talents may
find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

36. For the Oppressed
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

39. For those who Influence Public Opinion
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many
voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where
many listen and write what many read; that they may do their
part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and
its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

58. For Guidance
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and
light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all
our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou
wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save
us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see
light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How far is it to Bethlehem?

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord  – December 24, 2018 – Luke 2:1-20 – Trinity Church, Winchester

Last year a group from my home parish journeyed to the Holy Land to see many of the storied sites of the Bible: Jerusalem, Galilee, Nazareth, Jericho, and of course, Bethlehem. 

Bethlehem is one of the most famous cities in the region because of its place in the gospel story we just heard. The Church of the Nativity there boasts the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. I remember the day we took the short bus ride from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. My friend Collin shouted from the back of the bus, “How far is it to Bethlehem?”

I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately. “How far is it to Bethlehem?” Collin was surely not the first person to ask this question. Think about the biblical Christmas narratives. 

It’s census time. Caesar has spoken and Joseph has to get Bethlehem. Imagine a very pregnant Mary turning to him to ask with weary eyes, “How far is it to Bethlehem?” 

While watching their sheep on a Judean hillside, a group of shepherds hear a heavenly noise. It’s like nothing they have ever experienced before. The angel tells them good news of great joy. “Go to Bethlehem and see.” After the angels depart, imagine a group of startled shepherds looking at each other and asking, “How far is it to Bethlehem?”

The magi observe a star in the east and make their way to Jerusalem asking, “Where is the child who has been born?” “In Bethlehem of Judea,” the prophets have written. Imagine the three tired travelers meeting eyes and simultaneously asking, “How far is it to Bethlehem? 

It’s a question older than even the birth narratives.

The Book of Ruth tells us that Naomi moves with her family from Bethlehem to Moab. Soon tragedy befalls her. Her husband and sons die, and she prepares to move back to her hometown with her daughters-in-law. Imagine her gathering what’s left of her life and trying to remember, “How far is it to Bethlehem?”

The question is still alive and well in the present age. 

Frances Chesterton wrote a poem entitled, “How far is it to Bethlehem?” It became a well-known English carol, set to various musical arrangements. You can hear both St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choir in Dublin and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing it on YouTube. 

“How far is it to Bethlehem? / Not very far. / Shall we find the stable-room / Lit by a star?”

Others have phrased the question slightly differently. There is a children’s book with the title, “How Many Miles to Bethlehem?” (There’s also a sing-along song and a stage play with the same name.)

The question has been on the minds of those past and present. It’s no surprise then that tonight we still come wondering, “How far is it to Bethlehem?”

As Christians of the twenty-first century we are well-versed in the Christmas story. We ask, “How far is it to Bethlehem?” knowing well what we will find there—Jesus Christ. God made man. 

At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation. God made flesh. The incarnation tells us that God came to dwell with God’s people as one of them. Once and for all God became flesh to tell us that flesh matters. People matter. You matter. 

Through Advent we heard tell of the one who is coming. Now he is here. Jesus breaks into a world of fear, of uncertainty, and of division and offers us saving grace. It’s a good thing, too, because we need him now more than ever. 

This world needs Jesus. What else can we count on? The government? No, it’s shut down. Our political parties? All they do is argue. The stock market? I wouldn’t bet on it. 

We need the one who promises to deliver us from this unpredictable and divisive world. We need Jesus. The good news is, Jesus is here. In our brokenness, grief, sadness, stress, anxiety, loneliness, and anger God is with us. Emmanuel. 

Wherever you are in your humanity, the incarnation promises you that Jesus is right there with you. Bethlehem is right here among us and in us: holy people, fed with holy food, made in God’s holy image. 

So, how far is it to Bethlehem? 

Last year my friend Collin asked a simple question on a bus in Palestine, but what I remember better now is the reply yelled back from the front. “Not very far!”  

No, it’s not very far at all.