St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


“What If We Were the Answer to Our Own Prayers?”


(Matthew 10:40 – 42)


June 28, 2020


by

The Rev. Nathanael Saint-Pierre



Imagine that you are actively praying, asking God for something, and waiting, and waiting to no avail? Have you been thinking that what you are asking is impossible, hence you did not get it? What have you done? Stayed in the same spot and tried the same solutions?


Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”


And what if we were the answer to our own prayers? And what if we don’t get what we ask for because all we do is wait? What if we start imagining that what we want is possible and do what it takes to help God provide it? This church growth we are looking for, is it so impossible?


To enroll oneself in the Jesus movement is not to be given the guarantee of a life without trial. In the Jesus movement, much is given to us but also much is demanded. We are not given a recipe or formula to recite with the certainty of getting what we want and with the same result every time we say the same prayer. We enter into a relationship with God in which God listens and responds, we talk to God and we listen to him. We must take risks and surrender to God.


Many consider Abraham as the father of our faith, a man who spoke to God asking him for favors and who received many. He was not a man to sit and wait for God to provide. He understood that God was demanding something of him and that a contract is a two-sided commitment. Abraham understood that to love God cannot just be lip service. When God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac, he obeyed God and proceeded to do that.


In the Gospel today, Jesus teaches the apostles and us that there is a cost for discipleship. We will not be welcomed everywhere (10:14-15), and we can expect to experience the same hostility Jesus often does, for he is sending us out "like sheep into the midst of wolves" (10:16). We must expect to encounter persecution and trials (10:17-23), for "a disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master" (10:24-25). We need also be prepared for painful division within families, and to be willing to put Jesus' mission above family loyalties (10:34-38). For all this risk and suffering, Jesus promises, "those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (10:39).


Matthew, in this portion, describes the mission of the church as a welcoming community always ready to offer hospitality. But Matthew also prepares the missionaries to expect rejection, persecution, and even death. We cannot be praying for church growth when we do not want to sacrifice our comfort zone, to risk welcoming the stranger to preserve our uniqueness (unicity). We will grow when we risk being rejected by the person we invite to come to our church; when we do not feel bothered by “those people” who are different from us. When we are not afraid that those newcomers are here to take our spot. Someone once told me, “Father, I will never invite a friend to this church because of your sermons.” I have thought about it a lot and I realize that sometimes we speak out of the desire to hurt others. The Bible says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Romans 1:16. The Church will not grow because of the sermon (although a good sermon might help), it will grow because of the love we extend to one another. The church will grow when the preacher is not expected to grow the church, but God is. We will grow when we are not ashamed to speak loud enough of the good God has achieved in our lives, so much so that other people will be yearning to live that experience.


And what if the answer to our prayers were within us? And what if praying is one of the many possibilities? And what if we start this new opportunity of welcoming people back to our church becomes a welcome to all people? Not those we know, or are friends with… All people!


Bishop Mary D. Glasspool, in a weekly letter shared with the diocese, told the story of her encounter with Bishop Desmond Tutu. She wrote this: “I was one of only four ordained women in the Diocese (of PA), and we were allowed the extraordinary privilege of having a brief, private meeting with Bishop Tutu. We knew that he was supportive of women’s ordination, which was still not a reality in South Africa and still something of a novelty even in the Episcopal Church. I don’t know how we summoned the courage to dare ask him - but ask him we did! Bishop Tutu, we know you support women’s ordination, so why doesn’t the Anglican Church of South Africa ordain women? Bishop Tutu beamed at us. Then he said: It’s really very simple. The clergy and people can’t imagine it yet – and they can’t do what they can’t imagine!” Praying for something is one thing but imagining the possibility of God able to help us accomplish what we are asking for is empowering.


We may not always receive a positive response when we take the risk of reaching out, yet we may be surprised at how ready many are to receive our most humble efforts. Lest we forget what we have to offer, we have Jesus' promise: "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me."