Particularly this past Sunday, Ascension Sunday, the excitement and enthusiasm was palpable in our congregation. Lots of people attended, with some new people in the pews. The music was wonderful, our small but enthusiastic choir sang beautifully. The Spirit is moving in our church. I believe growth in numbers will continue to be slow but steady, as we focus on growing closer to God and one another, as we grow in faith. I encourage you to read the sermon for last Sunday. We are beginning to build on our strengths of hospitality and loving relationships. Our children's and youth ministry is growing. We just held our final Wednesday after-school program yesterday - we flew kites in our church yard as an image of the Holy Spirit breathing/blowing in the world. One kite was passed from child to child for two hours without coming down (it was a challenge for me to bring it down at the end - we get a lot of wind up on the hill on which our church is built - you bet that image will make it into my Pentecost sermon!).
God bless you this day.
Additionally: Last week, I participated in the National Day of Prayer in our community - it was an interesting mix of people of faith with different perspectives, to say the least. But I am glad to have been a part of it. Here is my prayer as written:
Prayer for the Imprisoned and Persecuted
May 1, 2008
God of justice, Lord of mercy,
You care for the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans, the aliens, the hungry, the imprisoned, the persecuted, the tortured.
Jesus was himself a victim of persecution, torture, and execution.
Jesus was himself a victim of ‘extraordinary rendition,’ as he was arrested by his own people and taken to the Roman authorities for interrogation, torture, and crucifixion. Jesus bears the scars of torture.
God, you stand with the imprisoned, persecuted and tortured. You suffer with them. You call us to pray for them and speak out for them.
There are Christians around the world right now who are suffering persecution and imprisonment for their faith in Jesus Christ. We pray for them. We lift them to you, and ask you to comfort and strengthen them in their suffering. We ask for freedom and release for them. Work through your people throughout the world to help free those imprisoned for your sake. Restore our nation’s tarnished record of the treatment of prisoners, so we can have the moral standing to call for just treatment of the imprisoned and persecuted around the world. Where we have tortured individuals, or exported individuals to be tortured by rogue nations, forgive our sin, and restore our moral sense to treat people how Jesus would treat people.
Lord God, the nation of Iraq is being rapidly de-Christianized, after a nearly 2000 year history of Christians living there. Their leaders are being murdered in the streets; many Christians have either been killed or fled the country. We ask your forgiveness for the actions of our nation that have led to this tragedy. We ask for justice for those who are persecuting and killing innocent people there.
Creator of all people, wherever anyone is persecuted or imprisoned unjustly, you are there with them. You suffer with them, as Jesus suffered for them. Bring peace, justice, and reconciliation to all people of any faith who are persecuted. Bring freedom to all who are imprisoned.
God, one out of very 100 adults in America is in prison – over 2 million Americans, 1 million of whom are in prison for non-violent crimes, about 400,00 of whom are incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes. Our rate of incarceration matches China’s, and is many times more than any other democratic country; we spend $60 billion per year on corrections. 21% of U.S. inmates have been sexually abused while incarcerated. Over 50% of released convicts return to prison within 3 years.i And yet, the incarcerated remain largely outside of our consciousness. Forgive us, O Lord, for our neglect and disregard for the prisoners in our midst. Remind us of Jesus’ command to visit and care for those in prison. Help us change our failing corrections system. Change the hearts of both prisoners and our society, so that lives can be changed, addictions overcome, the scars of abuse healed, destructive behavior patterns broken.
We pray this all in the name of the imprisoned, tortured, crucified, and risen One, Jesus the carpenter of Nazareth, our Lord and Savior. Amen.