Written by the Reverend Dr. Jill Rierdan
Guest Preaching at Our Savior’s
June 25, 2017
Matthew 10:24-39 (Proper 7)
Some years ago, an Episcopal priest, and friend of mine, was asked to give the benediction at a local public meeting. At the end of his prayer, someone called out, and pray for the Red Sox to win the pennant! To which my priest friend said, God doesn’t care about sports. Well! That comment was controversial enough to get reported in a newspaper article in the Springfield Republican.
And whether you or I agree, my priest friend’s comment raises a wonderful question: What does God care about? Are some of our personal concerns too trivial or too simply personal to bring to God?
The Gospel this morning helps answer this question when Jesus says,
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
And even the hairs of your head are all counted.
So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
God loves us, down to the hair on our heads. And if God cares about the hair that grows on, or falls out from, our heads, so much more would God care about what grows and takes root in our hearts. And so we may ask God to bless our gardens and our pets and our stuffed animals and our sports teams and we may pray for health and forgiveness and rain or no rain and even parking spaces, and we may bring to God’s attention the healing of sick friends and the repose of souls, without having to be concerned with bothering God.
In England, some people are called God Botherers. This is a slang term for people who talk about God when people don’t want to listen. Jeremiah might be called a God Botherer as he cries out the word of the Lord that the people don’t want to hear. Now, Lutherans and Episcopalians are NOT known for being God Botherers in this sense—we don’t usually go around from door to door or stand in the market place talking about God. Our issue is not that we bother other people with our talk of God but that we worry about our bothering God with our prayers and concerns.
There is no prayer request too small or too large. At the Easter Vigil service this year, during the Prayers of the People, I found myself asking for prayers for Vladimir Putin! Is this because I love and approve of Mr. Putin or his politics? Not at all. It is because I wish for his sake and that of the world that he be brought into the orbit of God. And I knew God would not be bothered by my prayer request, by the immensity of a request for world peace. Quite the contrary.
God invites us to bring our loves and fears and hopes and concerns to God in prayer, no matter how small or how large.
At this time, when many of us are afraid about the state of our nation and the world—we need to know that God wants to hear our fears so the we might hear again God’s message of love. Jesus kept saying Be Not Afraid because he knew how afraid the disciples were; we still need to hear that Gospel message—Be Not Afraid—because we still fear in the midst of our faith.
God even invites us to bring our hates to God. Even our wish for someone else’s failure or loss or suffering or death or destruction can be brought to God in prayer. If you don’t believe me, think of some of the psalms that we used to read before the lectionary was revised. Texts of terror is what one theologian called them.
God invites us to bring our anger and rage and hate to God. NOT because God will gratify these prayers of hate, not because God would ever become a force of hate as we humans sometimes are, but because through bringing our deepest desires to God in prayer—even our anger and hatred—we open ourselves to God, invite God to affect us, to shape us, to provide an experience of love and light which can transform our hate and hard-heartedness as God counts the hairs on our heads.
We cannot change God (Thank God!) but God can change us if we bring all our concerns, without censoring, without judging and declaring some too selfish or trivial or terrible for the heart of God to hear and hold and transform.
All of us are created in the image of God and through approaching God we will more and more conform to God’s image, becoming people of love, not hate; mercy, not revenge; one human family of cherished diversity united in prayer.
This is what God cares about.