Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 22, 2017
Many of you come to church today with heavy hearts. Others hopeful and optimistic with the inauguration of a new president. Hardly anyone I’ve talked with recently is neutral.
Numerous debates have raged throughout the recent campaign, election, transition, inaugural activities, and protests. One of those arguments has been the question of prayer. Should we pray for the president of the United States? Some teachers and public theologians have suggested that we should not—because to do so would either endorse the president’s agenda or unduly involve the church in crossing the line between church and state.
Let me engage in a little teaching about prayer.
- In prayer, we bring our joys, our concerns, our fears and share them with God. This involves the whole range of human experience, thoughts, and emotions. It includes our conscious thoughts and our subconscious ones as well. As St Paul wrote: ‘The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
- Prayer isn’t just about the good things in our lives or about those we love and agree with. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” 
- Another thing I want to emphasize—when we pray for someone—friend or foe—we’re asking Providence to guide them, care for them, but we are not endorsing any program, platform, or policy with which we may disagree or even oppose. Jesus’ own example is that he prayed for his Father to forgave the Romans who crucified him, but he never approved the mission of Rome.
We Anglicans have always prayed for kings and queens—and after the American Revolution—for our presidents.
This is the prayer in The Book of Common Prayer. Page 820: For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority. Using the contemporary language, please join me as we pray it together. Page 820.
Let us pray.
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We
commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided
by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant
to the President of the United States, the Governor of this
State, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength
to know and to do your will. Fill them with the
love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful
of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
Now let’s expand our vision. No lesser person than Abraham Lincoln warned us against what Elton Trueblood called an idolatrous patriotism. Lincoln was committed to two things: preserving the Union and ending slavery. He recognized that ending slavery could destroy the Union. There were many voices, even in the North, as the Civil War dragged on, who wanted him to drop his demand for emancipation. “Save the Union at all costs,” they insisted. Idolatrous patriotism: love of country beyond all other concerns, making country the end rather than a vehicle to an even higher calling. So Lincoln lived in this tension, this paradox of two goods that seemed, at times, to be in conflict with each other.
All love of country, all commitment to this land and this nation is subordinate to a greater calling. It’s about the kingdom or the realm of God. Yes, we are citizens and we take that seriously. We strive to be the best patriots we can be. But we also have a higher calling to be followers of Jesus. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, continuously reminds the church, “We are Jesus’ People.”
According to the Gospel reading for today, when Jesus began his public ministry, he proclaimed: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” And immediately he went out to the Sea of Galilee and called disciples, the first citizens of his kingdom: Simon (called Peter), Andrew, James, and John. They were all fishermen, they loved the sea of Galilee. They were proud of their boats and their nets and their skill. They loved their trade. What did it take for Jesus to convince them and join themselves to his kingdom, to become his disciples? What was it that led them to leave it all behind and become Jesus” People?
We’re often taught that the Christian call is to give up what we love, rather than to do what we love but in a larger way: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We don’t have to give up our patriotism—our love of liberty, justice, and democracy—but respond to Jesus call to expand that love to include
- the whole of his creation,
- the entirety of his earth,
- the common good of all humanity.
Imagine the scene. Simon and Andrew’s boat, resting alongside of James and John’s boat, pulled way up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, far from the water’s edge. And a sign on each boat with the simple words: Gone Fishin’.
Gone Fishin’ in a larger lake and for a more valuable catch.
 Romans 8:26-27
 Matthew 5:43-48
 Elton Trueblood, Abraham Lincoln: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership, Harper Collins: New York, 1973, p. 157.