The theme of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)is: “Lord teach us to pray.” I’ve been asking myself these past couple days as the time of my departure for Orlando nears what this really means for me? As I and so many others gather for the assembly, what does it mean to gather as a body for prayer? And what makes it possible for us to engage in this prayer? I’m expecting that we’ll be hearing a variety of voices address these questions over the course of several days. But what does it mean for a gathering of Christians to be in prayer even as we take up difficult topics of discussion?
Opening night (Saturday) at the General Assembly focuses on the theme – Sanctify. The word sanctify means to “make holy.” Pope Francis recently declared John Paul II and John XXIII to be saints. Besides the requisite miracles (Francis decided to dispense with a second miracle in the case of John XXIII) there must be an aura of holiness about them. As I look my life, I don’t see myself being in the same category. And to borrow Wesleyan language, even though I believe the Spirit of God inhabits my life, I can’t comprehend the idea of being entirely sanctified. That is, I can’t imagine being that holy. So what does it mean to be holy before the Lord?
The preacher for the night is my friend of many years, Glen Miles, Pastor of Country Club Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kansas City, MO. Glen and I were members of the freshman class at Northwest Christian University in Eugene, OR way back in 1976. Glen and I know each other well enough to have a laugh about whether or not we’re truly saintly. That said, I’m expecting Glen to challenge us as a body to begin allowing God to transform our lives so that we might be saints of God – not so that we might see ourselves as righteous and superior to others, but so that God’s unconditional love might wash over us so that we might live lives of purpose in this world.
The text for the evening is Exodus 33:12-23., wherein Moses prays to God for guidance. He tells God “Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.” And God responds by telling Moses that “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (vs. 13-14). As the narrative continues, God takes Moses up into a place where Moses is able to see the backside of God, for to see God’s face is to die. As God reveals God’s glory, it is good to note that God covers Moses with God’s hand until God has passed by. There is in this passage both distance and intimacy. There is mystery and there is revelation.
Now, I don’t know what Glen will say Saturday evening, but I’d like to offer my first thoughts on this passage and its message to us as a denomination facing important conversations that affect the lives of God’s people who call themselves Disciples – as well as lives of those we call neighbors. As I reflect on this passage I’m wondering whether or not we will truly be aware of God’s presence. If you’ve ever been to a convention/assembly you’ll know that it’s difficult to worship in convention halls. There are many distractions, not the least of which is the constant movement of people in the aisles, coming and going. The rooms are cavernous and noisy. The preachers and the worship leaders are off in the distance. An attempt is made to declare this sacred space, but it’s easier to say the words than truly experience this as a place where God is present.
I’m not an especially contemplative person – at least not in the traditional sense – and so I struggle to discern the presence of the sacred. At the same time, despite my difficulty sitting still for quiet meditation, like Moses I desire to know the ways of God. I want to follow the direction of the Holy One. I’m praying that as we gather in Orlando that we will find ways of setting aside the distractions so we can be made holy and enabled to discern God’s leading, especially when the areas of conversation can be divisive and our responses can be determined more by our gut than our heart.
God allows Moses to have a glimpse of God’s abiding presence – but Moses isn’t ready to see God face to face. I doubt any of us are ready to see God face to face, but surely we can put ourselves in a position where we can respond to God’s invitation to enter this presence that transforms us into saints of God, even if we’re still rather imperfect saints.
If you’re Disciple will you join me in praying that the Assembly will be a place of discernment of that which is holy, so that we might participate in the work of God in the world? In fact, even if you’re not a Disciple, would you pray for us?