Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Prayer for Louisiana

This afternoon our mission team gave a presentation to the School of Theology at the weekly community lunch. The week before, community worship at Marsh Chapel was oriented around the mission trip, with the sermon, prayers, and petitions drawing upon our experiences and reflections.

During our brief program today, our volunteers offered testimonials to the overwhelming generosity and hospitality of the pastors, ministers, and ordinary folks who welcomed us. We recalled the desolation of the Lower Ninth Ward and our feeling of smallness in the face of all the work still needed to be done. Yet we also remembered the hope of our hosts, and we realized that this is the most important thing to be rebuilt in New Orleans. With that understanding, we knew that our humble contribution was of enormous value. Our listening presence and our pledge to bear the many stories we heard back to Boston were the greatest gifts we could offer. Our promise to return again to help the men, women, and children of New Orleans return is the way we will covenant with these children of God. We hope the School of Theology may covenant with the people of New Orleans through partnership with the Churches Supporting Churches coalition.

We also issued a call to action on behalf of thousands of New Orleanians who risk losing the public housing that is their home to demolition. Although these buildings survived Hurricane Katrina and are structurally sound, they face the wrecking ball and the bulldozer. We collected letters to send to Alphonso Jackson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, urging him to use all his powers to prevent the demolition from taking place.

Here is the prayer given at the conclusion of today's presentation:

Most good and gracious God,

You are the Lord of sea and sky, the Spirit that sweeps over the face of the waters. Your prophets have taught us to have faith that when we pass through the water, you will be with us, and in the rivers we shall not drown. Gently you encourage us to fear not, for you are Emmanuel, God with us. We praise you for being an anchor, saving us, the fragile vessels of your Spirit, from being swept away and overcome by the powerful tides of sin and suffering. We thank you for leading us like a beacon through the storms of misfortune into the clear calm of consolation.

Trusting in your merciful power, God, we humbly but confidently seek your aid and comfort today. As when you once led Moses and your holy people through the waters of the Red Sea to freedom and further on through the burning desert and the wasted wilderness to their home, so now gather your children scattered across this nation and bring them back to their homes in Louisiana. We call upon you to remember the promise you made to your people through the prophets: “From the east I will bring back your descendants, from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north: Give them up! and to the south: Hold not back!”

Lord, listen to your children praying in a special way for the people of New Orleans. They rage, weep, and mourn not because of the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, but because of the mildness of heart of the privileged people who have forgotten they are their brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. God of history, God in history, help us to remember our brothers and sisters who call New Orleans home. Let us be mindful that the covenant that binds us to you is also a covenant that binds together the human race.

Fill us now with your Spirit of truth, justice, and peace, so that we may be full of determination to pray and work in love for the return of all your people to their earthly homes even as we continue our pilgrimage toward our eternal homes. Let us walk with Rev. Dwight Webster and Deacon Julius Lee, with Sarah Edgecombe and Miss Ida Kikendall. Let us sing with Christian Unity Baptist Church, dance with the beat of the street corner jazz bands, break bread in the French Quarter, and rejoice always and everywhere. And as we rebuild, let us not forget to walk humbly with you, for without your blessing presence we labor in vain.

We make all of these prayers in the name of Jesus Christ, who shelters us from every storm, who prayed and worked and died with us to prepare a place for all of us in the peaceful reign of God. Amen.

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