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President's reflection

Sunday 23 August 2020

Our Gospel this Sunday takes us deep into the question of who we think Jesus is.

In Matthew 16:13-20, we observe the dialogue with Peter afresh and pray, in our Collect, “you  have shown us the foundation of our faith: give us the light of your Spirit that... we may be living stones for the building up of your holy Church.”

This last part of the Collect draws on our second reading from Romans which affirms that, bringing our differing gifts to the task, “we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another”. (Romans 12.1-8).

Our sense of responsibility for a faithful and co- operative response to current circumstances is vivid for us all ,as we deal with this unprecedented time.

One key responsibility for we who say our “ Yes” to Jesus, like Peter, and who want to be” living stones “ is our faithfulness in prayer at this time.

As we have reflected, praying as we can.

Accordingly, this week, let us reflect a little further on:

PETITIONARY PRAYER AND PRAYING FOR AN END TO THE PANDEMIC.

WHAT DOES THIS INVOLVE?

It involves a strong belief in the efficacy of our prayers.

Our prayers are being made to our merciful God. Hence we make them sincerely, humbly, trusting in the divine goodness. 

We persevere from the depths of our hearts, like the prayer of the woman of Canaan, in last week's Gospel. (Matthew 15:28) 

Her prayer was effective, in the mercy of God. "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” 

Notwithstanding all the reasons praying for an end to the pandemic might raise doubts in us, we have before us Jesus promise: “Ask and it will be given you.”( Matthew 7:7.Also John 16:23). 

Our faith is strengthened as we recall that the source of our prayers is in the nature of God who, in Christ, makes us this promise.

True prayer is going to be effective because God, who cannot internally contradict, has determined this.

As St Gregory the Great once conveyed, “By prayer we dispose ourselves to receive what Almighty God from eternity has decided to give us”.

Spring is approaching. A visual image helps to focus our will:

”It is, therefore, as necessary to pray in order to obtain the help of God, which we need to do good and to persevere in it, as it is necessary to sow seed in order to have wheat.” (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, by G Lagrance p432).

God gives. God makes clear that we pray in order to receive.

Our prayers therefore co-operate with the divine governance.

As our spiritual life draws us deeper into the merciful love of God, we learn the wisdom of the prayer Jesus gives us.

So our prayers begin with thanksgiving: “Hallowed be your name”.

We give thanks for what we have received and pray to know and love God with ever more of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Our orientation to God is as Jesus conveys in Matthew 6:19 to 7:12.

In summary, making our prayers for an end to this pandemic (with all this involves), means Jesus' word is vivid as to how our God wills to “give good things to those who ask...”( Matthew 7 :11).

WHAT IS BEING ASKED OF US NOW?

Even though it was with only short notice, there was a strong response when we asked people to pray on Sunday August 2. We were really just articulating what people were feeling drawn to do....That wave of prayer continues.

As a result of follow up conversations, both national and international, a next focused National Day of Prayer for an end to the Pandemic is being recommended by the NCCA Board for Saturday 26 - Sunday 27 September.

As we are all aware, there was a life before COVID-19 and now there is this very different life.

The scale of the suffering caused by the pandemic; the extent of the social and economic dislocation and the level of many people’s anxiety, now refocuses our priorities .

Ecumenically, there is a real enthusiasm to deepen our co-operation. I see a symmetry between our closer work together as regards the implementation of the recommendations from the Royal Commission on Institutional Child Abuse and now our praying together to end the pandemic.

We are praying to our merciful, patient, humble God in deeper unity.

Of course, there is always more to do in terms of removing obstacles we may have placed before the working of God’s grace. Of course, with repentance there comes the need to continue seeking reconciliation, so we do pray to our God in ever deeper unity together.

All this is given. But for now, as Jesus conveys, “sufficient unto the day”. (Matthew 6:34).

For now our responsibility is to be faithful together in prayer for an end to this pandemic.

September 26-27 is a new focus, towards which we pray each day.

With prayers now, in the grace and peace of Jesus,

Bishop Philip Huggins 

President, National Council of Churches in Australia.

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