St. Andrew's
United Church of Christ

1320 Spruce Street, Reading, PA  19602-2161
"More than a Century of Service to the City"

Message From the Pastor

"Let Us Pray"

"Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." - Matthew 18:19-20

It is always a little jarring for me when someone who is to lead a group in prayer beings by saying, "Lord, I pray . . .," because that singular pronoun just doesn't seem right. Most of the time, the designated "pray-er" has come from a different Christian tradition than our own. Unlike use, they most likely are unaccustomed to preceding corporate prayer with "Let us pray," which sets us up to expect that the prayer will be constructed using first-person-plural pronouns. That this is not an unimportant distinction is, I think, borne out in the hymnody of the various Christian traditions. If you think about the hymn texts included in The Hymnal (of the Evangelical and Reformed Churchy), which represents the received tradition for most of us, the predominant language of those hymns is in the plural: "Our God, our help in ages past," "praise ye the Lord," etc. Much modern Christian praise music is cast in the singular. Olivet Church's weekly centering song, for example, begins "Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary."

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, note that the three petitions of the Lord's Prayer were all in the plural: "give us . . .," "forgive us . . .," and "lead us not . . .." It seems to me that Jesus' words have been carefully chosen to lead his disciples to see themselves as a community praying together, rather than as individuals who just happen to be in the same place, engaged in the same concurrent activity. What I mean to suggest is that when the Church is gathered in worship and in prayer, the whole can become something greater than the sum of its parts.

Think back to high school chemistry class. Remember the difference between a mixture and a compound? A mixture is a composition consisting of two or more substances that don't really interact with each other, while in a compound, the individual substances bond together to create something entirely new and significantly different from its component parts.

People are too often inclined to assess the efficacy of worship based on what they got out of the experience. An overemphasis on the individual believer--as opposed to the gathered community--might lead one to believe that gathering for worship is necessary only because that is the means whereby an individual believer is able to establish a direct connection to God, through which that believer is then showered with divine blessings. Jesus' words seem to me to suggest that creating community, establishing a bond not just between the individual worshiper and God, but also among those worshipers gathered in the presence of God, is essential. The binding of God's people, not only as individuals with our God, but also as God's people coming together to be the Church, the body of Christ incorporate, is an essential function of the service of worship. The Church of Jesus Christ is not merely a mixture, it is a compound. People of every age, tongue, race, gender, and socio-economic status are all brought together to constitute the Church of Jesus Christ. Together we are transformed by our God, and in God, together we can transform this world. But first, by God's grace every single "I" must become a part of "we."

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