Rev. Andrew Cunnington
13th March 2022
Waiting to be Booked in

I actually met Abraham and Sarah a few weeks ago.

They were in the waiting area for urgent treatment at Worthing Hospital.

When I arrived there with my mum for her appointment – I heard them say that they had been waiting for five hours and no one had called their name.

“Have you checked at the desk?” I enquired helpfully, pointing at the receptionist sat behind a screen.

“Do you know, I will” said Sarah and she got up and went over to the girl.

“We came in at 1.30pm” said Sarah in a big loud voice “It’s nearly 7 now and no one’s called us”

The receptionist looked duly alarmed and scrolled down her lap top – “But we have no record of booking you in” she said.

“Oh we didn’t know we had to book in” said Sarah “we’ve just been sitting there!”

“Well that’s just plain stupid” said my mum, in a voice everyone could hear.

Just then, we were called into her appointment – bang on time.

“Look at those two” said Abraham to Sarah “only been here for five minutes and they’re going in! “What’s the world coming to!”

Our Old Testament reading gives us an excerpt of a wonderful story.

Abraham had been called by God to be the Father of a great nation and although happily married to Sarah, they were now getting old and had no children and they were beginning to wonder how God was going to be faithful to his promise.

They had trusted God implicitly at the beginning. They had left everything behind and followed where He led.

But there was no sign of a land for them. No sign of an heir for them – and they were beginning to wonder if God’s promises were to be trusted.

So Abraham confronts God – he holds the Lord to account – his prayer is actually a protest.

And God does not rebuke Abraham for his nerve, He listens to Him and through this strange ceremony we read about – he establishes a covenant between the two of them – to convey the truth that God is to be trusted – but He will work within His own time.

And in due time – there is an heir, there is a land – there is a promise fulfilled.

My prayer in these days is not dissimilar to Abraham’s.

There is such a weight of support for the Ukrainian people – there doesn’t appear to be a shred of justification in what Putin is doing.

And prayer is being cast to the forefront of all this in a way that is inspiring. In Ukraine the people are clinging to one another – but they are also clinging to their God.

All this evil is resulting in an uprising of grace that’s all I can say.

So much so that please God – will you take hold of this – this great groundswell – and will you not act in a tangible way.

Sometimes we are disappointed with God. Disappointed at the way he does not act in the ways that seem obvious to us.

I think sometimes God needs the passion in our prayers to work through – there was passion in Abraham’s – and through it – God made good his promises.

Is there a sense in which, in spite of everything, our prayer is too passive – we are like the old couple in the hospital waiting room – we are here – but we have not registered our presence in a way that means the passion we surely feel, is felt by God. We have become too passive and less expectant. Come to see our prayer as a tamed thing.

In our Gospel reading today the pharisees, of all people, are trying to warn Jesus of Herod’s violent intentions.

You need to flee – they tell Jesus – before he kills you.

But here are more echoes of our day.

But Jesus will not accept the safe passage offered – he stays with His people – as if he were the president of a war torn country.

He stays because He wants to protect His people. Herod is nothing but a fox –he says dangerously, but I want to gather you as if I were a hen and you my brood. I will not leave you. I will be true to my promises.

We do not take easily to waiting time. We are used to things being sorted according to our timetable and for the disciples as they began to enter into the passion of their Lord – they found it almost impossible to accept the degree to which Jesus would give himself over to evil. In the garden of Gethsemane they wanted victory by the sword – but that was not how Jesus would act and before that on Palm Sunday I think they had the hope that he would take the city by storm, but that was not his way either.

Instead he went to the heart of the evil…and I believe our God still does.

We do need to act practically in support of our brothers and sisters. There is an urgency about the aid they need. But we need to reflect that urgency in our prayers – seeking spiritual refuge for people – that’s what I think intercessions are and trusting in God that he will see this through as he saw His passion through by going to the heart of what was wrong.

We are here for one another – that’s what coming to church is all about – and we are here not just for those sitting with us or our own familiar friends and family.

We are here for those we have never met and for whom these words of mine might seem pious and empty against their dire suffering.

But we have to do more than pitch up and wait – we have to book in and in our prayers dare to cry out to God with Abraham’s prayer.

Lord we pray for those whose plight we can scarcely imagine. For those whose life experience is so far from ours we know not quite what words to use. How to express what we feel inside.

Come Lord Jesus and gather your people in Ukraine as you promised to gather your people long ago – like a hen protecting her brood from a fox.
Come Lord Jesus, into our waiting spaces, our wondering spaces, and in your holy way – bring your heavenly grace to bear on the lives of those for whom we would pray and use us as instruments of both your passion and your peace.

Whilst we pray with those who cling to you, we pray too for those who have found themselves caught in the darkness of another way and are trapped in it. By your cross and your entering in to the worst of being human – we pray for their redemption and we ask you to root out any such wickedness which we continue to bear, sometimes unknowingly.

We pray for this community – for our foodbank as we potentially face another rise in need as energy prices rise and inflation increases.

We pray for all who are sick and who we name in our heart in this moment.

Merciful father…accept our prayers etc,

GENESIS 15: 1-12, 17-18
LUKE 13: 31- END