"I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one." John 17: 15
There is evil in the world. We know it. We read about it in the newspapers and on the internet. We hear it on the radio and on TV. There is evil in the world. Some of the evil seems endemic-like poverty. Some of it seems very focused-like acts of cruelty and violence. In reality, they are not as far apart as they might at first seem.
Christians believe in the reality of evil. We wrestle with the story of the Temptation of Jesus the first Sunday of every Lent. Whenever we have a Baptism we renounce evil. There are many ways that Christians respond to evil. One way is through working for good. We provide food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless, and we also advocate for NGO and government assistance.
But there's one thing that Christians do that is more powerful than everything else. We pray. Prayer is what we do first. It is our first resort and our last. A member of a Lutheran congregation called me and said, "Is there any way that we can get Christians all over the world to pray for the Christians in Syria? I want them to know that people are praying for them." She said, "There's all kinds of talk about bombing and retaliation, but I think it would be more powerful if we prayed."
We can do that, can't we? We can pray for persecuted Christians in Syria and Egypt and China and any place where they are persecuted. In the Gospel for the second Sunday of Lent, Jesus tells his listeners: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it."
Recently, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote about the death of the Coptic Christians in Egypt: "Even in the brutality of their tragic deaths, they remained steadfast witnesses to Jesus Christ in a world consumed with hatred and violence. It is important that we remember the powerful sacrifices our brothers and sisters in the faith make daily for the sake of the gospel." And she went on to assure the Coptic Orthodox Church that they are in our prayers.
Women of the ELCA are familiar with Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and speaker at the 2011 WELCA Gathering. Along with a group of Christian and Muslim women in Liberia, she organized peace protests that eventually led to the end of the civil war and the election of the first woman to serve as president in all of Africa. The documentary, "Pray the Devil to Hell" tells the story of how a group of women started praying in a fish market, and ended up changing the world.
Prayer was also the catalyst in the liberation of East Germany from Soviet domination. People gathered in churches in East Germany and prayed every week for 5 years. Their prayer and their commitment to non-violence resulted in the toppling of the Berlin Wall, and the dismantling of the regime that kept the eastern part of Germany under an oppressive rule. It all began with prayer.
So, can we pray? Yes, we can! I suggest that we pray for all persecuted Christians this Sunday, and every second Sunday of the month. Will you join me in praying?
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA