There used to be a poster that circulated during the sixties, a part of the Vietnam War protests, that proclaimed, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came.” Nice sentiment. Didn’t work out that way.
To paraphrase the protesters, suppose they held a community prayer service and nobody came. That wasn’t exactly the case at Conyers First United Methodist Church Thursday at noon, and I don’t know the actual number of people in attendance, but I know we had a lot more pews than fannies in the pews and whatever the number, there was room for a whole lot more.
If you weren’t there with us, let me tell you what you missed. First and foremost, you missed an opportunity to come in Thursday morning and offer your prayers for our nation and the public servants that keep us safe and offer us special services every day — our military, our teachers, our firefighters, our police officers, our elected officials — you get the drift.
Then came the program, in which we invoked the name of God Almighty, freely and openly, in a public forum. You know, it is Biblical to do so. God said through Solomon — who is the wisest man who ever lived, which makes him wiser than Yogi Berra, even — “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
That’s quite a promise and it is one that we, as a nation, should very well heed. In case you haven’t noticed, our country is in a mell of a hess. We are more divided than I can remember us being at any time in my life. Our morals and values and beliefs seem to have gone right down the tubes, and I don’t believe any earthly power, and certainly no politician, can put our ship of state back on the right course.
A few years ago, when we were in a long dry spell — some would call it a drought— then-Gov. Sonny Perdue called for a prayer meeting on the steps of the state Capitol in Atlanta — right there under the Gold Dome. We were going to pray for rain. I went. Not many other people went, but I did. The great Methodist preacher Gil Watson was one of those leading the prayers. Gil Watson is the only person I know who can tell the Tar Baby story as well as I can, but that’s another story for another day.
Before he prayed Gil scanned the crowd and shook his head. “Oh, ye of little faith,” he began, “we have all come to pray for rain,” and then he reached under the podium and held up an umbrella, and proclaimed, “and I’m the only one in the crowd who brought an umbrella.”
The national media was set up on the steps of the Capitol that day. They had come to make fun of the backwards, superstitious Southern governor who was going to pray away the drought. But guess what. It rained that night. And we aren’t in a drought anymore.
But I was telling you about the community prayer meeting we had Thursday. We had a children’s choir, directed by Teresa Hamm-Smith. That is huge! She is a nationally and world-renowned opera singer. And she teaches children in our community to sing praises to God. What a great community we live in!
Steve Hester sang as well, and his voice is magnificent. And I spoke. My sermon might not have been magnificent, but it contained true words that were worth the 20 minutes it took to hear them. The congregation sang a couple of patriotic songs and then Bonnie Bryant and her crew fed us a nice meal.
But the main event of the day was the reminder that we, the people, need to pray for our nation — on a regular basis. Back when we first became a nation, Benjamin Franklin noted, “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”
From that day to this, every session of the United States Congress has opened with prayer. Abraham Lincoln said, “I have often been driven to my knees when I’ve had nowhere else to go.”
FDR prayed over the radio to the entire nation on D-Day. George W. Bush prayed on television to the entire nation after 9/11. I am constantly contacted by people, locally and across the state, who tell me they are concerned about the attacks being made against Christianity and religion by the government and other entities and they want to put prayer back in school and they circulate false internet rumors claiming that Barack Obama became the first president since Harry Truman not to declare a National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday in May.
But the president did declare a day for prayer and we held a humdinger of a service at the First Methodist Church in Conyers — but, really, we had way too many empty seats. I know you don’t have to be in a service to pray, but we still want folks to come.
Mark your calendar for next year — May 7. I’ll be there, and so will God.