Ora et Labora
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 20, 2019
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 18:1-8, Matthew 28:16-20
The title of today’s sermon is Ora et Labora. Ora et Labora is Latin for “Prayer and Work,” a saying that originated in the Middle Ages when it became an essential principle of the Benedictine order of the Roman Catholic Church. The idea behind living a life guided by the practice of Ora et Labora is that prayer and work alternate so that work is blended with prayer and prayer is blended with work.
We are nearing the end of our 2020 “Pray for the Harvest” Stewardship Campaign. The theme is taken from Luke 10:2 in which Jesus tells his followers to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers. Jesus, who has faith in the abundance of the harvest, gives the instruction—to pray—which is what we have been doing all month—or, at least, I hope that is what we have been doing. In addition to wearing the wristband designed to help me remember to pray each day, I have set my phone alarm for 10:02. So, at 10:02 I stop whatever I am doing and offer up a three-part prayer: Lord, I pray for our church—that you will send more laborers to help us gather a great harvest in Valdosta and beyond. I pray you will provide the resources we need to accomplish your harvest work. And I pray for your will regarding my own contribution of time, talents, and treasures.
Ora—we pray! Then, Labora, we work! How do we work? After doing our most important work of prayer, then we go forth trusting God for the harvest. Along the way, we remain open to growth—planning, organizing, and working in a way that anticipates growth—rather than impedes it. [i] Our mission is one of peace, wholeness, and goodness. We are not guided by selfish desires. Instead, we are guided by Christ’s love for those who need a word of hope, compassion, and mercy. Ora et Labora.
Since the Gospel of Luke portrays Jesus as a praying man, it isn’t surprising that Luke includes a parable to help believers remember the importance of persistent prayer. In the parable, an unjust judge grants a widow’s request—not because he cares about justice—but because the widow refuses to give up. Day after day, she returns to make her legitimate appeal until, finally, she wears him down and he acquiesces. At first glance, we might think the judge represents God in the parable. But is God like the judge—ignoring us and wishing we would just go away and leave God in peace? Quite the contrary! The nature of God is that of love and mercy and justice. So, the point of the parable is that if a person of poor character (the judge) can be persuaded to act justly in the face of persistent pleading, how much more can God be trusted!
Our first work, then, is prayer. But beyond the work of prayer, there is more to be done, which brings us to our second reading, otherwise known as The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Great Commission is a well-known text. However, I imagine it is not a well-understood or an eagerly practiced text. Why? Maybe it’s because it makes us feel unequipped, uncomfortable, guilty. I mean, how can we possibly measure up to Christ’s expectations? Preacher and scholar, Tom Long, has this to say on the topic:
The scene [of The Great Commission] is one of near-comic irony. Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” but nothing in the surroundings seems to support such a claim. If Jesus had been speaking to vast multitudes, rank upon rank stretching toward the horizon as far as the eye could see, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir humming the “Hallelujah Chorus” in the background, perhaps it would seem plausible. However, Jesus is on an unnamed mountain in backwater Galilee with a congregation of eleven, down from twelve the week before, and even some of them are doubtful and not so sure why they have come to worship this day.
What Jesus tells them presses credulity even further: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” …Telling this little band of confused and disoriented disciples that they were to herd all the peoples of the earth toward Mount Zion in the name of Jesus would be like standing in front of most congregations today—many of them small and all of them of mixed motives and uncertain convictions—and telling them, “Go into all the world and cure cancer, clean up the environment, evangelize the unbelieving, and, while you are at it, establish world peace.”
That is the point…The very fact that the task is utterly impossible throws the disciples completely onto the mercy and strength of God. The work of the church cannot be taken up unless it is true that “all authority” does not belong to the church or its resources but comes from God…
Ora et Labor! Understanding that all authority comes from God, what is our work to do in fulfilling The Great Commission? Might we be open to NEW WAYS of connecting the faith we talk about in here, with the way we live it out there? Might we try to be MORE GENEROUS this year than last? Might we PRACTICE TELLING OTHERS where we see God active in our life and in the world? Could we make it a goal to INVITE SOMEONE to a church-related activity once a month? If we take just one step toward obeying Christ’s command, we may gain confidence to take another. Then, in time, we may entertain the possibility that, like Jesus’ disciples, we too are not only called, but also equipped and prepared, to go out into the world and make other disciples by our encouraging, teaching, preaching, merciful acts, and other ways of sharing God’s abundant love.[ii]
So it is. Ora et Labora. We pray and then, by the power of God’s own Spirit, we go into the world with everything Jesus has taught us. As pilgrims on a journey, may we be encouraged through the following entitled, The Commission[iii]:
At first it feels like a circle closed, a journey completed,
this reminder of the mountain where Peter, James and John saw the Lord transfigured,
speaking with Elijah and Moses, the voice that thundered from the enclosing cloud
filling the disciples with fear.
It is Christ himself who speaks to us here, the Lord crucified and now resurrected,
proclaiming his authority, and for a moment the apostles might be tempted to think the mission, surely, is accomplished, goal achieved: God reigning through Christ;
and perhaps the eleven look around the peak to see if Moses and Elijah will again appear
for congratulatory clasps of the hand.
But the circle has not closed; the journey has not finished, it is open-ended as the arching sky and as the road below that leads to the distant horizon; open as the mission that here Christ gives us, as the promise he makes to be always with us, from now to the end of days. For disciples must be made in and from every nation, taught Christ’s ways and words and sent anew to serve the men and women of the earth.
See how the slanting sun, moving across these Galilean hills, takes its seat on the rim of the wider world, inviting our eyes to seek, not the shades of prophets past, but the shimmer of the new world to come. See how, as we lift our heads in the gaze that follows Christ’s lifting from the earth, we discover no mystifying cloud, nor faces from only scriptural glory. Rather see the shapes of the yet-to-be appearing in the echoes of his words.
There we see Paul, in conversation with Peter; and there is Barnabas, and Phoebe, and Lydia speaking with Thomas, who will travel to India; we can see Boniface, and Patrick, and Columba, standing beside Francis and John and Charles; a little further over: Dorothy Ripley who labored for slaves in America; Mary Slessor, who served so faithfully in Nigeria…just a few among hosts of other men and women come to this summit, hearts receiving Christ’s commission for them; whose long shadows shine, but in whose shadow – look, just over here – stands another familiar figure who, like them, will be helping to re-shape the world that so needs our obedience to Christ’s love. Yes. It is you.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] David Lose, Feasting on the Word.
[ii] David Lose @ http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1584
[iii] “The Commissioned” by Andrew King @ https://earth2earth.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/poem-for-the-sunday-lectionary-trinity-sunday/
*Cover Art: Creative Commons Free Bible Images; Used by permission