The Boston City Council has a tradition of inviting in local clergy & spiritual leaders from across the city to offer a prayer or reflection. I am grateful for my fabulous city councilor Matt O’Malley for inviting me. Here is my prayer for our city.
Marriages are not simply the joining of two people, but the joining of entire families and whole communities into something new. I invite you to join me in giving thanks for the signs of love and devotion at the marriage of Matt O’Malley & Kathryn Niforos. May your days be blessed and your love overflow to heal the city around you.
Giving glory to God and honor to the city councilors and dedicated staff, I want to reflect for a moment on God’s preferential option for cities.
For those of us try to follow the paths of Jesus of Nazareth, our Scriptures are woven through with stories of cities. God seems invested in cities, not just for commercial sake, or cultural sake, but God seems invested in God’s people living in close proximity to people who appear unlike us. The Hebrew Bible tells of “cities of refuge.” The Israelites wander in the desert, longing for the stability of a home. Mary, of the city of Nazareth, sings of God who flips the privilege of divided cities, a God who “casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly. God fills the starving with good things, and sends the rich away empty.” Paul travels between cities, from Rome to Corinth, Philipi to Ephasus. The most popular story about neighborliness, the Good Samaritan, is a story where the violence happens not in the city, but on the desolated road between Jericho and Jerusalem. To restore the stranger to health, the Good Samaritan returns him to a city!
Scripture might start in a garden, but it ends in a city. In popular culture, the vision of heaven is snow white clouds and rolling hills, more Berkshires than Boston. But in Scripture, in the Book of Revelation, the vision of heaven is decidedly urban:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as the betrothed adorned for their beloved. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
God will dwell with them;
they will be God’s peoples,
and God will be with them;
God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
This is the city we long for, the city we build. This city where mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
You do this holy work of guiding us ever closer to that urban vision, a beautiful city where not just some people, not just those who can afford it, but all of God’s people will thrive.
As you attend to the work of ensuring that all Bostonians have the chance to live and flourish, especially those who are still looking for detox and recovery beds, I want to end by praying the full version of the Serenity Prayer, which has been a life-line for many in twelve-step recovery programs.
We’ve come to know a shorter version, but longer version was actually written by Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who first wrote the prayer for a sermon at Heath Evangelical Union Church in Heath, Massachusetts as early as 1934.
I will lead us. You are welcome to join me.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.