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World Day of Prayer

Let Everything that Has Breath!

Readings: Psalm 150; Acts 16:16-34

We all need approval for the things we do. Some of us are better than others at getting it. Take for example the little boy who was playing with his Dad. “Let's play darts!” he said to him. “I'll throw and you say, “Wonderful!”” Even though we know that it furthers self esteem, most of us are quite sparing in our praise of others. In our affluent society, thankfulness does not always come naturally to us. We certainly do not consider that God needs to be thanked. After all, we do set aside certain times of the year to praise God, to be thankful for what we have. But for the most part, when it comes to our relationship with God we have a long list of needs and a short list of things for which we are grateful.

The women of Cameroon have chosen a wonderful theme for us to reflect on for this World Day of Prayer. “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!” It is a reminder to us of our need to come before God with grateful hearts. It is a reminder to us of our need to praise God in everything. It is an especially poignant message as we hear of the tragedies of daily living in their country. While women are the economic backbone of the nation, they are largely marginalized in society generally and in the economic sector in particular. In fact they are more dependent on men economically now than they were in traditional times. Studies show that more girls are infected with HIV than boys. It is not difficult to understand why when you consider that women are unable to determine much if anything about their sexual life. That makes them vulnerable to acts of violence, rape and other social abuses, vulnerable to forced marriages, archaic inheritance laws, ritualistic abuses such as genital mutilation and the modern form of slavery, trafficking. Culture, the law, male chauvinism, poverty, lack of education, are all ongoing causes of discrimination and violence against the women of Cameroon and indeed many other countries in Africa and around the world.

And yet, the women of Cameroon tell us, “In the Cameroonian context people praise God even in and especially during difficult times in their lives. This is because generally we consider life to be God's greatest gift to us. As long as one has breath, there is hope. So we sing in the hope that things will be better.”

They go on to tell us of how they praise God in joy or in sorrow. “We praise God while sowing millet or sorghum, while cooking, on our way to streams and rivers to fetch water, while tilling the soil, in cocoa farms, on our way to and in church, during traditional marriage ceremonies, for the birth of a new child, and even during funeral ceremonies to celebrate the life of the departed. We praise God in all things.”

I don't know how that strikes you, but it is a reminder to me that with every breath I take I renew the gift of life. That is surely something for which to praise God.

Paul and Silas are on their way to the synagogue. They meet a slave girl, a gifted seer, who has made a small fortune for her owners. She sees something about the faith of Paul and Silas. She begins to shout it out to anyone who will listen. After putting up with her harassment for several days, Paul finally loses his temper. He casts out the demon that gives the girl her ability. I suspect that there is more to it, for Paul certainly sees that the girl is held bondage by her spiritual gift. If not by her gift, she is certainly being held bondage by her exploitative masters.

And so the story does not stop there. The masters are incensed that Paul and Silas have taken away their money cow. They have the two men beaten and thrown into prison, charged with disturbing the peace. Their good deed in freeing the girl from her bondage is not appreciated. Yet even their own imprisonment does not deter them from praising God. As they pray and sing, the other prisoners hear and respond to the word of God.

It is a story that speaks to us on many levels. As Christians we can find ourselves captives, imprisoned by any number of things that separate us from the love of God. We may be held prisoner by our fears, prejudices, attitudes and feelings. Remembering to praise God at such times can give the Holy Spirit permission to work within us, to bring us to a sense of joy and peace. It can also help us to listen to God calling us to be agents of change.

It is a story that speaks to the situation of the children of the Cameroon. Girls in particular are exploited. Those who come from poor families are hired out to the wealthy to serve as housemaids. They are often sexually abused by the people who take them in. If they become pregnant they are dismissed from the household. They can easily fall prey to exploitative people and become victims of trafficking. They face so many terrible hardships, and yet through it all they praise God.

John Wesley, an Anglican Cleric and theologian largely credited with founding the English Methodist movement, grew up in a privileged home. He had a keen mind and good looks and could be quite sarcastic and snobbish. One night something happened to change his heart. He was travelling back to Oxford on the train. While speaking to a porter he discovered that the man lived in impoverished conditions. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God. Wesley thoughtlessly joked about the man's misfortunes. “And what else do you thank God for?” he said quite sarcastically.

The porter responded, “I thank God for my life and being, for a heart that loves Him, and above all for a constant desire to serve Him.” Wesley was deeply moved by the man's witness to God at work in his life. It was a transformative moment for him. He learned the lesson well. For many years later on his death bed in extreme weakness, he began to sing the hymn, “I'll Praise My Maker While I've Breath”.

The women of Cameroon can praise God for their poverty. Paul and Silas can praise God from a prison cell. So why do we find it so difficult to praise God in the midst of all with which we are blessed? Praise gives testimony for what God has done in our lives. We have so much for which to be thankful. I am sure that we all have a long list of things for which to praise God.

The beauty of creation! Who has not stood in wonder and awe at the sight of a rainbow in the sky? What of the majestic beauty of a mountain range, the reds and golds of autumn, the warmth of the sun on your cheek.

The wonder of love! The birth of a baby. The hand of a small child reaching up trustingly. A reassuring hug as you head out the door. A neighbour dropping in with a pot of soup when you are feeling rotten. The dog greeting you at the door as you come in after a long day of work.

Life, freedom, peace, food, shelter, broccoli …

The amazing thing is that when we begin to see all the gifts that God has given us, then we are able to open ourselves up in praise to the giver of the gift.

But you know, it cannot stop there. Our praise of God needs to move us to action. As Christians we are called to be transformers in the world. We are called to act differently because Christ is the centre of our lives. We are called to witness to others of the love of God at work in us. We are called to be advocates for the poor in society. We are called to help people like the women in Cameroon and in other places in the world. How do we help to change their situation? What can we do to change things for those living in poverty in our own country? How can we bring about change in government attitudes towards poverty which, in Canada becomes so easily hidden in the midst of wealth?

It begins by opening ourselves to understand how very fortunate we are to live in this great country. We need to testify to all that God has done for us to praise God for all of God's many blessings. We need to pray for an end to violence and exploitation around the world. We need to pray that we will end our complacency and open ourselves up to all that God is trying to accomplish in us. We need to come with grateful hearts and happy voices. We need to praise God as loudly as we can, wherever and whenever we get the opportunity.

Praise the Lord!
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