Prayer for Elected Leaders and Public Servants (2019)

Reorganization Ceremony
Mendham Township, NJ
January 4, 2019

Fellow Citizens, Public Servants, and Elected Leaders:

I am honored to have been invited to offer the invocation as we gather to begin a new year of leadership and public service. I like that this moment is called an invocation and not simply a prayer. The word invocation comes to us by way of Latin, in-vocare. The prefix “in-” means “upon” and the root “vocare” means “to call.” To offer an invocation is to invoke—to appeal, to summons, to conjure, to make an earnest request—“to call upon.”

I like the word invocation because it is related to the word vocation. Many of us often appropriately refer to our vocations as our calling—”vocare.” So to put it in these terms, you have called on me tonight to lead you in calling on God to bless tonight’s meeting, a ceremonious way of marking our collective calling as a community—our community’s vocation.

Tonight, we have gathered, and it is likely that not all of us are here for the same reasons. Some of us are here to support friends and family members. Some of us are here to assume public office for the sake of its prestige and power. Some of us are here to protect our own self-interests. Still, there may be some of us here who firmly believe by being in this room together we are fulfilling a divine calling to care for the people of our community—especially those who need it the most—with our blood, sweat, and tears, with our minds, bodies, and souls.

Whether we believe it or not, whether we trust the system or our elected leaders or not, regardless of our passion or our apathy, we are all here tonight because our society has invested our elected officials and public servants in sacred rooms like this one across our country with the task of ordering the lives and resources of our communities. So it would behoove us to take a serious moment, as we call upon (in-vocare) God to deeply reflect on what kind of community God has called us (vocare) to be together.

What kind of community are we? What kind of people are we? What have we done or not done?  Who benefits or suffers from the policies or the ordering of resources decided here? Who have we loved or not loved? Who have we cared for or failed to care for? Who have we honored or dishonored?

I believe that if we really want to be faithful in calling on God’s blessings for our community tonight, the real invocation we will offer to God will be the invocation that comes through the love and care we show to our community. Tonight’s ceremony is proof that our society has invested the people in this room with the power to shape what kind of community we can become. My prayer is that we begin to become the kind of community God has called us to be together.

It is in this spirit that I pray the following words, prayed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. more than five decades ago:

Thou Eternal God, out of whose absolute power and infinite intelligence the whole universe has come into being, we humbly confess that we have not loved thee with our hearts, souls and minds, and we have not loved our neighbors as [you have] loved us. We have all too often lived by our own selfish impulses rather than by the life of sacrificial love… We often give in order to receive. We love our friends and hate our enemies. We go the first mile but dare not travel the second. We forgive but dare not forget. And so as we look within ourselves, we are confronted with the appalling fact that the history of our lives is the history of an eternal revolt against you. But [you], O God, [continue to] have mercy upon us. Forgive us for what we could have been but failed to be. Give us the intelligence to know your will [going forward]. Give us the courage to do your will [in the days and months and years to come]. Give us the devotion to love your will [to become what you have called us to be together]. In the name and spirit of [the Giver of Life], we pray. Amen.