Scripture   II Corinthians 6:1-13   As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

MESSAGE       ”The Acceptable Time”         Rev. James Renfrew

One job I have in our Presbytery is preparing “Prayer Profiles” for our different congregations, mission projects and individuals.  A Prayer Profile is not a church history or a review of church programs, we simply ask what the congregation’s prayers are, so others can join in their prayers.  We have a team of people doing these profiles, and I have posted a bunch of them on the bulletin board next to our elevator so you can see them.  Kay from the Lyndonville church did a Profile about our Byron PC, and most recently she did a profile about the Rev. Bill and the interesting ministry that he continues to offer in retirement. We produce these prayer profiles so our church folks can learn about the ministry and mission of other Presbyterian congregations, and most importantly so we have good reason to pray for one another.

I recently completed a Prayer Profile for the Rochester Korean Presbyterian Church.  As I spoke with the Pastor it was shortly after a group of Korean women had been murdered by a gunman in Atlanta. He asked all of us to pray for Korean people in the United States who feel terrible fear because of this attack.  Yes, Pastor Kim, we will pray with you.  You are one of ours and we are one of yours; we will pray together.  Amen.

I contacted another church a few months ago to see if I could interview the pastor and compose a Prayer Profile.  I knew that this particular church had been having some problems – the pastor and elders were not playing well – but I thought a Prayer Profile might be of good encouragement for the congregation, for them to know that lots of Presbyterians in the area would be praying for them.

But the answer came back – this is not a good time for a Prayer Profile. Not a good time for prayer! I was astounded.  It’s not like I was going to describe the church’s dirty laundry in excruciating detail, but planned a prayer of love and encouragement.  Not a good time for prayer.  <Cue sound of slamming door>

You know, of course, that in our congregation we are eager to pray for you no matter what, no matter if you are in a good time or a bad one. And, in fact, prayers in bad, difficult or tough times may be the best times of all to pray!

This what really excites me about being a Christian. The salvation that Jesus offers is here for you right from the start, not only at the end of a ten thousand mile journey.  Paul is excited about this, too, which is why he declares that the acceptable time, the day of salvation, is always right now, right here, in the first mile of that ten thousand mile journey, even in the very first step.  Do you need to have faith figured out?  Do you need to memorize the Bible?  Do you need to know all of our history and doctrines?  This is the Good News:  just taking the first step means that you are in!  Our theme verse for the month is “the love of Christ urges us on”.  The urging is right at the beginning.  Where you start is his love for you, and your love for him. That’s where it begins.

Back in those days when I was a seminary student in New York City I visited to West Park Presbyterian Church on West 72nd Street to observe how they did things there, a big old church on a crowded city block, and a diversity of members and visitors.  That church had a weekly invitation at the end of each Sunday service, come up now if you want this day to be your day, your acceptable time. It wasn’t an altar call, it wasn’t a sinner’s bench, it was for anyone there, veteran member or newcomer, to move forward to meet the pastor and one of the elders and to talk about how this day had become an “acceptable” day, a day when people sensed the Spirit moving them.

If we think that faith is all about wait, wait and wait some more, we’ve misunderstood something at the heart of God. Faith is not waiting, faith is right now. Just consider this, God sent Jesus not when we were at our best, not when humanity met certain benchmarks, but when we were at our worst.  This is grace – God responds not because of what we have accomplished or how we have progressed, but because of what we need.

An acceptable day is God’s time, a day when God is ready.  And since God is ready every day, then any day can be an acceptable day.   We normally live according to our own time, but an acceptable day is when our time intersects with God’s time.

This is the Good News, amazing good news, unforgettable good news, that God is always ready for you. Good day, bad day, acceptable day, God is ready.

Now, about that church that did not want to us to pray with them.  They were deep into what they thought was an Unacceptable Day, because God was on vacation, God was busy elsewhere, that they we didn’t measure up, God  is not ready for us, God has no time.  Well a new pastor is there, I called him up and offered the chance to do a prayer profile.  HE DID NOT SAY NO!  He also did not say yes, but he had a plan. He told me that he could give me all I needed for a Prayer Profile, but that he wanted to have a conversation with the church elders to make sure all of them could see the acceptable day before them, not just himself.  I love how the Spirit opens up possibilities, so that an unacceptable day is now becoming an acceptable day.

We started out thinking about how we can pray with other congregations, but now let’s talk about how we can pray with you! Here are the different ways that we pray with you:
[1]  Raise your hand and offer your concern or joy in the prayer time during the Sunday service.
[2]  Write down your prayer on a piece of paper before the service and hand it to me, or send a text to me anytime at 585-813-2934.
[3]  Add a prayer to our Prayer Chain by contacting Chrystal Britt. The Prayer Chain multiples your prayers by spreading it to all the “links” in the chain.  Even better, join the chain and share in all of the prayers that circulate.
[4]  Speak to any of our deacons and they will convey your prayer to others as you wish.

[5]  And never feel afraid of simple asking anyone you are with, “I could use a prayer!”

This happened when I was visiting Linda at UMMC the other day.  As I left her room the man in the room across the hall caught my eye, “Are you the Chaplain here?”, he asked.  “No, I’m a Presbyterian pastor from Byron visiting a church member.”  “I could use a prayer”, he said.  “I belong to a Catholic Church in Batavia”, he admitted.  But of course neither one of us cared about that, because it was – obviously – an acceptable time!

May this be your acceptable day, too. God is ready!