Any prayers for warm, pleasant weather definitely were not answered Thursday, but it was still a good day overall for prayer in the city of Mount Airy and for hope in America to be renewed.
Rainy and chilly conditions prompted organizers of an annual local observance of the National Day of Prayer to move the event indoors at the Municipal Building, which had been scheduled for the front lawn at City Hall, its usual setting.
Despite the weather, the council meeting room — which seats about 75, in addition to standing-room space — was nearly filled to capacity, causing the Rev. Bob Josey, president of the sponsoring Mount Airy Ministerial Association, to comment on the “show of strength” represented.
During the same time at an estimated 40,000 other communities across the U.S., similar National Day of Prayer gatherings were being held — keeping alive a 65-year-old tradition approved by Congress in 1952.
On the first Thursday each May, the nationwide occasion serves “to unite us in this very special way without reference to religion or denomination,” Josey explained.
Jon Cawley, another member of the local ministry who also is on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners and is the municipality’s mayor pro tem, read a city proclamation Thursday recognizing the National Day of Prayer.
The proclamation notes the value prayer has had since the earliest days of the country, including how presidents frequently have called for prayer in times of crisis. The proclamation also urges citizens to pray for the city, state and nation during its time of need in 2016.
In addition to stressing the need to rely more on prayer, Thursday’s event was a time for patriotism. This included the singing of the national anthem; the presenting of the colors by the East Surry Army Junior ROTC, which also led the Pledge of Allegiance; and the conclusion of the program in which everyone stood and sang “God Bless America.”
U.S. in trouble
Prayer and the meaning behind it is something the nation can certainly use at this point in time, according to multiple speakers who addressed the crowd Thursday.
In delivering a “Prayer for America’s Hope,” the Rev. Jim Vaught cited problems such as joblessness, crime, drug trafficking and others that run rampant today. “It seems that hopelessness engulfs far too many people,” he said.
“We call evil good and good evil.”
Vaught mentioned the emergence of various social issues that many consider to be undermining society, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of biblical marriage in the name of civil rights.
This also is occurring in North Carolina, where House Bill 2 — a measure backed by the faith community — was passed to prevent transgender persons from entering restrooms of the opposite sex, but which has caused a backlash against the state from some quarters. The bill is supported by Gov. Pat McCrory and the majority of the N.C. General Assembly.
Vaught prayed for strength for McCrory and other state officials in that battle.
The reverend added that he hopes this year’s presidential campaign will be an opportunity for truth and enlightenment to come to the forefront, but that the real cure for the country’s ills is not politics, education or social programs.
Vaught believes the answer lies with God and referred to the theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer, “Wake up America,” saying the country needs to be awakened by the Holy Spirit.
Prodigal Son comparison
Dr. David Sparks, who delivered the sermon for Thursday’s local event, continued in that vein by drawing parallels between the U.S. and the Prodigal Son. He is the central character of a parable by Jesus in which the young man demands his inheritance from his father before the latter dies, which he then squanders after leaving home to live a life of decadence.
“Like the Prodigal Son said, ‘I don’t need Dad anymore, I need what I can get out of him and then I’m out of here,’ America has essentially become a Prodigal Son,” Sparks said.
“He turned his back on his father, and we’ve turned our back on our father.”
Before being welcomed back into the fold by his father, the wayward youth eventually is reduced to longing for the food being eaten by pigs, and as a nation, “we’re starved because of the forsaking of God’s word,” Sparks said. “We have forgotten where our help comes from, and it comes from God.”
Yet it has become unpopular or politically incorrect to even mention God’s name today, and all traces of Him basically have been removed from public schools, Sparks pointed out.
Then when incidents such as mass shootings occur in educational settings, people wonder where God was at the time. “Long ago, God was invited to vacate the building,” the local reverend reminded.
As a nation, many citizens aren’t living by the philosophy espoused by the late President John F. Kennedy when he urged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Sparks said.
“We’ve become a give-me type of people.”
In Sparks’ view, the country has departed from many of the qualities that made it great. “We’re not seeing the real United States of America,” he said.
“We aren’t really ourselves right now — we aren’t the nation our Founding Fathers established,” Sparks continued.
“But we can be again.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.