Sermons That Work

Urim, Thummim, and The Blue Boxes, Easter 7 (B) – 2000

June 04, 2000

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia

At the heart of today’s lessons is prayer. “Jesus prayed for his disciples…for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated.” (John 17:11,19)

“And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.” (I John 5:15)

“So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment upon his heart, when he goes into the holy place, to bring them to continual remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and Thummim, and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord…” (Exodus 28: 29-30)

John Pilch in his book, The Cultural World of Jesus, reminds us that prayer is an act of communication “intended to have an impact on a person perceived as being in control of life in order to obtain results from that person. Not all prayer is religious prayer. Mary’s comment to Jesus at the wedding that ‘they have no wine’ is a non religious prayer, and act of communication to influence Jesus on the couple’s behalf.”

And we make prayers of this kind all day long. “Mom, there isn’t any peanut butter left,” correctly identifies who is in control of life and wants Mom to find a way to provide more peanut butter.

“The prayer of Jesus in today’s passage,” continues Pilch, “is a religious prayer because it is addressed to God: ‘Holy Father, Keep them in thy name…’ Two key features of religious prayer are 1) that it is communication to God, and 2) intended to obtain specific results.

So a religious prayer might be, “Dear God, we need some peanut butter!” In Exodus we hear about the origins of the kind of special clothes a priest wears when he or she goes into the holy place to pray for the people. Some of these ancient elements remain today. Although a priest today doesn’t wear a coat of checkerwork or a turban, he or she might wear a robe and a rope girdle, and a modern priest’s chasuble is a little like an ancient ephod and breastpiece.

And to remember to pray for the people of God, the people of the covenant, there were Urim and Thummim: two black stones with the twelve names of the sons of Jacob engraved on them. These two stones were meant to help focus one’s prayers. They were carried under the outer garment so that the names of the families would continually be remembered before God in the holy place. So it would be like a modern parish priests carrying parish directories hidden beneath their clothing at all times: Urim and Thummim.

Now in the Episcopal Church we generally do not carry around Urim and Thummim, two black stones. But we do have an object to focus our prayers: The Blue Boxes of the United Thank Offering (UTO).

The United Thank Offering was begun in 1889 as the idea of two women in the Episcopal Church, Julia Emery and Ida Soule, when they were authorized by General Convention to raise funds to build a church in Alaska and send a woman missionary to Japan. These two women decided people could make this happen by prayer and by collecting coins — spare change.

The idea is that everyone gets their own version of Urim and Thummim: a Blue Box. People then become part of the United Thank Offering by offering their thanks and prayers as part of their life in Christ, while dropping a coin in the Blue Box.

Think of how many times a day we give thanks for something! For the aroma of a freshly brewed cup of coffee in the morning, for the sun shining brightly in the morning sky, for a child’s laughter and smile, for the healing of a sick friend, for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, for our families, for God’s presence in our lives.

You see, each time we pray we are to remember the Blue Box. Each time we see the Blue Box we are to remember to pray. And each time we pray we put a coin in the box.

Each coin represents a prayer of thanks. When all the coins are gathered together, every penny goes to provide mission grants because there is no overhead or administrative costs: that is taken care of with trust funds and the general budget of the church, which we support with our pledges. In the past year the prayers and coins of these Blue Boxes totaled $2.5 million and provided for a woman’s development center in Uganda, the renovation of a parish hall for an adult care center, the expansion of an AIDS interfaith network, a jeep for missionary expansion in Costa Rica, and over 120 other projects across the country and around the world.

People always ask if prayer works. Thanks to the Blue Box, prayer works. Prayer works for us and for others who pray and give every day to the United Thank Offering.

Take a Blue Box home today. When giving thanks for anything at all, put a coin in the box and become a part of the prayers and mission of the Episcopal Church across the country and around the world.

On the side of the Blue Box is a prayer: Source of all creation, all love, all true joy, accept we pray these outward signs of our profound and continuing thankfulness for all of life. Bless those who will benefit from these gifts through the outreach of the United Thank Offering; and keep each of us ever thankful for all the blessings of joy and challenge that come our way; through Him who is the greatest gift and blessing of all, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Remember to Pray. Remember to Give.

Remember your Blue Box.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

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Christopher Sikkema