Hear Our Prayer, O Lord


I Kings 8: 22-30
Preached by Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Dedication of Chapel and Kitchen Addition at Jensen Woods Camp
April 13, 2013

In my home church, three liturgical movements were stamped in my brain virtually every Sunday. Worship began with “The Lord is in His Holy temple; let all the earth, keep silent before Him.” “Holy, Holy, Holy” always followed the Introit. And when the preacher finished praying, we sang Response 596 in the old black hymnal. “Hear our prayer, O Lord. Hear our prayer, O Lord; Incline Thine ear to us, and grant us thy peace.” If you prayed earnestly and with integrity, my folk believed that God answered prayer, sooner or later.   
The dedication of the Dixon Lodge Kitchen Addition and the Jensen Memorial Chapel has answered prayer. Both were critical needs. But our fundraising efforts did not catch up with our field of dreams until a $400,000.00 trust from the Roselyn Kay Jensen estate for Jensen Woods Camp made it happen. 
Today, we approach this hallowed dedication with great thanksgiving. To be sure, Ernest and Florence Jensen plus their only daughter, the beloved Roselyn Kay Jensen, are gone. They rest now in the bosom of Abraham. But we are not dismayed. Today, we celebrate. Today, we come not to mourn what we lost but to remember what we have in them. The Jensen legacy is alive in these woods. Mother Nature lovingly caresses and surrounds its latest additions, namely kitchen renovations in Dixon Lodge and the Jensen Memorial Chapel. And those of us who write history and mark celebrations will have this day, this time and moment, recorded in the current and future archival records of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference. And if we forget, God always remembers. The psalmist is right. “Goodness and mercy has a way of following us all the days of our lives” into the “house of the Lord.”        
1 Kings 8:22-30 describes a day like today. At Solomon’s invitation, the people gather in Jerusalem. Everyone is there; Jew and gentile, the priests, elders, the King’s family, other royalty, the military and scads of livestock. The Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments burned on two tablets, the tent of meeting and related objects enter the temple carried by Levites. In the Holy of Holies, all the sacred objects find permanent residence. Known for his wisdom and grace, admired for his felicity relative to the things of God, attendant to the dream denied his father David, Solomon erected Israel’s first temple and lived to “enter its gates with thanksgiving and courts with praise.” God had a house-truly God’s own. Ditto for Jensen Woods. God has a new house-Jensen Chapel; a new commercial kitchen to feed five thousand and an unfinished basement, doubling as a storm shelter, representing God’s unfinished work on earth.   
Although many of you know the story of Jensen Woods, especially the new Jensen Chapel, new commercial kitchen and the unfinished basement and shelter, the old story fits the context of answered prayer. In 1962, Ernest and Florence Jensen decide to send their teenage daughter to church camp. Roselyn is denied. Camp registrations are full. There is no room for Roselyn. Hurt and disappointed for his beloved daughter, her father responds. He gives 40 acres of his property to the Central Illinois Conference for a pioneer camp. Plus Ernest Jensen helps to develop it. Informed that 40 acres is inadequate for a camp, Mr. Jensen secures an additional 40 acres and gives it to the conference. His daughter’s denial of a camping experience inspires a gift of 80 acres of land gratis, not revenge, bitterness or anger. That’s a God thing. That’s prayer answered. There’s more. 
Mr. Jensen is involved in securing another 120 acres. Whatever he spends, the conference repays. There’s more. The Camping Committee needs more property. So they ask Ernest and Florence Jensen if they would sell their 351 acre farm to the conference. One of the attendees of that meeting at the Jensen Farm is here, namely the Rev. Art Runyon. 
Concerning this decision, I believe everybody prays. Here are some of the questions. Should Ernest and Florence sell their farm? Should they sell the farm for $50 an acre to the church and reject a business offer for $100 an acre? Should the Central Illinois Conference go into debt to buy prime land for camping? Yes, yes and yes. Ernest and Florence buy into Christian camping hook, line and sinker, and not a moment too soon. A tractor accident took Ernest from us not long after he sold the farm. Had a time of prayer, reflection or dream led him to do what he did quickly? Maybe so, in less than two years, the Central Illinois Conference acquired over 550 acres of land through his efforts. And just like that, a loving father and husband dies not long after the sale. How appropriate the name, Jensen Woods? God is good.                                  
That same spirit of care and compassion for others found its way into Roselyn’s DNA, their only daughter. According to printed records, the late Roselyn Kay Jensen was a teacher by profession. She enjoyed entertaining, gardening, traveling and developing the mind, body and spirit of her students. While she lived, Roselyn kept in touch with Jensen Woods, visiting the Camp, working on the Board, and helping out where possible. Before she died, Roselyn made clear that Jensen Woods meant a lot to her even though she couldn’t go to camp in 1962. Roselyn supported Jensen Woods because her vision was much larger than what Jensen Woods could do for herself, her parents or the Jensen clan. Her $400,000.00 trust to the Camp re-iterated that message. “God called me to love God and neighbor. Through my life and giftedness, through the example of my loving parents, I follow suit with what they have done for others.” Glory hallelujah!   
Like Solomon, I am especially moved with the new creation for our house of prayer namely Jensen Chapel. As members of Doddsville UMC erected an outside altar in 1984, so the Jensen’s have built a new Chapel for the praise and worship of God, for weddings and baptisms, for personal and public retreats, for families or strangers within these gates. N’er will we face a time where there is no need for God to hear our prayers. As you stand or sit and listen to me, some of you are sick, worried about children, keeping a job, staying in church, aging and aging parents, finding a life partner, church growth or maybe wondering what Jensen Woods will be like 100 years from now. Jensen Chapel is just another place to take our joys and sorrows to God in prayer. “Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear; All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”   
Listen very closely to the pleadings of Solomon. On such a wonderful, celebrative moment that God’s people have never seen before, Solomon is thinking about his nation, the family, personal difficulties, joys and sorrows. Thank you Lord. Thanks for your inspiration, your support in building a house for prayer and worship. Thanks for helping make my father’s dream come true. He wanted to build your house but you picked me. Help your people Lord! “When someone hurts a neighbor, God, make things right. When Israel suffers because of her disobedience against God, forgive and restore her fortunes, Lord. When famines, plague, blight, mildew, locusts or sickness come: work the miracle of restoration Lord.  When foreigners come to Israel and pray in your house, Solomon asks that the people of God make a way for them. Sustain your people in war, captivity, deportation. Train folk to live right, to forgive, to pray, to avoid sinning against God.” Most of all, God help your people to remember your many blessings, your goodness, and your amazing and prevenient grace. 
In passing, Jensen Woods became even more meaningful to me after reading your brief history. This phrase touched me deeply … “more than 1000 walnut trees were planted along the ridge going back to the “slave house” used during the civil war as part of the Underground Railroad.” Apparently, some of my foremothers and forefathers stole away to Jesus in Jensen Woods praying and waiting for the Underground Railroad to transport them to freedom, Glory hallelujah!
I’ve stood and prayed at the Western Wall/Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.  For centuries, people have visited the holiest Jewish site in the world. To the naked eye, it may be consumed as old brick and mortar wonderfully preserved. To   Hebrew minds, the Western Wall is religiously valued as the only remnant left of the Second Temple. It was destroyed in 70 A.D. 
But history and custom have made the Western Wall a place of prayer. Night and day, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, women, men and children have poured out their petitions to God-hoping, praying, believing that God would answer prayer. Like millions of tourists preceding me, I wrote my prayer requests on paper. I inserted them in the crevices of the wall hoping, praying, believing that God would answer my prayers-prayers formed and shaped in the Holy City. 
May that same kind of spirit and history evolve around the Jensen Chapel and these Woods 100 years from now and in perpetuity. May Jensen Woods become a place for prayer and camping where United Methodists feel inspired to pray as do millions of people who visit the Wailing Wall! May the blessings of Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell with the Jensen family as we remember their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness on your behalf to all God’s children. “Hear our Prayer, O Lord. Hear our Prayer, O Lord. Incline Thine ear to us. And grant us thy peace.” Amen.