Prayer is the Answer to Jesus’ Prayer, Easter 7 (A) – May 28, 2017

[RCL] Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36

Jesus prayed. The Gospels reveal that prayer remained the constant refrain of Jesus’ life. Jesus prays frequently and fervently. Why would he of all people need to pray? First, Jesus was God made man, and so he had emptied himself to become human and some things were no longer possible for Jesus. For example, if he were in Galilee, he would not also be in Jerusalem. Jesus was bound by time and space. Secondly, Jesus had also always been connected to the Father and the Holy Spirit in ways that are mysterious to us. They are one and yet three. If that is difficult to get your mind around, that is fine. After all, a God you can fully comprehend isn’t much of a deity. But we see that Jesus prayed as a part of this ongoing relationship within the Trinity. Finally, Jesus prayed to be an example to his followers. We see this most fully on the night before he died. All of the Gospels tell of Jesus praying fervently that night. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we hear only that Jesus prayed for the cup to pass from him. He did not want to die, but even so, Jesus submitted himself to God’s will.

In our Gospel reading, we get a deeper glimpse into Jesus’ prayer that evening. In chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, which we read part of this morning, Jesus prays. Our reading starts, “Jesus looked up to heaven and said…”

Those words matter, as they tell the reader that what follows is a prayer. The prayer is not written to us. Jesus is talking with God the Father. John gives us not just the content of the prayer, but also the character of Jesus in writing down this prayer for us. Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” In John’s Gospel, the word glory points to the cross. It is in his faithfulness unto death that Jesus glorified God.

In Jesus’ words in this prayer, we learn that Jesus values those who believe in him as a cherished gift from God. And in the final lines of our reading this morning, Jesus prayed, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Jesus wanted those who follow him to be protected, not from bodily harm, but from falling away from the faith. And most of all he wanted us to be one as he and the Father are one. This could reduce the prayer to a plea for Christian unity, but that is not all that is going on here. Yes, Jesus would pray for those who follow him to be one in a way that makes unity among Christian denominations an important goal. But here, Jesus is praying for our protection, and for that to happen, he calls us to be drawn into the relationship of love that is the very Trinity. Jesus and the Father are one in a way that goes beyond simple agreement, like, or love. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one at their essence through relationship. Jesus prays for that sort of deeper relationship for us. This is Jesus’ prayer before dying; his dying wish is for those who know him to be drawn into an abiding connection to him and his Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had already demonstrated what an abiding connection to God looks like. Throughout his life, he had taken regular times for prayer both public and private—both liturgical prayers of synagogue and Temple worship and spontaneous prayers offered on various occasions. Jesus maintained his connection to God in good times and bad, in times of triumph, and in the agony of the cross.

With only a few years in which to change the world forever, Jesus should have been a workaholic. Yes, he was faulted for breaking the Sabbath to heal and for letting his disciples pick grain to eat. But instead of being a workaholic, Jesus enabled others to minister as well.

We find in the Gospel what Jesus prayed, but we should also notice that Jesus prayed. His life is soon to end. He is in the last hours with his disciples. Rather than fitting in an all-night cram session to get the last bit of theological information into his disciples’ heads, Jesus pauses and prays. If you ever wonder what would Jesus do, the primary answer is that Jesus would pray. How much more should we first and foremost pray in all the chances and changes that life sends our way?

God will honor the arrow prayers you shoot heavenward in times of need, but you will find yourself more fully connected to God if you set aside routine times to pray. The pattern for The Episcopal Church is found in the brief Morning and Evening Prayer liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer, and even in the one-page devotions tucked into the Prayer Book. Making daily times for these prayers will not earn God’s favor; you already have been given that grace freely. Instead, the daily times of prayer will ground your day in connection to the Holy Trinity.

This was Jesus’ will for you. Jesus wanted you to find and nurture that deep, abiding connection to God. Jesus wanted it so much that he prayed for you to get that sort of relationship and then he trusted his Father in heaven to enable it to happen. Your answer to Jesus’ prayer is found when you make time to pray and so grow closer to the God who knows you fully and loves you completely.

Amen.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He is also a member of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church and serves on the Advisory Group on Church Planting.

 

Download the sermon for Easter 7(A).

Jesus didn’t say, ‘Beam me up’, 7 Easter (A) – 2014

June 1, 2014

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

We are all familiar with depictions of people coming and going. Many will recall in the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz,” how Glinda, the good witch, descends upon Dorothy and the Munchkins in a bubble, and after delivering a message and explaining the mystery of the ruby slippers, departs in the same way. And no one who has watched even one “Star Trek” episode can have missed Captain Kirk or his crew being beamed up by a transporter beam.

So, that is just like the Ascension, right?

Wrong. The Ascension of Jesus is not a device to get him back into heaven from whence he came. The Ascension is an account of how Jesus, having finished his work on earth, blazes a trail over which we one day shall travel, a trail to eternal life that continues our relationship with the risen Jesus and God, our creator and redeemer.

While other religions have their divine ascension narratives, with other worthy ones ascending with them, Jesus departs alone, leaving his disciples behind, staring into empty space, as a cloud takes him out of their sight.

And why does that matter?

Because our work is not done on earth. We learn more about that work from Jesus’ prayer for his disciples – and us – in the gospel reading for today: “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”

This farewell prayer is said, not just for the small band of family and followers, but also for each of us. The good news here is that Jesus prays openly for us, for our protection and our unity so that we might be one, as Jesus and the Father are one.

Jesus also tells us, shortly before his Ascension, what eternal life means for us: “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

The Ascension makes Jesus accessible to all people, not just his disciples in a particular historic moment. He prays for all people, and all may call upon him. There is no limit to accessing him, no request too small.

Recently a woman called her church office in distress because her husband had just received a bad diagnosis. She did not know what to do. As she talked with her pastor, her voice became calmer and she began to voice her fear about what might happen. Then she said, “Will the church pray for us?”

“Of course,” her pastor replied, “and I am praying for you both right now.”

“I know,” she said. “I can feel it.”

The risen and ascended Lord entered into her time of need with a calming presence through her plea for help and her pastor’s prayer. That is how a relationship with Jesus is supposed to work: immediately accessible, even when we cannot say the words because of our grief or distress.

People are constantly learning how the living Lord works on their behalf. Jesus’ Ascension paves the way for this work, and we are the beneficiaries of it.

In the Easter season, we are continually drawn to stories about Jesus’ pastoral care for us. He walks to Emmaus with the troubled disciples who had hoped he would redeem Israel, and then helps them see his risen life and the power it holds for them as they begin to share the Good News with others. He cooks breakfast for his friends on the shore of the lake, and they know through this simple act of hospitality how deeply he cares for them, and we know how deeply he cares for all of us.

When was the last time you asked God for something? When was the last time you knelt in a church or in your living room and asked Jesus for a specific need? When was the last time you prayed for yourself or a friend to be healed?

For whom will you pray today? For whom will you offer prayer this week? These prayers are dialogues with Jesus, and he wants us to speak to him. He wants to give us good things, the things we deeply desire and need to lead lives of hope. That is what he does for the disciples in today’s gospel reading, and that is what he will do for you.

Conversion and transformation are the steps the risen one takes with us. Few people have the dramatic experience recorded by the apostle Paul on the Damascus road, but many have moments when life and their place in it begin to come together. That is the conversion experience, when the pieces of the puzzle of life begin to fit together. The conversion leads to transformation, a new life centered in the risen, ascended Lord. It is no longer all about you or me.

Many of us have a favorite person whom we admire for their ability to go through a crisis or meet difficult challenges head on. One young man works for the Veteran’s Administration and sees vets from many different wars. He says the ones who teach him the most are the ones who can articulate their faith, the conviction that God loves them and cares for them, even with lost limbs, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses. “They are,” he says, “the people who have found peace in the midst of strife. They know Jesus and see him as their friend.”

Jesus does not come and go on a transporter beam. His presence abides in the church and in a personal and unique relationship with each of us. That is what we celebrate in the Great Fifty Days of Easter.

Today, whether you are joyful about something or sad and grieving over what might have been, remember you are connected to the risen Christ, through the community of faith and directly with him. Pray for specific things you need. Ask for the things he wants to give you, and always remember it is his risen and ascended life that makes him accessible. He wants to walk with you. Will you take his hand?

 

— Ben Helmer is the vicar of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He resides in nearby Holiday Island.

Pray for renewal, 7 Easter (A) – 2011

June 5, 2011

Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

The apostles wanted and needed safety. They asked Jesus whether this would not be a good time to restore David’s Kingdom, a moment in the history of Israel when the nation seemed in retrospect to be secure. Jesus’ reply must have increased their insecurity.

The women and men who met with Jesus before his Ascension had, to this point, never left the tiny land area that made up their own country. Now Jesus orders them to go to the ends of the earth and tell the Good News that the Kingdom of God has broken into human affairs by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Rather than assuring his disciples of a safe haven in political terms, he challenges them to take enormous risks for him.

We have a terrible time with the word “evangelism” and even more with the concept that we should leave the safety and security of our buildings to engage others with the Good News. More likely than not, our “outreach committees” plan meals for the poor and our church’s presence at community events, splendid things in themselves, but the very thought that we have a responsibility to speak about Jesus and his Kingdom scares us to death, or perhaps worse, offends our sensibilities. After all, religion should not be the subject of polite conversation!

In today’s gospel we find Jesus praying to the Father to give his disciples protection once Jesus was out of the picture. Note that Jesus doesn’t ask the Father to restore the kingdom of Israel. Divine protection was to be something other than security. The Spirit was to protect and energize. But what on earth was the Spirit? The disciples, as devout Jews, knew who God was, and they knew Jesus. Perhaps they remembered that in the Genesis account of Creation, the Spirit broods on the waters and cooperates in that new creation. The Church would come to believe that Jesus was present in Creation – “through him all things were made,” as the Nicene Creed puts it – but as yet these frightened followers of Jesus knew nothing of the power of the Spirit as the Spirit cooperates with Jesus in a “new creation,” the Kingdom of God on earth, of which we are now citizens through baptism.

Pentecost would change all that, but as yet in our narrative, we aren’t yet there. Instead we share the disciples’ insecurity and huddle in our little kingdoms we term “churches.” We hope and pray that others will join us, people who like the way we do things and will help pay for a new heating system. We hope they will access our website, read the rector’s blog, or the advertisement lost among so many others on the church page of the newspaper, or be attracted by the sign outside the church that tells them that the Episcopal Church is there for them. Nothing yet pushes us out through our red doors into the marketplace to tell the Good News that Jesus transforms and makes all things new.

Will this year’s Pentecost make any difference? Or will we still ask God to restore the kingdom, when the churches were full and rich people paid all our bills?

We must pray that our parishes will be renewed by God the Holy Spirit, who always shows us Jesus and through him brings us to the Father.

There’s one further step. We must pray that each of us in our own way will hear Jesus telling us to go out beyond our own comfort zone to tell out the glory of the Lord.

The disciples feared being killed. We fear ridicule. So perhaps our prayer should be that God will remove from us our fear of seeming ridiculous and replace that fear with courage to live out our baptismal promises. “Go into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the world” as today’s reading from Acts says.

Or shall we sit in our upper room and wait for a kingdom?
— Fr. Tony Clavier is a retired priest and a missioner in the Diocese of Springfield.

7 Easter (A) – 2005

You will be my witness

May 8, 2005

Acts 1:6-14Psalm 68:1-10, 33-361 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11John 17:1-11

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In his commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Joseph Fitzmyer says that this is the “programmatic verse” of Acts; it sets the scope of the spread of the Word of God, the goal that the commissioned apostles are to attain as they bring that Word from Jerusalem “to the ends of the earth.”

And, in fact, this verse might also be said to set the program for the Christian life; we who are followers of the Risen Christ are also called to be his witnesses wherever we go.

What’s that? You say that this commission was just for the apostles? If that is so, the witnessing would have come to an end centuries ago. Do you think that Peter and John and James ever heard of the town or city we have gathered in today? Oh, but then perhaps it’s the job of the bishops, the successors of the apostles to be witnesses? Or perhaps the role of witness is meant for all of the ordained clergy?

Think again, my friends! The commission is for all us. “You will be my witnesses.” The commission is for all us who are called to take part in the royal priesthood of all believers. Just as Jesus said, “Follow me,” he also said, “Be my witnesses.” So we had better be about doing just that!

And what is a “witness,” anyway? Webster’s definition says: “One who has seen or heard something and who can give evidence for its occurrence.” And also: “One who signs his name to a document for the purpose of attesting to its authenticity.” It would seem that the testimony we must give does not call for mere hearsay. But then, how are we, living in the 21st century, in a place that the apostles never even heard of, to be witnesses to something that happened 2,000 years ago, in a place most of us have never seen? Sure, we’ve read the Bible; we know the story, but does that make us witnesses? Can we, as Webster says, give evidence of the occurrence of these things? We weren’t even there!

Let’s look more closely at what Jesus said. It’s true that the apostles had been witnesses of all that Jesus said and did during his earthly ministry, but what Jesus says in today’s reading is, “you will be my witnesses.” Our testimony is about him, not just about what happened long ago and far away. We are to give evidence about what we ourselves have heard, seen, experienced. We can’t be witnesses unless we have met the Risen Christ — unless our lives have been transformed by him. If we could in good conscience go before a notary and sign a paper attesting of the presence of God in our lives and in the world, then, and only then, can we be his witnesses.

This is something that we, as Christians, probably do a lot more often than we know. St. Francis of Assisi said it well: “Proclaim the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” How many persons in your own life have been witnesses, silent or otherwise, to you? We might recall our parents and other role models in our lives who have inspired and encouraged us, both by their words and by their examples, in our lives in Christ. We are called to do the same, and this call is not issued just to teach us individually, but also to us as members of the Body of Christ — and more specifically, to us as members of this congregation. We should be seriously considering how we are called, in this place and at this time, to be his witnesses.

Probably we don’t think of ourselves in that way. Nevertheless, if the Lord Jesus calls us to be witnesses, we’d better not think of this as something optional. But what we do? How can we get started? It would appear from today’s reading that two things are necessary.

First of all, of course, we can do nothing through our own power. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” Jesus said. As we await the glorious feast of Pentecost next Sunday, let us pray earnestly for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all of us, both corporately and individually. It is only when we are clothed with power from above that we can do the work he calls us to do.

The second thing that we must do is reflected toward the end of the reading from Acts: “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” The communal prayer and harmony reflected in the stories from the Acts of the Apostles should serve as a model for our own church community. Any disunity in the Body of Christ will always be an obstacle to the effectiveness of the witness we bear. As the Lord Jesus prayed on the night before he died that we might all be one, so we must pray and act as one.

In the Baptismal Covenant, which we will renew next Sunday, we are asked, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” We must be wholehearted in this commitment, in order to be his witnesses.

Let us pray: May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to himself; may the power of the Lord Jesus strengthen us is his service; may the joy of the Lord Jesus fill our souls, and may we be his witnesses wherever we may be. Amen.

 

— The Rev. Barbara Beam serves the congregations of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church, Noel, and St. John’s Episcopal Church, Neosho, both in the diocese of West Missouri.