Sunday’s sermon: Listening Out Loud

prayer

Texts used – John 17:1-11; Acts 1:6-14

  • It probably won’t surprise you to learn that for a long time when the boys were little, we had a double stroller that lived in the back of our van. This stroller was devoted solely to making it easier to run as many errands as possible with two small children. The longer I could keep them strapped in and contained, the better!
    • Double stroller description
      • Folds up easy
      • Comfortable for the boys
      • Even storage for the diaper bag
    • Running errands with Mom and the boys one day – story of stopping at Once Upon a Child → When I pulled the stroller out and unfolded it, it was pretty obvious right from the get-go that something wasn’t right. And it didn’t take very long to figure out what was missing.
      • Front wheels = double wheels
      • One of the double wheels = missing (fallen off)
        • Found wheel in the back of the van → reattached it and the stroller worked like a charm
    • There are a lot of things in our lives that go hand-in-hand, aren’t there?
      • Julia’s book: We Belong Together[1]
        • Peanut butter and jelly
        • Hot cocoa and marshmallows
        • Hands and gloves
        • Paper and pencil
    • In our Scripture readings for this morning, we see how two elements of our faith also go inextricably hand-in-hand: prayer and action.
  • Let’s look at the passage from John first.
    • Context within rest of the gospel: These are the last words that Jesus speaks to his disciples as a free man. And what are they? A prayer.
      • Beginning of long prayer in 3 sections – this section: prayer of glory – text: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that the Son can glorify you. … I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I shared with you before the world was created.”[2] → much of this passage glorifies the work that God has already done, is doing through Jesus, and will do in the future
      • Prayer = conclusion of much longer dialogue (chs. 14-17!) between Jesus and disciples in the upper room → whole dialogue sandwiched by powerful actions
        • Preceded by Last Supper
        • Followed by Jesus’ arrest and betrayal
        • Prayer in today’s passage = certainly turning point in the story – commentator: [John] has positioned Jesus’ farewell prayer to stand as the theological climax of the Fourth Gospel. … Jesus’ prayer stands between his words to the disciples in the Farewell Discourse and the beginning of the passion story. The prayer thus stands at the pivotal turn into the events of the hours.[3] → So the intense spiritual experience of the Last Supper feeds into this prayer, and in turn, this prayer pours out strength and assurance for the final act that is to come: Jesus’ journey to the cross. Therefore, this prayer is both the beginning to an action and the end.
          • See this in Gr.: lots of Gr. words in this passage that have juxtaposed meanings – both “coming in” and “going out,” both “turning” and “returning” → makes the whole prayer to occupy that essential, pivotal in-between space that’s not “either/or” but “both/and” – coming AND going, turning AND returning
            • Theologically speaking: the “already/not yet” of God’s Kingdom → how God’s Kingdom is both already begun in the work of Christ and all the believers (including us) but is also something that is coming at the end of time
            • E.g. – Jesus: I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.[4] – Gr. “finishing” = both “fulfilling” and “initiating” → In a sense, Jesus’ divine mission on earth is coming to a close … but in another sense, it’s just beginning. But no matter which way you look at it, it’s a mission that requires prayer. Prayer simultaneously establishes and completes this mission.
    • The rest of Jesus’ prayer – continuing beyond the portion that we read this morning – is for other people.
      • Prayer for the disciples – text: “Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they (the disciples) can share completely in my joy. … I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one.”[5]
      • Prayer for those who will hear God’s word through the disciples – text: “I’m not praying only for [the disciples] but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.”[6]
        • Words of assurance of God’s grace and forgiveness that we use sometimes: Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, and Christ prays for us.
      • Commentator: On the eve of his death, Jesus speaks to God on behalf of the faith community. Jesus entrusts the hope for the future of his followers to God in prayer. … Jesus’ final words before the hour are not last-minute instructions to the community about what it should do in Jesus’ absence; instead, his words turn the future of the community over to God.[7] → inextricably links prayer and action by gathering them under the same umbrella: faith
  • So what do we see of prayer and action in our passage from Acts this morning?
    • Like gospel passage, prayer sandwiched between 2 powerful actions
      • First action = most of today’s passage: Jesus’ ascension into heaven → part of what Jesus had been praying about in our gospel passage: I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one.[8]
      • Prayer: When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying … All [the disciples] were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.[9]
        • Disciples praying this time, not Jesus → already following Messiah’s e.g.
      • Today’s passage = followed by 2 more powerful actions
        • Directly after this time of prayer – chose new disciple to replace Judas
        • Soon after = Pentecost!
        • Once again, prayer both stemming from and precipitating action. The disciples gathered together to pray after they watched Jesus ascend to heaven. We can imagine that they prayed for guidance for whatever was to come. Were they supposed to go back to their homes? Were they supposed to go out into the world? Were they supposed to stay together in one large group as they had with Jesus? Were they supposed to split up? What did God want them to do, and how were they supposed to do it? So they prayed. And that prayer precipitated powerful action – a new disciple, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in wind and tongues of fire and various languages abounding.
    • Ill. that prayer in and of itself can be the action, too – commentary: Waiting on the Lord to act is not a passive inactivity: They waited by praying and studying Scripture together. … Praying together publicly demonstrates the importance of their spiritual unity and resolve in accomplishing their missionary vocation as Jesus prophesied it and as God will continue to clarify to them.[10] → letting the actions of the world inspire prayer while trusting that prayers will affect the actions of the world
  • Interestingly enough, we’re reading this passage on a particular Sunday in the church year: Reign of Christ Sunday (or what used to be called Christ the King Sunday).
    • Origins of Reign of Christ Sunday[11]
      • Instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe or Feast of Christ the King in response to growing secularism and nationalism in the world at the time → supposed to be a reminder of who we are and whose we are as Christians
      • Adopted by many other Protestant branches much later
    • Frankly, it’s a bit of a controversial day in the church calendar because many people – especially those who have been marginalized and oppressed and subjugated in harmful, violent ways – are uncomfortable with the similar language of being subjugated by Christ. To be honest, it’s not language that I’m terribly comfortable with either.
    • HOWEVER, important point in terms of what we’re talking about today as we observe Reign of Christ Sunday = The reign of Christ was not a reign of force and violent action and harsh subjugation. It was indeed a reign of prayer … a reign of compassion … a reign of teaching … a reign of trying to open people’s hearts and minds and lives to the love and grace of God.
      • Prayer was the action
      • BUT prayer also initiated the action → Jesus prayed for people and then did something to help them
        • James: Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.[12]
  • So what does this have to do with our lives here in Oronoco?
    • Like disciples in John, we have heard God’s word through Christ
      • Hear it in our worship services
      • Hear it and witness it in the world around us
      • And we cannot help but be changed by this word.
        • Gr. “received” (“they have received [these words] and know in truth that I came from you”) – “received” = “put on” → implies change in those who have heard these words
          • Change initiated by the words
          • Change perpetuated by the words
          • Commentator: This Christian community of ours can be wild and frustrating and crazy, but we place our trust in the prayer of Jesus. The disciples Jesus loved, and the community that he loves now, lived and still live – enveloped by that prayer.[13]
            • Prayer that continues to inform and inspire our actions
    • Prayer is also one of the greatest ways to include people in that community – the community of faith within these four walls and out there in the wild and frustrating and crazy world.
      • Pray with others
      • Pray for others
      • Prayer no matter what
        • Often hesitation over “imperfect prayer” → no such thing as an imperfect prayer when prayers come from the heart
          • Words or no words
          • Lots of words or one simple word
            • Anne Lamott’s popular book: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers[14] in which she says basically all prayers boil down to 3 simple words: help, thanks, and wow
      • Popular contemporary Christian author Max Lucado: “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” → “The power of prayer is in the one who hears it and not in the one who says it.” Thanks be to God! And so we enact our faith – we listen out loud – with our prayers. Amen.

[1] Joyce Wan. We Belong Together. (New York, NY: Scholastic Books), 2011.

[2] Jn 17:1b, 4-5.

[3] Gail R. O’Day. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 787.

[4] Jn 17:4.

[5] Jn 17:13, 15 (clarification added).

[6] Jn 17:20-21.

[7] O’Day, 797.

[8] Jn 17:11.

[9] Acts 1:13-14.

[10] Robert W. Wall. “The Acts of the Apostles: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 10. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), 45-46.

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_Christ_the_King.

[12] Jas 2:15-17.

[13] Linda Lee Chandler. “Seventh Sunday of Easter – John 17:1-11 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2.(Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 543.

[14] Anne Lamott. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. (New York, NY: Riverhead Books), 2012.