Living Into God’s Life
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; John 17:6-19
May 24, 2009
An elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for a number of years. He went to the
doctor and the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the
gentleman to hear 100%. The elderly gentleman went back in a month to the doctor and the
doctor said, "your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear
again.” To which the gentleman said, "Oh, I haven't told my family yet. I just sit around and i listen to the conversations. I've changed my will three times!"
It seems like eavesdropping ought to be in amongst the Ten Commandments. Sometimes, though, it can come in very handy.
The Bible is very much an object of eavesdropping. When we dive into its words and stories we are entering a world that is not really ours. It belongs to history, tradition, to believers of all times and places, and to God.
Listening can be participation. Our minds can image the stories come to life. Pictures are painted. This week the Church Universal celebrated the Day of Ascension, the day the disciples were gathered “as
iithey were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” One author remembers,
“In my child’s imagination all things were possible, and I pictured the Lord, his hands and feet still scarred from the terrible suffering, white robes billowing, ascending into high white clouds on that
iiibrilliant spring Thursday.” We are invited into the story and it becomes part of us through our
fellowship with the saints and the joy found only in the truth of Jesus Christ.
Our acceptance and participation in the fellowship, our oneness, our unity, with the community of faith was the ardent prayer of Lord Jesus on the night of his arrest.
On this week when we have been taken to the highest heights where the author of 1 Thessalonians says we “will be caught up in the clouds together to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord
ivvforever”, or as someone once said, “And Jesus got all Mary Poppins and just sort of floated away”, on
this week we find ourselves back on earth listening in, eavesdropping on Jesus’ prayer to the Father, on the night that is played over and over in our minds as the dark night of the soul—flogging, beating,
crown of thorns, purple robes, mockery, and the final solution. How true it is that we are so easily drawn back down to earth by the hardships of life, by the horrors of war, the tumbling economy, the loss of loved ones.
“In seasons of distress and grief, my soul has often found relief. And oft escaped the tempter’s snare, by
vithy return, sweet hour of prayer.” For these reasons, Jesus prays for you, for us. Jesus is well-aware of what life can bring—good and bad. “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so
viithat they may be one, as we are one.” We are made aware of “not only the depth of Jesus’
relationship with God but the depth of Jesus’ concern for the disciples and us, those left behind to
viiiminister in his name.”
To truly eavesdrop on the prayer of Jesus, we ought to know what his followers needed protection from. Twenty-First Century Americans, like us, have an entirely different worldview, or understanding, than did the disciples who first followed Jesus. When we hear a text like this we tend to spiritualize the words, and we have to order to make sense of them. The external forces of the world weigh heavy on us, giving burdens we must bear. All of that heaviness in responsibility, of being the lone superpower, of being the force for freedom and democracy, of being “the light [that] shines in the darkness, [which] the
ix hangs over us and we must have spiritual maturity to handle it all by darkness *shall+ not overcome,”
Perhaps it is from this freedom-bearing, individual-responsibility, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mindset that we fall into a lonely trap. We are sometimes alone and isolated. You notice that Jesus asks that his disciples may be one. He did not ask that there only be one. He asks that together we might have, as Paul said, “the same mind that was in Christ Jesus”, who emptied himself
xand took the form of a slave. Ask any one of our service members or veterans, or recall the acts of our fallen heroes whom we commemorate tomorrow, and they will tell you that they don’t go it alone. They
always honor one another, their fellow comrade, and the nation. By serving others they participate not always in winning the battle but always in living out the values of the whole community. If, for us, our concerns are external; for his disciples, Jesus prayed oneness, unity, because the biggest concerns came from inside. When our nation was first forming, when secret meetings held at the dead of night were conducted so as to throw off the suspicions of the Red Coats, when our Founders were debating the costs and benefits of making a break from His Majesty, one of the most disconcerting possibilities was the snitching of a fellow patriot. That’s why the story of Benedict Arnold still stands so
poignantly in the American mythos. Complete trust in one another and loyalty to the cause were not luxuries, they were necessities. Anything else could result in disaster. “Loose lips sink ships.”
In many ways, the real concern was not the Great Britain of the Revolution, or the Japanese Navy of World War II, or the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day (which considered the Lord and his followers insurrectionists); it was not so much an external problem, but an internal concern that caused the most
xiworry. “The real threat to the unity of Jesus’ followers is apostasy and betrayal.” You tell that Roman
garrison what’s happening in that house church over there, and there’s going to be big trouble. This is
why Jesus prays so ardently for our unity in the Spirit and Word.
Jesus’ prayer is a plea that God would strengthen us as a people of Christ in trust and loyalty to one another. It is a prayer that asks us to not go it alone, but to rely on each other—whether rich or poor,
young or old, with time or talent—to face the problems head on in faith.
And yet, those external concerns and forces can really affect us, and “impinge on the ‘internal life’ of
xiifaith communities.” There’s the story of
…one mom’s desire to keep her children safe and healthy, for example, by insisting they use a
seat belt. The mother is surprised to learn that not all parents “push the same issues” with their
children. When her son decides to forego bike riding so he doesn’t have to wear a helmet (cool
kids don’t wear helmets, mom!), she realizes her son is not yet mature enough in himself and in
his identity to stand firm for what is right in the face of competing values. She prays for her son
that he will be safe “outside family situations”, for she knows that apart from the guiding xiii protection of a loved one, her son could fall victim to any number of tragedies.
We live in an unpredictable time with some concerning consequences. Even as the economy tumbles, as we face challenges of getting the word out, as we rethink what our mission is, as we consider how God calls us into the future, Jesus implores the Father,
“I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them. They do not
belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is
truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their xivsakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
Living into God’s life is an acknowledgement that our present sufferings and reality are prologue to a
glorification evident in the ascension of Jesus and promised to us as believers and followers of the Way. Jesus sends us on in truth and light, to be the bearers of his good news to counter all of the bad news that comes across our TV sets, our newspaper headlines, and the experiences of everyday life. These hard realities are real. Jesus is also real and our sanctification in his truth protects us not from losing the battle, but from losing ourselves and our voices and our unity in Christ in the melee that surrounds us. The story we eavesdropped on from the Book of Acts is about how the disciples chose a replacement for Judas to restore the leadership to twelve. They spent time in discussion, time in prayer. And then they cast lots to determine the result. They left it up to a game of chance, like throwing the dice, or flipping a coin. Can you imagine if that had been the process by which we elect our leaders, or even the pastor? We would think it very odd to go up to Isleta to play blackjack in order to determine who our leaders would be. It shows, however, a great amount of faith because what they did, in reality, was leave the final decision up to God. God decided the outcome of all their conversations and pleas in prayer. That is what we have to do as we live into God’s life. Theologian Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in
xvprayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorders of the world.” Jesus did that for us. We do
that for one another. By asking God for strength and protection, we leave all our worries in his hands. We let go and we let God. This is faith. In the end, we will be caught up in the clouds with our Savior, no longer eavesdropping in on a conversation with God, but having one ourselves. Amen
i http://www.coolquiz.com/humor/jokes/joke.asp?jokenum=1391 ii Acts 1:9 iii Maureen Dallison Kemeza, Christian Century, May 19, 2009, p. 18. iv 1 Thessalonians 4:17 v @sarcasticluther, twitter.com vi William W. Walford, “Sweet Hour of Prayer” vii John 17:11 viii Beverly Zink-Sawyer, “Preaching the Lesson”, Lectionary Homiletics, vol. 20, no. 3, p. 65 ix John 1:5 x Philippians 2:5,7 xi Eleazar S. Fernadez, “Theological Themes”, Lectionary Homiletics, vol. 20, no. 3, p. 61 xii Ibid. xiii Fr. Andrew M. Greeley, paraphrased by Kathleen Borres, “Sermon Reviews”, Lectionary Homiletics, vol. 20, no. 3,
p. 63 xiv John 17:15-19
xv Quoted by John K. Luoma, “Battle Prayer”, The Clergy Journal, January/February 2009, p. 35