Seventh Sunday of Easter 5 June 2011
(Acts 1:6-14 Psalm 68 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 John 17:1-11)
“It’s OK to Stare!”
Probably all of us adults remember a time when we were much younger and our parents said to us, “It’s not nice to stare!” Maybe we’ve said it to our own children, usually when we saw someone who looked a little different from what we were used to seeing. As children we didn’t know that it wasn’t OK to stare. Our children may not know any different.
On the mountain of the Ascension, as the apostles were talking with Jesus and then he was taken from them, we are told that “…as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight…and while he was going, they stood there staring (gazing) toward heaven.” It was then that two men in white robes stood by them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand staring up towards heaven?’
They didn’t know it wasn’t OK to stare!
As we come to the end of our season of Easter, as we prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God gives us permission to stare, even more intensely.
Granted, we cannot stare at just anybody or anything, but we can stare, but we are given an opportunity to stare into the heart of God: an invitation to service and prayer!
I don’t know what we expected the apostles to do when the angels told them to get down off the mountain, but we do know what they did. They went back to Jerusalem, got together and began to pray. Luke tells us: [After he had been taken up] …they returned to Jerusalem and…all these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer….” (Acts 1:12-14).
Luke is very clear: before the disciples go out to begin their work of Jesus, they come together to pray. This prayer time together becomes the inspiration and motivating power that energizes their efforts for service.
Each of the scripture texts today are rich in many themes, but the one theme that holds them all together is the theme of prayer.
The author of First Peter reminds the readers that the suffering for the sake of being Christian can be a means of glorifying God. To put it another way, our struggle to live as believers in Jesus can be offered as a prayer to God.
I often hear people speak of presenting their suffering as a prayer to God, and how this becomes a sustaining and strengthening part of their prayer life. Too often struggles—personal and global—become reasons for people to lose their faith. First Peter offers another response.
In Acts, the writer Luke attests to the strengthing power of prayer. Luke offers us a picture of ministry, as he sets the scene for the events of Pentecost.
Last evening we celebrated three baptisms of children.
Next weekend we will confirm 12 teenagers of our congregation.
Each time we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism and Affirmation of baptism, there are eight promises (responsibilities) that are made by parents. The first five are all about praying…be in community…hear the scriptures…take part in the Lord’s Meal…learn the creed, Lord’s prayer, commandments…nurture in faith and prayer…transition (mutual trust) to……..mission …proclaim Christ by how we act and what we say…care for others…work for justice and peace.
The life of the church is always about service motivated and guided by prayer. We become witnesses to God’s love and forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit!
At the very heart of all prayer is the promise of a God who has claimed us as God’s children, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ. All prayer is empowered by God’s unconditional love.
Together we are church: first praying together and then acting together!
…which brings me to a final story….
Last week I heard someone give a compliment to this congregation concerning prayer that I want to share with you. In addition to our prayer team which gathers to pray on every other Wednesday, we have begun two other prayer groups who will be gathering monthly, simply to pray. Several people who came together last Friday to pray had never been in this building before. It was said later by one of these persons that there was such peacefulness in this building that it felt as if lots of praying goes one within this building.
There is something amazing to realize the collective praying that has taken place within these walls in the years since these walls first went up. Isn’t it exceptional that someone felt this?
Praying and action! Staring—no longer into an empty sky, but rather, at God in prayer in order to notice the God in the needs and brokenness of the people around us!
Like the apostles, may we use this week to be in prayer together as we anticipate 12 of our youth being confirmed next weekend? May we lift in prayers the three children who have been baptized this weekend, trusting that God’s Spirit will enter into their lives, the lives of their families, and the lives of each one of us in such a way that together we will be enlivened to bear witness to the life of Jesus Christ.
To paraphrase St. Augustine: pray with your hearts! Pray with your lips! Pray with your lives! We become how we pray! Amen.