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This Week's Sermon !

May 17, 2015 - Easter Season

1 John 5: 9-13

Psalm 1
John 17: 6-19

Lessons in Prayer!

Two provinces have just completed provincial elections.

Each party has a set of principles, a set of promises, a list of candidates but on the day after the swearing in ceremony, it may seem like a broken record is playing when we are told by a new government that this or that promise will have to wait because the “books are in worse shape than we thought.” It seems only a “previous government spends too much!”

The life of following Jesus is not that much different in SOME respects. The people expected a messiah who raise up an army, defeat Rome, and make Israel great again ! Jesus words were, instead, of giving up power, loving your enemies, going the second kilometre, and turning the other cheek.

2000 years later, all church-goers have dreams and visions for their church; they, or rather we, have needs, wants and desires.

The new minister should have a way of making everyone get along, allow the “old guard” to step back and inspire a newer and younger set of people to take their place. Whether the people want change, or not, is up in the air.

The stewards and trustees must be able to squeeze full value out of every nickle and do more with less. We have to keep everyone happy.

The choir must achieve the right balance between the singing of old favourites and new pieces.

The Sunday school must be filled with eagre, bright eyed, children who bring their parents.

Does that about sum it up in the “imaginary church?”

Every year we read similar biblical stories, beginning with the wait for Jesus Birth and every year, but may seem as if nothing has changed! .

On a long car trip a new highway can make some difference but it isn’t going to love Sydney Mines any closer or the flight to the Disney Resort much less tedious!

Yet, as Christians, we are meant to be at home on the journey - its not about arriving as if nothing else is important. I have heard it said, only half in jest, that “some Christians are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good!” I’ve known some of them!

On this day, this Sunday before we celebrate the “Birthday” of the Church at Pentecost, we “overhear” a prayer by Jesus on the behalf of the faithful, on the night before he is killed..

What is he getting at underneath all of that fancy, flowery language? It can leave us scratching our heads as to its meaning. What IS Jesus getting at here? Jesus is praying FOR those followers and, their successors. In this prayer Jesus pours out his heart to God and, in so doing, gives us instructions in prayer.

FIRST: He prays for the faith community. He speaks to God on their behalf. He ALSO turns the community over to God.

In this prayer Jesus is turning the lives of his followers to God. It was not his ministry anymore; he could not do everything. So often we pray for insight and perhaps some “marching orders” but we leave little room for God to steer the whole enterprise in a new direction! This is an important point: THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH DOES NOT DEPEND UPON US, BUT DEPENDS ULTIMATELY, ON GOD.

Jesus is not leaving us alone to fend for ourselves as best we can, but is trusting in God to care for his flock as he did. We too can overhear the same message; that God will be present in our life and work as a faith community. We need to remember that we cannot do anything worthwhile apart from the grace and power of God.

The SECOND thing we hear in this prayer is the closeness between Jesus and God. This is no casual acquaintance. This is no occasional relationship. Jesus knows he will be heard; Jesus knows he is being heard as he is speaking. Throughout the gospels we are told that Jesus goes off by himself to pray; on this day we hear that life of prayer.

Jesus is not like the whining child who says, “but daaaaad, you promised” but rather the child who is able to say, “I am expecting that your promises will come to pass. I’m not expecting them to look like I want them to , but what you want!”

The THIRD thing we hear in this passage, is, in a way, what we don’t hear. It seems clear in this prayer that there are NO LIMITS to Jesus’ trust. There are no limits to this relationship. There are no conditions here; (We may tell our teenager - if you clean your room without being asked, or get better marks, I will take you to the mall). There are no limits and no conditions here There are also no time limits - because Jesus is able to place his future in God’s hands, even as he faces death, we too can contemplate the idea of a limitless future with God and we can do so with joy.

The News Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 9 (1995), Abingdon Press, has been the basis of my sermon this week.

So as the community faces the prospect of a life without the physical presence of Jesus their teacher and guide, they are assured that God’s care and grace will see them through.

Well, that was 2000 years ago, more or less. We never knew the living, breathing human known as Jesus of Nazareth, in the first place; what relevance does overhearing this prayer have for us?

The reality of life is that our greatest fear is NOT change; it is LOSS. The disciples were facing losses of great . They had come to depend on Jesus so much for he had shown them the heart of God in a way they had found so amazing and so compelling, that they could not imagine anything else than listening to Jesus forever. But here he is, telling them that he is going to be leaving, SOON, but then praying for them.

All Pastoral Charges are, in some way, facing uncertain futures. Across all of the mainline churches, attendance and participation is declining. Things aren’t like they used to be. The church just isn’t as important as it used to be. Even those who want to, cannot peel and cook a zillion bushels of potatoes, onions, and the dozens of eggs needed for the potato salad for the church supper. Everything we do seems harder and harder.

For generations, we in the church had been accustomed to church being part of the social fabric. Everyone went to church. When the church spoke, decision makers listened. In terms of commerce nothing much conflicted with Sunday morning worship. This is no longer the case. We are now a minority in society and even in our own quiet, rural towns and communities.

This is probably closer to the situation faced by the early church that we have been in generations. It seems that we need to get used to it, but perhaps it will be better in the end. The situation frees us to be prophetic and speak truth to power when we need to.

God cares for us as Jesus cared for those who were his closest friends. God’s care and power makes our lives of faithfulness possible. We can go into an uncertain future knowing that we do not walk alone for past, present and future are all in God’s hands.

Amen and Thanks be to God.

1995- 2015 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!

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