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5/21/23 Sermon

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John 17:1-11

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Creator, the hour has come; glorify your Child so that your Child may glorify you, 2 since you have given me authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given me. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Creator, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you, 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Creator, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Acts 1:6-14

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Creator has set by their own authority. 8 But 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.” 9 When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “People of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Morning Walk – Mary Oliver

Little by little

the ocean

empties its pockets—

foam and fluff;

and the long, tangled ornateness

of seaweed;

and the whelks,

ribbed or with ivory knobs,

but so knocked about

in the sea’s blue hands

that their story is at length only

about the wholeness of destruction—

they come one by one

to the shore

to the shallows

to the mussel-dappled rocks

to the rise to dryness

to the edge of the town

to offer, to the measure that we will accept it,

the wisdom:

though the hour be whole

though the minute be deep and rich

though the heart be a singer of hot red songs

and the mind be as lightning,

what all the music will come to is nothing,

only the sheets of fog and the fog’s blue bell—

you do not believe it now, you are not supposed to.

You do not believe it yet—but you will—

morning by singular morning,

and shell by broken shell.

This is the last Sunday before Pentecost. Our 50 days of symbolic waiting to encounter the Holy Spirit are almost over. For the seven weeks since Easter we have been reconciling Christ to God and us to Christ – trying to make sense of the mystery of faith. Some of us are not only trying to understand but trying to believe all that is written.

There are reports throughout scripture of Jesus returning multiple times during the days after his death, coming to his closest followers to offer additional reassurance and guidance. Some of us want proof. Some of us have proof. Our own loved ones have made post-death appearances, hovering between worlds, offering comfort and hope to soothe our broken hearts. These visits give us a glimpse of eternal life; not a full understanding, but a glimpse.

Alexis Fuller-Wright, our Designated Term Associate Conference Minister, when writing a sermon, asks herself the question: “What is true for me in this scripture?”

For me today, what is true is that death is not final. It was not final for Jesus. It was not final for my Grandmother, or my nephew Spencer, or more recently my friend Kate. I suspect that many of you know this truth also. It will not be final for us or for our descendants, so long as we too seek to be one with God. John writes that we experience eternal life when we know God, because when we know God, we are one with God.

The passages from John and Acts that we heard this morning are both “hinges” between old and new worlds; between death and new life. These scriptures look back at the past and look forward to the future.

The Book of the Acts of the Apostles picks up where the Gospel of Luke left off. In Acts, Luke takes the opportunity to write a brief farewell discourse for Jesus, in which the disciples are told, “... 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.” You will be one with me and one with our Creator, carrying on my work in the world. The apostles did not yet understand, but they would in time. We may not yet understand. I pray that we do, in time.

The theme that kept coming back to me this week was prayer. It is the common thread that is woven between the three texts we heard this morning. The text from the Gospel of John today is Jesus’ prayer to God, for our benefit, so that we may all be one. The Acts text ends by telling us that the disciples spent much of their time in prayer. Mary Oliver’s poems are often prayers. In this one she writes about the wholeness of destruction, about emptying ourselves, about making room for God, about trusting in God’s time.

The John scripture verses today portray Jesus just after his Last Supper in the Upper Room where he humbled himself by washing the feet of the disciples just before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

Jesus’ attitude was prayerful always, anguished sometimes, with total trust in God. He prayed with confidence for God to grant us the same intimate and loving relationship that they shared.

Prayer is powerful. Jesus washing the disciples' feet was a form of prayer. Petitioning God on behalf of the disciples was, of course, a form of intercessory prayer. It is not uncommon for the one being prayed for to protest. Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet because he felt unworthy. The disciples hearing Jesus’ petition for them may have wanted to protest because they felt unqualified or lacking in spiritual gifts.

What keeps us from praying? What keeps us from welcoming the prayers of others into our hearts? For myself, I would name pride. Mary Oliver’s poem reminds us to empty ourselves. Jesus encourages us to glorify God through how we live our lives, which is essentially to empty ourselves to make room for God. Last week our Conference Minister Marisa Laviola reminded us at our Sunrise Association Spring Meeting, words attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always, if necessary, use words.”

Jesus lived his life through prayer, modeling one way to become one with God. In addition to praying through his actions, our scriptures frequently tell of Jesus going off to pray in solitude. This week however, Jesus prays for the disciples in front of the disciples so that they can hear his petitions to God on their behalf, much the same way that each week during our service we petition God for the sake of one another.

The prayer that Jesus prays is multifaceted. He is glorifying God and he is asking God to glorify himself, and us. He is seeking protection for the disciples, and for us, as we continue the fraught mission of bringing all people together as one. Fraught because the goal is not for all people to be the same. The difficulty is to “all be one” in our diversity.

Jesus prays that we be with God eternally, as he is one with God eternally. This can be hard to grasp. We often think in such finite terms, forgetting that our God is infinite. Too often we see death as an end rather than a new beginning or a continuation of life.

Jesus reveals the majesty and splendor of God through his works; his signs as John calls them, and Jesus asks God to reveal this majesty and splendor to us, and through us. Jesus’ prayer to God in the second portion of this passage… that we all may be one - is so that we too may know life eternal.

Jesus prays that we know eternal life. No beginning and no ending. Eternal life is not only for God, and for Jesus, but also for all of us. We are all eternal. We are stardust. We existed in the beginning… we will exist long after our earthly life is terminated, “... morning by singular morning, and shell by broken shell.”


Rev. TJ Mack - May 21, 2023

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