The Rector’s sermon for May 28, 2014 



Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11


A Preaching Series on


Week 1 of 16 - Introduction


What do you do after witnessing a miracle?  Do you pick up the phone and call someone? Do you sit down and write out the experience in detail?  Do you contact some reality TV show and ask them to make you an offer for the rights to your story?   Today we read about an amazing miracle to the eyes of all those who witnessed it.  So what did they do after witnessing the miracle of the Ascension of Jesus?  Scripture says they devoted themselves to prayer. What a simple response to such a profound experience!


Earlier Jesus had been hinting that he would be leaving them and that things were going to end in some spectacular way, but they had no idea it was going to be like this!  Now we don’t know exactly what they witnessed on that Ascension Day, but it is described as Jesus rising up into the air toward heaven, which is where traditional wisdom thinks heaven is—somewhere above the clouds.


From a spiritual point of view, we can still imagine what a thrill it must have been to see their Lord and Master, whom they’d already seen miraculously return from the grave, rise up to heaven before their very eyes.  With this sight, their old uncertainties and doubts are swept away.  They had seen it all!  So now what do they do?  The first thing, as it says in Scripture, is that they were called to pray.


I’m not going to sensationalize this because the humanness of these witnesses will come through soon enough.  But they indeed have been blessed with an amazing experience.  Surely they want to go and tell the whole world.  But as they gather together in their little community and begin praying, they remember the words of Jesus at the Last Supper:  I will send you another Advocate…a Helper…to guide you…to help you be my witness in all the world.   So perhaps with some trepidation they go to their safe haven…the upper room that has so many wonderful and sad memories…and they pray…and they wait…for what, they don’t know.


Now, let’s leave the disciples in that upper room, praying, and return to the Last Supper, which is where today’s Gospel comes from.  In this beautiful passage, we’ve given the privilege of hearing Jesus’ own prayer to His Father on behalf of the apostles and those who would come after him.  He says, “Father, it’s time for me to come home.  I have done everything you asked me to do.  I’ve told everyone about you—about us.  They know we are one.  They know all those things necessary to defend what they believe.  Now, I’m asking you, Father, to protect them, so they too can be one.”


I actually wondered why the church gave us the Gospel about the coming of the Holy Spirit last week instead of today, but looking a little deeper, we heard about The Promise last week.  Today we hear the rest of what Jesus said at the Last Supper.  He had told them they can expect “another Helper”; today he asks his Father to protect them as they go into the world, armed with this “Helper” to preach the Good News to all the world.  And just how does this all come together?  Through prayer and through our dependence on the Holy Spirit.


Now even though Jesus had told them to stay in the city, to stay together and wait for another Advocate—whatever that was—not everyone would say they made the right decision to stay together and pray.  Some people look on prayer as an activity that accomplishes very little.  Oh, sure, they might say, go ahead and pray if it makes you feel good.  But it does beg the question:  What is prayer good for?  What does it accomplish?   Does prayer really change anything?   The truth is that prayer changes us.  That’s the heart of it.  Prayer transforms us.   Prayer connects us with our God in a way that is sometimes hard to describe.  The more we pray, the more we become attuned to the ways of God.  We put our desires and requests into God’s hands, but we also understand that God may have in mind a very different solution to the problem than anything we can envision.  Those gathered disciples had no idea what was coming next, no inkling of the coming the Spirit.  All they knew was that their call from God, in that particular place in time, was to pray…and wait...


The act of prayer has been likened to riding in a small boat approaching a dock.  From the perspective of the person in the boat, as you grab hold of a rope attached to the pier and pull yourself in, you may have the illusion for a few seconds that the boat is remaining still and you’re pulling the dock toward you.  In a similar way, as we pray we may imagine we’re striving to move God.  What we’re really doing, in fact, though it may not seem so at the time, is we’re moving ourselves.


Prayer is conversation.  Prayer is relationship.  Prayer is moving ourselves Godward.  We dare to undertake this conversation because Jesus invites us to do so, because he has promised to be our mediator, our friend.  But we have to make the move to reach for the rope.   The analogy of the rope reminds me of the year following my graduation from seminary.  My bishop informed me, five days before seminary graduation, that I was being dropped from the ordination process.   I spent the next several months out of communication with God.   I was angry…but he waited.  I was hurt...but he waited.  And I was too stubborn to reach for the rope for a long time.   Eventually, though, I gave in.  I let go of my pride and I prayed, albeit with some anger and resentment, but nevertheless, I reached for the rope.  And you know the rest of the story…


Such is the power of prayer.  Even more to the point, such is the power of God’s love to penetrate, soften and heal even the hardest heart.   Prayer changes us and leads us to the place where we hopefully can decipher the will of God for us.  So the disciples, having witnessed an incredible miracle, hold tightly to Jesus’ command, remain together, and pray for the Comforter, the Promise, the Paraclete—whatever it’s called—they stay, they pray and they wait. 


Next Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, is the result of their prayers, the fulfillment of that promise in the coming of the Holy Spirit.  And as always, you will have the opportunity to be anointed and renew that same Spirit once again.  You have seven days to prepare yourself for an infilling of the Holy Spirit.  If there is anything holding you back from a relationship with God, you have seven days to reach for that rope and pull yourself toward the will of God. Also next week we will begin talking about those things that the Holy Spirit gives to us, those gifts that show the power of God in our lives and the lives of others.  It is those gifts manifested within you that are the future of this church.


We’ve been through a lot in the eighteen years I’ve been here, good times and trying times.  Over the past few years, however, our little church has had a new awakening.  There are new people, looking for ways to serve; there is new interest in the future.  The faces I see in front of me are filled with joy which is a fruit of that Spirit within us all, that Spirit that will empower us to do the work God has given us to do.  It’s an exciting time to be here and to experience what God has in store for this community of faith.  I have been sensing for several weeks that the time is right to learn more about this Holy Spirit that lives within us, this Holy Spirit that has future plans for us.  It is only by this Spirit that we live, and move and have our being.  Our future here in this place depends on the presence of the Holy Spirit among us who gives us gifts and who will empower us to use those gifts according to his purpose. But first, we must discover those gifts!


A great church historian once said that the early church survived because the first Christians, against all odds, out-thought, out-loved, out-lived, and out-died the opposition.   They had a power that we have hardly tapped into.  But that power, the Advocate is coming.  It’s coming to renew our lives and our spirits.  And it’s ours for the asking.  This week… pray for the courage to ask.  And next week, come prepared to ask and receive anew, because it will happen.  He promised….


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