The Rector’s sermon for June 2, 2019                                                                                                                                                


Acts 16:16-34); Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26


If I had a dollar for every time I heard:  “I don’t know how to pray,” or “I can’t pray out loud,” I’d be rich!  Prayer is a stumbling block for many people; it was even the subject of conversation just this week, talking about our prayer teams that are available during communion at our Sunday services.  Jesus knew that we would need some guidance on the subject of prayer.  And today, we are privileged to hear Jesus pray.  His words are actually the last words his disciples hear right before Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus gives his disciples and us the privilege of hearing his prayer to His Father.  Put yourself in that upper room.  Close your eyes and listen to the words of Jesus:


                  Father, I pray for these my disciples, and I pray for all those who will believe in me because of their word,

  and I ask that they all may be one.  Father, you and I are one; may they be one in us, so that the world    
  may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they   
  may be one, as we are one; I in them and you in me.  May they become completely one, so that the
  world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  Father, I
  desire that those you have given me may be with me in heaven.  I desire that they will see my glory, a
  glory which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  Righteous   
  Father, the world does not know you, but I know you.  And these disciples?  They know that you have
  sent me.  I have told them about you, and that will continue in what is to take place.  The love you have
  given me, I have given them, so we all may be one.”


What a privilege to share such a moment with Jesus!  And after Jesus spoke those words, he and his disciples left the upper room and went to the Garden of Gethsemane.   The last time Jesus is in the presence of his disciples, he takes that time to pray to his Father.   And notice what he says.  His first point is this: He prays for us as well as the apostles.  He says:  I not only ask on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in you through their words.  That’s us!   Then, He asks that his Father will bestow His Glory on those who believe.  Why?  So that those who believe  will be completely one, as He and His Father are one.  And because this is so important to Jesus, he says it three times!  Finally, Jesus prays that those who believe in Him will be with Him in heaven and will see His glory.  


Let’s look at those points in more detail:


First:  Jesus prays for his apostles and those who believe.  There is a story about a pastor who had the practice of having “spoken prayer requests” each Sunday morning.  When it came time for the prayers, members of the church were allowed to lift up concerns for which they wanted prayer.  One Sunday, with a note of exasperation in his voice, after he had received all of the requests from the congregation, the pastor blurted out, “Does anybody notice anything about the way we pray in this church?  Sunday after Sunday I ask for any prayer concerns that you have.  I notice that we never seem to be concerned about anybody outside our own families or outside this congregation.  And I also notice that all of the prayer concerns tend to deal with various kinds of illnesses that people are facing.  Is physical illness our only concern?  Are our own family and friends setting the boundary on our love and care for others?”   Needless to say, it was an awkward teaching moment in that church that morning.  But it was a moment that goes right along with today’s Gospel.  Jesus prays not for himself, but for those gathered around him and for those who will come after him.    


Second:  Jesus prays for the unity of all believers.   There are ­­over 40 denominational and non-denominational churches in Highlands County and some of those congregations started from a split or disagreement in  another congregation. The fact is that most denominations started as a break-off from another Christian group.   If you look at church ads in the newspaper that list their strengths and advantages, the real message is “Leave your church and come to ours!”   I’d like to think that our advertisement is above that; we simple say, “Come and see,” just as Andrew said to Peter… come and see… Come and see who we are, how we worship, and maybe you will be touched by the Spirit and you will return and become part of our family.


Looking at Jesus’ prayer, notice that Jesus doesn’t pray that his disciples will be protected from pain or shielded from suffering.  He prays that they may have unity with one another.  Unity—what a novel idea!  Jesus prays that not only his immediate disciples, but also all who would come to believe in him, “that they all may be one.”  In fact, not just one in a sort of “we’re all in this together” way, but one in the way Jesus and the Father are one.  The purpose of this oneness is not simply for fellowship, but that the rest of the world may know that Jesus was sent by God and may come to believe as well.    Finally,


Jesus prays that those who believe in Him will see His glory.   Again, he’s not asking for earthly comfort; he’s asking His Father to grant a place in heaven to those who believe in Him.


Now that was Jesus’ prayer on that special night.  So what are your prayers like?   There is one very important thing to remember about prayer:  Prayer is communicating and bonding with God, and the way we do that is exactly the same way we communicate and bond with anyone that we love:  we tell that person how much we love and care for him or her.  We ask forgiveness if we’ve done something to hurt that person.  We thank that person for being part of our lives.  And then we might ask that person’s help for one reason or another.   And we pray to the Father in the same way.   Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication.  The mnemonic is A-C-T-S:  ACTS.  It’s the way Jesus would have us pray.


First, ADORATION.   At a Brotherhood of St. Andrew meeting some time ago, there was a discussion going on around the table about prayer.  Someone said that he didn’t understand why the standard opening for prayer was words of praise, telling God things that he already knows—that he is Almighty, all-good, the lover of souls, and so on.  And someone else, surely in the power of the Spirit said, “You tell your wife you love her, don’t you?”  The point was taken.  If prayer is bonding with and loving God, it begins with adoration.


Second, CONFESSION.   After acknowledging our love and adoration, we bow in his presence and confess those things that we have done wrong, those things that have drawn us away from the presence of Almighty God.  Many times I have had several opportunities to see the incredible power of God work when a person is willing to give up on something that is wrong and unhealthy and to give in to the loving embrace of the Father who wants nothing more than to fill our lives with joy.  Joy and relief are gifts that follow confession.   


Third, THANKSGIVING.   This part seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how seldom people thank God for what he has done for them.  Remember only ONE of the ten lepers that Jesus cured returned to give thanks.  We expect thanks from friends and family when we’ve taken the time to give of ourselves to them, don’t we?  God has given us the ultimate gift:  Himself.   Giving thanks lifts us up and reminds us just how blessed we are.


And finally, SUPPLICATION.   Only after we’ve praised God for who he is… only after we’ve confessed our faults to him… and only after we’ve thanked him for his faithfulness… should we even dare to ask for what we need or in supplication for the needs of others.   A-C-T-S – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication


Prayer is our gateway to God, and Jesus Himself taught us how to pray.  He showed us how to pray.  I’m reminded of a spiritual direction session with my rector over forty years ago.  At the end of each session, he used to pray so eloquently that I often found myself more taken in his beautiful choice of words than with the prayer itself.  And when I asked him afterwards how he learned to pray like that, he said,  “Practice.”   Yes, it takes practice, like with anything else we want to do well.  So go into a room, by yourself, and pray… out loud.  You might be surprised at the words you might speak, not to mention a new dimension in your relationship with your God.  Make a commitment.  Start your day with prayer, if you don’t already.  And remember that prayer doesn’t change God; prayer changes us and leads us along the path of righteousness.  


On the subject of prayer, I leave you with a poem by Ralph Cushman called “In the Morning:”


I met God in the morning, when my day was at its best

And His presence came like sunrise, like a glory in my breast.

All day long the Presence lingered, All day long he stayed with me.

And we sailed in perfect calmness o’er a very troubled sea.

Other ships were blown and battered, other ships were sore distressed.

But the winds that seemed to drive them brought to [me] a peace and rest.

Then I thought of other mornings, with a keen remorse of mind,

When I, too, had loosed the moorings with the Presence left behind.

So I think I know the secret, learned from many a troubled way.

You must seek God in the morning, if you want Him through the day.


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