Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
How are the fruit bearers doing this week? I loved Sue’s sense of urgency at the end of her sermon last week. There are just some things that cannot wait. Over the past two Sundays we have explored Jesus’ teaching in John 15 about abiding, pruning and being fruit-bearers. The take away messages (I hope!) were about being rooted in Jesus. This is where our love and hope is found.
The message of this morning is unity; being not only unified with Jesus, but also with each other. This is poignant today as many of us will be returning to worshipping in our church buildings from next Sunday. Zoom has unified people from across the Hambleden Valley over the past year in new and unexpected ways. This isn’t going to end of Zoom but it will be different as the mix of people we see on here will likely change.
Yet we will still need to be unified. We need to remember and remain rooted in Jesus and to each other. It may be tempting to flop back into our tribes and carry on as we scrabble for something that looks like the normal we once knew. But it would be unfortunate to lose what has been gained. I know there is a desire to ‘go back to the way things were’ – but friends we are not. Nothing in the world is. This is not all bad!
We have the opportunity through the Rural Review to look at how each church operates, how we operate as a larger benefice and where we sit within the Deanery. I sense a fresh energy in what might be possible going forward: new ideas for family services, lay-led services, a real determination to invite our villages into the church to see for themselves. Many people have been hurt, damaged over this past year by the consequences of lockdown; our families, friends and neighbours. Surely we want to bring them to a place where they can find love and hope again, find unity with Jesus that lasts for an eternity.
Where do we start?
What do you think you are doing when you pray?
I am making some assumptions here that I assume are right. Firstly is that you do – in fact – pray. Secondly that you think about prayer and praying. This is an important question to ask ourselves this morning.
Back to my original question: What do you think you are doing when you pray?
Are we telling God what to do?
Giving him information about a situation, a person or ourselves – information that he already knows and then offering suggestions on what the Almighty might like to do about it?
Are we presenting a laundry list of ills and complaints?
Are we praising and thanking?
Are we pleading and begging?
In the Acts and Gospel readings this morning we see examples of how the Apostles prayed in the early church and how Jesus prayed just before his death.
The Apostles (this is the new name of the Disciples – same people, different name) are getting on with the business of church. There is a vacancy to be filled; Barsabbas and Matthias are the proposed candidates. The Apostles begin the process with prayer and with a rather interesting opening line ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen.’ Notice that the Apostles don’t jump in with their requests or demands. They start by acknowledging God’s knowing.
God knows everyone’s heart. Every thought, the deepest secrets and hurts, the highest highs and joys, He knows every crack and break. God knows before we even utter a word from our mouths what the condition of our hearts are. There is no fooling him! As they were acknowledging that God knew their hearts and then they asked him to ‘show’ them which of the two should be chosen and God does. Matthias is chosen to take up the apostleship.
Do you expect an answer? Clearly the Apostles did; and they got one. I am not sure that I could pray with no expectation that God is going to do something. I have to be willing to wait and trust. Wait to see what the answer is and not rush off in the fear that I won’t get what I want or worse – no answer at all. I also have to trust that even if I don’t see a clear answer (ie: voice from heaven, message written in the clouds) that God has heard my prayer and will do as He sees fit. Even if – even if – I don’t get the answer that I want.
What do we learn about prayer here: God knows the condition of your heart, acknowledge this before you start, present your request, wait in trust for an answer.
The second example of prayer comes from Jesus himself. It might be helpful to keep in mind that this event was one of the last earthly things Jesus did before his crucifixion. He prayed. He prayed for his friends and he prayed for all of us.
He prayed out loud in front of his disciples; for his disciples. If I asked for someone to pray out loud, right now, at this moment in the service, how would you feel? Would you do it? Without a script, just off the cuff.
Fortunately Jesus is not awkward! Jesus prays for some very specific things for the disciples with the underlying message of unity in God and Jesus. We are all bound together in love.
Helpfully, if we find ourselves stuck on what to pray for, Jesus also gives us some ideas. In verse 12 he talks about protection. Jesus asks God to protect the disciples with the same power that God has already given to Jesus. This is what ‘in your name’ means. Jesus protected the disciples in his own name; he guarded them while he was with them. Jesus has been utterly faithful to the task assigned to him: to keep and protect those God has given to him.
This is an important thing to do for those given to our care – pray for God’s protection on them. Not only from physical dangers, illness and all the other bad things that can happen. But they will stay under the spiritual protection of God that comes from staying close to Jesus.
The next thing that Jesus prays for is joy; this means rejoicing, celebrating, enjoyment, bliss. I remember going out for dinner with friends at a highly recommended restaurant in London a few years ago (can’t remember the name). The starters were fantastic, the wine list was fantastic, the main courses were all beautiful and the puddings were hugely disappointing!
My joy was so nearly complete but then disappointment resulted. I appreciate that this is a trivial example – but the point is that so often our joy in a worldly sense is never quite complete. It is only in Jesus that our joy will ever be complete. It is only the love of God that brings us joy, brings us salvation.
Thirdly, Jesus prayed that the disciples would know the truth and be sanctified by it. Sanctify here means to be set apart for God and God’s purposes alone. It does not mean that someone is better than anyone else, but they are different. Jesus is praying that the disciples will be set apart to do only what God wants them to do. Jesus was sanctified, set apart by God to fulfil his purposes.
For us, we can pray that our people will know the truth of God and go into the world to live and share it.
Of course there are many more ways and things to pray about for those we are called to pray for. I think that protection, joy and truth are very good places to start.
As we go from here today my prayer is that we will remain unified as a Benefice; loving and supporting our friends and neighbours in old and new ways. Old dogs can learn new tricks – it just takes longer!
Like the Apostles we start in a place of praise and acknowledging who God is and that He knows the condition of our hearts. We also need time and preparation for the answer even if it seems hard. God is faithful!
Jesus sets an example of how and what to pray as He prayed for his disciples right before his death. He prayed for protection, joy and truth.
Leave some space for you to think about the people who know and love who could use protection, joy and truth today.