First Congregational Church
May 24, 2020
7th Sunday in Easter, Memorial Weekend
John 17:1-, Acts 1:6-7, 1 Peter 4:12-13
“In and Through and For and With”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
One of the best tools to engage a group of people of any age is to ask a question. So - how many feet are in a yard? It depends on how many people come to the barbecue. Another great tool to engage people is to tell a story.
So one day, a small boy was staring at the names on the wall of an old church when the pastor noticed him. “What are you looking at?” asked the clergy person. “All those names. Who are they?” the boy asked. The pastor nodded, and said, “They are the reason we have Memorial Day. They are those who died in the service.” The little boy considered that, then asked quietly, “The 9 o’clock service or the 11 o’clock?”
There is the obvious connection of that joke to this Memorial Weekend. But the lesser known connection is something that came up this week. I think that in the 150 plus years of this church family’s existence, there were times, on and off over the years, when there was a Sunday morning service and then another service that same evening. Actually, it was Rosemary who mentioned the difficulty of the sermon’s video getting hung up last week while she was watching on Facebook Live. But it didn’t phase her too much because the video was just fine when she watched it later, after it was posted, which she referred to as the second service. So for all those who catch our second service today, don’t forget to leave your mark on the comment section after watching.
The official Church calendar contains all the official holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, and some lesser known ones, like Epiphany and Ascension. Ascension Sunday is the fortieth day after Jesus’ resurrection - always a Thursday, the day when he appeared before the disciples and then rose up into the heavens, to take his seat at the right hand of God. Most of us tend to overlook the Ascension, but in fact, it is the final act of completion, Jesus’ final home-going.
The first of our scripture passages alludes to that Ascension. John 17:1-11, from the New Living Translation gives us Jesus’ preface to his ascension. In the Gospel writer John’s version, Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem, and in the days following that arrival, Jesus did a lot of teaching and praying.
John 17:1-11 New Living Translation (NLT)
The Prayer of Jesus
17 After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. 2 For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. 3 And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. 4 I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.
6 “I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, 8 for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.
9 “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.
Our second passage comes from Acts 1:6-8, just after doctor Luke’s brief summery of Jesus’ forty days - after his resurrection - again from the New Living Translation.
Acts 1:6-8 New Living Translation (NLT)
The Ascension of Jesus
6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Part of the contemporary appropriateness of that passage is the apostles’ question: “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore your kingdom?” It’s rather like the question in many states, “Governor, when will the time come for you to free us from our homes and restore our kingdoms?” Or the question, “Pastor, when will the time come for you to free us from our homes and restore church services?” Jesus’ answer is just as “on” today as it was then. “Only God knows!” But you will receive the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses who tell about me.” In other words, God’s got it all in hand - and church is not about a building.
Our third passage is 1 Peter 4:12-13, the New Living Translation. It comes from the apostle Peter’s hand, to console the Jewish Christians in Rome and other places within Asia Minor, to encourage them in their sufferings under harsh rulers.
1 Peter 4:12-13 New Living Translation (NLT)
12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.
It’s always interesting how it would seem as if Someone had arranged a certain scripture passage for a certain day. Certainly, that Someone works through many someones on committees that delineate what we call lectionaries - a three year, rotating, set course of Bible passages. Each day - not just Sundays - usually includes an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a Gospel passage, and something from the rest of the New Testament. Interesting that that the 1 Peter passage says, “don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.”
When it goes on to say, “Instead, be very glad - for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory,” some folks like to take those words to mean that God causes things to happen so that we can learn the lessons we’re supposed to learn. And somehow, people also take particular situations as if God were singling out that individual for reprimand. I wonder if the larger picture is of Peter reminding the recipients of his letter of a passage from the book of Ecclesiastes - that there is “nothing new under the sun” - the idea that history repeats itself more times than we can imagine.
Again, irony being such a fun vision, the local paper posted this in their 100 years ago section this week. Remember - it was printed 100 years ago. “Memorial Day is almost here - the day which is most strongly twisted into the heartstrings of the nation. It is the day when with solemn ceremonies we dedicate anew our love and fealty to the defenders of the nation and in loving memory decorate our soldier graves with fairest flowers.”
The obvious part of that little section is its link to Memorial Day. But “the day which is most strongly twisted into the heartstrings of the nation,” that could be any of the last nine weeks - give or take a few days.
In the midst of grilling plans and Zoom calls and cleaning the garage and chilling on the front stoop, we will have moments to recall that we are in Christ, that Christ’s prayer is for us, because we belong to God, and through the Holy Spirit, we have power to do our own ministries with God and through Christ and the Holy Spirit to do some rather big things - things we may not consider big to our own selves, but that are monumental to others.
We have the opportunities to reflect on those who have given their all for our sakes, and in those reflections, understand ongoing pains and griefs, and can treat each other a little more gently. On any given day, we have the honor to work in and through and for and with Christ as we do to the least of God’s children, we do to Christ. We have the amazing power of the Holy Spirit to ask anything in Christ’s name and it will be done - maybe not right then, maybe not exactly the way we want, but in God’s time and manner, the power of our prayers is in God’s answers of them.
So we will evolve into a church family that will do things differently, perhaps becoming more compassionate and embracing of differences as we morph into this new body of followers of Christ. In those morphings and changes, perhaps we will become a little more forgiving and understanding that ‘my way’ is not the only way and God will love us still the same. As we step out into this still evolving world, let us pray.
Long and Loving God, we thank you that you give us missions and purpose. Help us to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit - that has already been given to us - to be the people you’ve seen us to be - kind and compassionate and forgiving and embracing the beautiful and pieced together, seeing you in the world and the world seeing you through us. Bless our week with the sense of doing what we do in and through and for and with you. And all God’s people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.