First Congregational Church
June 2, 2019
7th Sunday in Easter & Communion Sunday
John 17:20-26 & Acts 16:16-34
"Prayin', Prayin', Prayin'
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
The temporary Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn't quite remember it.
Finally she went to the pastor's study and asked for help. The pastor went into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers she paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally she looked serenely heavenward and her lips moved silently. Then she looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed. "I'm in awe at your faith, pastor," she said. "It's really nothing," she answered. "The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling.”
Our first passage is one of a conglomeration of teachings and instructions that Jesus gave the disciples. In the book of John, these teachings and instructions come after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, but I don’t know that they were delivered all in one evening - being more than 3 chapters worth. The second scripture passage from the book of Acts continues the description of the early disciples and their “acts” of meeting, visiting and preaching while they were on their mission trips.
Jesus Prays for All Believers
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Paul and Silas in Prison
16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18
She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
Thank you, father and daughter, Tom and Jennifer. Isn’t it interesting how little things stay in our brains - or not? For instance, the sermon title. Sometimes, when people are asking for prayer - in a written format - I will respond with the words, prayin’, prayin’, prayin’ and as I write or read them, the tag “raw hide” automatically follows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of Rawhide, but somehow that little part of the opening song has made its way not only into my brain, but perhaps our cultural memory, too.
Another, non-cultural snippet is when people say grace, whether they sing it or say it, if it’s one that’s a memorized one, my brain mentally adds, ‘prayers, prayers, Amen.’ When my youngest sister was just learning to talk, and we’d do the God is good, God is great prayer, because she didn’t have all those words, yet wanted to be a part of the group, she’d say ‘prayers, prayers, Amen’ after we had said our Amen. And that’s how we said prayers in my family for a long time.
The theme of prayer is threaded through both scripture passages this morning. Paul and Silas were going to the place of prayer and later, when they were in jail, they were praying and singing - while no doubt in pain and darkness - other prisoners were listening to those hymns and prayers. Truth be told, I’d forgotten about the prayer Jesus offered in the passage from John, and for whatever reason, it found a soft place in my heart this time around.
There aren’t a lot of places in the world today, aside from a church, where we might hear a prayer, asking God that we be one, that God loves us. Aside from the various novels here and there, when was the last time you heard someone pray with such sentiment, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.” In fact, to bring the passage in just a little closer, when I draw a line with my finger, mentally say your name. Jesus said, “I want ___ to be with me where I am.” If that were the only part of the prayer we heard, we could read it as rather command-full. But we have the rest of the prayer, and it’s poignant and tender and it’s about you. (So make sure you go home and read that section again today or tonight.)
Not all our prayers can be such intimate moments of exchange, but there’s no where in the Bible that says our prayers have to be one way or another. True, Jesus said to pray like this, and he gave us the Lord’s Prayer. But he didn’t say always or only pray like this, and so he gave us a tool in that prayer - a rather powerful one at that.
I know I’ve said it before, but I’m still amazed when doing nursing home worship services, and someone will be there, appearing to be sleeping or completely disconnected, and when we get to doing the Lord’s Prayer, their lips may move, if ever so slightly. Going so deeply into a person doesn’t generally happen with one or two repetitions, but through the accumulated worship services, funerals, or other sorts of services that include that prayer. That truth is also shared with communion. It isn’t just one course of bread and cup that gives it deep meaning, but the regular feeding and watering of the soul, in God’s presence and with God’s family.
Sometimes our prayers are sharp and to the point, like Paul addressing the annoying spirit in the woman from the Acts passage. Sometimes our prayers are “observed” or offered vicariously, as the prisoners in the jail with Paul and Silas. Sometimes our prayers are motivated by necessity or fear, and sometimes they are out of gratitude and oddly oxymoronic, as for Paul and Silas - in jail.
We forget, sometimes, that God always answers our prayers - but not always the way we want. Sometimes the answers are backward and sometimes they are answered in God’s time rather than ours. But all our prayers - are not all about what we pray for - but about who they help us become.
For instance, we are already one - today - in that we who have gathered this day and in this time, and so we are family for the next moments - whether they be big or little moments. And with Christ’s ascension back to God, which is celebrated in churches on the 40th day after Easter, this past Friday, we have God’s glory because Christ lives, as will all of us. And to a degree, as Christ has made God known to us, through his examples and words and prayers, we already understand and have some of God’s love - even if it is a thread’s worth from a huge tapestry.
As we prepare our hearts and minds to receive Christ’ bread and cup, let us be mindful that our preparation is a prayer, too, a focusing in on Christ’s presence with us and within us and among us, the beauty and largesse and depth of that love. So let us prepare.
Holy and Reverent God, we thank you - for you, your son, your spirit, your glory, your love, your gifts of diversity and prayer and grace. Thank you, too, for Paul and Silas and all those, throughout the centuries, who have sought you through their circumstances, becoming examples of hope and inspiration to all of us. Help each of us remember those moments of prayer that have touched our lives, that they may inspire us and encourage us in our next steps and paths. For Christ’s prayers, and especially this one from John 17, may we all appreciate again, his love for all of us, and all people. For the blessing of having a God with such greatness of heart, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.