Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sermon: Jesus Prayed For Us

              Scripture describes God’s relationship to God’s people…
messy people like you and like me.
              Sometimes we forget that, we forget that the Bible reports fallible people being loved by a persistent God. We so easily miss the humanness of things.
These people working out God’s desire that we might be one as Father and Son are one,
working out the Spirit’s holy calling to love one another,
working out the strange reality of belonging to God and being in the World.
              I imagine many of the experiences of the early church, feel more like the experiences of the present church, than we would like to allow.
              I imagine we separate out and sacralize the experiences of the early church—distancing them from our own lives, because doing so is easier than hearing how those experiences might hit home.
Might tickle our ears—echo and mirror our own realities today.

              Imagine what Peter is going through here in the first chapter of Acts.
              Imagine what those 120 people are saying to him:
              “Pastor Peter! Pastor Peter! We feel so betrayed by Judas—we thought he was one of us… we thought he would lead us with the 11.
              “Pastor Peter! Pastor Peter! Jesus has ascended and has promised the Spirit. What now? How will we know when the Spirit is acting? Is it already active? Why do we keep WAITING and PRAYING… we need to DO something!
              “Pastor Peter! Pastor Peter! Judas is dead! I mean, we didn’t particularly like ‘em, but he’s dead. Look at his empty seat, there is a hole where he used to be, we’re not whole anymore! Do something!
              “Pastor Peter! Pastor Peter! That empty spot is killing us! It feels like everything is unraveling… how can we continue? Will there even be a church in a few years?”

              Poor Peter. He does what he can, everyone prays together, scour the scriptures until they shine. And then, in his coffee induced delirium he lifts up a chunk of psalm 69 and another chunk from psalm 108, the first is about the guilty being disinherited, the second is about appointing a new person to take the position of the guilty…
“AHAH!” Poor Peter says, “We need to replace Judas, so that there will be 12 again.”
              So, he recommends this to the 120 people gathered together—and they go for it… what do they got to lose?
              Despite there being both men and women who followed Jesus, who witnessed the resurrection
—the first witness to the resurrection, in fact,
Jesus’ own mother, in fact,
Both present there
—Peter grabs two men, and says, “Let’s choose one of these to replace Judas. Let’s cast lots.”
              And they do.
              And we never hear from either Justus or Matthias again.
              They fade away.

              Instead the Spirit comes and shakes everything up: Greeks, Eunuchs, Sorcerers, and Women all are moved into this community, to preach the Gospel, to become like the 12.
              More amazing still, a great persecutor of the Church, one as bad and dishonorable as Judas—Paul—fills that space left empty by Judas’ betrayal and death.
              Paul is grafted into this league of Apostles… like a wild branch grafted onto a tame tree
—he weighs so heavy that he splits open the tree, creating a branch so wide and green that no one knows what to do with it—not least Paul himself… (that’s why he writes so much, right!)
              I imagine Peter, in those quiet moments, at night unable to get to sleep, would ask himself, “How did we get here? What’s God up to? How have we got through all this, despite God acting in places, and ways, and with people, who the 12 apostles found impossible?”
              And I imagine too, he might, on one of those tired, questioning, contemplative nights, have an AHAH moment, find the answer that he should already have known:
              “Did I not eat with Jesus, and after supper, did he not pray, that:
The invisible God, the Great I AM, be made known in him, and him in us.
That Jesus protected us with a fierce motherly love despite being opposed by the world.
That we would testify to God’s goodness found in Christ Jesus.
That some would be set aside and sent to be little Christs in the world, for the sake of the world.”
“I suppose,” he would finish, “Jesus did pray for us, and Jesus’ prayers for his people are continually answered—not as his people might wish or expect, but as His Holy Spirit wills.”

              And here today, as you say, “Pastor, look at that empty seat where my friend once sat” and “My own grandchild has abandoned the church, it is a betrayal!”
Where our Bishop sees the present church as being in the midst of a great unraveling, where the yarn is lovingly preserved, that it might be re-used and made into something new and grand, the nature of which we have not yet seen!
Where our neighbors, and closest partner in ministry, Cross of Life, has voted to close their doors.
Where the ELCA, in a two-day period, has made history by electing our first and second female African-descent Bishops, first in Philly then in Madison, Wisconsin.
Here today, with peril and promise balanced upon a needle point
—like Peter and his crew, like the early church
—we act,
we pray
we dive into scripture,
and do the work of the Church as we most faithfully know how…

—but we also trust that Jesus prayed for us—we know not how or where the Spirit shall move, but she shall
—Jesus prayed for us and surely his prayers shall not fall upon deaf ears.
Jesus prayed for us—Unity, Witness, Sanctity, the great revealing of the I AM’s love for us and our participation in it…
—Jesus prayed for us!
Amen and Alleluia.