Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Expect Surprises

Acts 16:16-34; John 17:20-26
May 12, 2013
Ascension Sunday – Mother’s Day
© 2013

How do you imagine Jesus praying for you?

 I’m going to let you in on a preachers’ secret. Preaching on Mothers’ Day is challenging. Amid the joy, gratitude and sentimentality, is hidden pain for many folk. A mother who passed away or is far away or with whom the relationship is strained. A woman who has lost a child or couldn’t have a child. For many, it heightens anxiety for a wayward child.

As young adults, Candy’s parents both caused their mothers such anxiety. But their mothers, Candy’s grandmothers, prayed for them fervently and faithfully. Candy’s mother had been baptized as a girl in a Baptist church and Candy’s father had been baptized as in infant in a Lutheran church. That Jesus had claimed them fueled their mothers’ prayers when they were headed in a different direction. Candy’s parents told how God brought them together and drew them back to Jesus by the power of their mothers’ prayers, and Candy’s father was re-baptized in a Baptist church the same day that Candy was baptized as a girl. While all of our prayers are powerful, recognizing the importance of mothers’ prayers is appropriate on Mothers’ Day.

Perhaps you overheard your mother or someone else praying for you when they didn’t know you were listening. That can be humbling and exalting all at the same time. John 17:20-26 lets us listen in on Jesus praying for us. This is clearly not Jesus’ prayer in the Garden that the cup might pass from him, which John does not record, though it is in all three other Gospels. It seems to be the conclusion of his discourse with his disciples at the Last Supper that started in chapter 13, but it is so intensely intimate that Jesus seems completely unaware of the disciples or us listening in.

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, [That’s us!]  21that they may all be one. As you, Father, 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I’m going to tell you another pastors’ secret that as an interim pastor I can tell you but most settled pastors can’t. Hebrews 13:17 is clear that we pastors will give account for keeping watch over your souls. You benefit when those who keep watch over your souls do so with joy and not with sighing. So I claim Jesus’ prayer for myself and pray it for you.

Jesus asked that we who believe in him through the word of his disciples, come to us through Scripture, would be as one with him and with one another as he is one with his Heavenly Father. Jesus did not instruct us to be one. He asked God to give us a oneness we could never achieve.

That oneness comes from receiving the love and glory Jesus had received from God. We cannot generate that love and glory no matter how hard we try. We receive the love and glory of God as gifts. Our part is to welcome them in wonder.

The result of our oneness with each other and with Jesus is that the world will know that God sent Jesus. The human improbability, the utter surprise of our oneness has the power to convince them to believe! Our oneness in Jesus’ love and glory is not just about church harmony; but evangelistic magnetism drawing people to Jesus.

That surprising magnetism radiated from Paul and Silas as they prayed and sang hymns to God in the Philippian prison. They were not pioneering prison ministry; they were coping with a difficult situation by drawing on their oneness with Jesus. They weren’t preaching and singing to the prisoners. The prisoners listened to them praying and singing to God. The prisoners didn’t just hear Paul and Silas but listened to them. I’m sure some of them became one with Jesus that night, not just the jailer and his family.

Unlike Cornelius who we talked about at the end of April, the Philippian Jailer is not identified as a “God fearer.” He was a pagan who lived as a prisoner of fate. For him, being “saved” was to be released from that captivity by the love and glory of Jesus in Paul and Silas. The oneness Jesus prayed for was evident as this rough corrections officer and his family joined the church meeting in the home of Lydia, the elegant business woman.

If I had been Paul, I think I would have interpreted the earthquake as God’s way of releasing me from prison, much as Peter was released in Acts 12. Somehow the Holy Spirit prompted him to recognize an opportunity for the Gospel rather than escape. Curiously, Timothy and Luke who were with Paul and Silas were not jailed, though the use of “we” clearly indicates they were there when Paul cast the demon out of the girl. Probably because they were not identified as Jews. Anti-Semitism and economic loss motivated the charges against them.

Though released from prison, Paul was run out of town. Yet, his Philippian letter indicates it was one of the strongest of the New Testament. But oneness was not automatic. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:2 for Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Some have speculated that these may have been the names of Lydia and the jailer’s wife whose different backgrounds made oneness challenging. Still, Paul’s letter overflows with the joy this congregation was for him. The power of Paul’s letter to the Philippians indicates how they benefited from the joy with which he watched over their souls.

From Jesus’ prayer for his disciples and us at the end of the Last Supper to Paul and Silas praying in the Philippian prison, I believe prayer is the path to supportive, constructive relationships with those who keep watch over our souls. We benefit when those who keep watch over our souls do so with joy and not with sighing.

Rather than including the Lord’s Prayer with the Sermon on the Mount as in Matthew, in Luke 11:1 the disciples had observed Jesus praying and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” This is our most basic, fundamental prayer primer. Try praying it phrase by phrase for your relationship with Mike Snell, or any other pastor of spiritual leader.

Are you ready for a challenge that will stretch your prayers? Want to pray that Mike Snell will have joy keeping watch over your soul? Try extending the prayers for the churches in the Pauline Epistles to this church. Since we’ve looked at the church in Philippi the last two Sundays, start with Philippians 1:3-11. Ephesians includes two remarkably powerful prayers. You can find a list of these prayers at the QR code or web page in the bulletin.

Do you have things you don’t know how to say to God? There’s a Psalm for that. Think of the Psalms at the prayer app store. It’s comprehensive! The Psalms will prompt you to pray about things you never thought you could say to God. I have prayed through the Psalms once a month for well over 40 years, and I’ve not exhausted them. They keep stretching me. The Psalms offer plenty of fuel for praying for pastors and presidents, friends and antagonists. As we pray them, God changes us.

Prayers for the Churches in the Pauline Epistles
Romans 1:8-10
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
Ephesians 1:15-23
Ephesians 3:14-21
Philippians 1:3-11
Colossians 1:3-14
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

How to Pray Through the Psalms in a Month
·         Start with today’s date. Read the Psalm with that number. Is there a phrase or image in the Psalm that connects with something you’d like to discuss with God. Express your thoughts and take a moment of silence to listen for God to respond out of the Psalm.
·         Add 30 to today’s date and repeat the step above.
·         Repeat three more times until you have prayed through five Psalms.
·         When you come to Psalm 119 on the 29th of the month, skip it. Use Psalm 119 by itself (it’s long) on the 31st in January, March, May, July, August, October and December.
·         You don’t need to have a conversation with God about every line or even every Psalm every day. Let the Holy Spirit use the Psalms to prompt you to pray about what is going on for you at that moment. If you keep up this rhythm, you will find that ideas you skip over one month will be exactly right in another month.
·         You will find that many of the Psalms seem harsh (two thirds of them are laments or complaints) and want to avoid them. Yet, these Psalms express real emotions we all have at times, and they give us a way to talk with God about negative things.

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