This weeks Sermon


Chan Willis – F.P.C.-L.C.

                                                                                                                                                      May 28, 2017

 

 “Our ‘ACTS’: Prayer Power“

Acts 1:8-14 (CEB); 1 Peter 5:10; John 17:6, 9 (NIV)

 

            As some of you may recall, our middle ‘child’ Christine, her husband and 3 young children used to live in the Jacksonville FL area, on the base of the Naval Station in Mayport.  I am proud to say that our son-in-grace served as a lieutenant in the Navy before entering the private sector.  I think that Barrie and I loved their time there almost as much as they did.  For one, most of their housing assignments were right on a beautiful beach of the Atlantic Ocean… likely a million-dollar property in the secular real-estate market. 

            By virtue of NS-Mayport being about a 13-hour ride from here, needless to say we didn’t get over there to see them nearly as often as we’d have liked.  But when we did, as you can imagine, it was a pretty big deal.  Usually the parents would keep it a secret, so that when the kids answered the door, they would burst into joyful exuberance at the sight of their beloved ‘Nan and Pops.’  And we would spend the balance of our time together as most grandparents do:  running around the yard (and house) like WE were the kids, reading books, sharing meals, making assorted trips to the store, the beach, to restaurants, etc.  Basically, just doing all we could to enjoy one another’s company. 

            One of my favorite memories involved, of all things, a screen door.  In one of the houses they lived in there was this screen door that had an automatic closing mechanism that was V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W.  (It reminds me of the Sloth character in “Zootopia”… who I really think waited on me at the DMV once… J)  By the time that ‘slo-mo’ door finally closed, you could probably already be upstairs!  But every so often I would stop the kids… who were probably around 3 to 5 years old… and have them look at the door.  I’d tell them, with an equally–slow cadence, ‘Wait for it… wait for it…’  And then, just as it got a few inches from the doorframe, the door would slam shut:  ‘BAM!’ (No, not our drummer!).  And when it finally slammed close, the kids would cackle with great delight.  I’m not sure what they enjoyed more… the anticipation of what was to come… or when it actually arrived.  (Of course, I’d like to think it had something to do with simply being with their crazy Pops… J)

            In the opening verse of our Acts passage today, Jesus is also speaking of an exhilarating event that will bring great excitement into the lives of those he loved… the coming power of the Holy Spirit.  But the exact arrival time is a secret.  Those faithful followers of Christ are being told, in effect, to ‘wait for it… wait for it…’  Let the anticipation build … not knowing the ‘time or place’ of that powerful experience… But when it DOES come… BAM!  Their lives will be filled with energy and joy, as they take great delight in the arrival of the promised Advocate and Comforter, God’s Holy Spirit.  In a MUCH more profound and longer-lasting way than that of the door of a screen porch with a couple of small children…

            That being said, just as that simple little screen door was a ‘conduit,’ a means by which to joyfully move from one place to another… from the confining walls of a house to the spacious out-of-doors… so too is the Holy Spirit that ‘passageway’ by which we move to different ‘places’ in our journey of life.  And the most joyful, meaningful, powerful ways that the Spirit empowers that journey is through our life of PRAYER. That ‘language of the soul’ by which God’s Spirit enables us to speak to Him.  In Paul’s words, “we do not know what to pray for… but the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will… with groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26-7)  In those times when we just ‘don’t know what to pray for’ (…any of you been faced with THAT dilemma? J), the Spirit helps us ‘saints’ to seek God’s will for our lives.  With ‘groans’… with soft, inaudible sounds from deep in our gut… ‘that words that cannot express.’

            Those earliest disciples of Jesus, after watching Him disappear from sight… their hero, their hope, their highest image of themselves now GONE… had to be filled with ‘groans’ of despair from deep in the pit of their stomachs.  Sure, they had been given some encouragement from those heavenly messengers that He would return, but they were still left with that void in their life.  But rather than splinter apart, each going back to their own old ways and places of life, they stayed together, returning to the Holy City of Jerusalem to grapple with what to do next.  They went to “the upstairs room where they were staying”… (perhaps similar to an ‘upper room’ where they would gather for that fateful ‘Last Supper?)… and we read that there they “all were united in their devotion to prayer.”

            There is two aspects of the disciples return to Jerusalem I would lift up to you.  One was that they DID return!  That even after the loss of their beloved leader…  that even though they might have felt pretty ‘rudderless’ without their ‘pilot’… they hung together.  Together, they bore witness to later words of the Apostle Peter that were written to “scattered,” discouraged believers:  “…after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

            In the midst of our own suffering… in the many ways our thoughts can become ‘scattered,’ that our hearts can be ‘discouraged’…. We must remain steadfast in our trust in “the God of all grace”… the One through whom His only begotten Son “has called us to his eternal glory in Christ.”  And that no matter what loss we have suffered, no matter what trials you and I may face, that God who is ‘full of grace and truth’ “WILL himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”  By the power of that Spirit, we can be ‘carried’ through that ‘portal’ that leads from the ‘walls’ of despair to the spacious openness of God’s hope and mercy.  As Paul wrote to Timothy, If we endure, We shall also reign with Him… 13 (Even) if we are faithless, He remains faithful.” (1 Timothy 2:12-13) Our future is not based on our performance, but God’s grace.  No matter how we may fail in being steadfast in our faith, we serve a God who remains ever faithful to us.

            Not only did that Holy Spirit keep the disciples physically together by drawing them back to that ‘upper room,’ but also drew them together in the spiritual discipline of PRAYER.  An indispensable part of the manner in which God does ‘restore,’ ‘strengthen,’ and ‘support’ us is through our life of prayer.  Both as individual believers, and as the corporate body of Christ.  We are to live by the example of those early followers:  “All were united in their devotion to prayer.”

            I would offer to you the example of the recent trials of the Picheloup family.  We are all familiar with the struggles that Victor, and Sally, and their family, have gone through.  What you may not know is that from the earlier days of Victor’s health challenges, up to the gathering of family and friends following Vic’s ‘graduation ceremony,’ Sally has spoken often of the power of prayer, both her own and those offered on their behalf.  And that in no small part, her ability to weather the storms of this time in their lives was due to the presence of God she felt in those prayers.  Prayers lifted up by her and for her… prayers for her physical family by her spiritual family… demonstrating that “All were united in their devotion to prayer.” (Acts 1:14)

            But aside from the power of prayer displayed BY God’s adopted children, it is the powerful statement by God’s ‘only begotten child’ Jesus that speaks to the power of prayer FOR His people. Jesus, in this 17th chapter of John which is all about prayer, says that “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. …  I pray for themI am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 17:6, 9)

            For me, this is a powerful, insightful statement of what  it means to be a ‘God-follower.’  First, that is it through JESUS that we see God.  “I have revealed you…”  Second, we prove ourselves to be a follower of God because we have “obeyed your word.”  The manner in which we best see the “Word Incarnate”… Jesus… is by seeing the “Word Written”… the Bible. 

And third, ‘we belong to God’… and because of that lofty status, Jesus himself is praying for us.  “I pray for them.  I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”  (John 17:9)  Does this mean that Jesus doesn’t CARE about ‘the world’ as a whole?  I don’t think so.  He did say, “Pray for your enemies.” Early in His ministry, Jesus spoke of how much God loved the whole world, saying that “God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”  (John 3:17)  But here, Jesus is saying that those whom God has given Him… those who seek to ‘obey God’s word’… are objects of his ‘prayerful affection.’  And so, in turn, we are to pray for those whom we have been ‘given’ by God.  In the same way that we are told, “We love because God first loved us,” we can say that ‘we PRAY because Jesus first prayed for us.’  The examples Jesus leaves for us of a Godly life// are the types of examples// we// in turn are to leave for future generations of believers.

            I mentioned earlier the great joy that Barrie and I would have from spending time with our own ‘future generations’… particularly those who lived far away.  The hardest part of that precious time spent together was leaving.  That time of separation that would be heart-breaking for ALL involved.  But we would always re-assure one another that we would stay in touch.  That we would continue to communicate with one another in other ways than face-to-face… by emails and texts, by phone calls and FaceTime, by the exchange of gifts.  All of which would be very special, but could never take the place of that time when we would return to be with them.  That time when we would come back to once again show them just how much we love them. 

            When those first disciples witnessed their Lord leaving them, their hearts too were broken.  The one they loved was leaving. But they we re-assured by God’s messengers that their beloved Lord Jesus would return again.  And in the meantime, they banded together to continue to communicate their dedication to God.  To ‘stay in touch’ through the most important form of communication available to them:  PRAYER.

            In the same way, may we too continue to ‘stay in touch’ with our Lord and Savior with the most important form of communication available to us… no, not email, text, or Twitter… not FaceTime, Instagram, or SnapChat… but that most ancient form of ‘mass communication’, prayer.  ‘KNEE Mail,’ if you will.  Knowing all the while that our talking with God could never take the place of that time when God’s Son will return to be with us.  May we live in that blessed anticipation of the time when our Lord Jesus WILL come back to once again show God’s children just how much He loves us.  And until that time, may all of those precious children continue to PRAY, and continue to SAY, ‘AMEN!’

 

CHARGE

Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is a powerful example of how Jesus’ prayed… for Himself, for His disciples, for the world.  But in the preceding chapter, Jesus speaks to WHY He prayed… and served… and lived:  “I have told you these things so that in me you might have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

Our life WILL have trouble.  But that is not the end of the story.  TAKE HEART!

Jesus promises:  In me you will have peace.  For I have overcome the world.’

And SO, my fellow ‘overcomers,’ know that you go out into that ‘troublesome’ world, you do not go alone.  For the Spirit of the living God…