Sermons That Work

Pray Without Ceasing, Easter 7 (C) – 2001

May 27, 2001

Saint Paul calls us to be those people who pray without ceasing. The world is a scary place. All three of the lessons we have chosen to read today attest to that fact!

In the first lesson (Samuel), the people realize that they have gone against God’s will by asking for a king. But everyone else had kings. And so the people believed they needed to have what every one else had to survive in a dangerous world.

They did not realize that they already had the one thing all the other nations lacked: the love and mercy of God. How tender a scene is the one just read in which Samuel, who had argued forcefully with the people NOT to get a king, now reassures them that as long as they will serve the Lord with all their heart and not chase after vain things, the Lord will not abandon them despite their foolish decision to “keep up with the Joneses” by choosing a king.

Then, in John’s Gospel, from the Farewell Discourse at the Last Supper, the last thing Jesus does before going to his death and resurrection is to pray for the Disciples. And not for them only, but for all who believe in him “through their word.”

That is, the last thing Jesus does is pray for us. He prays that we might remember that God loves us as much as God loves Jesus, God’s only son.

That is what lies at the center of John’s convoluted rhetoric: “I’m in him, and you’re in me, so you’re in him and we are all together, goo-goo-ga-joob.”

This Farewell Prayer always calls to mind the prayer once offered by Elie Wiesel to someone who was about to be ordained a priest: “May this day mark the beginning of a mission that will bring many many people closer to each other, closer to God, and closer to themselves.” I wonder if Elie Wiesel knew he was paraphrasing Jesus’ last prayer for all of us. For this mission is the one mission we all share as Christians and Jews, as people of God.

Jesus prays this prayer because he knows the Disciples live in a dangerous place. And that the life of the church will be a life lived facing dangerous and scary situations.

And this time the Lectionary committee gets it just right in pairing this Gospel prayer of Jesus with the last fervent prayer petition of all of scripture: “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”

These final words of Scripture from Revelation, in which Jesus assures us that he is coming soon, and will repay every one for what we have done for the life of God’s kingdom, are also addressed to a people of God who find themselves in moments of great tribulation at the hands of the Roman Empire.

These final words are meant to convey tremendous hope; hope sufficient to sustain us through to that time of God’s consummation of all in all, that end of time, when we and the whole world will be swamped by gifts of love from a loving God who promises, all the way back to the time of Saul, to stay with us, even when we go against God’s will and desire for us.

We are birthed in miracle. We are headed for an eternal life with God.

In the mean time, we are here. The events in the daily news give evidence of just how scary the world can be. And if the events reported in the news are not enough, this Memorial Day Weekend should serve to remind us of the tremendous price paid periodically with the lives of our fellow countrymen and women to sustain some modicum of justice and peace in this world.

Think of all the Memorial Day parades we have witnessed of those who survived commemorating the lives of those who did not. Can you remember how ancient the survivors of the Spanish-American war always looked at the head of the parade, and how young the new recruits looked further back?

Samuel, Jesus, and John of Patmos all offer prayers. Prayers of hope and strength to survive the battles of this world. Prayers and visions of victory and ultimate unity with God in Christ, all in all, Alpha and Omega.

Alpha and Omega–the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The alphabet from which all words can be made to describe all things and every one in creation: the beginning and the end.

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they all may be one.”

It is a remarkable world we are given. It is a remarkable prayer Jesus prays.

On the good days and the bad we are to remember that the last thing Jesus does is pray for us. He is praying for us still. He is the one person in all of history who we know prays without ceasing.

We need to remember that just as importantly as we need to remember those who in the days of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy.

Just as certainly, as John the great Dreamer of Patmos reminds us and calls us to do, we are to pray for him who prays for us.

If we can remember no other verse of Scripture, we are to remember the last prayer petition of the entire Bible: Come, Lord Jesus!

We need him to come and be with us as we sort through the good days and the bad days. We need him to come through us in all that we say and all that we do so that, as he prays, others might believe through our word.

Come, Lord Jesus, that we might be closer to God, closer to others and closer even to our selves.

That we might know that the love of God made flesh and blood in Jesus is a sign for us to know how much God loves us all. And how much God loves our neighbors: those who are different from us, those who are alien and strangers to us.

Thou hast loved them even as thou hast loved me! Come, Lord Jesus and let me know that love and freely give that love to others.

Clap your hands, all you peoples, shout to God with a cry of Joy! Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises will all your skill! (Psalm 47)

We come from Love, we return to Love, and Love is all around.

To know this is to pray without ceasing.

Those who can live and sing and dance this truth have nothing to fear, no matter how dangerous and scary a place this might be. Because the day is coming, and now is, says the Lord, when all the nations will know the glory and love of God.

As we pray for Jesus, even now he prays for us.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

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Christopher Sikkema


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