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Sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter

First Reading: Acts 1:12-26

12{The apostles} returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. 15In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20“For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.’ 21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Psalm 1

1Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, or sat in the seats of the scornful! 2Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on his law day and night. 3They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper. 4It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away. 5Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous. 6For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Second Reading: 1 John 5:9-15

9If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

Gospel: John 17:11b-19

11b{Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said,} “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”


United We Stand

Today is an interesting day.  Not only is this the last Sunday of Easter, and, not only is it the Sunday following the Ascension of Jesus, the day He returned to the Father in glory, it also happens to be Mother’s Day, a day we honor our Moms.  Think about it: where would we be today if it wasn’t for our mothers.  They fed us, nurtured us, and made countless sacrifices so we can be where we are today.  We cherish and honor our mothers because of their seemingly endless patience, kindness, and wisdom.

Speaking of a mother’s wisdom, I was thinking about some of the insights my mother shared with me over the years.  For example, my mother taught me about religion.  She used to say things like, “You better pray that comes out of the carpet.”  Mom also taught me about human physiology: “If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they’re going to freeze that way.”  She taught me how to be a contortionist: “Will you look at the dirt on the back of your neck!”  Mom taught me something about the power of women: “if you don’t stop what you’re doing, I’m going to slap a hickey on your head.”

Additionally, my mother taught me to appreciate a job well done: “I just finished cleaning!  So if you’re going to kill each other, do it outside.”  She taught me about genetics: “You act just like your father!”  And not to say this was all the lessons my wonderful mother ever imparted to me; she also taught me the essentials of parenting, privilege, and logic: “Because I said so, that’s why.”  I hope you were blessed to have a mother like mine.  I’m sure, in many ways, we all have, or had, a mom like that.

Kidding aside, let me ask you a more profound question:  for those who still have your moms with you, do you know of anyone else whose mother prays for them daily?  I hope that each of you are blessed to be able to say that.  Let me share with you a story about a young woman who became one of the most important women in the history of the church, simply because of her faithfulness as a mom who prayed.  Her name was Monica.

Monica was born in 331 A.D. in North Africa, in what is now Algeria.  As a young girl, Monica converted to Christianity.  Her parents, who were not religious and not in sympathy with her new faith, married her off to a Roman pagan named Pa-tric-ius.  Both Patricius and his mother, who lived with them, were hot-tempered, and were therefore difficult to deal with.  Nevertheless, Monica did her best to be a good wife and daughter-in-law.  While Monica’s prayers and Christian deeds bothered Patricius, he respected her beliefs and not long before his death, both he and his mother converted to Christianity.

Monica and Patricius had three children, two of whom entered religious life as young adults.  The third was a son named Augustine.  Augustine was, to put it politely, more of a challenge.  By his own admission he was a wayward youth, giving in to many of the pleasures of his day.  One writer described him as lazy and uncouth.  But Monica continued praying for her son.  Her watchful, prayerful, persistence finally paid off when Augustine became a Christian.  Monica’s prayers were answered when she lived to see her son baptized into the faith.  She died shortly thereafter.

What she couldn’t know was that Augustine would go on to become one of the towering figures of the church of his time; a theologian and philosopher credited with helping to develop Western Christian thought and the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa.  Today, we generally refer to him as St. Augustine.  From a sinner to a believer in Jesus–all because of the faithful prayers and the influence of his mother.  I’m sure this is one of the reasons why the Holy Spirit encouraged St. James to write, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16b).  Do Christian mothers play an important role in society?  The answer is a resounding yes!

Tell me who else is more important than a mother?  St. Augustine was one of millions of people who have come to know Jesus through their mother’s never-failing example, love, and prayers.  Some of us are here today because we had, or have, that kind of mom.  And so, it’s appropriate that we thank God and honor our moms today, whether they’re still with us, or whether they’re now in God’s care.  The good news is, we not only have faithful moms who keep us in prayer, we also have an Advocate in heaven who intercedes in our behalf.

In our Gospel text for today, St. John records Jesus praying for His disciples.  In this prayer we see how Jesus loves His followers.  He offered this prayer shortly before His betrayal by Judas.  Thankfully, Jesus was not only praying for His disciples then, He was also praying for you and me today.  Listen, once again carefully, to part of His prayer: “Holy Father protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one . . .”  It was important to Jesus that the church, His body, remain unified after He had returned to the Father.  Obviously, Jesus knew that would be difficult.

Many of us enjoy singing songs like, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord; we are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord; and we pray that all unity will one day be restored.  And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  And this is true in most churches, but, history also records the sad truth that we’ve also been known by our squabbles.

In his book Let’s Quit Fighting about the Holy Spirit, Pete Gillquist tells a delightful tale about two men who lived in the first century A.D.  Both men were healed of blindness, and, when they compared their miracles, they discovered that Jesus was the healer in both cases.  They discussed the method and technique of the way in which Jesus healed them.  To their dismay, they discovered that Jesus used two entirely different methods when He healed them.

One of the men was healed almost instantly by Jesus merely saying to him, “Go, your faith has healed you” (Mark 10:52.)  However, the other man was healed using a totally different approach.  Jesus spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes and told him to go to a certain pool and wash the mud off (John 9:6.)  And since they were in the church, they got into an argument over which was the authentic way to be healed.

Both men were frustrated, but both were positive of one thing: Jesus could not possibly have used the “other” method to heal than the way they were healed.  In great disbelief, one man said to the other man, “There’s no way it could have happened like that!”  And then Pete Gillquist adds: “And there you have it, folks.  The start of the world’s first two denominations.  The Mudites and the Anti-Mudites.”

Now, I know such a silly argument couldn’t possibly happen here at Antioch, but such trivial arguments have happened in other churches.  Someone once compared his church to Noah’s Ark.  “If the flood on the outside weren’t so bad,” he said, “you couldn’t stand the smell on the inside.”  Conflict in many churches isn’t that bad, but infighting does happen.  People can, and do, turn against each other–relationships can become broken–even in the best of congregations. We are, after all, sinful by nature.

St. John records Jesus’ prayer for the church.  He prayed that we will all be one.  In other words, that we will be united.  And when you consider the present fragmentation of the Christian community, Jesus is probably still praying that same prayer today.  What is it that holds together the body of Christ?  What is the source of our unity where it exists?  First, we’re united by what we believe.

We believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and Earth.  We believe in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord.  We believe in the Holy Spirit the Lord the giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son.  We also believe that through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we can know God and experience God.  These are part of the things we confess each week in our Creeds.  Donn Brammer tells of seeing an episode of the TV show Murphy Brown years ago.  For those who remember the TV show, here’s a trivia question for you:  Who was Candace Bergan’s famous father in real life?

The answer is the well-known ventriloquist, Edgar Bergan.  In one episode of the show, Murphy Brown is, for some reason, asking the staff about their thoughts or feelings about God.  Each of the characters had a different response–one was an agnostic, one was a Baptist, and so on.  But the response of the character, Jim, stands out.

Jim said he was a Presbyterian and went to church every Sunday with his wife.  He said something on the order of, “I haven’t had any experience of God.  I go because it’s obvious to me that the people who attend are experiencing God, and I am hoping that one day I will too.”  When you stop and think about it, this is a refreshingly honest response.  I wonder if a TV character would say that today.  It’s sad, but television has become, in many cases, hostile to Christianity.

If you were to ask church goers today, you’d find those who have experienced God in a profound way.  Others would say they yearn for such an experience. Regardless, we are united in our belief that Jesus is the only way to God.  In our epistle text from 1 John 5 we read, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (vss. 11b-12).  And in his gospel, St. John records what Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6.)

We gather here each week with the anticipation that God will make Himself known to us—reveal Himself in the Word preached, in the waters of Baptism and in the bread and wine of His Holy Supper.  All who are serious about living a life for God want to experience His work in their lives.  But this isn’t always the case.  In reality, we are Simul Justus et Peccator, simultaneously sinner and saints.  We’re not perfect people.  This is why we remember our baptism daily and drown the old Adam so that the new Adam can rise.  This is what Jesus was praying for when He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (17:17).  As wonderful as this congregation is, no congregation is perfect.

We know that no group of people are going to agree on every little matter.  Sometimes a congregation will experience conflict.  But when the dust settles, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us, there is a common bond that unites everyone who takes upon his or herself the name Christian.  That bond is this: We believe that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall have life everlasting.  We believe this and that’s what unites us with millions of believers around this planet.  This is the first thing that unites us–our beliefs.

Second, we’re united by our love for one another and for the One whom we serve.  Evangelist James Robinson once told of seeing a television interview with members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang.  He was impressed by their creed.  He says, “Do you know what they kept holding up as their great supreme virtue?  They kept saying: ‘We’re a family.  We’re together.  We live together, fight together, die together.  We stick together.’”  I wonder how many of God’s saints today would be half as committed to one another as the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang?  I believe many of us are.

I know I see this kind of love all the time here in this congregation when people do little acts of kindness for each other.  This is the first thing that unites us, our beliefs.  Second, we’re also united by our love for one another and for God.  Our goal and desire is to serve Jesus every day.  He is the inspiration of our lives.  He is the living presence who works within us.  He is the Lord and Master of all we are and hope to be.  We take comfort in the knowledge that we are His.  He is our example for living and we strive to walk in His steps.

Pastor Bill Hinson, in his book Faith, Lies, and the Opinion Polls tells the story of a husband and wife team who made a significant impact on the world of science, Pierre and Marie Curie.  They were the French scientists who discovered radium.  They worked closely together in their laboratory until the day Pierre absent-mindedly walked in front of a wagon and was run over and killed.  Marie was devastat­ed.  Pierre had only recently been appointed to a prestigious chair in the Academy of Science.

A few days after Pierre’s death, Marie was invited to take that chair in his place.  She accepted with gratitude.  A great scientist in her own right, she entered the hall that day to an overflow crowd.  They all wondered, “What will she say?  Will she eulogize her husband?”  When she mounted the platform, she began reading these words, “. . . when I consider the vast progress which science has made . . .”  The crowd was startled.  Then they realized that she had picked up exactly where Pierre had left off when he had been interrupted while reading a paper he had been presenting to them before his untimely death.  Then Hinson makes this observation, “As Christians, we should bear with pride the fact that we pick up where Jesus left off, because we are His body in the world.”

This is the purpose of faith says Dan Walker in his book, Energy in the Pew.  “Reviewing the gospels recently,” he said, “I was astounded at the number of times Jesus sent His followers out to do something.  The record is punctuated with these orders.  Go preach.  Go tell.  Go work.  Go into the highways.  Go to the next town.  Go into the country.  Go to the other side.  Go into the deep.  Go into the streets.  Go into the city.  Go into the village.  Go to the lost sheep.  Go call your husband.  Go make it right with your brother.  Go and learn.  Go quickly.  Go in peace.  Arise and go!”  Jesus summed all this up in His final command, Go, make, baptize, and teach (Matt. 28:18-20.)

St. Paul set the standard for us some 2000 years ago when he wrote that our job “whether at home or absent, is to be pleasing to God.” (II Corinthians 5:9).  That’s the test of service in our lives as believers in Him.  Would our service to Him and others be pleasing?  We are united by what we believe.  We are united by our love for one another and for Christ whom we serve.  Finally, we’re united by our love for those whom we’re called to serve–the world for which Christ died.

The church can never be satisfied with protecting its own existence.  We serve the One who poured out His life for the world.  That’s our calling as well–to pour out our life for the world, in this way God is glorified.  The purpose of the church is to go as Jesus commanded, to share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ and to minister to those in need.

A young woman was joining a certain church.  The pastor asked her, “What do you do for a living?”  And with a sly smile, she looked at him and said, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ secretly disguised as a legal secretary.”  “Isn’t that wonderful?” says Dr. Victor Pentz.  I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ carefully disguised as a teacher, or as a business manager, a health care worker, or even as a McDonald’s hamburgerologist.  We are a member of the Priesthood of all Believers.  The attitude we bring can change almost any occupation into the call of God.  For whatever our occupation, our one vocation is always to be a servant of God.”

Jesus prayed that we would be united:  united by what we believe.  We believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord and in the Holy Spirit whom the Father sent in Jesus’ name.  We are united by the One we serve.  We seek to serve Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  Our text for the day ends with these words: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I consecrate myself, that they too may be sanctified in truth.  When Jesus prayed that we be sanctified, He prayed that God would set us apart for God’s purposes and live a life dedicated to His service.  That’s what Jesus prayed for.

What is it that God most wants for us?  To be united in His Son as His church, the Body of Christ in this world.  We are sanctified by God’s truth, that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  This is the truth we’re called to share with the world.


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