< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for the 7th Sunday in Easter 2023

First Reading: Acts 1:6-14 

6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” 12Then {the disciples} 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.


Psalm 68:1-10

 1Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. 2Let them vanish like smoke when the wind drives it away; as the wax melts at the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. 3But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; let them also be merry and joyful. 4Sing to God, sing praises to his Name; exalt him who rides upon the heavens; Yahweh is his name, rejoice before him! 5Father of orphans, defender of widows, God in his holy habitation! 6God gives the solitary a home and brings forth prisoners into freedom; but the rebels shall live in dry places. 7O God, when you went forth before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, 8The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain, at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel. 9You sent a gracious rain, O God, upon your inheritance; you refreshed the land when it was weary. 10Your people found their home in it; in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.


Second Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11

 12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 56Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.



Gospel: John 17:1-11

 1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. 6I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”



The Power of One Passion and Being One in Prayer

We all like stories that are filled with suspense, tales that keep us on the edge of our seats, narratives that so captivate our imaginations that we can’t wait to learn the ending.  Pastor Harry B. Parrott Jr. tells of listening to a radio broadcast of a pastor who also piloted his own small plane.  The pastor had been in Detroit for some meetings, he then jumped in his plane and headed back toward his home in Escanaba, Michigan.  As he flew over Lake Michigan, he experienced engine trouble.  The engine suddenly began to sputter then stop and then would come alive again.  This problem repeated itself several times, all the while he was losing altitude.  His instrument gauges weren’t indicating a problem.  Yet the problem persisted, and he knew he was in serious trouble.  At that moment in the story, the preacher’s sermon got cut off by the radio announcer reading an ad for a local funeral home.  No one I know wants to be left hanging, they want to “know the rest of the story”.

Charles Dickens, author such classics as, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities, also wrote a serialized novel titled, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  His plan was to write the novel in twelve installments which would then be published in a monthly magazine.  Halfway through the series, the title character, Edwin Drood, disappears under mysterious circumstances.  Not long after publishing the sixth installment, Charles Dickens died.  His last novel was left unfinished, and audiences will never know how or why Edwin Drood disappeared.  Interestingly, Charles Dickens is the one credited with creating the “cliffhanger.”

Back in 1841, Dickens published his novel, The Old Curiosity Shop, in installments in a monthly magazine.  At one point, he had put the most beloved character in the novel, Little Nell, into a life-or-death situation.  A journalist from New Yorker magazine reported that a crowd of men gathered on the dock of the New York Harbor waiting for the ship to bring the next installment of his story.  As the captain navigated the ship into the harbor, the men screamed at him, “Is Little Nell dead?”  Charles Dickens knew how to keep his audiences on the edge of their seats.  When read carefully, our First lesson for today has at least three cliffhanger moments in it, moments we’re kept on the edge of our seat.

The first cliffhanger comes right away in verse 6: “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Let’s put the disciples’ question in perspective.  After Jesus rose from the tomb, He appeared to His disciples.  Over the next forty days, He spent time teaching them about the kingdom of God.  During one of their final meals, Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem because He was going to baptize them with the Holy Spirit.

In response to the promise of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples gathered around Him to ask: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Obviously, the disciples, to this point, had still failed fully grasped Jesus’ plan.  The kingdom of Israel had been destroyed more than 700 years earlier, they were living under Roman rule.  They longed for the restoration of the nation, and they believed Jesus would use His divine power to restore it.

In their minds, they had witnessed His resurrection, so they were sure He was the promised Messiah, and nothing was impossible for Him.  But Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After He said this, Jesus was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.

As they were looking intently up into the sky, suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  Here is the second cliffhanger moment.  When was His return to take place?  Instead, they were told to go, wait, and they would receive the promised Holy Spirit.  The third cliffhanger comes in verse 14 of our Acts reading for today.  After gathering as instructed, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”  Let’s pause here and imagine what Jesus’ followers were thinking at this point.

For the last three years Jesus had gathered them, taught them, sent them out, performed amazing miracles, died, rose again, and has now returned to the Father.  In Him they saw the fulfillment of scripture and the answer to Israel’s prayers.  What were they going to do without Him?  They felt they finally understood His plan for establishing God’s kingdom in the lives of the people.  He’d given them an assignment, a calling, something greater than anything they could imagine or accomplish under their own power.  Imagine the excitement and tension His followers were experiencing?  I hope you can because we are them.

We too have been given the same assignment, the same call, the same marching orders as the original disciples.  And there’s no way we can accomplish this call under our own power.  So how did that first group of followers prepare themselves for their calling?  First, they joined together in one passion and were one in prayer.  That’s the first step in allowing the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and guide us.  Look again at verse 14: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

The word “together” in this sentence is actually a compound Greek word that means “same passion.”  It’s also used to signify “one mind.”  The first time this word appears in the New Testament is here in Acts 1:14.  This diverse group of men and women were so committed to receiving the promised Holy Spirit, and living out their calling, that they joined together with one passion and were one prayer.  And they waited for God’s promise to be fulfilled in their lives.

While I never participated in school plays, I did have friends that shared with me a couple of lessons from the art of improv acting that I think applies here.  Improv acting or improv comedy is an art form, and it’s a learned skill.  Although it looks like it’s entirely spontaneous, there are certain rules that guide improv entertainers.  The first rule of improv is the most important one, and I think it applies well to this early group of believers and to us.  The first rule of improv is “Yes, and.”

For instance, two actors might walk out onto a stage.  They have no scene or dialogue prepared.  One actor says to the other, “Well, how did he take the news?”  The other actor can freeze in uncertainty.  They can try to change the scene to something they like.  Or they can grab that cue and invent a few more lines of dialogue to further that scene.  For improv to work, both actors must enter the scene with a “Yes, and” mindset.  “Yes, and” is an attitude of openness, a willingness to move forward even in uncertain situations.  Yes, and, is a leap of faith.

I believe this early group of believers prayed with a “Yes, and” mindset.  They were open to receiving whatever God had to give them.  They were willing to move forward even in an uncertain situation.  They were willing to take a leap of faith.  Marcus and Rebecca, and Nathan and Candace, are expressing this same mindset in bringing their children to the baptismal font this morning.  These parents are saying yes, we will obey God’s command to baptize our children.  As for the and, and they are expecting that God will deliver on His promises as we fulfill our baptismal vows, to “faithfully bring them to the services of God’s house, and teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments.”  Then, “as they grow in years, you should place in their hands the Holy Scriptures and provide for their instruction in the Christian faith, that, living in the covenant of their Baptism and in communion with the Church, they may lead godly lives until the day of Jesus Christ.”  Yes, and: what can God do with and through us if we have this same mindset?  How will God use us if we’re united with one passion and one prayer?

Stephen Covey and Rebecca Merrill, in their book First Things First, ask their readers, “What is the one activity you know that if you did it well and consistently would have significant positive results in your personal life?”  Stop and think about that question for a moment: “What is the one activity you know that if you did consistently would have significant positive results in your personal life?”

If we were to devote ourselves to pray more passionately, consistently, and in a spirit of unity, we would receive God’s power and blessing through Holy Spirit, just as God promised the believers back then.  Think of the positive impact God could make in and through us by His power?  I’m sure it’s beyond anything we could ask for or imagine.  It’s beyond our wildest dreams.  But Stephen Covey and Rebecca Merrill followed up by asking one more thought-provoking question: “If you know these things will make such a significant difference, why are you not doing them now?”

The first thing the believers did to receive the Holy Spirit was to join together in one passion and one prayer.  The second thing the believers did was they exchanged their priorities for God’s greater purposes.  They set aside all other priorities in order to pray and wait for the Holy Spirit.  They may not have known at the time, but once they received the Holy Spirit, everything else in their lives would take second place to their one calling, to be God’s witnesses in the world.

The Rev. Dr. William Willimon, the former Chaplain at Duke University, wrote a book titled, What’s Right with the Church.  In this book Dr. Willimon tells of receiving a call from the father of one of his students, Anne.  Anne’s father was concerned that his daughter had dropped out of pharmacy school.  This father knew of his daughter’s great respect for Dr. Willimon, so he asked him to intervene in the situation.

Dr. Willimon was surprised to discover that Anne had dropped out of pharmacy school after hearing one of his sermons about God’s purpose for our lives.  She admitted that she had enrolled in pharmacy school because she wanted to make a lot of money.  But after his sermon, she decided to commit her talents and energy to serving God.  Anne said, “. . . I remembered that good summer I spent working with the church literacy program among the migrant workers’ kids.  I really think I was serving God then.  I decided after your sermon to go back there and give my life to helping those kids have a chance at life.”

A complete reordering of our life.  Sometimes these stories from the Book of Acts can seem so unreal, so removed from our lives and experiences that we stop listening to them.  I think God’s people today have stopped expecting Him to act with great power in our world.  We, for whatever reason, have stopped expecting God to save and change lives.  We come, week in and week out, only expecting to walk out of these church doors the same people we were when we walked in.  But notice this gathering of the early believers, they prayed and waited for God to change them.  They joined together with one passion and one prayer.

These early believers were determined not to stop until God poured out His Holy Spirit on them.  They committed themselves to taking up God’s purposes as their sole priority for the rest of their lives.  These folks were never going to be the same again.  And because of their passion, their prayers, and their commitment, they spread the message of Jesus Christ almost to the ends of the earth.  I say “almost” because there’s still a great deal of work for us to do.

As followers of Jesus, we’ve been given the exact same promises and the exact same calling as the first disciples.  Until the message and love of Jesus has reached the ends of the earth, we’ve still got plenty of work to do.  Someone once asked General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, how he created such a powerfully successful ministry that has changed so many lives.

General Booth said, “From the day I got the poor of London on my heart and the vision for what Jesus Christ would do for them, I made up my mind that God should have all of William Booth there was; and if anything has been achieved, it is because God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.”  What is God calling us to do?

What will God accomplish through us if He had all the adoration of our heart, all the power of our will, and all the influence of our life?  Giving our all to God begins with us having one passion and being one prayer.  When we do, we will then exchange our priorities for God’s purposes.  Are we willing to receive all that God has for us through the work of His Holy Spirit and let it transform our lives?  If we fully commit, God will do in, and through, us far more than we could ever dream of accomplishing on our own.                        Amen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

< back to Sermon archive