Easter Once More- Joy, Prayer and Risk

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Spring has indeed finally sprung in Nebraska!

Hello readers! It has been awhile. There were no posts on the blog during April as I was on parental leave, but now that I have returned from leave, posts will again appear here. This first post actually shares a bit about our new daughter Caroline, and is the manuscript I preached from today (May 13, 2018) for the Seventh Sunday of Easter at Salem Lutheran Church in Fontanelle, Nebraska. The sermon was based on the appointed gospel reading, John 17:6-19. 

Grace and peace from God in Christ, who loves you, prays for you, and is with you. Amen.

A Story about Caroline
Confession time. We’re good Lutherans, admitting our shortcomings up front, so you might appreciate this. I didn’t start thinking about today’s sermon until Thursday. I think it partly has to-do with all the new things that just need to get done, and that take priority on the to-do list.

As a new parent, I think I am starting to more deeply understand the importance of grace and prayer. Grace to offer to each other, as things may not happen quite as quickly, or as well, as they always used to while being a bit sleep deprived; and prayers for the moments in the middle of the night, when up changing diapers, and feeding your beautiful new gift from God, while praying to God for just a little bit of peace and quiet sleep for all in the house.

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The happy new family of three at the hospital.

Or take last Sunday, for example. I was all ready to be the proud dad and pastor’s spouse. I was so excited!

I knew the exact onesie that would be perfect for our baby Caroline to meet you all in, a gift from a few of you, showing Caroline as part of the Salem family.

Well, it wasn’t to be, because human biology took over and Caroline had an epic explosion just as we were about to head out the door and cross the street. Fifteen minutes later, we finally crossed the street. But this dad’s plans… oh well.

It’s a good illustration I think for admitting that even the small tiny things that we delude ourselves into thinking that we are in control of, perhaps we’re not…

Though it’s all worth it, when as you head out the door, you see the first smile on your daughter’s face. Nothing else really matters. The day has been made. And that’s a gift.

Where we are in today’s story
Now, in thinking about what God might be up to… The last couple of weeks we have returned in the gospel readings once more to John’s details of the events at the beginning of the passion story. Last week we heard again the words we often hear on Maundy Thursday about Jesus’ new commandment to us, to love one another.

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Four young adults affirming their faith at Salem last week.

What a fitting message for those affirming their baptisms last week, and for all those this month who are graduating, entering a time of discernment of what’s next, perhaps moving off to college or for work soon after school, and all the great adventures of self-discovery to come in the days, weeks, and years ahead.

Today, we heard part of Jesus’ prayer that comes after this commandment. After the meal has concluded, while still in the upper room and before departing for Gethsemane, Jesus prays. Today we hear particularly Jesus’ prayer for his disciples. What grace. What power. What love. He knows what they all need. They don’t need to be taught how to pray. They don’t need another deep discourse on the meaning of prayer and God. They need Jesus’ prayers. Amid the denials, betrayal, and rejection, Jesus prays for his disciples.

This prayer is part of the move to the climax of the passion story. In the next chapter, Jesus will be arrested, and the events of Good Friday will commence. It might seem a little strange to be back here in these words, and in this story, during the last few weeks of the Easter season. But these are words for us- for you, and for me. They are words that remind us that it is indeed Easter once more.

Jesus prays for the disciples
Jesus prays for the disciples. “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you…”[1] “All mine are yours, and yours are mine… And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”[2]

If you ever wondered if God not only hears prayers, but also prays for you? Well, here you go. We’re probably never quite as eloquent as Jesus seems to be in John’s writing, and there may be times like in the middle of the night when you’re changing a diaper and up hour after hour, feeling the need to pray but not having the ability to form words to pray. That’s a prayer too. We may not always have the words, but even in those times God is with us, walking alongside us. Listening to us, and for us. Praying for us. And listening for all of us, as we pray for each other and the needs of our neighbors and strangers near and far.

Perhaps it’s fitting to remember Jesus’ prayers on this last Sunday of Easter, after the Ascension, as Jesus commended in the Upper Room, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”[3] And so too are we sent.

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Sponsors of the beautiful fellowship hour at Salem after worship on the 7th Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day.

A Word about Mother’s Day
Today we also celebrate mothers. Not everyone may have a relationship or a good relationship with their mother. But I would venture a guess that every one of you, could point to someone who at different times in your life has shown motherly love and care to you and your family. You are all here today also because either someone loved you and helped you grow in faith, or loved and cared for you so much that they invited you to come and see that “the Lord is good.” Perhaps you too have done this for another who might be here today because of you? For these people, relationships, and moments, we give thanks and pray words, stories, and tears of gratitude, joy, and hope. Our prayer of gratitude, isn’t all that different to Jesus’ prayer either.

A Prayer for Us
This prayer from Christ for the disciples that we heard today, is also a prayer that is for us. If we read a little further after today’s portion of the story, we’ll read that Jesus also prays for you, and for me.[4] He prays on our behalf, praying for all those who will come to believe through the sharing of the Word through the disciples, and all those over time who will become part of The Way and faith, like us, after the ascension, when Jesus is raised to the Father after the resurrection.

Jesus doesn’t pray that his disciples or us will have easy lives. However, Jesus does pray that, “they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”[5] Joy! It’s a great word for living as Easter people. It’s interesting though to stop and think for a moment about what joy is. There have been numerous socio and psychological studies over the years which have found a connection of a particular four letter word, which they have found is at the heart of joy.

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Nebraska Synod Bishop Brian Maas preaching on Ascension Day at Trinity Episcopal Catherdral, and talking about joy and risk, which inspired this portion of my sermon for today.

Do you have any guesses what the four letter word is? [I left room for guessing out loud.]

Those are all good answers, especially good answers in church. But the actual word is “Risk.”[6] And when you think about Jesus’ life and joy, it makes sense.

Jesus’ Joy, Our Joy, and Our Risks
Jesus’ joy- that of loving one another. That of serving one another. Of building communities and relationships. Of healing the sick, and caring for all those in need. Of being His Body, given and shared for the whole world… That’s a lot of joy! But it’s also a lot of risks!

The risk of being a disciple, of praying, and opening oneself up to be vulnerable to serve.

The risk of getting down on one’s knees to wash another’s feet, and help pick up a friend, neighbor, or stranger in need.

The risk of speaking out against hate and injustice in our world, and work towards reconciliation.

The risk of calling someone you haven’t heard from in a while, or sending a message on Facebook to see how they might be doing?

The risk of greeting a stranger at the store, whom you might just as easily avoid by walking down a different grocery aisle, but instead you say, “hello…” and perhaps build some sort of a relationship.

The risk of your time and health when caring for an ailing friend or neighbor, or perhaps sharing a freezer meal with a family that’s working through a joyful transition like the birth of a child, or who is struggling to come into a new reality of life after a loss of a job or loved one.

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A family photo after worship.

The risk of being in relationship. Our parental leave has been a wonderful time of figuring out who we are as a new family of three, and we are so grateful for this time and for all of you for supporting us in it. But it has also been a hard time, because we love you all so much. To not be with you for a whole month straight, was incredibly hard for us. But it was important. Please know that as we have been and continue to be on leave for another week or so, we have felt and continue to feel your prayers and love. We are grateful for them, and we too have also been praying for you. This is what it means to be in mutual prayer for one another. It’s what it means to be the Body of Christ together, which Jesus prayed for.

Jesus’ joy, comes through these relationships, risks, and conversations. Like with the disciples around a table enjoying a meal. Like with the woman at the well, a stranger who engaged in conversation. Jesus’ joy and our joy this Easter season, is grounded in God’s promise, but also in our risk, or daring to hope.

Easter Blessings, Sending, and Ascension
Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus confidently ascended into heaven. Of course, Jesus will come back. But, there is no plan B in the meantime for caring for the world, and being in the world. You and I are it, and each one of us is enough with the Spirit to be bearers of Christ’s love and joy, confident to dare to risk in the name of the Risen Christ who has done it all for us, and who has made us His own. And all of that’s at the heart of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, and for us today.

One more Caroline story. As Caroline has been growing these past few weeks, I’ve been trying out different songs to sing to her. She likes more rhythmic ones, no surprise I guess. But she also likes it, it seems, when we’re singing about God’s promises- of life, love, redemption, and salvation. It can be a bit difficult to remember these, some sleepless nights, just as it might be for all of us when we’re risking in our lives as disciples and Children of God. But in that risk, we may just find and remember the Easter joy which Jesus is praying for.

As we are sent into the world, may we grow deeper in prayer and willingness to risk and be a part of God’s work in the world- in whatever form that might take. May God’s love, grace, prayer, promise, and presence be made known to you and through you, this day and every day. Amen.

Sources, Citations, Credits and References:
[1] John 17:7-8, NRSV.
[2] John 17:10-11, NRSV.
[3] John 17:18, NRSV.
[4] John 17:20, NRSV.
[5] John 17:13, NRSV.
[6] The discussion “joy” and “risk,” as well as the concluding thought in the last section of the sermon about how “there is no plan B” is being borrowed from Bishop Brian Maas who preached on this as part of a sermon for Ascension Day on 10 May 2018 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska. Bishop Maas’ sermon can be found and listened to here: http://trinityepiscopal.org/sermons/.

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