The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Message for the Seventh Sunday in the season of Easter, May 17, 2015

Based on Acts 1: 15-17 and 21-26 And John 17: 6-19

Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings we carry be acceptable in your sight as we reflect together on your holy word for us this day. Amen.

This morning our stories from scripture provide two vividly different examples of intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayers is prayer offered aloud by someone spoken aloud for someone else who is present in the gathered community. In this morning’s readings they are offered in the context of two different communities gathered together in Jerusalem at different times.

In the first story taken from Chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles, we bear witness to how the disciple, Peter leads the 120 or so gathered folks in prayerful discernment. Their task? To find a new leader to replace Judas Iscariot who has died.

In the second story, taken from the 17th chapter of John’s gospel, we bear witness to what is commonly known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer.

Here this morning, our reading begins midway through Jesus’ Farewell Discourse offered on the occasion of the Last Supper. The prayer concludes just before Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. In both stories, there is a sense of the gathered community being called into even wider circles of mission and ministry much more broadly than anyone might have ever asked or imagined. Changed forever by their experiences of walking with Jesus in his itinerant ministries of healing and teaching, accompanying him even to his death on the cross, experiencing his resurrection, and now his ascending to rest in God, life will never ever be quite the same as it had been for those first followers in his way.

In this morning’s readings, the listeners are called and commissioned to go and tell, do and be all that they had previously witnessed in Jesus. And, they are to base that going and telling, doing and being using what they have experienced of Jesus’ relationship with God and God’s relationship with Jesus as their model and guide. Called into God’s unfolding purpose, on behalf of God and of Jesus, and for the sake a broken world, their mandate is clear.   Will it be as costly for them as it was for Jesus? Yes, no, maybe.

      And on what will they rely when the going inevitably gets tougher than tough? Our readings for today would suggest a life of action married to the practice of prayerful discernment based on an intricately woven and abiding and steadfast relationship with God and Jesus as compass and guide.

The good news for today? We too are invited into the same kind of relationship with God and Jesus as we are each called and commissioned in our own individual Christian journeys and in our shared journey as a church also living on the brink of a new day. Let us think again then on the power of Jesus’ most tender and nurturing words as he prays on behalf of his beloved followers. He begins with asking God to guide and protect the disciples from the world’s hate and from the power of the evil one. Moving on from there, he prays for the disciples’ unity of purpose and mission and for their being made holy (or we might sanctified) in God’s truth as portrayed in scripture. Remembering the complexity of the world in which John’s gospel was composed and the complexity of our own world, Jesus’ high priestly prayer offers a sense of grounding hope and intimate relationship with the Holy One of sustenance and support available to us at all times.

Then we have our more concrete example of prayer as read this morning from the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Here, Peter invites the gathered community to offer the name of a potential candidate to fill the leadership gap left by Judas.   The criteria? The candidates must have been among those witnessing to Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry.

Once the names are offered, a time of prayerful discernment ensues following by a casting of lots. Though strange to our listening ear, such action was thought to be common practice in biblical times and indeed, Matthias is chosen over Barsabbas. For those listeners to the story from Acts it would have been understood that God was aware of all of this and more from the get go.

Here on the last Sunday in the season of Easter poised on the brink of a new day, how fitting for us to be reminded of the importance of prayerful discernment as a discipline as central to discipleship as action and to be provided the model of Jesus’ high priestly prayer offered as he anticipates taking his leave from his beloved ones. How fitting to be reminded that God is there to guide, nurture, protect, and sanctify us for the ministry and mission of being the church in these rapidly changing times underscored by the many complexities we face as a denomination and as institutions on the margins of culture.

May God give us strength and courage to be about the work of going and telling, of being and of doing as we take our places in the unfolding of God’s purpose here and now. May it be so, amen.