One Sunday morning a couple years ago Pastor Phillip was away for a vacation with his family and I was here at Epiphany leading the service.
Cason Gardner, who’s a freshman at George Mason, was still in high school at the time and he was also helping lead the service that morning – he may have been serving as the crucifer. Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to ask Cason to pray the prayers of the people – the prayers that come after the sermon and before communion and which have a series of petitions that all end: Lord in your Mercy, and the congregation responds, “hear our prayer.”
I had written the prayers ahead of time and before the service that Sunday morning I gave them to Cason.
Cason and I have laughed about what happened next many times and when we talked about it again yesterday, he was glad to have me remember it with you. Well, when it came time for Cason to pray, he was behind the altar, he had the microphone in his hand, he was doing a great job, but then he came to this petition I had written where I asked God to bless the church’s ecumenical relationships.
You wouldn’t necessarily know this, but the word “Ecumenical” means the partnerships we have with other kinds of Christian denominations, and I was asking God to bless these relationships and to make us one in Christ.
When Cason came to pray that petition, he stopped a little short, he looked at it a second time and then he went for it. He said, “God, bless the church’s…ec…onomical relationships.”
Little did Cason know how right he was!
There is an economy to our relationship with God. A partnership. He gives himself completely to us and invites us to give ourselves completely to him. Through the gift of baptism, he is in us and we are in him, and through the gift of prayer we are all held together in God.
In the 17th chapter of the Gospel according to John we hear how Jesus prays for us. He prays for his first disciples and all those who will come to believe through their witness. And he prays for you and me and all those who will come to believe through our witness. With this intimacy he has with God, he calls on God’s mercy and love and protection for you and for me.
And then in this reading from Revelation today we hear how he sends his Spirit to inspire us to reciprocate and return our prayer to God.
We pray for our salvation, our health, and our life – when we pray Come Lord Jesus. We pray for the healing and the renewal of this weary world and so we pray for Jesus to come.
This prayer is given to us as a gift so that we can be in that intimate embrace between the Father and his Son; and made a part of the economy of what God is doing in the world.
He is praying for us, and he is inspiring the prayers we lift up to him, as we call for Jesus to return as crucified and risen, glorious Lord of all, and to bring the fullness of his salvation, health, and life to us and to the whole world as a free gift.
A few months ago, I went to a varsity basketball game between Tucker and Hermitage high schools to see a young man from our congregation play.
The young man I had gone to see play is a student at Tucker and at halftime his team was down by a few points, but just before the start of the second half a member of Tucker’s team gathered his teammates courtside and gave a pep talk. This guy may not have called it that, but that’s what he was doing – he was pumping his team up, and everyone stepped forward and leaned in to hear what he had to say.
I was sitting way up in the stands with parents and grandparents and we were too far from courtside to hear the words this guy was saying, but you could tell he was on fire, gesturing with his hands, commanding their attention, everyone was looking him, completely focused on what he was saying, and nodding at every word he said.
When they broke the huddle with a thunderous chant they went back out on to the court and the whole team was on fire, and the father beside me summed it up just right when he said, “I don’t know what he just said, but everyone on the team heard it!” Sure enough, Tucker clawed their way back and won the game in the last seconds before the final buzzer sounded.
There’s something about playing on a team that changes the way you think about life. When you put on the team jersey, you hang up something of your individuality. When you run out of the locker room, you do it together. There is an economy to the team. You all come sharing the gifts you’ve been given for the good of the whole.
Jesus’ prayer is a plea for us to be a part of his team and he prays for our success.
Jesus prays that we will all be one, like a team breaking from the huddle, headed out to run the plays of forgiveness, service, gratitude, and love. Jesus prays for us, that we might learn to hang our impulses of individual preservation and the need to be right up on the hanger in the locker room and put on his team jersey of humility, of partnership, of bearing with one another.
But we don’t always do well at being a part of the team. We sometimes want things to be our way. Its sometimes too hard to stay in relationship with other people or put forth the effort that it takes to be a part of the team.
The church isn’t perfect and the unity Jesus prays for sometimes seems to be an unanswered prayer.
On Memorial Day, just this past week, we were all thinking about all the heroic women and men who died for our freedom and I came across an article on the history of Arlington Cemetery and the continual need for its expansion and on some of the people who are buried there.
Apparently, there are now 63 individual faith symbols that can be selected for an individual’s headstone. I looked at them all and I counted at least four different Lutheran churches that offer symbols. The Lutheran church is not one, as Jesus prayed we would be, and that’s to say nothing of other Christian groups and denominations.
Sometimes the church has disagreed on fundamentals of the faith and sometimes egos have gotten in the way, and sometimes we have been willfully uncaring toward one another. The worst part about this is that it weakens our witness. The world says, “Why should I believe in the God they espouse faith in – they can’t get along and don’t look any different than any other group!?”
And yet this morning there is a sign in our midst.
This morning we are breaking ground on a building expansion. Our congregation – literally hundreds of people – from at least 5 surrounding counties, with various desires and tastes, have come together as one and decided what to build and when build it. We’ve agreed how to build it, what it should look like, and what materials to use. And today we will turn over dirt as the sign of what God is doing in this community to build a space for us to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people who aren’t here yet.
By comparison, my wife Sarah and I – now, I’m talking about the person I love the most in the world – have a kitchen in which subfloor is our floor and has been since sometime in the middle of Lent. Even though any one in our family could get a splinter the size of a tentpole any day, we can’t quite decide how to finish the floor, when to have it done, what materials to use. Etc. etc. and that’s only two people.
Here we have hundreds of people who have come to an agreement on what God has called us to do for the sake of the gospel in this time and place.
Only Jesus could do this! This could only be happening by the work of his Holy Spirit as Jesus makes us one by fixing our attention on God.
It can sometimes be hard to come to agreement with one another even if our goals are the same, and yet today we begin work on this new part of our physical building.
The God who loved Jesus before the foundation of the world loves us and builds us into a community of joy in order that we might be a witness to a world in need.
And the world needs the witness of a loving God.
This weekend we heard news of another mass shooting – this time in Virginia Beach, where we have friends, where we spend time, where we have been and felt safe, and we try to make sense of our ongoing inability to stop these tragedies from happening…and we pray come, Lord Jesus!
We watch as families and children on our southern border come looking for sanctuary in the US, and know that they are coming because they are trying to escape violence and persecution…and we pray, come, Lord Jesus!
We gather the people in our lives in prayer – those near and far, those who are sick, those who are struggling, those who are in need of special care… and we pray, come Lord Jesus!
The whole world sees the need for a savior, and God has called us to witness to who that savior is.
May God show the love of Jesus though us for the sake of the people who have not yet joined us, so that they can meet Christ here, come to know him as the savior of the world and their own lives, and come to join in our prayer: Come Lord Jesus!
There will be basketball on tonight. In the run up to game 2 of the NBA Finals, there’s been lots said and written about what kind of teams each city’s owners and coaches have built, who has to have what kind of game to win, about triples doubles and shooting percentages, but on this team Jesus builds, of which you and I are a part, no one is keeping those kind of statistics.
The only goal is to listen to and focus on the one who is on fire with the love of God, to listen to Jesus, who gathers us around himself to speak his word, and to send us out of his huddle to invite others to be a part of his team and through our life together to teach the fundamentals of faith and hope and love.