May 16, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Gracious and glorious God, you have chosen us as your own, and by the powerful name of Christ you protect us from evil. By your Spirit transform us and your beloved world, that we may find our joy in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

15In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty persons) and said, 16“Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus—17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.

21“So one of the men who have accompanied us during the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when Jesus was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us 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 added to 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, nor sat in the seats | of the scornful!
2Their delight is in the law | of the LORD,
and they meditate on God’s teaching | 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 shall | be destroyed.

1 John 5:9-13

9If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that God has testified to the Son. 10Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made God a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning the Son. 11And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in the Son of God. 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, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

John 17:6-19

[Jesus prayed:] 6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for 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; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they may be sanctified in truth.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

There is much in today’s passage from Acts that speaks to our current world. The verses show the church struggling with the what, why, and how of communal life when Jesus’ body is no longer present. How did those following Jesus arrive at this moment? Let’s begin with a little review.

The story of the early Christian church begins with Jesus’ charge to the disciples.  Jesus ordered them to wait in Jerusalem until they had received power from the Holy Spirit.  He appeared to them in the upper room and said, “You are to be my witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” clothed, that is, with the Holy Spirit.

The power of the Spirit would empower them to be witnesses to the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Next comes Jesus’ ascension, which the church celebrated Thursday. We read, “Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.”  Then the disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  Pentecost is on the horizon still. And that is where we find them today.  

The disciples returned to an upper room in Jerusalem. There, the disciples and the women with them devoted themselves to prayer. Peter stood up to announce that it was necessary, according to Holy Scripture, to appoint a disciple in place of Judas.  

He says, “one of these must become a witness with us to [Jesus’] resurrection.” This activity of witnessing is going to be as central to the life of the disciples and Christian community as the imperative to love. The role of the early church is to live into this “witness” vocation, even at the cost of its life. Everything, including replacing Judas, is about the urgent need to be witnesses to Jesus’ risen and ascended being. 


There is some criteria. Peter says, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.”  Two men are nominated: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. 

We think back to childhood days when we would pick sides for a team by “drawing straws.” That’s what I think of when I read that the disciples “cast lots.”  What kind of a method is this? Well, casting lots was not viewed as a haphazard process in biblical times.  Rather, it had a respectable history in Hebrew lore. And remember, the two nominees both fit the criteria—they both had accompanied Jesus during his ministry. 

We have no knowledge of whether or not casting lots was a practice in the early church. One thing is clear. This method facilitated a decision that was in accordance with the will of God for the mission of the church.

This event in the early Christian church addresses one of the most universal tasks we face: discernment.  Discernment in a community is no easy thing, but this passage gives us a picture of a particular community doing that brave, provisional work in another fraught time.

The community in Acts 1 leans into its trust of God’s goodness. They search the scriptures, and they commit to communal practices of prayer. They acknowledge their limits and decide on a method for moving forward. The imperative to “witness” remains central. Then they cast lots, which one scholar said was a reframing of the lots cast for Jesus’ clothing, an act meant to humiliate, with lots cast to strengthen the witness of Jesus’ disciples. 

What does this old old story mean for our discernment today? To follow the example of the early church is not to commit to a rigid practice of decision making or a particular structure. Instead, it is to recognize our own need to lean on divine guidance, to trust God’s ability to speak, and to faithfully act in response.   

This can be anguishing.  Often, we start with the worst, anticipating what will happen if we discern incorrectly.  Will we end up hurting the people around us—friends, family, colleagues?  Will we live in misery?  Will we know that we have disappointed God and how will that feel?  How do we know that what we want is God’s will?  Or, maybe it is, maybe in certain circumstances God’s will is the same as what we want.

We know the framework of God’s will for our lives in this world: we are called to love God and to love our neighbor. He says this pretty clearly when the lawyer asks him which commandment in the law is the greatest.  Jesus says, “’you shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’…and a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-40).  

All the decisions we make about our lives ought to be framed within these two great commandments. Our lives are not our own to do with as we please. We are called to love God by loving our neighbor. This is the framework in which our lives ought to be lived.  Imagine is everyone who confesses Jesus is Lord were to discern with those commandments in mind.  

We also know we live our lives under the canopy of God’s forgiving love.  This is an extremely important reality.  I do not believe that God’s specific will for our life is revealed to many of us. As the Apostle Paul writes, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). 

We can pray and pray for God’s specific will to be revealed to us. But few of us will have our prayers answered. And so, as Martin Luther advised, we will have to choose boldly our path. We don’t often know for certain which is the right path.  We make a decision, we take a deep breath, and then we sign the letter or make the phone call and then we tell our friends and family.  

Finally, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  In Romans 8:28 we read, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God…” God is at work in the midst of our decisions.

Matthias is called. That is now clear, but he is called to the same upper room with  the other one hundred and twenty, with men and women he probably knows very well. He is called to one work, pray and wait, wait and pray. Like the others, he will wait for the Holy Spirit to come and the Spirit to speak and then he will know what he must do with the others for the sake of Jesus.

Another scholar supposes that “whatever ideas of leadership Peter and the other apostles were imagining; they could not anticipate what God was about to do. A common thing, a selection process, has been placed in an extraordinary setting, in the upper room before Pentecost. From this moment forward every common thing of the disciples of Jesus… exists in the posture of waiting and stands in the shadow cast by the Holy Spirit and within the necessary work of prayer.”

To me this is an incredibly helpful reminder and corrective to what is often my first response right now—to plan and do and create and produce. We have been through, are still experiencing, something really big as a global community, a country, a city, a congregation. It is so easy to want to just accelerate again. Now, I am super excited that we as a church community have some multigenerational events on the calendar. It is so good to connect and reconnect with people, to talk about anything from the weather to summer plans. And nurturing relationships is part of our journey of faith. 

But like the disciples turned apostles who had just watched Jesus’ ascension, we are also called to prayer and reflection. It can be hard to do those things on our own. What in our current context encourages ten minutes of silent prayer each day? So, we might need to make some space for prayer and reflection, even some silence, as a community. We too need time to remember what precisely we are called to witness. We too need space for deep and intentional discernment for our individual and communal lives. We too need to be reminded that God is with us. The Holy Spirit is among us still.

Prayer of Intercession (from ELCA Worship in the Home)

On this seventh Sunday of Easter, let us pray for all who are in need, responding to each petition with the words “Give us life in your name.”

A brief silence.

For the church we pray, O God: that you raise up the next generation of pastors, deacons, and musicians to serve your people; that you protect believers wherever danger threatens; and that you grant Christians a spirit of unity with all the baptized.

Hear us, God, holy father.
Give us life in your name. 

For the earth we pray: that you safeguard the trees and all streams of water; that you preserve the ice at the north and south poles; and that you instruct us in repairing what in your creation we have broken.

Hear us, God, plenteous giver.
Give us life in your name. 

For peace and justice, we pray: that leaders of nations act with integrity in their decisions; that the poor be respected and supported; that prejudice against people of different color or language or ethnicity be ended; and that our government use wisely the tax money it gathers.

Hear us, God, righteous ruler.
Give us life in your name. 

For families, we pray: that families under any stress be strengthened; that immigrant families find acceptance in their new home; that people forced to live away from their families be comforted; and that family members increase in forbearance with one another.

Hear us, God, bond of blessing.
Give us life in your name. 

For all the sick and suffering, we pray: that you give medical care to all with COVID; that you visit with compassion the people of India; that you sustain those with life-long disability; and that you embrace those we name before you. . . .

Hear us, God, physician and nurse.
Give us life in your name. 

For all graduates, we pray, that opportunities for appropriate employment or further education be open to them. For all who cannot benefit from such schooling, especially for women where their education is forbidden, we pray, that you show them a worthy way forward.

Hear us, God, teacher of truth.
Give us life in your name. 

For ourselves we pray, that despite sorrow or setbacks, we yield the fruitfulness that you intend from us; and that you receive the prayers of our hearts.

Hear us, God, source of peace.
Give us life in your name. 

For all who have died in the faith of Christ, we praise you. For Erik of Sweden and for Queen Helena, we thank you. That at our end we join with all the saints in your eternal presence,

Hear us, God, life everlasting.
Give us life in your name. 

In the joy of the resurrection, in hope for the gift of your Spirit, we raise these prayers to you, trusting in your mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.  

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