May 8th, 2016: "That We May Be One!"

Text: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97;John 17:20-26;             7th Sunday of Easter                               Sandy Nuernberg

Revelations 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21                                 Celebrate Mother’s Day                                             Pastor

Title: “That We May Be One!”                                          Women’s Choir Sings!

First Presbyterian Church                                                  Sunday, May 8th, 2016                               Pardeeville, WI

 

Please pray with me, Lord, in our joy of singing, in our praise, in our praying, in our listening to you these weeks after your Son’s resurrection, we ask you to send your Holy Spirit upon us and lift up the current state of our churches, your church, as we ask collectively that you make our church that which we can never happen on our own.  AMEN.

Jesus says, “…..that they may all be one.”     John 17:21

 

            It is so very interesting to hear these words of Jesus’ prayer to his Father for his followers----it’s almost like his last will/testament before his death. Yes, Jesus is specific, saying it three times, ‘…that they may be one.’ (verses 21,22,23). Biblically, we know the number three is symbolic for completeness (Hebrew, salos, and Greek, treis). We also remember that in John’s Gospel Jesus is the Word made flesh, yet now Jesus is leaving the world in the flesh, his physical being on earth complete.

 

            Jesus’ return to his Father is imminent, and yet Jesus’ death and loss ( to his flock) is transcended, yes, through the power of his Spiritual presence. In other words, he is leaving us in the incarnate (physically) creating/ inviting us to be a part of a new unity or ‘oneness’ with him.

 

He says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

                                                                                                            Acts 16:31

 

            Yesterday, we were reminded of these words of ‘oneness’ with Christ as we gathered at the Pardeeville Cemetery for a service of interment, or final resting spot, for long-time member Maxine Hill. At 97, she is now in the ‘eternal household’ of her Maker Christ Jesus our Lord; we remembered her in word, song, and prayer, as we viewed her beautiful and final resting place there—a few houses from where she lived.

 

            In our 7th Sunday today of Eastertide, we review what we’ve heard in the lectionary texts these last six weeks since Easter; Mary Magdalene at the tomb believing what she saw of Jesus, the disciples fleeing, the good news of Peter, the apostle Paul’s Damascus road conversion, along with Stephen, Philip, Thomas the Doubter, Cornelius, and Lydia, and others (Timothy, Apollos), all of whom were filled with the Holy Spirit in which to spread the good news.

 

Indeed, there has been no one left out or left behind from the community of God’s grace. We have been, you and I, bearing witness to God’s tremendous love for us; a love that has been known to us in Christ Jesus. These biblical stories are a part of the earliest Christian church, and we’ve learned much about those who have received God’s spiritual presence. We’ve asked ourselves repeatedly where and how that Holy Spirit brings us to today, and where that God-connection will bring us into ‘oneness’ with Christ. 

 

            Today’s text in Acts relates Paul and Silas as prisoners, singing hymns and praying to God while others are around them listening; suddenly there’s an earthquake landing right in front of their very eyes, and all chaos breaks loose. ( I tell you, these texts we hear and read are so pointed to what can happen in our lives, unknowingly, but also knowing that God’s love surrounds us where-ever we might be). The jailer falls down trembling and asks to be saved. In this reading of God’s Word, we discover so much commotion and contrast of behaviors by those present, we don’t know quite what to think. Are any of them free or are they in bondage by their actions?

             

            In Luke’s testimony in Acts, again, it’s clearly a witness of faith and Spirit that we hear in each character: the slave-girl, Paul and Silas, and the jailer. We hear contrasting language of events: joy for the slave-girl being cast out of an unclean spirit, yet sorrow for her owner’s profitless fortune-telling! Then, of Paul/Silas flogging and imprisonment, their being set-free of chains and the doors opened wide for their freedom. In their not fleeing, they keep speaking to others of the Lord—Spirit filled indeed! Finally the jailer panics, after seeing his prisoners are to be set free, and probably thinking he is at fault, wants to kill himself. Yet upon his own asking of salvation is baptized without delay. He rejoices and becomes a believer in God!

 

            In all of this, as we get closer to what’s in the Acts of the Apostles, and all those early Christians after Jesus’ resurrection, we discover that in proclaiming God’s Word, there are deeds in which we might follow. Jesus’ truth taught many of them, and us, of the Advocate, that Holy Spirit within that assisted them and us in their/our daily lives.

In these gatherings of early Christianity, there were different levels of relationship-building. The first believers gathered with other people, and through themselves they gathered into Jesus, and then into the Father.

 

            There is a unity, a ‘oneness’ that develops as this witnessing of Jesus’ truth unfolds; in John’s gospel Jesus wants his prayer to his Father to be heard by others to be in oneness with Him and his Father. This is a different kind of ‘oneness’ than we might be used to---it is not our church all thinking the same. It is not!

 

            The spiritual presence of Jesus among his believers  was indeed the ‘ties that bind,’ the connectedness for their flow of life. At our World Day of Prayer service Thursday evening in Wyocena at the Community Church we shared this connectedness we have with God, with each other, and in God’s promise to us of God’s kingdom today, and in God’s eternal Kingdom. It was powerful as we shared our testimonies of God’s presence, in good and bad times.

 

            Does this sound familiar to us? Those first Christians were gathered in community, they believed  in the Trinitarian God, they were called by name/baptized, heard and spread God’s Word, practiced Jesus’ hospitality, suffered together, worshipped and prayed together as they were taught and learned of God’s love in and through the Holy Spirit. For me, this is our church right here where we reside! Yes, we are discovering ‘resurrection practices’ of becoming and belonging as a church community.

Jesus said, “….that they may all be one.”

           

            It is clear that we are receiving and giving of God’s word to others is spirit-driven, thank God! Everyone we’ve studied here, along with us, we all have a spirit in our voice, our actions (an attitude! about us) for better or worse. We are all entitled to an opinion because we are free to decide on our own; opinions are like noses, we all have one! Jesus wants the church to have lots of opinions, ideas, comments, questions, suggestions. In our accentuating the positive in all of us, we hope for what is to come with what God’s love has given us---where God leads us each in our own way and in sharing our individual God-given gifts collectively—with each other. This is church unity; it is God’s Holy Spirit at work in us.

 

            The good news of the gospel to us is that it is now our time, our turn, the spiritual presence of Christ in each of us in testimony of or faith; we bear witness to God’s love given us. It is not to be in bondage or chains, like Paul or Silas, but, like them, to be free to share that love with those we know and those we may come to know. In identifying our gifts, claiming our differences, together we strive to do God’s will, for God’s Kingdom in becoming the church that is completely one in the household of God.

 

                                                            Thanks be to God.                               AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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