The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - May 28, 2017
Scripture Reading: John 17: 1-11
Sermon Title: That We May Be One

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     There are some weekends in which I have learned church attendance is often down, and this is one of those weekends.  Sometimes on these weekends we have people bring relatives to church who we might not have seen for a while, but often, 3 day weekend, unofficial start to the summer, colleges out or letting out, and people take a week off.   And in the church year, this is not the most important Sunday.  You donít want to miss Christmas Eve, or Easter Sunday.   According to the lectionary today is Easter 7, which means this is the 6th Sunday since Easter Sunday.  Many of the stories for this time of the year are around Jesusí post resurrection appearances.  Although we have heard many of these stories, they are hard for us to get our heads around.  I can picture Jesus as a human, preaching, teaching, even doing some miracles.  But I have never seen anyone after they have died, so just the basis for these stories is foreign to me. 

     This last week we had Ascension Day.  This is the day that we celebrate Jesus going up to heaven, a special day that is not celebrated very much in our Protestant churches.  It was this last Thursday, in case you missed it.  But since we do not have an Ascension Day service, today is the day that you may hear about it in some churches.

     I have mentioned in the past that there are several suggested texts for each Sunday, so this week we had the passage from John which just we read and also one from the first chapter of Acts.  Acts is really part two of the book of Luke, so if you want to do some reading in the Bible this summer and donít read it from front to back,  you can read Luke and Acts, one after the other, and it makes sense.  I didnít choose that reading from Acts.  The disciples are standing there, Jesus rises up, goes up into the clouds, and the disciples are just kind of left standing there. 

     Our passage is from before Jesus was killed, as he is sitting with his disciples at the table. They had not yet gone off to the garden, but kind of foreshadowing what will happen.  Jesus will be returning to be with God, and prays for his disciples, which extends in a way to be praying for us.  John really spends time writing about that last night, from the time Jesus has his last meal with his disciples until he is crucified.  I think it is about 4 chapters, almost a quarter of his gospel.  And it is important for us to realize, that for John, it is not so much others that kill Jesus, but rather Jesus goes willingly to the cross.  It has to be done in Jesusí mind.  This is not a prayer of ďdonít let this happen to meĒ but rather Jesus knows what is going to happen, and it is going to be OK.

     As I was thinking about these passages, I realized that both seem to be a pause.  In Acts, Jesus goes up into heaven, two men in white robes appear and say ďWhy are you looking up, Jesus will return.Ē  Then they walk for a day, end up back in the upper room and devote themselves to prayer.  Jesus, in the same way is headed toward his crucifixion, but he pauses, takes time to pray.  In the crazy stories of that night, trials, bringing Jesus back and forth, there is a pause where Jesus prays.

     I find that this is often true in my life.  I try to be early.  Does not always work out, but if I have to be somewhere at 7:00, I will shoot to arrive at 6:30.  I have a dream that I could do this in the morning.  I have this idea of waking up before the kids get up, sitting for a few minutes or even longer and drinking my first cups of coffee.  I only remember a few times that this has happened.  Several years ago I went from the East Coast to Lake Tahoe for a conference.  First night I was tired after dinner, so I went to bed pretty early.  I woke up the next morning about 4:00, the sun was coming up.  I got dressed and walked over to the dining hall where they had coffee on at that time.  I took a cup of coffee and sat outside.  It was a beautiful morning, and I thanked God for that time.  I had 3 hours before breakfast to sit, pray, watch the lake, just enjoy being there. 

     But even in arriving a little early, I have a moment to take a breath and pray.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says
ď16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.Ē  What would it mean if we were to really pray without ceasing, to give thanks in all circumstances. 

    And this prayer that Jesus says is, for John, the Lordís prayer.  In the gospel of John, the disciples do not ask Jesus how to pray, and there is no Lordís prayer as we say it.  But instead Jesus prays this prayer.  And in this prayer Jesus gives us a wonderful definition of eternal life. ďAnd this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.Ē 

     It is in these pauses that I believe we get to know God.  It is those times in which we find ourselves someplace 30 minutes early.  Rather than checking Facebook, or texting someone, taking a few moments to pray will do good things for us.  Thank you God for allowing me to be here early, thank you for giving me a few minutes to take a breath.

     But just as important, in both of these stories, the pause is not long.  In the story from Acts, they go back, pray, and then start churches, start telling others about Jesus.  In the story from John it is just a pause in the evening, they go off to the garden after Jesus prays. 

     I went to Nicaragua several years ago on a mission trip.  We landed in Managua, then went up to Neuva Guinea a small town our churches had a partnership with, and then back down to Managua for a few days before flying home.  Life is very different down there.  The house I stayed in was one of the nicest in town. It was owned by a man who ran a taxi service and also owned trucks that carried goods around the country. He was well off. 

     His house was, by the standards I saw down there, really nice.  It was just a cinder block square, broken up into a few rooms, two bedrooms, living, dining and kitchen area and an indoor bathroom, one of only two I heard of in town.  As we traveled I was thinking about mission trips that I had been on before.  We pounded nails, we dug ditches, we built things, we were not doing those things on this trip.  When we got back to Managua we visited the dump where many children lived.  They would collect trash they could recycle, and found food to eat mixed in with the trash.  Many lived in a warehouse on the edge of the dump, it had been pretty much destroyed by a hurricane, but still had floors, some walls and provided a little shelter.  For about 25 cents they could buy a baby food container of shoe glue.  This provided a little bit of a high when sniffed, but also took away their hunger.  It also did a lot of damage to their joints, so many had developed issues with walking.

     I wanted to do something.  Letís raise money to build housing for those kids who lived at the dump, get them food, get them off the glue, get them some education.  In Neuva Guinea, we can work to provide sanitation; most families had to walk to an outhouse when they needed to use a bathroom.  The hospital didnít have many medications, did not get enough to last through the month.  They only had one oxygen regulator, so if more than one person needed oxygen they had to switch from patient to patient.  They had been given warmers for babies that were born pre-mature, but they had broken so the only way they got warm was to roll them outside.  The rubber gloves they used for surgery they washed with iodine, so they could be used 3 times before being thrown out.  With the resources we have, we could send down regulators, gloves, medicines, we could build septic systems, provide families with indoor plumbing.  We could fix houses, add on rooms so a family would have bedrooms for kids.  We could install gas stoves since many families still cooked with wood, filling the houses with smoke.

     But we really didnít do a lot when we were there.  We did bring down a suitcase full of medicines for the hospital, they were slightly expired, so could not be used in the US anymore, but still worked fine.  We brought down a suitcase full of books and school supplies for the kids.  But this trip was a pause.  We had sent things down to them, but this trip was not about doing, it was about a pause.  Letís stop, look at what we have done in the past, pray and think about our next steps. 

     And that is what we are doing in the church now in a sense.  Of course there are many parts of the church, some are jumping forward, doing, but in your search for a minister, we are getting ready to go.  We have a search committee. We will be meeting this week.  As this committee begins its work, it will be a series of doing, pausing to pray, doing, pausing to pray.  I will keep the prayer that Jesus offers us in my heart as we walk forward, that we may all be one. 

     I encourage you to look for these times of pause in your life.  Sometimes this pause will be just a few minutes, you can say a quick prayer and then things start happening again.  Other times these pauses are longer.  But take these times and treasure them, not as delays to things that need to be done, but as a valuable time to pray, to reconnect with God, before life starts happening again.

     And what a great weekend to do this.  A week where you have an extra day this weekend.  It is a day to remember those who were in our armed services, which is important to do, but also you can choose to take a pause this weekend, pray, and reconnect with God.