Shhh!!! Listen. We are given opportunities to overhear. Overhear God. God’s prayer. God’s prayer for creation. The world. The Church. Us. A word of hope. Love. Support. Transformation. A sending out. Continuing the story.
But too often we miss out on the opportunities to be fully immersed in God’s prayer. We miss out on the opportunities right before our eyes. Jesus here. Jesus now. Praying. Through every breath, every movement, every conversation that we have: with young, old, family, friends, strangers. All too often we don’t see, don’t hear, don’t get—what is… right… here…
And this is… of course… all too human, right? Take the disciples for example. Today’s reading from John puts us right in the middle of a 3-part prayer. Jesus’ prayer for the disciples. Listening to the bible story, I imagine Jesus kneeling on the floor, his back to the disciples, his hands clasped. There, the disciples—some of them standing, some of them sitting—some of them not paying attention—overhear Jesus’ prayer for them as he says:
“I pray for them (O God).
I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world
But for those you gave me…
Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,
And my life is on display in them.
For (I will be) no longer visible in the world;
(But) They will continue in the world…
Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind.” (John 17:9-11, The Message)
Listening in on Jesus’ prayer. But there is another story, with a totally different prayer. The Sunday School youth listened to the author of Matthew’s version of Jesus praying as Jesus sensed the end of his life approaching at the hands of the Empire. Watch, as Holy Moly presents another, very human, response to Jesus’ prayer:
A video that the youth have watched in Sunday School from “Holy Moly” was shown. You can view the video HERE (the portion we watched in worship begins at 3:35).
Too often, I think that we are like the disciples… those people who walked with Jesus along the dustiest of roads, talked with Jesus face-to-face (not over social media), were taught in real-time about God’s radical welcoming and extravagant love… but yet fell asleep as Jesus prayed. Sometimes, I think that the Church has fallen asleep as God prays. Yet I also think that there are ways in which we are like the disciples in the book of John, who listen and catch snippets of God Still Speaking, Still Praying, Still Eternally Hoping, as we overhear Jesus’ prayer.
Listening to Jesus pray. Listening to God pray. That’s all well and good, but THEN WHAT?
This, beloved, is our arc. Not an “a-r-k” water vessel ark, but an ongoing, “continuous portion of a curved line.” That interconnecting narrative that shatters our human understanding of time. Today, we are completing our arc through the Easter season, through a remembering of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, and preparing ourselves for the eruption of the Spirit in our midst next Sunday—which is Pentecost. And Jesus continues praying.
I am fascinated by the movement of the Spirit in the Church in the 21st century and how youth and young adults are, what Rev. Doug Pierce, who was at one time the Executive Director of The Crossing (an ecumenical campus ministry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that Memorial UCC supports, called today’s “research and development arm of the Church.” For the youth and young adults ARE LIVING church now, in what can seem to some of us as ways totally unrecognizable as Church—for research shows us that they are not joining institutions, they are not committing to 3-year committee terms, they are not giving to the Church financially as in the 1950s and 1960s, but they ARE showing up. Taking actions to change the world. They ARE speaking out, they ARE change makers. THEY are… Church Now.
And… I have full confidence that THIS (whatever “this” is) IS CHURCH. In her book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, Kenda Creasy Dean writes that while “the majority of American young people seem to have no intention of seriously worshiping the flimsy God of a co-opted Christianity,” the “National Study of Youth and Religion found one group of teenagers who were exceptions to this rule.” The youth most engaged with church…
1). Readily talked about faith in ways that suggested they had thought about it
2). Portrayed God as loving, powerful and active in the world
3). Talked about their church communities as spiritually and relationally significant
4). Sensed a divinely appointed purpose for their lives, and they bore witness to a hopeful future.”
For me, this is revealed in part through the need to (as your bulletin insert suggests) Take Faith Home. It is DOING Church, BEING Church, everywhere, all the time. In our homes, cars, sporting events, school, work, coffee shops, hospitals, care facilities. It is revealed through Taking Faith OUT!—which is one reason why I periodically offer my community office hours outside the walls of the building. Over the past three weeks, I have had long time members and friends of the church show up at my office hours in the community and then introduce themselves to other long time members and friends whom they have SEEN in church, but have not really gotten to know. I have had a youth show up, and excitedly tell me that she saw a short movie at school that shows how we are all beautifully unique—and suggest that we show this movie in church. I have had a person from the community who has not even been to Memorial UCC show up and ask questions about our faith community, our ministries, and share a bit of their life story. THIS is the church being “spiritually and relationally significant” for people of all ages. Today.
And this is worship.
This is prayer.
May we hear it.
And not sleep through it.
In Sunday School over the past few weeks, the youth have been learning about the order of worship, and what it takes to make worship happen each Sunday. People who help with each of the various ministries were invited into the classrooms to teach the youth not only how to usher, but also to be lay readers, lead the Message for All, help with the sound system, and more. But also to tell the story as to why they are passionate about these ministries. I took some time this week to think about how many people are needed to make the two worship services happen each Sunday.
How many people do you think does it take to “do worship”? From music to hospitality, teaching Sunday school, making sure that the building and grounds are welcoming, and all the people you see helping out during the service, I came up with a minimum of 35 different people that are needed EACH WEEK to make THIS, our worship, this celebration of God, this gathering, this living prayer, happen. Each and every week. Thirty-five people. And that is just to make 8:15 am to 11:30(ish) am happen. There are SO MANY other learning opportunities, pastoral care visits, service activities, and advocacy actions that happen HERE—and OUT THERE—each and every week.
This is our arc. Our on-going arch of life. God’s prayer. So keep awake. Overhear God’s Great Hope.
For God is stirring something new—something God—that has always been. Be awake to the prayers revealed in our day-to-day encounters with each other. With God. With all of creation.
At the beginning of worship today, you had an opportunity to visually see how this church is supporting the faith formation programming, and impacting the lives of our youth (and… I would guess from my own experience… the adults who work with them!). I had to smile as I saw the picture that boldly proclaimed the response to “What do you love about church” with “I love cheeses!” A couple of years ago when we got together with our granddaughter, who is now 7 years old, we asked about what she was learning in Sunday School. McKenzie answered, “We are learning about cheeses.” Cheeses. Jesus. Yeah…
Ahhhh. That being awake. Alert. Overhearing God. Jesus. And cheeses. In Sunday School last week, the youth were asked why THEY love church. Here are a few of their responses:
- I love church because of music and Sunday School
- I love church because of snacks and communion
- True community. The ability to be yourself. Everyone is helpful and kind.
- Sunday school. Crafts. Fun! Stories from the bible.
These are their Jesus words. The words of the youth. Their reflections on their own faith journeys. Their encounter with hearing God’s prayer in new ways—which will continue the Church… whatever that is to look like today and into the future.
I encourage each and everyone of you here today to be awake. Catch snippets of God Still Speaking, Still Praying, Still Eternally Hoping. Shhh!!! Listen. Where do you overhear God praying, speaking, moving in the world today? THAT is God’s prayer.
Reflection on 1 John 5:9-13 and John 17:6-19 offered May 13, 2018
 “Arc.” Merriam-Webster. Accessed May 10, 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/arc.
 Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 42 of 254, Kindle version.