Acts 1:6-14?? John 17:1-11

June 1, 2014 by Ken Dale

There is a lot of faith in the passages before us this morning. In our reading from Acts we hear of the ascension of Jesus and of his followers standing and staring up into the heavens probably wondering what just happened. This is just after Jesus told them that they would receive the Holy Spirit and that they would become his witnesses to all the world. Actually they are perhaps chided by two men in white robes for standing there staring up into the heavens. We don?t know exactly what happened ? just this report. But those standing on the hillside and those 11 who gathered in Jerusalem later, were just ordinary people ? real human beings – like you and me. They each had their own names, identities, histories, hopes ? stories of who they were. It was they who waited for the Spirit and it was they who made up that first church. And no doubt as they wait for that Spirit they pray for understanding, wisdom, guidance, and strength to go on. Surely they pray in hope and fear, in faith and doubt, in obedience and wonder.

It was they who Jesus prays for ? give thanks to God for and acknowledges as God?s gift to him ? in our reading from John 17. Knowing what we do of those first disciples or followers who are now becoming apostles or messengers, isn?t it amazing that Jesus puts them in such a high place. This little band of misfits ? described by a GISS devotional the other day: ?crude, foul-mouthed, smelly, fishermen. He picked a well-known crook of a tax collector.? He picked a political extremist. He picked a cynic and doubter.? And Jesus picks us, fickle, unreliable and sinful as we are.?? And yet when Jesus prays for them he prays ?I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world … protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.?

The protection that Jesus prays for for his disciples, and so for us, is for unity ? not unconditional safety, but unity. He prays that his followers will be kept safe from anything that might come between them ? that they will be kept safe from anything that might keep them from loving each other. Things like jealousy, judgment, destructive anger, hatred, hurtful words, bitterness. He wants no undermining of their and so our ability to understand, forgive, and love. That is so important Jesus prays for it.

That is so important as we are reminded that we are called to witness to the ends of the earth. How important it is that we are committed to that ? to be mindful that our day to day living bears witness to what we are all about. I read a powerful little story about a man named Benyamin Yusuf who was raised in Africa by a strict Muslim family. When he decided to become Christian he was disowned by his father and banished from his family. Benyamin decided to leave his native land for a more tolerant society but was captured and put into prison. The guards spent every night for several months trying to beat a renunciation out of him but he never renounced his faith. At the conclusion of every beating he would forgive the guards.

One intrigued jailer asked Benyamin about his offering such love in the face of such cruelty ? why he did that. Benyamin told the guard about Jesus and the lessons of selfless love and forgiveness that Jesus taught. The guard left in disbelief ? but then returned later that night with a plan to help Benyamin escape. And he did, eventually making his way to this country where he earned a PhD in religious studies and then returned to Africa to start new churches. What an inspirational life of faith ? of commitment in that story.

Surely Benyamin saw and understood himself as part of something so much bigger than himself ? and it was the love of God that was revealed to him in Jesus Christ. He saw himself as part of the Body of Christ ? the presence of God?s love in this world and that it was larger than even his troubles and suffering. He was committed to that love. What a witness to that love his life is. He was willing and able, by faith, to set his present reality in the context of something so much bigger. Being willing to do that can be such a powerful thing ? as it was for him.

The Psalter for today is selected verses from Psalm 68 and it speaks of the reality of the righteous and the enemies of God. The powers of life and death are constantly at work in our living , but it is a psalm of praise as the present is always understood as part of, but not all, the greater picture of God?s story. Remembering God?s faithfulness in the past fills the present reality ? whatever it is ? with hope for the future. If there is a cross to bear in the present we can cry out to God who is with us, but we also set it into that bigger picture – into the full story of God?s faithfulness. I loved the phrase that was used by one commentator to describe that life of faith. If we remember the story of God?s faithfulness we become like those ?who sing ahead of schedule.? The present is set in the context of God?s ultimate victory. By faith one is able to sing of that victorious future before it becomes a present reality ? and singing of it, ahead of schedule, empowers that present moment.

I think an example for me is that later this month I will celebrate the baptism of my grandson and already for the past week or two I cannot get the hymn Child of Blessing, Child of Promise out of my head. I am singing it long in advance of the celebration. I am singing it as if it has already happened ? though it has not.

The point is captured in the very first story in Ted Clapp?s book, Tell Me About the River, in the very first story where he raises the question: ?What are the dimensions of your world?? A wonderful story about taking the time to notice something small ? song sparrow ? but being mindful that it is part of that whole realm of nature, which we perhaps are only beginning to comprehend and experience because we are overly self-focused. In the same way, as people of faith ? individuals, families, church ? community of faith ? we too must be open to the ?expanding dimension? of God?s love. We too have our stories but they are but small parts of God?s story. But to know and experience that ? as the song says, ?How Can I Keep from Singing???? And yes ? maybe even singing ahead of time!