Sermon
April 12, 1998 - Easter Sunday
Rev.  Michael Moran
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
Write to Rev. Moran

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John 14:1-31 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" 6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Good morning church! Happy Easter!

At the end of our community Good Friday service, after we had read through the terrible story of Christ nailed to the cross and left to die, Pastor Doug Bixby from the Salem Covenant Church in Washington reminded us that in spite of the terror of these events, Sunday was coming, celebration would overcome sorrow, resurrection would be the reward for passion and suffering.

Today we happily proclaim that good news.

The clergy group that gathered for the Good Friday service has taken on a new international character with addition of Nigel Mumford and Toby Gbeh. Nigel is British and Toby is African.

Nigel has begun a ministry of healing prayer at the Oratory of the Little Way in Gaylordsville. Many here know him, and there is a great article about his life and work in the Connecticut section of today's New York Times.

Toby is the pastor of the New Milford Chapel. Toby's experiences in a war torn African country and his odyssey as a refugee allow him to see our life here with a very insightful perspective. And his African style of preaching is stirring and refreshing. Toby addresses the congregation as Church, just as I did before. And when he addresses the church, he expects an answer. We were talking about this call and response style of preaching, and I told Toby I would try and experiment with the children here today. Let's see if I can get a call and response going with the use of a familiar American riddle form:

Knock! Knock!

Who's there?

Ether

Ether who?

Ether Bunny!

Knock! Knock!

Who's there?

Samoa

Samoa who?

Samoa Ether Bunnies!

Now we are in the spirit of the call and response sermon. I'm depending on the children to listen carefully throughout the sermon and be ready to answer back if I say Knock! Knock!. Cause you know how disappointed I will be if I say Knock! Knock! and nobody answers "Who's there."

Over the past months, my wife Eileen and I took advantage of a free course on parenting offered at John Pettibone school. The course included some interesting games and exercises to reinforce key points and illustrate the complexities of being a parent. In one of these exercises they divided the whole class into two groups and gave each group secret instructions. One group was to talk for a minute non stop and the other was to completely ignore the talker and turn away from any conversation directed at them. Then the instructors lined the groups up opposite one another and asked us to carry out our task.

I was on the side with instructions to talk. As I began to speak my partner turned her eyes away and gazed into space. At first I thought sorry for her, thinking she suffered some personality defect because she couldn't look me in the eye when I was talking. Then I realized she was deliberately ignoring me. It's very hard to talk to someone when they ignore you, tune you out and turn away. I'm sure you can see the relevance of this exercise for being a parent. But I also thought it had some relevance for prayer.

Knock! Knock!

Who's there?

Estelle

Estelle who

Estelle more Ether Bunnies!

Thank you. I appreciate your response.

How many of us will keep praying if we think nobody is listening? How many of us will call out if we get no response? And yet, if we stop praying, if we never start or give up too easily, haven't we lost a great and powerful resource to get us through the tough times and temptations of life. Let's return, for one minute, to that Good Friday service and consider how our Lord made it through betrayal, arrest, false judgment, torture and execution.

The Gospels show Jesus in many different settings during this most difficult time in his life. Sometimes he is surrounded by crowds, sometimes with just a few friends, and sometimes alone. He goes from moments of peace to moments of absolute hell. He is betrayed by Judas, arrested, denied by Peter, put on trial before the Jewish authorities, turned over to the Romans, mocked and tortured by the soldiers, displayed before the crowds, forced to carry his cross through the busy streets, nailed to the wood and hung up to die. Yet one things remains constant throughout these settings and circumstances - he remains always in close communion with God through prayer.

Prayer seems as natural to Jesus as breath itself. It reminds us of an intimate conversations between a child and their parent, between friends who have spoken often and at length. His disciples must have been impressed about his life of prayer: they observed it and admired it and wanted to know more about it. We read in Luke: Luke 11:1-4 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 2 He said to them, "When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

3 Give us each day our daily bread.

4 And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial."

Prayer was often a topic of Jesus teaching:

Matthew 6:5-8 "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

In this teaching Jesus was a good Rabbi, solidly within the devotional spirit of Judaism. Abraham Heschel, a great Rabbi of our age, tells the story of a young shepherd who was ignorant of all the ritual prayers of Jewish worship. The only way in which he prayed was saying:
Lord of the world! It is apparent and known unto you, that if you had cattle and gave them to me to tend, though I take wages for tending from others, from you I would take nothing because I love you.
One day a learned may passing by heard the shepherd praying and shouted at him: "Fool, do not pray like that!"
The shepherd asked, "How should I pray?"
Then the learned man taught him all the prayers of the synagogue, the confessions of faith and benedictions, the psalms and the silent prayers so he could learn his religion and make a prayer acceptable in the sight of God.
After the learned man went away the shepherd forgot all that had been taught him and did not pray. He was even afraid to say his old prayer since the learned man had told him not to.
One night the learned man had a dream about the shepherd, and in it he heard a voice. "If you do not tell that shepherd to say the prayer he was accustomed to say before you came to him, know that misfortune will overtake you, for you have robbed me of one who belongs to the world to come."
Well, at once the learned man went to the shepherd and said to him "What prayer are you making?"
The shepherd answered, "None, for I have forgotten what you taught me and you forbade me to say "If you had cattle.'"
Then the learned man told him of his dream and added: "Pray as you used to pray."

"Behold," says the Rabbi, "here is one who had neither Torah nor words; he only had it in his heart to do good, and this was esteemed in heaven, as if this were a great thing. The Merciful One desires the heart. Therefore, let all think good thoughts, and let these thoughts be turned to the Holy One, blessed is our God."

Knock! Knock!

Who's there?

Consumption

Consumption who?

Consumption be done about all these Ether Bunnies.

Jesus said, (Matthew 7:7-9) "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?

Prayer is the opening of the heart in trust to God. God, in Christ, has come to invite us into that kind of intimate relationship that is a matter of the heart and not of words. God entered into the human condition in the person of Jesus Christ to break down the barriers of separation. In his passion and crucifixion Christ gives us a teaching about the power of prayer and heartfelt communion with the Holy God, creator of heaven and earth. And when he was raised up from his death on the cross, Jesus rose to the Father - and there he lives to pray for us, a great high priest in the presence of God. From there he pours out his Holy Spirit, a Spirit to assist us in our own life of prayer. As Paul wrote: (Romans 8:26) Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

Sighs too deep for words - the opening of the heart to God,

In his passion and suffering Christ gave us an example of the power of prayer. In his death and resurrection and ascension Christ has cleared for us a path - a path we enter through prayer. When we take the first steps on that path our call to God might be as simple and unsophisticated as a child's Knock! Knock! riddle. But if we call, God will answer. If we seek, we will find. If we knock, the door will open.

Today we hear the story of one who persevered in prayer, one who trusted in God and committed himself body and soul into God's hands. And in spite of all the terrible things that happened, in spite of betrayal, false judgment, physical pain, emotional horror and deep distress, the last words of this story are life, joy, peace, and hope. Today we hear the story. Tomorrow it is our choice whether to let it go or live by it. And the first step in living by it is to ask, to seek, to knock, to open our hearts to God in prayer.

Knock! Knock!

Who's there?

Lettuce

Lettuce who?

Let us pray:

Thank you God, for the joy of this day, a day which you have made sacred and special to us in Christ. Behind and within all that is we sense your presence, power, and purpose. But in this story of death and resurrection you have made abundantly clear your will for our lives, your loving embrace of our pain and sorrow, your generous offering of hope for our future. Help us to stay on the path that leads to deeper communion with you and to more loving relationships with our family and neighbors here and now.

Remind us each day to pray for ourselves, our church, and one another. May our prayers become for us as natural as breath itself, as we experience your spirit praying in us and binding us to our great intercessor, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

This morning we offer prayers for all who gather here, for our families, for our community, and for the brothers and sisters we do not know by name but who share with us this beautiful sunlit home in space.

Especially we open our hearts and offer our words for those who struggle this day with sickness, with sadness, with fear, with despair. In the silence of our hearts we remember them and commend them to your care.

Especially we pray for:

 

When we lack the words to express the depth of our prayers, may we experience the presence of your Holy Spirit with us, interceding on our behalf and bringing us your peace.

Fill our hearts with your compassion, and give us strength to serve those we pray for in their need, in the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

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