In One Accord (A Sermon for Easter 7A)

In One Accord (A Sermon for Easter 7A)
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (Cypress, Texas)
Acts 1:6-14
May 28, 2017

Even though I have been a Christian my whole life, I still find prayer to be an enormous challenge. It doesn’t come naturally to me, never has, and for all I know, it never will. Real prayer is hard work that involves the mind, the soul, the heart, and the will. It also demands a certain amount of bodily concentration. None of this is easy for me.

As I look at my own life, I find that I pray in fits and starts. There are moments when I feel I am touching the hem of Jesus’ garment, then somehow I seem to lose my grip. This distresses me when I consider Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing,” because all too often I seem to “cease without praying.”

I hesitate to speak this way because I know that my experience is not universal. I truly believe that God gives some people the gift of prayer just like he gives others the gift of music. They know how to pray the way some people know how to make beautiful music on the violin. Over the years I have known Christians who pray for several hours each day. It is hard for me to know what to say about that except that I stand in amazement at such a gift and such a dedication to God.

There is another side to all this, and I take comfort in it. We know everyone has different gifts. One teaches, another sings, another cooks, another serves on a committee, another teaches children’s chapel, another reads the lessons. And so it goes. Even if you don’t think you have the gift of prayer, you can learn from those who do. Over the years I’ve grown close to many people who truly know how to pray. They are in prayer graduate school and I’m still playing with the blocks in kindergarten.

I say all that so that you will know that when I preach on prayer, I’m talking to myself first.

We’ve been working our way through Acts this Easter season, and now we go back to the beginning. To the first prayer meeting. It happens just after Jesus ascends to heaven, leaving the disciples seemingly alone in the world.

We learn in Luke 24, which is the first volume of this Luke/Acts story, that Jesus has instructed his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they have received the Holy Spirit. Jesus is ascending into heaven – Ascension Day was this past Thursday, and he tells his disciples to wait until they have received the Holy Spirit – that’s a story we’ll talk about next Sunday, on Pentecost. There are 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost.

So we know that the disciples have been told to wait. They’ve been told that they will receive power and the Holy Spirit, and that they have a big job ahead of them. They are going to be Christ’s witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. They are going to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Good News of this new way of life.

But first they had to wait. For 10 days.

If you’re like me, waiting is hard. I need stuff to do. So, if I’m there with the disciples, I probably get with Peter and pull out my map, and start to grid out the city, telling James to prepare for that neighborhood, and showing Thomas the area we want him to cover. If I were there, I would have spent those 10 days in serious preparation.

But the disciples spent those 10 days in serious prayer.

Most folks say that next Sunday, Pentecost, is the Church’s birthday. It’s the day we received the Holy Spirit, Peter gave a great sermon, and the Jesus Movement began.

But as I’ve studied the Scriptures this week, I have a different idea. This moment, when Jesus leaves his disciples and gives them God’s mission, is the beginning.

And the first act of the new Church isn’t a preaching event, it isn’t a planning meeting (much to my chagrin). The first thing these disciples did, as a group, as this new Church, was pray.

The Church was born not in a preaching service, but in a prayer meeting.

It’s interesting to note that this is the last we hear of Mary. She’s referenced in later letters, but in the narrative, in the story of the church, this is her last appearance.

With her friends, with the fellow followers of Jesus, waiting. Praying.

Their waiting…their praying…implies that the things which need doing are beyond the disciples ability to accomplish solely by their own effort, or their own planning, or their own programs. Some other empowerment is needed, therefore the church waits and prays.

But they do so together. Our Scripture today says that they “constantly devoted themselves to prayer, together…”

When our translation says they were “together,” I think we miss something. Luke uses a particular Greek, homothumadon, which the King James Version translates with the wonderful phrase “in one accord.” It’s a musical term that means to strike the same notes together. We all know what it is like to listen to a choir sing and the music is lovely and then without warning, someone hits a wrong note. I’m not saying this happens here, unless you’re listening to me sing. The discordant sound sticks out like a sore thumb. When the early church prayed, there were no “wrong notes.” Everyone was together, even if not in the same space, at least they were on the same page. Praying.

We’re in this in-between time, between last Thursday’s Ascension and next Sunday’s Pentecost. And hopefully you’re joining with us in the Thy Kingdom Come prayer vigil. This is a 10-day vigil, starting last Thursday, where the Archbishop of Canterbury has called on Christians around the world to join in prayer, together.

If you haven’t started yet, it’s not too late. Start today, and pledge to join us in prayer each day this week. At home, or here at St. Mary’s for Morning or Evening Prayer, or wherever you are, pray with us. So we can pray together, in one accord.

We don’t have to be together, to be together. You know? We don’t have to be in the same room. So if I’m in Fort Worth, and you’re in Europe, and someone else is in Hawaii, we can pray together. We can pray in one accord.

And my hope is that this prayer vigil will be a launching pad for a summer of prayer. As we take Church on the Go, may we pray together, in one accord.

Because we know that prayer changes things. Perhaps most importantly, we know that prayer changes us, together. Amen.

 

In One Accord (A Sermon for Easter 7A)