Psalm 71:1-16, Acts 1:11-14
June 1, 2014
This week, we’re looking again at that time just before Pentecost – which we will celebrate next week. And as I did last week, I’m asking us to think again about the disciples. What were they thinking as they were going through this time? What were they waiting for? They really didn’t know, did they?
In our story for last week, they thought they knew. They thought perhaps the kingdom of Israel was about to be restored. Or at least that’s what they were hoping! But Jesus “put the kibosh on” that. (Isn’t that a great word? It sounds Yiddish, doesn’t it? It isn’t, but it sounds like it is!) Jesus put that hope to rest as he ascended into heaven. As he vanished from their sight, so did their hopes for an earthly kingdom.
So now what were they waiting for? They knew something was going to happen. Jesus gave them some hints about that. But , but as we said, they had no idea what that was going to be, or what it would be like! So, in the meantime, what did they do?
Luke tells us that “They returned to the upper room.” And I wonder about that. It says “they upper room where they were staying.” Could it have been the same “upper room” in which they had shared with Jesus the “Last Supper?” There’s really no way of knowing that, but it wasn’t all that many days before this! So it is an interesting thought, isn’t it?
The other thing I want you to think about is “who.” Who was there? Luke names the eleven disciples. But then he also tells of others who were there – the women of their company, Mary the mother of Jesus, (we can’t forget her!) and his brothers. So we have to add all of them to our “mental picture.” There were more than just eleven, weren’t there!
Then we need to think about what they were doing. Well, one thing they did do, as we’re told about in the last part of this chapter, was that they chose a replacement for Judas. That’s always been an interesting part of this story! Because that was Peter’s idea, but it doesn’t seem to be what God had in mind. They drew lots and chose this man named Matthias, but then, we never hear his name again anywhere in the scriptures! Interesting! (As Mr. Spock would say, “Fascinating!”) But that’s not the story I want us to think about today. You can read that on your own. In fact, I hope you will. I hope you’ll read this whole first chapter again, just to get thinking of Pentecost next week.
What I want us to think about today comes right before that. Here, Luke names the people who were gathered in the upper room. Then he says, “And all these, with one accord, devoted themselves to prayer.” I like that. And that’s what I want us to focus in on today. As they awaited Pentecost, not knowing what was going to happen, or even when it would happen, they devoted themselves to prayer.
They knew they were involved in something big – still! They had been visited by the risen Christ – several times! They were eye-witnesses of his ascension into heaven. That was a big deal! We thought about that event last week. But now, something else loomed! And, they were in prayer about it!
As we think about that, I want us to consider something I heard years ago. I heard it said, and I think it’s true, that “God can do things with us when we place ourselves in a position for him to do so.” Just think about that for a moment. How often do we find ourselves in a “position” where God can use us? You know that sometimes we are so far out of communication with God he can hardly get our attention, let alone tell us anything. Is that not true? So how do we place ourselves in a position where God can use us?
Well, one of the best “positions” for us to be in, so that God is able to use us, is on our knees! When we’re in prayer, that’s when God can guide us. When we’re in prayer, that’s when our spirits are more in tune with God’s Spirit. When we’re in prayer, we are closer to him, and he can more easily use us for his purposes.
Many people have asked me over the years, how do we know the will of God for us? That’s a good question! How do that? How do we seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness? Three words: Pray, pray, and pray! That’s what the disciples did in the upper room! They prayed together! And more than that, they devoted themselves to prayer! They pledged their time and energy toward being in prayer together! And look what happened to them! Look what God was able to do with them!
So, what were the disciples doing in this time between the Ascension and Pentecost? They were doing lots of things, I’m sure. But thing they were doing, the thing they devoted themselves to doing, was prayer!
Ok, so that’s a big part of this picture. But I’d like you to back up for a moment. Because there’s something here I don’t want you to miss. Luke tells us – and I keep saying Luke because Luke was likely the author of the book of Acts – and Luke tells us that these people “were in one accord…” as they devoted themselves to prayer. They were together on this. They were united. And that means more than just being in agreement that they should pray. There was a “spirit of unity” among them. They were “in one accord.”
Sometimes being “in one accord” seems like a daunting task, doesn’t it? We people sometimes have difficulty “getting along,” don’t we? Sometimes we find ourselves at odds over issues and interpretations and opinions. Sometimes we are anything but “in one accord.”
Well, let me just say that being “In one accord” doesn’t mean we are “in total agreement.” It doesn’t mean that. But it does mean being “at peace.” It means being “in unity and harmony.” It means doing something together, even though we might not agree! And that’s always the harder task, isn’t it? But I believe that’s what God wants us to do.
We’re Presbyterians. And at the heart of the historic principles of the Presbyterian Church is the understanding that “people of good conscience can differ.” That’s one of the central tenets of our Presbyterian heritage. And I’m glad for that. It means that we recognize the differences in opinion around us. And we learn to be “one in the spirit” even though we may differ! I believe that’s what was happening here.
One of the reasons they were able to happen was that “…In one accord they devoted themselves to prayer.” Those two things go together! It all came in the same sentence! Prayer and unity go hand in hand! You see, when we are in prayer we are more likely to be more oriented toward God’s Spirit, we are more likely to be more “Christ-like” toward each other, we are more likely to be more “slow to anger and quick to forgive.” Those are words which we know we need to follow, but which we all-to-quickly forget.
Do you see how it works? When we are closer to God we will be closer to each other. Think of a pyramid with God at the top. (I wish I had a visual aid right here!) If we picture ourselves on the sides or the edges of the pyramid, the closer we move toward God at the top, the closer we get to each other! That’s how it works! That’s a great thought, isn’t it? (I first heard that on a retreat at Kirkwood!)
On the other hand, if we find ourselves in a state of, shall we say, “not-so-great unity,” if we find ourselves in a place where we are not so forgiving, we might need to ask ourselves, “Are we devoted to prayer?” Do we perhaps need to make that devotion – that commitment – again? I want you to think about that. I want you to pray about that!
Well, when we do that, when we devote ourselves to prayer, one more thing happens. When we are in prayer, we are better able to understand our status before almighty God. Because in a world where many say, “It’s all about me,” we are called to be people who say, “It’s all about God.” When we know that, we can then be in a better “position” for God to work in us and through us. And maybe then we can better relate to the following words, with which I will close today. Listen to this poem.
When I say… “I am a Christian” I’m not shouting “I’m clean livin’.”
I’m whispering “I was lost,” Now I’m found and forgiven.
When I say… “I am a Christian” I don’t speak of this with pride.
I’m confessing that I stumble and need Christ to be my guide.
When I say… “I am a Christian” I’m not trying to be strong.
I’m professing that I’m weak and need His strength to carry on.
When I say… “I am a Christian” I’m not bragging of success.
I’m admitting I have failed and need God to clean my mess.
When I say… “I am a Christian” I’m not claiming to be perfect,
My flaws are far too visible but, God believes I am worth it.
When I say… “I am a Christian” I still feel the sting of pain,
I have my share of heartaches So I call upon His name.
When I say… “I am a Christian” I’m not holier than thou,
I’m just a simple sinner who received God’s good grace, somehow.
~ Rest in peace, Maya Angelou
So, in one accord, let us be devoted to – let us be committed to – prayer together.
Eternal God, you draw us closer together as you draw us closer to you. Give us an ever increasing awareness of your Spirit in our midst as we seek to be your people, the light of the world. For we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.