Thursday, May 15, 2014
May 18, Easter 5, Community of Jesus #3: RSVP
Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14
"If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." Why does Jesus make this invitation? It sort of discredits him. C’mon, Jesus, not really. How many things that we’ve prayed for in his name are still not done. His promise contradicts what our experience tells us. He could have qualified it with just a few more words, like, "I will do it–if I think it is a good idea," or I will do it–as may best for you," both of which would make it fully credible. But he didn’t. He says it unqualified and absolute.
Why did the author record him saying this? The author was his best friend John, who wrote this down some decades after the fact. During those years the Apostle John will have had his own experience of unfulfilled requests. He could have suppressed this promise as something not helpful.
That he did not suppress it, you may take as a sign of the author’s trustworthiness. He reported even those things which seem to discredit his hero. Not only things back then which are hard to believe, like the miracles and the resurrection, but also things which would touch your own experience today, like this promise. It’s harder to believe that Jesus is faithfully present and active in your life than it is to believe that those events might have happened. It’s harder to believe that Jesus will keep his promise to do anything you ask in his name than to believe that he rose from the dead.
Jesus gives this promise as an invitation. But we rarely return the RSVP. From fear of disappointment? From only half-believing? Because we’ve learned to take a lot of our promises with a grain of salt? From not expecting much from God?
Pentecostals and Charismatics return the RSVP a lot. They take the invitation at face value, and they keep on asking, and with specifics and details. If Jesus doesn’t do what they ask for, they blame themselves and their lack of faith or holiness. This has the effect of saving Jesus’ reputation. But to end up blaming yourself is not why Jesus offered this invitation. He offered it for comfort and encouragement and precisely to take you out of blaming yourself. He opens by saying, "Let not your hearts be troubled." This invitation is meant to encourage you and comfort you.
Should you filter what you ask for? No. Ask for anything. Even Jesus, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, asked his Father to spare him the cup of suffering. But then he added these words too: "Nevertheless, not my will but your will."
The Apostle Paul tells us that he kept asking the Lord for the removal of his so-called "thorn in the flesh," but finally he got the message back, "My grace is sufficient for you;" in other words, "Okay, dear Paul, that’s enough."
So do you have to give up asking? No and Yes. I would say only when you get a clear enough message back; but to be able to perceive and accept such messages you have to develop your spiritual maturity.
Do you have to adjust what you ask for? Yes, because the Lord Jesus is adjusting you, in terms of your gradual conversion and transformation, like with Paul, and because the world keeps moving, and your circumstance. In the case of Stephen, in our first lesson, I’m sure that on the day before his martyrdom he had not been asking Jesus for what he was asking now, that the Lord Jesus would receive his spirit, and that the Lord would not hold the sin of his killers against them. You do have to adjust what you ask for.
Should you ask for less? Yes and No. Probably for fewer things, but then more passionately and daringly for those fewer things.
Should you grow in maturity in what you ask for? Yes, of course. You can ask for anything, but you want to start asking for the anything that Our Lord wants for you, for the anything that receives the coming of his kingdom in the world and in your life. That takes discipleship, and learning, and patience, and self-examination.
On Easter Sunday I said that the resurrection leads Christians to speak of things we do not know the meaning of. Of course we do know some of the meaning of what we speak, but much of the meaning we do not know, and yet we are to speak of the things beyond us with conviction. So we hold up this contradiction between the invitation and our experience. Jesus did not fear this contradiction, and the Apostle Paul did not back off from it, and the Apostle John did not suppress it in his gospel but reported it, and I guess he figured you could handle it, and that you need to handle it.
Dearly beloved, I don’t want you to back off from anything that Jesus said, or take it with a grain of salt. My best advice is that we must learn to wait on God. You must learn to wait on God. Turn the other cheek to God: I’m still here, God. I’m holding you to what you promised. Do with me what you will, break me down, batter me, judge me, keep converting and transforming me, but I believe that you love me, and that’s why I’m still here and I’m still asking. I’m waiting on you, God.
This waiting is not passivity. For just before Jesus extends his invitation he says something else remarkable: "You will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father." Here is promise not only of invitation but also of empowerment. You are empowered to do greater works than he did because of the power he extends to you from God the Father. Jesus had his turn, and now it’s your turn. Jesus is not just promising, he’s predicting; not just that might do them, but that you will do them and that you are doing them. And we look at ourselves, and we say, "We are?" Should we take that with a grain of salt as well?
What can he mean? What does "greater" mean? Larger? More impressive? More effective? I won’t collapse it by defining it. His meaning has to keep moving and expanding. What does it mean? Let’s see what we can make it mean. It’s in our working that we will know what "greater" means.
His promise depends on the connection of working and waiting. I mean the duality of working and waiting. In much of life these two are opposites: on-time and off-time. But in Jesus’ name you have to work while you wait and wait while you work. This means that the results of your works are not within your hands. You are empowered but not for your achievement. You are empowered to surrender your greatest works. Like Stephen. It’s not just when you die that you offer to God your martyrdom, but all through your life you surrender your best works to God; you wait on God.
The benefit of this simultaneous waiting and working is to expand you. It makes room in you. It makes space in you. It opens up your hospitality. Your image for this comes from our second lesson, that you all are living stones built up together into a spiritual house. You know that the stones within the structure of a house are working while they are at rest. From an engineering point of view, the stones in a wall are not just sitting there. The stones are carrying the forces of tension and compression within them. In terms of structural engineering, a building is alive. You are living stones.
You are a community of Jesus and so you support each other in your waiting and your working, and you make a space among you for sanctuary and hospitality. You stand by each other when you work and sit with each other when you wait, you weep with each other, you sing with each other, you encourage each other, especially in seasons of unanswered prayer.
How do you live this out in practice? I’ve got four specific ways. And I need 32 of you to do them.
Twenty of those 32 I need to volunteer for working at the Respite Shelter during the first week of July. Five nights, four per night, 20 of you working for Jesus by waiting on the men. By your waiting and your working you will be building every night again a space of hospitality and sanctuary.
Two of those 32 I need to help me pray for Lacey, one of our members who is homeless and unemployed. I will forward to you his daily text messages to me, when he asks me to pray that he gets a job and a place to live and a girlfriend. For three years he’s been asking Jesus for this. Will 2 of you help me do this work and wait on God for him?
Four of those 32 I need to pray for Rev. Julia Turner. She has committed her life to the gospel and she’s seeking a pulpit of her own. Will four of you pray for her the next few months? I will help you. This kind of prayer takes working and waiting.
And I need six of you to meet with me once a month to pray for our discernment process on the sanctuary. We will have one team doing the work of the process, and I need another team to wait on God.
Don’t do these things alone. The verb-forms within the promises of Jesus are plural, not singular. They’re for the community of Jesus and they make of us community. They engender love and require love. When you balance working-on and waiting-on you engender the love you require. In the name of Jesus you wait upon and work out the unfathomable love of God for you.
Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.