7th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 1:12–14; 1 Peter 4:13–16; John 17:1–11a
Crash landing Our personal prayer can grow out of life, can be practical and Trinitarian.
Coach Grant Teaff (Taff, as in taffy), of Baylor University in Texas, has written a book called I Believe.
In it he describes an incident that happened earlier in his career at McMurry College. One Saturday night he and his team had just taken off in a chartered plane to return to Texas.
Suddenly the plane developed serious trouble. The pilot announced that he would have to attempt a crash landing. The plane was loaded with fuel, so an explosion was likely.
As the plane sped downward one of the players called out, Coach Teaff, would you lead us in prayer? We’re all pretty frightened. Teaff prayed out loud for everyone.
Seconds later the plane bellied across the ground. A shower of sparks engulfed it. Miraculously, however, it didn’t explode, and no one was hurt. The next night Teaff and his family were in church together. Right in the middle of the services Teaff got up, left the church, and went to the McMurry Fieldhouse about a mile away. He went directly to the team’s dressing room and knelt down and prayed:
God, I know that you have a plan, a purpose, and a will for my life and the lives of these young men. I do not know what it is but I’ll . . . try to impress upon the young men I coach this year and forever that there is more to life than just playing football; that you do have a purpose for our lives.
That story fits in beautifully with today’s Scripture readings on prayer. Specifically, it’s an excellent illustration of the three settings in which prayer takes place.
First, there’s the personal setting. That’s when we pray alone, as Coach Teaff did in the dressing room.
Second, there’s the small group setting. That’s when we pray with our family or close friends, as Teaff did with his players on the plane.
Finally, there’s the communal setting. That’s when we pray with the larger Christian community, as Coach Teaff and his family did on the Sunday after the plane mishap. It is interesting to note that Luke’s Gospel portrays Jesus praying in these same three settings in his lifetime.
First, Jesus prayed alone. We see him doing this before choosing his apostles. Luke says. At that time Jesus went up a hill to pray and spent the whole night there praying to God. Luke 6:12
Second, Jesus also prayed in small groups with his family and his fiends. It was customary for Jewish families to pray together often. Jesus’ family would have been no exception.
Likewise, Jesus prayed with his close friends. Luke says that Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him and went up a hill to pray. Luke 9:28
Finally, Jesus prayed with the community. Luke says that Jesus went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath to pray. Luke 4:16
It comes as no surprise, then, to discover in the Acts of the Apostles that the first followers of Jesus also prayed in these same three settings.
For example, we find Peter praying alone on a rooftop. Acts 10:9
We also find the disciples gathering in small groups to pray, as they do in today’s first reading.
Finally, we find them gathering as a community to pray. Acts of the Apostles 3:1
This brings us to our own time.
As the story of Coach Teaff shows, Christians still pray in each of these settings. They pray alone, in small groups, and with the larger Christian community.
For the most part, prayer in community and prayer in small groups follow a set pattern. It’s a different story, however, when we pray alone. There is no set pattern that everyone uses.
One excellent way to pray alone is simply to talk to God in our own words. This is how Jesus prays to his Father in today’s gospel.
In his book Sadhana Anthony de Mello has developed an exercise for those who want to talk to God in their own Words but find it hard. He calls it the “empty chair” exercise.
De Mello developed it after hearing the story of a person who had been sick in bed for several years. The sick person found it hard to pray to God.
One day a friend suggested that the sick person place an empty chair near the bed. He told him to imagine Jesus sitting in it. Then he told him to converse with Jesus, just as the two of them were conversing now. The sick man tried it and had no more trouble after that. Of course, Jesus wasn’t sitting in the chair, but Jesus was present in the room. The “empty chair” exercise merely helped the person realize this fact.
If you decide to try this exercise, you might find it helpful to talk out loud to Jesus.
Many people find talking out loud to Jesus in a quiet voice helps them pray better.
And what do you say to Jesus? Anything! Whatever you feel like saying. Talk to him about your life. But also talk to him about his life. For example, pick out a passage from the Gospel like the passage we read today. Discuss it with Jesus step by step. But whatever you talk to Jesus about, be sure to pause now and then to let him reply, if he wishes to.
Finally, don’t bother trying to imagine what Jesus looked like. Saint Theresa of Avila, who used a method of praying like this, never imagined the face of Jesus. She merely sensed his closeness, just as two people in a dark room sense each other’s presence.
During the week ahead, you might wish to experiment with this method of praying to God in your own words. In conclusion, then, there are three settings in which prayer can take place: the personal, the small group, the community.
An excellent way to pray in the personal setting is to pray in your own words, as Jesus did in today’s gospel.
The important thing in conversing with God is not the words that come from our lips, but the love that comes from our hearts.
Series II 7th Sunday of Easter Acts 1:12–14; 1 Peter 4:13–16; John 17:1–11a
The glory of Jesus Jesus’ crucifixion gave glory to him and to his heavenly Father.
In today’s gospel Jesus prays to his Father in these words:
“Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your Son, so that the Son may give glory to you.”
When Jesus says “the hour has come,” he is referring to his death on the cross. This raises two questions.
First, how will Jesus’ death on the cross give him glory? It would seem to do just the opposite.
And the second question is this: How will the death of Jesus give glory to his Father? Again, it would seem to do just the opposite.
Let’s begin with the first question: How will Jesus’ death give glory to him?
When we say something will give glory to a person, we mean it will reveal to the world the true greatness of that person.
Strangely enough, history shows that a person’s true greatness is often revealed only after the person’s death.
A case in point is the French painter Vincent van Gogh. During his lifetime he produced 1,700 paintings and drawings.
He sold only one of them while he lived, for a mere $85. Van Gogh died with everyone believing that he was a complete failure as a painter.
Yet almost 100 years later, one of his paintings sold at a world auction for over $40 million.
Or take Martin Luther King. He had many opponents in his lifetime. They had circulated all kinds of false rumors to discredit him and to destroy his cause.
But it wasn’t until after his death that the real truth came out and the whole world learned how truly great and noble he was.
Or take Joan of Arc, the great French leader. She was burned to death as a witch and a heretic by the British. Yet when they saw how heroically she died, one Englishman said, “Would that my soul will someday be where the soul of that woman now is.”
And still another Englishman said, “We are all lost because we’ve burned a saint.”
The death of Jesus on the cross affected people the same way. It had the same kind of impact on them.
For example, when the Roman soldier saw how Jesus had died, he cried out, “This man was really the Son of God!” Mark 15:39
The death of Jesus gave him glory because it revealed to the world how truly great he really was.
The sight of Jesus on the cross drew people to him like a magnet.
And the sight of Jesus on the cross still draws people to him like a magnet. We experience that even in our own lives. No other scene in the entire Gospel affects us more profoundly than the scene of Jesus on the cross. But there’s a second reason why the crucifixion gave glory to Jesus.
It’s that the crucifixion was not the end. It was followed by Jesus’ resurrection.
And it was the resurrection of Jesus that was his greatest glory of all. It was the proof that sin could do its worst to Jesus, but it could not conquer him.
It was as if God pointed to the cross and said, “That’s what sin did to my Son,” and then pointed to the resurrection and said, “And that’s what I did for my Son in return.”
The resurrection was the final and fullest glorification of Jesus by his heavenly Father.
This bring us to our second question. How did the death of Jesus give glory to his heavenly Father?
It did this because it was the greatest act of love that Jesus performed on earth.
Had Jesus stopped short of the cross, his mission would have been incomplete.
Why do we say this?
Because Jesus came into the world to reveal to us how much his Father loved us.
By dying on the cross, Jesus showed us the depth of his Father’s love. He showed us that there was nothing that the Father’s love would not do for us. He showed us that there was absolutely no limit to his Father’s love for us. And so the crucifixion gave glory to the Father by showing us how much the Father loved us. He loved us enough to allow his own Son to suffer crucifixion for us. And this brings us to a practical message of today’s gospel.
The crucifixion is for us a sign, an invitation, and a revelation.
First, it’s a sign of how much Jesus and the Father love us.
“The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” John 15:13
Second, the crucifixion is an invitation to us. It says to each one of us:
“[L]ove one another, just as I love you.” John 15:12
Finally, the crucifixion is a revelation. It tells us that love entails suffering.
It tells us that if we intend to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we must be ready to suffer with him.
“If any of you want to come with me . . . you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.” Luke 9:23
And if we do pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus, we have his assurance that we too will give glory to him and to the Father and that they too will someday glorify us.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Voice of Jesus, call us when we stray from you.
Arms of Jesus, lift us up when we stumble and fall.
Blood of Jesus, wash us clean when we become soiled.
Body of Jesus, feed us when we grow hungry.
Heart of Jesus, teach us to love one another as you have loved us. M.L.
Series III 7th Sunday of Easter Acts 1:12–14; 1 Peter 4:13–16; John 17:1–11a
Prayer More things are wrought by prayer Than this world dreams of. Alfred Lord Tennyson
The apostles returned to Jerusalem . . . Together they devoted themselves to constant prayer. Acts 1:12, 14
Some time ago, I came across a booklet of poems entitled Humble Heart. It was subtitled Not through my eyes but through my heart I now see. Allow me to share with you an excerpt from a poem in that booklet. It is entitled “My Friends”:
Early in the morning As the sun begins to rise, I notice my Friend is present Which is no surprise.
As I brush my teeth And run water on my face, Putting on my clothes I feel his amazing grace. As I start my day I begin with a prayer, And just like every morning My friend is always there.
Let me tell you something about the young man who wrote those words.
At 16 he was the leader of one of the worst street gangs in all of Los Angeles. Drugs, guns and gang wars were his way of life. He wrote:
Night after night I saw many of those who followed me go to their grave. . . . I hated all white people, Hispanics, and even some Blacks.
The name of that young man is Alonzo Dixon. After several terms in prison, he began to feel remorse and longed to change his way of life. He writes in the foreword of his booklet:
I needed help. . . . When I saw no help . . . I decided to take my life.
But on that very day in 1995 . . . a white man walked up to my prison door . . . and asked if he could share with me the Word of God. . . . As he prayed . . . something in my life changed. . . .
I asked him if he would help me. . . . He said that as long as I meant business with God, he would do all he could to help me. Quote from an essay by Alonzo Dixon entitled “On the Wings of Eagles.”
That episode was the beginning of a wonderful relationship with Henry SoRelle and a brand new life for Alonzo Dixon.
As a result of the new relationship and new life, Alonzo writes:
I have given myself over completely to God. . . . So now it is my prayer that God will give me the words . . . to help others.
It is my prayer that those who used to follow me in battle will now follow me to the cross. Because it is at the cross where we will find God’s grace.
Alonzo’s story fits in beautifully with today’s readings. It does so in three ways.
First, it fits in with the overall theme of the readings, which is prayer.
In the first reading, we find the apostles praying together, preparing for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
And, in the Gospel reading, we find Jesus praying for his disciples, preparing them for the awesome moment when he would give them, in the form of bread and wine, his own body and blood, to be their spiritual food and drink.
Secondly, his story fits in with the power of prayer to help people change their lives prayer like the one Henry SoRelle made at the door of Alonzo’s cell.
It not only kept Alonzo from taking his life, but it also empowered him to change his life in a most dramatic way.
Thirdly, it fits in with Alonzo’s new mission in life, asking God to help him use his ability to write poetry to help others, especially those who used to follow him in gang wars.
This brings us back to all of us gathered together in this church.
Like the apostles, we are gathered in prayer in final preparation for next week’s liturgical celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
And, like Henry SoRelle, we are gathered to pray for people who feel helpless and, perhaps, on the verge of giving up, as Alonzo felt.
And, no doubt, some of us in this church like Alonzo are praying for people whom we have led astray by our bad example and sin.
And this brings us back to Alonzo’s beautiful poem on prayer in his booklet. It contains the inspiration that many of us need to turn again to daily prayer after, perhaps, abandoning it.
Let us close with an excerpt from another poem by Alonzo. It reads:
I was just a little boy When I ran away from home Still playing with tinkertoys When I found myself alone.
It did not matter, I was tough I was hard, I was bad, I was cool, But in the end the streets were rough And I realized I had been a fool. . . .
My life was filled with terrible rage My days were filled with hate, The jails became my constant cage And death was my destiny date. . . .
I could not stand it, I was lost I looked for a razor or knife, Then I heard a voice say, “I’ve paid the cost. . . . I have already given my life.
“Lay down your weapons, forget you hate Alonzo, I truly care, For in My forgiveness, it is never too late And your burdens I will bear. . . .”