Sermon from Sunday, July 17, 2022
Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture Passage: Acts 12: 5-12, Ephesians 3: 14-21
This morning, we have two scripture lessons. The first is from the Book of Acts. it illustrates what happens when the church prays for the pastor or prays for the leader. The second one is from the Book of Ephesians, reminding us and showing us what happens when the pastor turns around and prays for the church. I’m going to read the passage and we’re going to watch just a little clip from the podcast that will be released and then I’m going to read the Ephesians passage. Hear, this word from the Book of Acts.
While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. the very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers while guards in the front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, Get up quickly. The chains fell off of his wrist. The angel said to him, fasten your belt and put on your sandals. He did so. Then he said to him, wrap your cloak around you and follow me. Peter went out and followed him. He did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real. He thought he was seeing a vision. After they had passed the first and second guard. They came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane when suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter said to him. Then Peter came to himself and said, Now I am sure that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting. As soon as he realized this, he went to the House of Mary, the mother of John, whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying.
– Video Clip
I’m actually in a couple of small groups. I’ve got one I go to on Tuesday morning and then Wednesday morning, and the men there, it doesn’t matter if you call them at 2:00 in the morning or if you need a prayer at 5:00 in the morning, you’re going to have somebody sit down and pray with you. Yeah. And it’s what’s even more powerful is when you have just a group of guys all just surround you and put their hands on you and pray you can feel the presence of God right there. And if it happens, it’s just life changing. The feeling in it’s, you know, that is going to work. You know that the prayer is going to be answered. And that’s what I like to see happen in more in the church is when somebody, you know, hits the altar, it’s not always about that they need something for themselves. They may be praying for the church. They may be praying for somebody else. But still yet I’d like to see more people just gather around them, just assist them with their prayer and lifted whatever’s on their mind. Lift it up with them. Yeah. And it’s just to me, the more people that are laying hands on that one prayer, it just seems like it’s just that much more powerful.
Now, this is the prayer that the Apostle Paul prayed for the church, and by extension, prayed for you. For this reason, I’m bow my knees before the father, from whom every family and heaven on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of His glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend with all the saints. What is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him, who by the power work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the Church and in Jesus Christ to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Friends this is the Word of God for the people of God, thanks be to God. Amen.
Well, if you’re not up on your Methodist polity, you need to understand that Methodist ministers are one year free agents, that every year we decide whether we want to go back to the church we’re serving. And every year the church we’re serving decides if they want us back. And there are some years where you can decide you want to go back, the church want you back, and the bishop snatches you up and sends you someplace else. So we are one year free agents and if you want to look at it in football terms, one year before we enter the transfer portal, that’s how it works.
Although there is no cushy name, image and likeness contract for us waiting out there. So that’s how appointments work. Now in a certain annual conference, there was a preacher who wanted to leave every year. He wanted a new church. It didn’t matter if he was in a country church, an urban church. It didn’t matter if he was in tall steeple church or a contemporary church. It didn’t matter if his church was made up primarily of old folks or young folks. Every year that preacher asked to move. He was not satisfied. He was not happy. He wanted to move every year.
In the same annual conference, there was a church that wanted a new preacher every year. It didn’t matter if the preacher was young or old. If he was conservative, progressive. It didn’t matter if he could sing in the choir or play a musical instrument. It didn’t matter if he was gregarious and convivial or introverted and introspective. Every year that church was dissatisfied with their preacher, and they wanted a new one. So the bishop, in a flash of Episcopal brilliance, decided that the bishop would send the preacher who wanted a new church every year to the church, who wanted a new preacher every year. And for three years no one heard anything. And the bishop thought, they both are still there. What’s going on?
So the bishop happened to be around the church one Sunday and stopped in and asked for a congregational meeting to find out what had happened. And the lay leader of the church got up and said, well, Bishop, to tell you the truth, we didn’t want no preacher at all. And this last guy you sent us is the closest thing to no preacher that we’ve ever had.
Now you know how appointments really work. Oh, y’all. It’s tough being a Methodist preacher these days. I remember a time I’ve been around this for so long. I remember the late 1980s. I was a young Methodist preacher, right in Kenner, Louisiana, right in the middle of a whole Jimmy Swaggart thing. I mean, it was literally going on down the street from the Methodist Church in Kenner. Yeah, Jimmy Swaggart doing his thing. You had Jim Baker doing his thing. You had the 600 foot Oral Roberts who was threatening an Oral Roberts if he didn’t raise money from all the people watching his TV program. And you just didn’t want anybody to ask you what you did for a living.
I was on an airplane flight from New Orleans to Dallas, and I was sitting next to this nice sainted lady of God, and she was making airplane small talk. And she said, What do you do for a living? And I said, I work for J.C. and the boys. She said, oh, you work for J.C. Penney. I love their discounts. All What department do you work in? Millinery. I let her think about that one. It was just embarrassing to be a minister, yet here we are nearly 40 years later, and I’m not sure it’s embarrassing to be a minister. I just know that Methodist minister are dropping like flies. You can retire as a Methodist preacher after 20 years of service and a bunch of preachers are doing that. You can take leave of absence for an indeterminate amount of time and bunch of people are doing that. I know some other Methodist preachers that are just hanging it up.
We had COVID, we had post COVID. We have I don’t know what COVID we’re in now. I just know I see a lot of people in Super One say, Preacher, I watch you every Sunday. Don’t go to church, but I watch you every Sunday. And I’m glad you’re watching me every Sunday. I want you to come watch me live. I look a lot better live than I do on camera. But we’re dealing with that. And we’re dealing with the ultimate fragmenting or falling apart or unraveling of the Methodist Church, and clergy, men and women who are called, who are faithful, who have served faithfully, who the church needs are just backing away and saying enough is enough.
We’re not the first to deal with this. The Apostle Paul, second Corinthians, the first chapter, the eighth verses. I don’t want you to be unaware. Brothers and sisters of the affliction we experience in Asia. For we were so utterly unbearably crushed, Listen to what Paul says, that we despaired of life itself. Sometimes in church work, it happens. I had a member two weeks ago say, What can we do for you? We want to know how we need to support our clergy and what can we do. And my answer was, well, you can pray for us, for me, for all the clergy. And you could see her disappointment. She wanted an answer that she could get in there and do something about. So I gave her one. And I’m going to give you the same answer.
What can you do for me? You can attend the Activate workshop on August 27th. TMS Global is coming in and we’re having a from 8:30 to 1:30 or 2:00 workshop. We’re feeding your lunch and what so important about this to me is I’ve been to long range planning workshops. Those become Yalta conferences. People sit in the room with pious tones and say, You ought to do this and you ought to do that and you ought to do this. just wearing us out. Well, there are a bunch of things you ought to do. This is not that. This is a workshop that starts the process of Trinity articulating our values. What do we value as a church? Do we value community? Do we value authenticity? Do we value social justice? Do we value integrity? What is it we value? What are our values as a church, not mine, yours? What are our values? And it’s out of those values that we will make decisions about our future. It’s out of those values that we will measure what ministries need to change and what ministries need to be put to bed, and what ministries need to be created and recreated. This will be a life giving, life changing event and process that will lead us into God’s preferred future. That’s what you can do for me. You can show up and participate. It’s our future. That would be so good to see a space just filled with people talking about what they value as a church. Because you become then the human agency that answers prayer.
The Greek word for angel can mean a supernatural being. The Greek word for angel can also mean messenger. It can just be a human being. And when I read the story in Acts and I was chewing on it for the last couple of weeks, first of all, I was thinking, you know, if that’s a supernatural agent of God, that angel has an awful lot of experience with jails. That Angel really seems to know the whole process. And what is that Angel been up to? Then I thought, ahh, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo, David in the lion’s den. All kinds of things angels get into. But you can also read this passage that God sent a human being to Peter. Oh, but Brother Doug, there’s a light, okay? He was carrying a lantern forever sakes. And he knew the way out of the jail. however, it was, whether it was a supernatural angel, and if you believe it’s supernatural angel, you’d be correct. If you believe it as a human messenger, you would also be correct. Whatever it was, it was sent as a result of prayer. Sometimes when you’re praying for the pastor, you become the answer to the prayer You’re praying. You become the human agency by which God answers the prayer.
So, yes, pray for your pastor. But also when we talk about this workshop, you can give us half a day on Saturday. It’s the future of the church. We will give you lunch. It’ll be really good. I started out in the Methodist church serving the Aurora Church in New Orleans. As the associate pastor, you need to know the rainy season in New Orleans starts in January and ends in December. It’s ridiculous. If it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, it’s pretty much raining in New Orleans, and there’s a spring time in New Orleans where it rains all the time. And this was one of those rainy springs. And I was going home from the church on Eaton to my parsonage on Chelsea Drive. and on Chelsea Drive There was about a 25 to 30 foot place where the road did a little dip and it had proceeded to fill up with water. I had a 1971 Ford Torino. It was a cool car, it was a fast car. And I decided I was going to drive my 71 Ford Torino through the water puddle. Made it out to the other side. Car was still running, radio was still blasting, pulled up in the driveway and the carport, turned the car off, closed the garage doors, did whatever preachers do when they get home after a hard day. I think I prayed. the next morning, got up, raised the garage door, jumped in my 1971, Ford Torino, stuck the key in and turned the ignition in. Woo hoo! Woo woo woo woo woo woo woo! Back in the seventies and eighties, Ford stood for fix or repair Daly. also found on the side of the road, dead. Something like that. Would not start. Would not start. Would not start. And I thought, I’m going to kill the battery. I better quit Now. You need to know I read Greek, I read Hebrew, I read Latin, I read German. I survived three quarters of college calculus. started out in chemical engineering, believe it or not. I am not a dummy unless it comes to automobiles. When my car won’t start, I look for a way to inflate the tires because I’m sure that a car won’t start because of low tires.
So I walked to church, car left in the garage, and I got there because I’d been invited to do something at a UMW United Methodist Women’s meeting. And I showed up and one of the members of the UMW was a nice wodow lady named Jo Goff. Jo Goff was there. I’m quite certain that she had a cape that said Superwoman. There wasn’t anything that Jo Goff could not do. Sang in the choir just great in the kitchen was a leader in the UMW and she saw me walk in, said, What’s wrong with your car? And I confessed because she lived in the same neighborhood I did. I confessed that I drove through the puddle on Chelsea Drive and I got the car home. Car wouldn’t start. And she said, You know, what’s wrong with your car? I thought, This is going to be good. I know what’s wrong with my car. I have an underinflated tire somewhere, and if I just get enough air in the tire, that car will start, she said. You have water in your distributor cap. Now, I just lost some of you because you don’t know what a distributor cap is because you’ve never had a car that had anything other than electronic ignition. But back in the day they had distributor caps and you could make adjustments, make your car run better, make your car run worse. It’s what sent the electricity to the spark plugs and it had to be set just so and if they got wet cars wouldn’t run. Jo Goff knew that I didn’t. Said okay, well, that makes sense. I went through the puddle and that makes sense, she said. You know how you fix that, don’t you? I said, Does it involve putting air in the tire. She said, Nope, nope. Why do you fix a wet distributor cap is you get you some WD 40 and you spray the WD 40 inside the distributor cap. And I went, I don’t know anything about cars, but that sounds just ridiculous. You’re going to spray something wet inside of something to dry it out?
So I went home that day, walked home and did what most preachers would do. I popped the distributor cap off the car and just leaned it over so it would air dry. Got up the next morning, put the distributor cap bed back down, clipped it on and got in the car. Woo woo woo woo woo woo woo woo woo woo. And I use Lee people’s ventilation language to talk about my car and I walk to church. and Jo Golf saw me walking to church, and she pulled in the church office. car wouldn’t start this morning, would it? No, ma’am. Did you try the WD 40? No, ma’am. She shook her head. She said, young man, oh, it’s so nice to be called a young man. That’s been so long ago. Young man, let me take you home. And on the way back to the parsonage, she stopped by our house, got the little can of WD 40, and she told me specifically, this is what you do with it. Do it. Yes, ma’am. Popped the distributor cap, Did what Jo Ga said to do. Popped it back on. She gave me a ride back to the office. Because you have to wait a little while while you do it. worked all day. Walked home. got home, thought I’m going get my car keys that car and go start. I’m going call Jo golf and say hi you were wrong. Popped in the car turn the key started right up. If your distributor, a cab gets wet, you use WD 40 to dry it out. I didn’t know that, but God sent me an angel. Her name was Jo Goff and Jo Goff was the weird answer to prayer. You see how this works? The prayer is answered by human beings.
Yes, God answers prayer, But so often God use human beings to answer prayer. That’s the prayer that Paul was praying for the church. I’m praying for you, and I’ve prayed for things for you, Paul says. I pray that you might be strengthened in your spiritual experience, that you might have a tangible experience with Jesus Christ, that you might come to believe in the vastness and the wildness of God’s love, and you might live out of the fullness of God. When we preachers pray for you, that’s really dangerous. that you might live out of the fullness of God. Paul prayed for the church. He prayed for you that you might know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, So you may be filled with why all the fullness, the plaroma, all the fullness of God might dwell in you. Wow, God’s gonna Trust me with that? Yes. So as we pray for the church, as we pray for one another, as pastors pray for the church, I want us to pray with great expectations that God is going to do great things in us and through us. that God is going to bring healing and vision and values to us, that we can have God’s bright, preferred, holy future. I want us to ask Big of God, I want us to ask Big of God, realizing that we’re the instruments through which God does big things. Listen to Paul, he goes on; You’ve got all the fullness of God dwelling in you and then Paul says Now to him in a benediction. Now to him, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly, far more than we can ask or imagine. Wow.
Paul never had some of the English teachers I had because Paul just kept heaping it right there. That you’re able to accomplish what? you’re able to accomplish abundantly. Oh, that’s good, Paul. Paul’s not finished. You are able to accomplish abundantly, far more, far more, abundantly far more abundantly than what? Than we can ask or imagine. Can you imagine far more abundantly? But how does God do this? Through the power at work within us.
Oh, wait a minute, Paul. At the power at work within us. we sing about, and we talk about, and we preach about God filling places and spaces and rooms, even atmospheres. And it’s certainly biblical. That’s what God did in the Old Testament with the tabernacle and the temple. God filled the tabernacle. He filled the temple with His presence. But where’s the temple now? You. you’re at the temple of the Holy Spirit. The temple now is within us. Where’s Jesus now? Same answer: within us. Where’s the Holy Spirit now? Same answer: within us. Why are we missing this in the church? The power to do far more abundantly than we can ask or imagine is working in us. So perhaps the church is then a community whose come together to carry, embody, to demonstrate, to exude the glorious presence of God. Because that’s where He’s working; in us.
Well, how come I don’t see it? Are you praying for it? Are you praying with bold desires and bold aspirations for what God will do? Or maybe you’ve forgotten that God is always working upstream of where we are. That’s how God operates. He operates Before we get there, we call it prevailing grace in the Methodist Church. But I’m saying God operates and answers prayer upstream of where we are. In the book of Joshua, the Hebrews are about to finally go into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey, and they are about to cross the Jordan River. Listen to how the Scripture describes the circumstance when the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priest bearing the Ark of the Covenant were in front of the people now. The Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan and the feet of the priest bearing the ark, we’re dipping in the edge of the water. The waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap as far off as Adam, 20 miles away. God’s making it possible for the children of Israel to walk across on the dry carrying the ark.
God is already answering your prayers. He’s already out there ahead of you. He’s always already bringing into reality that what you prayed for, that what you need, that which will glorify his name. He is already setting in place the circumstances that will cause you to be the answer to somebody’s prayer. Prayer is talking to God who listens and responds because He loves us. It’s also relational improv. It’s knowing Jesus enough to let our faith create new realities each and every time we pray. prayer takes us to places we never thought we would go. Prayer moves our lives in ways we never would have imagined possible. Prayer is less about the words we say than the time we spend in relationship with God.
There’s an old Hassidic story about a young Jewish boy who lived on an isolated farm with his family. They were quite poor. They lived very simple lives. One day, the boy got to travel into the village with his father, and he was drawn to the synagogue where he heard the prayers being recited. His heart was so touched. So he went in and he sat down to listen to the prayers. The boy, being deeply moved, wanted to pray the prayers along with those people in the synagogue. But he couldn’t read the sitter, the Hebrew prayer book. So he closed his eyes and he simply prayed the Hebrew alphabet: Aleph bathe Kimmel Live Hey, Bar. He recited the alphabet over and over and over again and he said to God, God, I don’t know how to pray or what to say. I don’t know how to make up the prayer that I should even say. so Use the letters of the alphabet, use them to make the prayer that you want me to pray within my life and answer my prayer as you would see fit.
Prayer is talking to God who listens and responds because he loves us. And sometime as clergy, and sometimes as church members, it appears as though everything’s just coming unraveled, it’s coming unglued, it’s falling apart. And you don’t know what to do and you don’t know how to pray. So sing the alphabet. Go ahead, sing the alphabet and then trust God that he will take our groans and our sighs and turn them into the prayers that he has for us. And remember, you as a human being, are the agent through which God answers prayers and blesses others. So remember that power that can do far more abundantly than we can ask or imagine; that power is at work in you.
Would you stand and pray with me? Hear us, oh God is we call upon you. hear us in those moments when we absolutely know what to pray and how to pray. Hear us in those moments when we don’t have a clue and your Holy Spirit is praying for us, and oh God, give us the courage to go ahead and be the answers to the prayers that you have created for us. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.