Weekly Seeds: Ask God

Sunday, June 5, 2022
Day Of Pentecost | Year C

Focus Theme:
Ask God

Focus Prayer:
Spirit of Truth, reveal yourself to us. Let our works, our questions, and our requests demonstrate our knowledge of and communion with you. Remind us of your abiding presence and remove our fears. Amen.

Focus Reading:
John 14:8–17 (25–27)
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 2:1–21 or Genesis 11:1–9
Psalm 104:24–34, 35b
Romans 8:14–17 or Acts 2:1–21
John 14:8–17 (25–27)

Focus Questions:
1. Where do you perceive the presence of God?
2. How does the relationship of the Parent, Child and Advocate impact your knowledge of God?
3. What teaching of Jesus would be helpful for you to remember in this season?
4. What troubles your heart? How can that trouble be eased?
5. What fears need to be dispelled?

By Cheryl Lindsay

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston writes, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer. Janie had had no chance to know things, so she had to ask.” The character pondered how her upcoming marriage would work. Is love guaranteed to such a union…or would her condition of loneliness persist despite tethering her life to Logan? Obviously, Janie entered the new chapter of her life with more questions than answers.

The Christian life can feel like that.

From the biblical narrative, we observe the disciples and the detractors asking questions about the ministry of Jesus, his intentions, and his perspective. They asked for instruction in some cases and clarification in others. Jesus often answered in parables or responded through demonstrations of healing and signs of his identity and mission. Rarely did Jesus directly answer a question of significance with easy or simple answers. His work and his presence seemed far too complex for that.

The response to a question or request, in the kindom, most likely takes the form of a demonstration. In the gospel passage, Jesus offers a stunning promise. He will do whatever asked in his name, he assures Philip (and presumably the other disciples). That limited qualifier is puzzling. Surely, there should be other conditions placed upon the requests that Jesus will honor. What if the disciples ask for something not in their best interests?

Remember, Jesus is not teaching in generalities, he is responding to Philip’s statement. “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” (v. 8) Philip’s statement in turn seems to be a response to Jesus’ words of comfort as he prepares the disciples for his departure found earlier in the chapter. That centers on their eventual reunion as Jesus assures them that he has created space for them, but in this text, Jesus informs them to prepare space for the Spirit. Their relationship with Jesus is about to change, but counter-intuitively, this is good news. “Another benefit of Jesus’ departure for his disciples will be the ensuing greater intimacy of relationship between them and Jesus.” (Andreas J. Köstenberger)

Intimacy is often associated with proximity. That is true here as well, but it’s not physical closeness that makes the difference. After all, Jesus expresses disappointment that he has been present with the disciples “all this time” and that close relationship has not yielded an understanding of who Jesus really is. Despite all the conversations and demonstrations, the disciples are not satisfied with the reassurance that Jesus offers. To be fair, this conversation occurs before the events of the passion and the resurrection. The most pivotal demonstration of the power and presence of Jesus is yet to come. In fact, this interaction resides within the Farewell Discourses, those extended teachings of Jesus to his disciples to prepare them for his eventual departure from them.

He won’t actually leave them; his presence will take a different form. The intimacy of their relationship will be enhanced by its changed nature. To explain that, Jesus illuminates his relationship to the Parent:

This union with the Father is given expression both in Jesus’ words (his teaching) and in his works (especially the “signs”): “The words I speak to you [plural] I do not speak of my own accord, but the Father who resides in me—he performs his works.” The Fourth Evangelist consistently portrays Jesus’ words as words of the Father, [51] and his works as works of the Father. [52] Reiterating his just-voiced claim, Jesus asserts once more, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” This mutual indwelling of Father and Son describes their unity yet does not obliterate their uniqueness (Carson 1991: 494). Although the relationship between the Father and the Son is not altogether reciprocal, “each can (in slightly different senses) be said to be in the other. The Father abiding in the Son does his works; the Son rests from, and to eternity in the Father’s being” (Barrett 1978: 460). In Deut. 18:18, God says regarding the prophet like Moses, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.” In Deut. 34:10–12, Moses is said to have been sent by the Lord to perform signs and works. If Jesus’ followers are unprepared to take him at his mere word, they ought to include consideration of the witness added by his works. Faith on account of these works—“signs” from the evangelist’s perspective, mere “works” from Jesus’—is better than no faith at all (Morris 1995: 573; cf. 5:36; 10:37–38).

Andreas J. Köstenberger

Participation in this holy union has fueled and sustained the ministry of Jesus from his birth to this time of preparation. It will keep him faithful on the cross despite the taunts of the onlookers. It will spur a concern for forgiveness for his tormentors. It will allow him to extend grace to a guilty man meeting his same fate.

That union will also cause its own pain for Jesus when he feels the sting of abandonment on the cross and the anticipation of separation during the tomb. Considering Jesus’ prayer in the garden to be relieved of the cup in the garden, it appears that even Jesus had a prayer request denied. Of course, that prayer does not appear as part of John’s account of the passion events. In his narrative, Jesus prays for the disciples to enjoy the same union and unity among themselves as Jesus experiences with the Parent. Each gospel writer records what is important to shape their version of events and to tell the story their way. In John’s gospel, Jesus prays for glory…not to be spared physical suffering and pain.

Life with God does not shield us from suffering. Jesus understood that so that even as he prayed for his own deliverance, he does with a caveat–he wants what he wants only if it does not hinder what the Parent wants. He subjugates his will to the purposes and plan of the One who sent him. His prayer was answered affirmatively, because Jesus prayed “in” the Parent.

Sometimes, I hear prayers where it seems like we slap “in the name of Jesus” to the end of it like a talisman. The hope is that the promise found in this text is non negotiable and binding so that God will have to do what we say. Sometimes, I fear that I pray that way–imposing my will and way rather than entering into the presence of God to discern the movement of God. That is not to suggest that we should not, like Jesus, pray for what we want. It means, I believe, that we should pray in and with the Spirit of God so that we will have more clarity of purpose, means, and ends when we ask God.

The Spirit of truth serves as our prayer partner, framing the prayers we dare not ask and interpreting the ones we do. The Spirit is Advocate and Friend, and like Jesus, brings freedom and peace:

John 14:12 describes a very different vision of the interplay of divine and human power and creativity. Rather than emphasizing competition or passivity, John 14:12 invites us to take responsibility for our actions, to be creative, to align themselves with God’s vision for the world, and then to surprise God by bringing new events and possibilities into play by our faithful agency. Jesus invited his followers to exercise their divinely-inspired creativity in order to do even “greater things” than he did. Jesus’ words of affirmation invite us to consider the interplay of divine and creaturely agency in terms of emerging, evolving, and expanding freedom, creativity, and love rather than competition and willfulness.

Bruce G. Epperly

There’s something about the words of Jesus in this passage that encourages us to pray consistently and grandly. The invitation to ask God for “anything” suggests that our requests should touch the improbable and the impossible. We should ask for miracles, hope, healing, and transformation. The illusive can be manifested. The seas may be parted, the mountains brought low, and the valleys lifted.
The last words of this passage refer to peace and fear. One is a particular gift that Christ gives as a parting gift. So much more than the absence of conflict, the peace of Christ is the restoration of the world. How often do we pray for that believing that our plea will be answered affirmatively? The other–fear–is what Jesus attempts throughout this passage and his ministry to dispel. Fear stops us from asking for, moving toward, and receiving the fullness of God’s good and perfect gifts. Fear encourages us to pray modest prayers as if God does not want to be glorified or the realization of the kindom on earth as it is in heaven.

What if we believed Jesus? What if we started to pray like it? What if our prayers were so bold and audacious that the world would be transformed by God’s “yes”?

Perhaps, we don’t pray those prayers enough because, like Philip, we would rather settle for being satisfied. Philip had been walking with Jesus, participated in his miracles, and received his teaching….and he just wants to see the Father. He thinks that’s enough…when he’s being offered union with the Holy One.

I know I have offered those “enough” prayers: requests that I thought God should be more likely to answer because I was only asking a small thing or because I would be satisfied with just a portion of what I really wanted…for myself or for the world.

The Day of Pentecost marks the transition to the era Jesus describes in this text. It reminds us that God likes to do big things, the ministry of Jesus Christ (whether he is on earth or in heaven) is bold, and we are called to greater works…not to be satisfied with enough.

Is that last part hard to believe?

Ask God.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“Yet Do I Marvel”
I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
–Countee Cullen

For further reflection:
“Jesus said his Father’s House has many rooms. In this metaphor I like to imagine the Presbyterians hanging out in the library, the Baptists running the kitchen, the Anglicans setting the table, the Anabaptists washing feet with the hose in the backyard, the Lutherans making liturgy for the laundry, the Methodists stocking the fire in the hearth, the Catholics keeping the family history, the Pentecostals throwing open all the windows and doors to let more people in.” — Rachel Held Evans
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” — Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God)
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” — Mahatma Gandhi
“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?” — Yann Martel

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.