NOOMANAUTICS — COMMISSIONING
by Pastor Mike Fortune
October 10, 2009
Introduction Video: Grandma Witnesses to Robber
The Holy Spirit commissions us to pray...
- With unbelievers [John 17:20; John 17:9, 17:15-16]
- For unity [John 17:21-23; Romans 12:4-5; Luke 22:24-26]
- Because this is not our home [John 17:24-26; Hebrews 11:13-14; Revelation 22:20-21]
How many of you would be willing to pray for somebody robbing you? I’m not sure I would! Old people are awesome. They’re not afraid of dying and they stopped caring what people think of them years ago like that grandma in our video clip. Imagine the impact that a unified body of believers could make, regardless of age, if all of us actually prayed with unbelievers. That’s one of the points that Jesus makes toward the end of his longest recorded prayer in Scripture. And it goes along with the final thing I hear Jesus teaching us about the role the Holy Spirit plays in helping us navigate our lives. Does anyone remember the other four we’ve covered so far?
In our fall sermon series Noomanautics based on John 16 and 17, we’ve seen how the Holy Spirit helps us navigate our lives by convicting us of stuff. Converting us day by day. Connecting us both to God and each other. And last week Pastor Rachel explained how the Holy Spirit also cleanses and sanctifies us. Watching Rick get baptized last week was a beautiful illustration of the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit was it not?
But this week, as we’re nearing the conclusion of chapter 17 and this series, what I see Jesus teaching us this last time is about commissioning. Which according to the dictionary can either mean 1) the action of committing a crime or offense. 2) a sum paid to an agent in a commercial transaction. Or 3) a group of people given official authority to do some thing. And I think this third definition is the one that most accurately describes the fifth role of the Holy Spirit. It gives us official authority to do some thing. And one of those things is praying with unbelievers. Which is a shocker I know. Because it sounds so counter-intuitive. So unlike “Onward Christian Soldiers” marching off to war. Full of tracts and fire and brimstone. Since when does praying with unbelieving robbers protect you and convert them? The surprising answer is ever since Jesus commissioned the Holy Spirit to do so in John 17! Hopefully, you’ll see that in a minute if you turn with me to John 17:20-26 which reads:
“20My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25"Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
In verse 20, Jesus prays, “20My prayer is not for them alone.” Who is them? In verses 1-5 Jesus has been connecting to God the Father by praying for himself. But in verses 6-19, he turns his attention to the disciples in the upper room. So the ‘them’ is the disciples who according to John 17:31 have recently professed their belief [again] that Jesus came from God. They’ve been convicted. They’re being converted. Jesus shows them how to stay connected to the Father through prayer. And then he shares a prayer of cleansing and sanctifying for them. Reminding us that once you become a Christian, you stay that way by the sanctifying power of God’s grace. Who saves and sanctifies.
But in our passage today, praying for similar disciples who already believe is not what the Holy Spirit is commissioning us to do. We know this is true because in the rest of verse 20 Jesus says, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” So if they will believe, do they believe right now yes or no? No! Right? But apparently their unbelief shouldn’t stop us from praying with them.
I think we all have a family member or friend who isn’t connected to Jesus. Without naming names, can I see a show of hands? Who here has a friend or family member not connected to Jesus? They haven’t been convicted or converted. But you want them to be! Well, the good news is our Heavenly Father wants that for them too! So does Jesus! And so does the Holy Spirit! So keep praying! This is what Jesus was doing too! My pastor friend, Samir, wrote a book recently entitled It’s Really All About God. Grab his info card on the table in the foyer if you want more info about it. But in this new book, he tells the following amazing story about praying with unbelievers.
He writes, “On a cold Saturday morning in December 2001, Soo Lee waited for her already-late friend on a busy street corner in Manhatten. She discovered she was standing in front of the doors of an old limestone church off Park avenue where I was the pastor. Its large red doors were symbols of the large hands of God embracing everyone who ventured inside. That’s what God was all about, I thought—inviting people in”
“For Soo and most of her friends, church was a treacherous place. But the cold was biting, and the doors were unlocked. It was Christmas, and I had titled my sermon ‘The Magic of Christianity.’ Soo was a lively and tender young Korean women who followed the spiritual path of White Magic and the Wicca religion, and the words ‘magic’ and ‘Christianity’ together drew her from the foyer into the sanctuary. She sat and listened to a story about a stable in Bethlehem, a magical moment in human history when, as Christians believe, the physical world as it appears to us humans and spiritual world of God’s Kingdom—the world as it really is—interpenetrated and became one.”
“Soo, as I later learned, is a person of uncommon stamina, a single mom, an urbanite who had learned to handle the grind of New York City with the smile of a marathon runner who has found a groove in the midst of pain. My wife and I loved spending time with her. We liked the way she thoughtfully constructed her sentences. We liked the way she paid attention to what we didn’t say as much as to what we said. And we liked the way she treated everyone and everything around her. With compassion. Over the next several months, Soo and her little son, Tristan, became family friends. Soon we were caring for her boy and she was caring for our little daughters.”
“Some months after we met Soo, my church hosted the annual gathering of a national network I belonged to that consisted of mostly professional clergy and church leaders. The main service was going to include a closing segment we titled ‘Testimonies of Failure’ with six leaders who would tell us how they had failed in their religious work. It was not to be ‘how God turned things around for me’ or ‘how my failure has actually been a blessing.’ There would be no explanations, no justifications—just standing up, sharing the misery, and sitting down. I had a month to find someone who could address these hurting people with some healing words.”
“I thought of people who had cared for and encouraged me, and Soo immediately came to mind. But the thought seemed preposterous. Soo? How could I ask a witch to pray over a group of pastors? She could neither defend nor advocate for our religion—she was an outsider. But the experience of being a part of Soo’s life had opened a crack in the wall that separates ‘us’ (those on the inside) from ‘them’ (those on the outside). Then a thought broke through, a possibility that I found both burdensome and exhilarating. What if God is on the outside too? Does God have to be absent out there to be present in here?”
“The thought of inviting Soo into the inner sanctum of our Christian experience ripened like wine, intoxicating my orthodox faith. Everything I had been taught told me that God, in God’s infinite wisdom and love, has chosen to dwell in our religion. It was kind of a certainty one can stake one’s life on. But then everything I had experienced with Soo—and, as I began recalling, others like her over the years—told me that God dwells in the lives of people. All people. Drunk with these thoughts, I hesitated. Which should win? Religion? Or life? Should I use life to prop up my religion? Or should I use my religion to honor life?” “‘Okay, I’ll do it,’ Soo said with a smile when I asked her. ‘Is it okay if I pray to God as Holy Spirit?’ ‘Wonderful,’ I said, relieved.
“On the day of the gathering, after the six ‘losers’ had shared their stories, the congregation was quiet, stunned by tales of the stark reality behind much of religious work. Most of us religious people who go to places of worship to receive religious goods and services assume that our faith is triumphantly marching forward on all fronts. Nobody wants to be part of a losing battle. So talking about failures devoid of happy endings created an unbearably empty space in our hearts. [But] the sacred Scriptures say that in emptiness, God creates.”
“Then it was Soo’s turn to pray. After introducing her to the crowd, I stepped aside, regretting my choice again, my jaws tightening, my palms sweating. How did I get myself in to a situation of bringing a witch to bless a conservative Christian crowd? Did I want to lose my job? Or was I heeding the call of Jesus—losing my life in order to find it?”
“With the steady voice of a person who has no doubts that our ordinary lives are saturated with the Presence, she said, ‘Dear Holy Spirit, I am not a Christian. But I and my son are cared for in this church. These people who follow you work very hard to make a difference in the world and love people like us. Now they are tired, disoriented, discouraged. Please, make them see how important their work really is. What would our world be without people like them? Help them continue caring so that people like me might find a better way.”
“A hush fell over the crowd, and Soo’s words lingered in the air like a sweet heathen scent. While some sat there paralyzed by the offense of her presence at the church pulpit, many of us basked in her compassion for us. We were hoping that if we just stayed quiet, there would be more words from her, interceding to our God on our behalf.” [It’s Really All About God, pp. 1-5].
The Holy Spirit is commissioning us to pray for and with unbelievers. So get to know some! Because God dwells in the lives of all people. Jesus said in John 17:9, “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” Jesus isn’t praying for the world. He’s praying we won’t abandon it! Jesus said in John 17:15, “15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Why do we assume God has to be absent out there to be present in here? What if the Holy Spirit is commissioning us to pray with unbelievers?
Moving on, quickly, verses 21-23 add, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Point number two is obvious. The Holy Spirit is commissioning us to pray for unity. Which when you think about it sounds even crazier than praying with witches. Because our planet is in turmoil. And at least some of it is caused by believers. The genocide in Rwanda was about Christians, specifically Christian Adventists, killing other Christian Adventists. Here in America we’ve got Christian Democrats and Republicans convinced the financial system and healthcare needs reform, but our leaders are still trying to figure out how those reforms should look. So regardless of which party you identify most with, we should be praying for unity and their purpose. And locally here in Toledo, we’ve got people willing to gamble on a future full of more suicides, increased violent and non-violent crimes, increases in foreclosures & homelessness, and increases in divorce & family abuse that other communities with casinos have already proven to bring—all for the short term monetary gain and occupational boost voting yes on issue 3 would bring.
If there was ever a time Christians needed to pray for unity now is the time! Yes, Romans 12:4-5 makes it clear the body has different spiritual gifts. “4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” And while we have no problem applying this to spiritual gifts, why do we rarely apply this “belonging to each other thing” to current events or personal problems?
But we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about that too bad. The disciples in the Upper Room had difficulties with belonging to each other and unity too. Luke 22:24-26 says, “ 24A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”
Wouldn’t a world with believers united in advocating for and serving the least among us before our own self interests be a better world? If it’s not illegal, immoral, or unChristian, why can’t we pray for unity? This is point number two. Because point number three, this is not our home.
In John 17:24 Jesus says, “24Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Believe it or not, but this world is not our permanent home. Our real home is with Jesus. Hebrews 11:13-14 says it this way: “13All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.”
What are you looking for or forward to? The Holy Spirit is commissioning believers to pray for the Jesus’ second coming. Revelation 22:20-21 concludes, “ 20He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.”
And because a teenager in our own congregation, Jenn Cozzens, took her commission seriously, she was recognized this week as one of the recipients of the Servant Leadership awards. In a room packed with people enjoying a beautiful banquet, Jenn was one of five recipients receiving a community servant leadership award. Lots of teens were nominated, but the organizer said selecting Jenn was a “no-brainer.” When she got up, she thanked God, her parents, and this church for helping her pursue her commission and missionary work here in Toledo and in Ecuador. She gave a little speech and then everyone there clapped including her parents, sister Lana, Pastor Rachel and me. Jenn knows this earth is not her home. But she is committed to letting Jesus shine in it anyway. And if an 18 year old young person or a 92 year old grandma can be commissioned to serve the least of these in it, maybe the Holy Spirit can commission you too.
Are you glad the Holy Spirit helps us navigate our lives? I know I am! >From John 16 and 17, we’ve learned that the Holy Spirit convicts us, converts us, connects us, cleanses us, and commissions us. Good news people! Jesus is coming again. So let’s pray with unbelievers for unity of purpose and mission. Because this world is not our home. Amen? So let it be.