Making Prayerful Meaning: Acts 1.1–14

lovecallsDelivered at Ames UCC
on April 3, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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We humans are seekers of meaning. We are makers of meaning, too. Through science, art, religion, family, and friends we both interpret and create the world around us. In doing so, we come to know what to expect in life. Or, when something unexpected happens, we either try to make it fit within our existing expectations or reform the expectations all together.

The book of the Acts of the Apostles begins with the greeting “Dear Theophilus” and references how the author has already described the life and work of Jesus up to his ressurection. That was the gospel of Luke. Luke and Acts were written together, in the 80s, to describe the full arc of the Jesus movement.  They are a well-constructed history of Jesus making an argument for his messiahship. There is no sense or claim, especially in Acts, that these words came together through divine inspiration or dictation. Instead, the author researched the alleged happenings and is now interpreting those stories of Jesus for his audience. He is explaining the meaning of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection as well as the actions of his followers.

That’s a pretty good description of my job, and Pr. Hannah’s. You searched for and hired people trained in Christian history and theology and ritual in order to continue to find or make meaning in the stories of Jesus and his disciples with you.

Last week I drove up north of Minneapolis to a Franciscan retreat center called Pacem in Terris, meaning peace on Earth.

One of the pieces of scripture I decided to focus on while there was the book of James.  It’s a very bossy letter in the Christian testament, after the gospels. It’s the one from which we have the lines so favored by us progressives:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2.14–17)

But a later comment made a stronger impression on me this time:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3.1)

James knew his stuff.

The contemporary equivalent of his teachers are pastors. I have to literally, and rightly, practice what I preach throughout my days. If I don’t I can easily, and rightly, be judged a liar. Jesus says we are to walk, talk, eat, feed, rest, and resist. He often, sometimes at the most critical moments, took time away alone for prayer. So, I took time away alone for prayer, too.

But the thing is, you are teachers, too. You are pastors, too. In your daily interactions with friends and co-workers, with your children and parents, you are also teaching and living what it means to be a seeker of God through Jesus Christ.

As members of this priesthood of all believers and doubters, we are all accountable for practicing what we profess.

And being a Christian does take practice.

It takes practice, for example, to figure out how each of us likes to pray individually and then to make time for that prayer style, or styles, in our daily life. Prayer can feel foolish for those of us who do not understand God to be a dude in the sky. It can even be intimidating.

For Lent I tried to both teach a prayer style and address that intimidation with silent meditation on Wednesday nights. For the first two weeks we went for 15 minutes with chimes every 3–5 minutes. The chimes not only served as a reminder to be open but also to let the hearer know that time really was passing and the session would end.

For the second two weeks we went for 20 minutes, but instead of chimes we had written meditative mantras from Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh.

And on the last week we went for 25 minutes in complete silence and without written mantras.

Through exposure, practice, and intentionality, the time flew by. We were reluctant to leave each others’ company, to leave that sacred, prayerful space.

You may enter into such space regularly, or maybe you haven’t yet found yours yet. So I’d like to invite you all to take part in a prayer practice right now, one similar to my own in the Minnesota woods.

In your bulletins you will see a blank page. I’ve also scattered pens all over the place. I’m going to re-read today’s passage. Then we will have three minutes of silence. In that time, I invite you to reflect on and even write about these questions:

  1. Where am I in this story?
  2. Where is God in this story?
  3. How does this story make me feel?
  4. What questions am I left with?
  5. What am I now called to do?


For the next few weeks we will spend time with the disciples as they tried to make meaning of their work and Jesus’ teaching in light of his execution and love’s resilient and inspiring presence. Jesus confounded their expectations, so they are having to rework them, then proclaim for others their new understanding of God’s relationship with creation.

We continue that work to this day. We continue to seek and make meaning out of not only our scripture but our encounters with the still speaking God, be it in prayer or in our lives together.

May we do so in ways that teach the whole world, with integrity, that even in the most wretched hours love does not die but calls us, just like those first disciples, into ever-closer, ever-bolder community.


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