Have you ever asked yourself ‘what is the point?’ It's a question that the disciples must have asked time and time again. The Messiah has been crucified and then resurrected. He has spent time with them through the post resurrection encounters and now, just when they were beginning to understand things, he is gone again. They must have been confused and they must have repeatedly asked ‘what is the point.’ But as well as having an existential crisis they must also have felt afraid. It must by this time have started to occur to them that following Jesus is a risky and deeply unpredictable experience. And yet, at the very deepest level, they also know that the story must not end, that it needs to go on.
The church’s mandate is a timeless mandate: we exist primarily to spread the word and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Telling the good news of Jesus Christ, offering to people a different, more compelling, and life giving story through which to live their lives is not for the faint hearted. It takes courage and it takes commitment, for when we tell the Jesus story we challenge all manner of assumptions. In a very real sense we risk incurring the world’s cynicism and wrath. But, tell the story we must.
But here is the good news: we are not asked to tell the story by ourselves alone but as part of a community. This is why the apostles chose Matthias to replace Judas. This is why the church continues to raise up men and women for vocational ministry. Spreading the word is not however just the job of professional clergy. It is a shared responsibility; yours and mine.
Jesus, above all others, knew the risk of spreading his Father’s word. He paid the ultimate price for telling salvation’s story. Jesus also told his disciples that they were not capable of telling salvation’s story in their own strength. Jesus knew that they only real way that they could be strengthened to keep going, unafraid of the cynicism, criticism and yes, crucifixions, they would face was through prayer. The gospel reading we have just heard is, after all, John’s account of Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear that ‘Peter stood up amongst the believers’ and suggested that either Barsabbas or Matthias should be commissioned to replace Judas and ‘then they prayed.’ Finally, the believers seem to understand that prayer is the point. They seem to have understood that the church must always be ‘rooted in and routed from prayer.’ If this was true for the early church, it's true for us today. Above all else we - you and me - must be people of prayer. It is through prayer that we are empowered to tell the Jesus story. How people respond is up to them of course. Our responsibility is to pray so that we can, in the words of the hymn, ‘go forth and tell.’
Prayer is not simply the means by which we gain the necessary courage to tell salvation’s song, for it is also the means through which we grow in holiness. Through prayer we are changed, transformed, authenticated. Through prayer we become the sort of people who in the words of the psalm ‘yield fruit.’
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have asked for a renewal in the prayer life of the church. They are right to do so, because prayer really does change all manner of things. Through prayer we become more confidently Christ-like. Through prayer we become more compassionate, and through prayer we become more courageous. Prayer is the point!
Can I ask you all this week, in the run up to Pentecost to join in with the ‘thy kingdom come’ initiative? This evening, at evensong, I will be preaching on this one stanza from the Lord’s Prayer. I will also be leading midday prayer on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and of course we also have the midday Eucharist on Wednesday. Please do come along to these services as we pray for the breaking in of God’s kingdom ‘here on earth as in heaven.’ If you can’t come please do pray the Lord’s Prayer two or three times a day.
I strongly believe, alongside the Psalmist, the early believers, Jesus and the Archbishops that we must be rooted in and routed from prayer, and that it's through prayer that we begin to understand the point of it all and gain the confidence to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. This week let us recommit ourselves to being people of prayer,