Have you ever wondered about what is going to happen to church as we know it? What is going to happen to St Peter’s after we are gone?
Like many churches, we now have fewer people here at St Peter’s. Even the huge denomination of Southern Baptists has declined by over three million members since 2006, losing almost half a million members in just this past year.
The signs of the decline of what we can broadly term Christendom are everywhere.
We ask ourselves how many people we can lose and keep going. Maybe we ought to spend our money differently. Do we need to change our worship services? We are puzzled, clueless and troubled when we think about these things. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want St Peter’s, after a long slow decline, to someday be deconsecrated so that it can be sold and turned into yet another Port Royal antique shop!
The disciples had some of the same questions we do. They wondered what would happen to them when Jesus was gone. They were worried about how they’d continue without him.
Jesus promises the disciples that his Father will give them another Advocate, who will be with them forever, the spirit of truth. The Spirit of truth is going to abide in them and be in them.
And what Jesus is telling them just keeps getting more and more wonderful—that even though Jesus is going away, they will see him again, that because he lives, they will live too, and that not only will they live, but they will be swept up into Jesus himself.
“On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
But the disciples can’t imagine the reality of anything that Jesus is telling them.
After Jesus is crucified, they huddle together in fear in a locked room, which is where Jesus finds them on the day of his resurrection.
He greets them in peace, and breathes on them, and says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He gives them the gift that he had already told them about.
But they still don’t get it. At the end of John’s gospel, Peter, who can’t see any other way forward, goes back to what he used to do, fishing, and takes some of the others with them. They fish all night and don’t catch a thing.
So Jesus meets them where they are, by the Sea of Galilee. He asks if they have caught anything, and when they say no, he tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. They follow his instructions. So many fish fill the boat that they can barely get the catch to shore.
And then, after breakfast, Peter and Jesus have a conversation about love.
“If you love me, feed my lambs and tend my sheep,” Jesus tells Peter.
Like the disciples, because we don’t believe that we have any answers, we just keep doing what’s familiar. What we’ve done has worked in the past, so we keep doing those things, or trying to do them, even though they really aren’t working aren’t working as well as they could be, or maybe not even working at all.
Jesus gave the disciples all they needed to go forward faithfully after he was gone—but they weren’t taking in what he said. We must pay attention to what Jesus told them and is now telling us.
Jesus reminds the disciples to do what they ALREADY know how to do because he has shown them. And he will keep showing them, and showing us.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Those who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
We already keep the commandments in many ways—by loving God and one another. We gather to study and to worship together and to share the bread and wine, to pray for one another, to feed the hungry, and you can probably think of many other things that would fit into this commandment of loving Jesus and keeping his commandments.
But still, often, we, like the Church as a whole, are doing these things from our familiar and comfortable boat, and if we don’t bring in a catch today, maybe we will tomorrow.
We have gotten resigned. It’s easy to say that God has a plan for the Church, but we don’t know what it is, so we will just keep on keeping on, loving one another and our neighbors in whatever ways we can, from the safety and familiarity of our proverbial fishing boats.
But here’s what I can do better, and I bet you can too!
At the beginning of The Acts according to the Apostles, at the Ascension, Jesus blessed the disciples and withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem in great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God. And they continually devoted themselves to prayer as they waited for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them.
For centuries, the Church has spent time intentionally praying in the time between Ascension, which we observe this Thursday on our church calendar, until the Day of Pentecost, which is May 28th this year, when we acknowledge the coming of the Holy Spirit. The reason—so that we can be wide open to the coming of the Holy Spirit.
God calls us to imaginative prayer, the prayer that acknowledges what is, and then opens our hearts and minds to what could be.
God is calling us to be part of God’s new reality on this earth, “God’s commonwealth of peace and freedom.” We can start to imagine this reality when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit that lives and breathes through us.
When we pray the prayer of self-dedication from the prayer book, we pray for God to guide our minds, and to fill our imaginations.
God can and will fill our imaginations when we pray!
In his ancient and yet new prayer movement, Thy Kingdom Come, The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby invites each person around the world to pray for five people to come to know Jesus in the days of intentional prayer between Ascension and Pentecost.
Choose five people that you will pray for and let God fill your imagination with a new God-filled reality for each of them. As we pray for others, we find that our lives change and grow in the Spirit as God fills us with God’s imaginative love.
What would happen if we asked God to fill our imaginations with what Jesus said to the disciples in today’s gospel? Jesus is in the Father, and we are in him, and he is in us. That fact is mind blowing, beyond our imaginations! Being filled with this knowledge can bring each one of us new life, bring our families new life, our church new life, our communities new life, and even new life to our nation.
Let’s be intentional about praying for God to fill our imaginations as we continue to love one another and to keep the commandments to love one another that we’ve been given.
As we pray, we will start to see the way forward. Jesus has promised that he and the Holy Spirit will go with us always. And Jesus always keeps his promises. Jesus will not leave us orphaned. Jesus, the Truth, and the Spirit of Truth will go with us and show us the Way.