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Engage: Connect, Grow, Serve #4 - Listen

Engage: Connect, Grow, Serve #4 - Listen
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • September 6, 2015 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Executive Pastor

Good morning and welcome! I’m so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th time, we are grateful that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search or you already knew the way, we are grateful that you are here. And our prayer for you today, is that that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace. And we pray that you encounter the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!

This is part four of our Engage sermon series. We launched this series to encourage us to increase our awareness of God, to connect with each other and grow together as a community of faith.

As beneficiaries of this present technological age, it’s relatively easy to connect with each other, especially because many of us carry smartphones that allow us to Snapchat, Tweet, Text, Talk (via voice or video), share our location with our friends and family anytime we want.

But what about our connections with God? What’s his cell phone number, Snapchat, or Twitter? Is his location shared?

Introduction - A Disappearing Act
Like all couples, Maria and I have arguments, we disagree, and sometimes we fight. Early in our marriage when we were still learning how to fight well, I had an unhelpful reaction when things got really heated in our argument: I would simply withdraw.

I had a good reason for my withdrawal. I grew up in an unstable family of origin, so I promised myself that when I got married, I would fight differently. I sorta vowed to myself that I wouldn’t let things get out of control, I would fight to keep a cool head. So when Maria and I started to argue and fight and as our emotions flared, I remembered my promise to myself, and would just withdraw, sometimes into my office, and, regrettably,  sometimes, I would just leave the apartment.

As I departed, Maria was left wondering. Wondering, where I was going, for long how, and what would I do when I arrived, and would I ever come back? None of this was on my mind as I quickly departed.

After a couple of these disappearing acts, Maria finally confessed her fear to me. I was shocked when she said she was afraid that when I departed that I might not come back. “What!? We’re married, of course, I’m coming back,” I replied.  But she didn’t know that. All she knew was I was gone and since I hadn’t said I was returning, she feared that I was planning to just up and abandon her.

Everyone is looking for you!
In Mark chapter 1, an interesting scene unfolds. Jesus has just spent the previous evening in Capernaum praying with the whole village for healing and deliverance. The next morning he gets up early and seems to vanish. He disappears to pray alone.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

Since this is early in the story, is Mark, the Gospel writer setting us up to assume that the disciples are just getting to know Jesus, his behavior, his mode of operating? Or have the disciples been with Jesus for a while and this is just his pattern of how things are? We aren’t sure. Mark doesn’t address these questions.

The vocation of the rabbi is that of a teacher. Someone who has discovered something special about God–the way he is and the way he acts–and gathers others to reveal what he has learned. In Jesus, we have someone who has discovered that the God of Israel is his father, that the God of Israel is pleased with him, and that the God of Israel loves him deeply. Having gathered 12 disciples, Jesus functions as their rabbi revealing just who God is, revealing that God is at work in his good creation, healing, restoring, and releasing freedom.

As I enter this story in Mark 1, I have a lot of questions like, “What was going through their mind when they woke and couldn’t find Jesus?” “What did it feel like to find him missing?” “Did they feel abandoned by him?” They were his disciples weren’t they supposed to be where he was?

And it’s not just here in Mark 1, he does this in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 5 & 6:

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. (Matthew 14:23)

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.  After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.  (Mark 6:45-46)

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. (Luke 6:12)

Selfishly, I wish that Mark, the Gospel writer would had given us more information. Each time Jesus withdraws to spend time with God, on the surface, it seems as if he able to find God. Luke says, often Jesus withdrew to lonely places and prayed. What did this prayer look like? Without more context and guidance, it seems as if Jesus has this immediate ability to connect with God. And this creates a deep desire within me, I want what Jesus seemed to have had, this always-on connection with God. I imagine having this kind of connection with God would calm my worries, answer my fears, and give me peace.

As I continue to press in, I see this as a “missed opportunities” of Jesus. Throughout my discipleship journey, I’ve struggled with both my ability to hear God speaking, and experiencing his presence in my everyday. In my mind, I wished Jesus would have started with something like this:

“Hey Guys, since it was a draining day praying for and healing everyone, tomorrow morning at dawn, we are going to go find a quiet mountain side place to spend some time communing and refueling with God?”

Easy right? Then he could have explained exactly what he prayed, how he did it, and what the respond from God was like. It would’ve been instructive for the disciples and for us, it would helped the them connect the dots that Jesus was reliant on and drew his strength from God.

But that’s not what happens.

Discovering that Jesus was missing, Simon rounds up a search party, and takes off looking for Jesus, discovering him,

When they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” (Mark 1:36-37)

Again as I enter into the text, I hear an unspoken question I’ve asked God thousands of times, “Where are you God?” I hear Simon and the disciples echoing statements I’ve said to God, “We needed you and couldn’t find you.”

We don’t have a lot by the way of contextual clues in the text, it’s a rather short scene, so I assume that the disciples wanted Jesus to return to Capernaum and continue healing and delivering people there, but Jesus having spent time alone with the Father has other plans.

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:38-39)

Caked in Dust of Your Rabbi
Since graduating from college, I’ve traveled eight times to Spanish speaking countries, five times as a youth pastor leading youth on “missions trips” and three times for pleasure, including the time that I proposed to Maria in the Alcazar in Seville, Spain. Every time I was in country, I wished I had spent more time trying to master my fluency of the language.

But its not enough to just wish. Or as Yoda says to Luke in the Empire Strikes back,

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

The one job of the disciple is to follow his master as he reveals what life lived with God looks like. Did the disciples in Mark 1 fail to follow Jesus, were they distracted by other things, were the signs and wonders of the kingdom obscuring their ability to see?

Many of us wish we had a deeper connection with God, but like me, we haven’t given our time and energy to learn the language. This is where I find the disciples. They see the Kingdom of God breaking out all around them,yet they don’t seem to understand their vocation as a disciple.

Theologians have this phrase that they use to describe the relationship that the rabbi has with their disciples, they say, “The disciple would be covered in the dust of their rabbi.” This image is invoked because the disciple would follow close behind their rabbi and as they traveled together the disciple would become covered in the dust that their rabbi kicked up as they walked. And this dust had another effect, it would make the disciple thirsty.

Are You Thirsty?
This helps me understand what seems like Jesus failure as a rabbi, seemingly refusing to teach the most basic of lessons, the lessons of having intimacy and conscious contact with God.

I think he was revealing something else to us.

This kind of relationship and connection with God is appetite-driven. It’s need based.

I think Jesus was waiting. He was waiting for the appetite to develop in his disciples.

As you look closer you see echoes of this kind of lesson show up all over the Gospels... 14 times in the Gospels he says, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Finally, one day after Jesus is praying, probably by himself, the disciples, maybe frustrated, come to him with a request, maybe a demand!

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”


They understand that in order to be up, you have to learn how to be down.They are starting to see a treasure buried in the field of Jesus’ relationship with his Father. They finally want what Jesus has. So they go to him and say, “Teach us to pray.”

Listen to his reply

This is what he offers them:

“When you pray say:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
as we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
Luke 11:2-4 & Matthew 6:9-13

More than a formula for what to say when you pray, Jesus teaches his disciples who God is and how to improve their conscious contact with Him. In addition to praying to God, Jesus teaches his disciples and us that we also have to be ready to listen. Communication is a two-way street. By withdrawing into solitude, Jesus puts himself in a posture of listening.

Practical Tip

The prayer that Jesus offers us begins to answer the question, “Where are you God?”

I want to walk through six observations I have about the prayer and invite you to listen to each section of the prayer. I’ll make an observation and then offer an invitation.

Our Father in heaven

First, God is always ever-present. God is as close to us as our next breath is. Jesus teaches that when we pray, we are praying to a God who is always present, always near, and is able to hear and desires to act.

Do you wonder if God is there listening when you pray?

Hallowed be your name,

Second, God is holy. This isn’t about some puritanical picture of God, prohibiting dancing, playing cards, or watching rated ‘R’ movies. This a declaration that God isn’t corrupted by us. Rather, He calls us holy. And in doing so, He stakes his claim on us, and declares that we belong to him.

Do you wonder if God is there listening when you pray?

your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Third, God is the King who rules heaven. Jesus invites us to invite the rule, reign, kingship and authority of the King into our lives. This is a declaration about the power of God.

Do you wonder if God is there listening when you pray?

Give us today our daily bread.

Fourth, God cares for us. This God is able to provide for our daily needs. Receiving his care loosens fear’s grip on us, we belong to him. He care for us. Let that wash over you this morning. There’s an invitation for us to increase our trust in his ability to care for us.

Do you wonder if God is there listening when you pray?

And forgive us our sins,
as we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Fifth, God forgives. The God that Jesus reveals is someone who has made space in the divine communion for us by forgiving us, making space for us to be welcomed. We are no longer excluded, remember he now calls us friends.

Do you wonder if God is there listening when you pray?

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”

Sixth, God rescues and protects us from evil. Many of us have a hard time believing this is true. Especially as we see so much evil done to us and others in the world. But the world isn’t the way that God wants it. We unlock God’s will in every act of kindness, compassion, and love. This overcomes and overwhelms the work of evil in our world. In the resurrection, Jesus declares that God gets the last word. Nothing can happen to us that God cannot redeem.

Do you wonder if God is there listening when you pray?

Prayer Ministry Invitation
We have trained prayer ministers and spiritual directors who are here to help. This morning they are willing to pray with you for anything. Take a risk this morning and see if God is listening as you pray.

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