The text of today’s sermon is taken from John 17:6-19.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is my birthday, and yes, I’m officially part of the 60+, over-the-hill crowd. Being part of that category and savoring the summer-like weather we are having, I indulged myself with a little reminiscing when I read today’s lessons. And that means that I can say, as I did last week, “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
No, I’m not talking about the team picking process – a painful memory of my childhood. I’m talking about the foolish things I did as a kid. Like the time I wanted to keep a pumpkin seed (a small blue-gill type fish), caught on a fishing trip to the Connecticut River, alive. It was a pretty little fish, but I didn’t have an aquarium or a bowl big enough to keep it. So, I filled up the cellar hole with water and tossed the fish in. As the water level went down, I refilled it, over and over again, without ever questioning the disappearance of the water.
Now, those of us who have reached a certain age know exactly what happened to the fish and exactly what happened to the water. For the cellar hole was there to protect the window which was opened to the coal bin. This was before gas and oil and electricity was the common fuel used to heat houses. Coal and wood were the main energy sources to fuel the furnace.
Having said this, I think we all know what happened to the fish and to the water. As I child, I saw the cellar hole as nothing more than a big tub. I never realized that it wasn’t water tight and that fluid would go directly to the basement of the house. I found that out the hard way.
There are many lessons in life that I learned the hard way – like the burner on the stove remains hot even after the flame has died down. Thankfully, some lessons sunk through this skull before testing the truth. And other lessons came my way via the happenstance of life before my parents’ hair turned gray and they rolled over in the grave.
If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that life can be dangerous. Jesus knew this, too. So he prayed for his disciples. He prayed that they not be sheltered from the world, but they would be protected from the real danger that lurks around every corner – the power of evil.
In John, the “world” is his shorthand for the sphere that is in opposition to the things of God. Looking at those original disciples at that point – just hours before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion – it’s hard for us to give them as much credit as Jesus does, for they appear quite entangled with the world’s values, the very same world that Jesus said does not define them. At best, the disciples had no more than a glimmer of the life to which Jesus had called them. Leading up to the Last Supper where Jesus prayed this prayer, a couple of them had asked for places of prominence in Christ’s kingdom and the others had grumbled about it, for they, too, in the mindset of the world around them, wanted rewards for their service. And within hours following this prayer, one of the disciples would deny him and most would desert him.
Given all that, it seems more generous than true for Jesus to declare to the Father, “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”
But Jesus was also praying for us, and we know our own failures and how entangled with ungodly things we sometimes get – how much we do still appear to belong to the world. Yet we cannot overlook that in this prayer, Jesus makes a clear-cut distinction between his followers – however much they miss the mark – and the world in which they live. As one commentator from the last century suggested, perhaps Jesus values people “by the direction in which they are facing, rather than by their actual present position on the road.”
In any case, Jesus does not here call his disciples to withdraw from interaction with the world. Instead, he prays, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” While over the centuries, there have always been a few people who have heard a divine call to withdraw from the world, to live a cloistered life or to dwell among a people who purposely restrict their interaction with the culture in general, most Christians need to remain engaged with the mainstream of society while not being defined by it. (excerpt from Proclaim Sermon for this Week – World-Situated, Christ-Defined – May 20, 2012)
So what does all this mean for someone who is in the 60+, over-the-hill crowd and for those who haven’t reached that point in life? It means that Jesus prays that we will be protected from everything that lures us away from God for that is a dangerous position for us to be in. We need to remember that we are in the world, not of the world, and that we are always being sent into the world to serve those in need and to help those close to us (and not so close to us) to learn the lessons that we have learned the hard or the easy way.
What lessons are those? I remember them like it was yesterday. They are the same lessons that I teach the confirmation students. They are found in hymns like, “Jesus loves me,” and in passages of scripture, like the John 3:16-17, the 23rd Psalm, and the end of Matthew 28. Those lessons tell us that God has gone the extra mile for us in Jesus Christ; that our Good Shepherd will protect and guide us, if we let him; and that we have been given the great commission to carry on Jesus work in his absence. But we don’t do any of it alone, as Jesus told us, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Those are some of the lessons I have learned. And they are just as helpful as the ones I learned by filling the cellar hole with water and putting my hand on the stove. You get burned if you forget that you are loved by a Lord who on the night before his death prayed for you.
May we listen to his word, relish his promises, and live sanctified in the truth. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.