May 16, 2021 Seventh Sunday of Easter The text is John 17: 6-19.
I know this is rather unusual, but I would like to begin my sermon this morning prior to the reading of the gospel lesson upon which it is based, and I ask your indulgence as I do so. The reason for this is that I feel that it’s important to hear these words of Jesus in a certain context. The passage is a portion of what is known as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer”, which he lifts up to God the Father just before he departs for the garden where he is to be betrayed.
In the previous portion of his prayer Jesus has affirmed the glory of the Father and the Son and he announces the promise of eternal life for those who believe he is the Messiah, come to save the world. In this morning’s verses Jesus is asking God for protection of, and unity and mutual love among the disciples, his first followers. He is beginning his departure from them and he wants to reassure them that they will be provided for, sanctified by, and made one with God once Jesus has returned to the Father. And these verses are filled with interconnected words; “I, mine, you, yours, they, them, me, mine”. As the gospel is read you are invited to listen carefully to the times that “they” and “them” are referenced. And when you hear Jesus praying to God the Father for these disciples, you are invited to replace the pronouns with your own names. Hear Jesus praying for you. Because the truth is that we are the ones that Jesus is praying for, we who have come to be his followers in this time and place. For nothing has changed; the prayer that Jesus lifts up to God on behalf of the original eleven is meant for all who followed them down through the ages; this prayer is meant for us; and for those who will come after.
Often, Scripture can feel remote and detached; we read about things that occurred millennia ago. But, if we visualize ourselves as actually being present when the words are spoken, the message takes on personal meaning for us. You are invited to close your eyes and imagine that you are at the table as Jesus is speaking at the Last Supper. He has washed your feet, promised that the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and commanded you to love one another. Now hear what Jesus is praying to God for on your behalf. (Gospel Acclamation).
The Holy Gospel according to John. Glory to you, O, Lord.
[Jesus prayed:] 6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O, Christ.
May the rest of the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
How did the gospel reading impact you as you listened as an in-person participant? Did hearing Jesus’ words feel different as you imagined you were actually in his presence and that he was speaking directly to you? I encourage you to adopt this practice when you hear Scripture being read, and more importantly, to imagine yourself as present in-person when you read your own Bibles. The time, place, culture, ethnicities; everything is vastly different today from the way our ancestors lived. Our world has dramatically changed over the centuries, with thousands of years of scientific advancement, evolving attitudes regarding societal norms, and a culture shift toward individualism. One would think that these changes would separate those of us living today from God’s people of the past.
But the opposite is actually true. The more we learn about the world around us and the way people interact with the world and with each other, the greater the desire to pursue the abundant life the gospel promises. And this is possible only through the faith in Christ we have been given by the Spirit. This is exactly what Jesus prays for this morning as he asks the Father to sanctify the disciples and bless them with complete joy in their life with one another and with God. Jesus is moving ever closer to his destiny on the cross and he knows the disciples will need all the truth he can impart to them before he returns to God. And he has shared much with them in John’s gospel over the last weeks.
Two weeks ago, Jesus spoke about the relationship his followers have with him, as he explained in the allegory of the vine and the branches. And as we insert ourselves into that story, we learn that we are called to “abide” in Christ and that he will live in us. Last Sunday Jesus expanded upon this with the command to love like he does, and that we ought to be willing to give up our lives for others. Now this morning we are with Jesus as he prays that God will grant us all that we need to carry on as Christ’s followers in the world he is leaving behind. And it’s not until next Sunday at Pentecost that we will hear that the Holy Spirit will descend on us all, to assure we are accompanied in our journey. And the prayer that Jesus prays is that we may be protected, sanctified, and blessed as we are sent into the world; to spread the truth of Christ.
“World” appears 13 times in this morning’s passage. And Jesus makes several references to his place in it, our place in it, his leaving it, and our remaining behind in it. So, the prayer that Jesus lifted up to God on behalf of the first disciples was essentially for their benefit as they made their way in the world they inhabited. And, as was said earlier, in spite of the differences between now and then, the world has not really changed all that much. This prayer remains relevant for us, as we strive to live abundant, grace-filled lives in our world. And what that means for each of us depends on what we hear when we listen as Jesus lifts his prayer for us to God. How do we react to what we hear?
We are blessed with the things that God will provide for us through Jesus’ prayer; what we do with these blessings is up to us. And I’m certainly not going to suggest any options for us to consider; we can only respond to our role in furthering the gospel by what we hear Jesus calling us to. There are as many different ways to live as followers of the Way of Christ as there are people in the world. What I will do though, is to reiterate the invitation to hear God’s Word as it is meant to be heard; as if it is spoken directly to you, because it is. By listening with an open heart and a willing spirit, you will certainly discern what it is that God is calling you to do. In his prayer Jesus says, “as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”. What we do with this knowledge is up to us.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, your Son prayed that me might be protected by you as we remain in the world. He asked that we would be sanctified in his truth. And he promised that we belong to him and to you. Help us to affirm these blessings and to act toward the world as your Spirit compels us to. And we pray these things in the name of the risen Jesus, the One who prays for your blessings on us, your children. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.