Sunday Sermon :: May 17, 2014
In this reading the church hears Jesus’ words on the night before his death. This gospel reports the words of Jesus’ prayer, a prayer for his disciples and for all who would believe in him through their words.
6I 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. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for 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. 9I 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. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And 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. 12While 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. 13But 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. 14I 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. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Grace and peace to you, people of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Again, I want to welcome and congratulate all the graduates and their families to this worship service. We have been so blessed by your presence and we hope and pray that your life after graduation, whether in the work force or more education, here and to every corner of the earth, would be marked with love and care for all of creation. We hope and pray that your faith would continue to grow and your life would reflect the grace and mercy you have received.
With today being graduate recognition Sunday, it was very tempting to simply write a graduation-type sermon but, after some intense internal debate, I decided not to. But, I hope you’ll soon see, I may have tormented myself for no reason because these passages are filled with deep and challenging life lessons that we all have to wrestle with, whether you’re spending a lot of thought thinking about the future or a lot of time reminiscing about the past.
A continuation of Jesus’ teachings immediately before his betrayal and death, Jesus is, once again, throwing us a curve ball. Just when we think we have Jesus figured out, he prays this prayer for his disciples and, by extension, I suppose, for us, too. It’s a very priestly prayer, as he prays on behalf of his disciples as a mediator. As a priestly mediator, Jesus is praying to God on behalf of his disciples. In it, he is basically giving God an update, his final update before he is handed over to the authorities to be killed for us. He has made known to us everything that we need to know and now he has a request of God for us. This should make us sit up a little straighter and pay attention because Jesus is, essentially, asking God to do what he will not be able to do for his disciples once he is killed. In essence, this is Jesus, signing out.
So, what does he ask for us? Two big things: that God would protect us and that we, as followers of Jesus, could be one – one in spirit, unified in our mission, and compassionate to each other. It’s a short list, but it would be easy to just cross them off and say, “Well, that didn’t happen. Nice try, Jesus.” I mean, listen to Christians debate each other and you can pretty quickly see that Jesus’ followers don’t always see eye-to-eye and anyone who has experienced tragedy or hardship, victims of violence and abuse, could quickly say that they don’t always feel protected. And who could blame them? I don’t think that I’d feel very protected, either.
But I think it’s important to take a look at what Jesus is telling his disciples, through this prayer, that we need to pay attention to. Jesus never says that protection is a free pass from the stings and pains of this world. Jesus never says that his followers will always feel safe or have good jobs or never get sick. This passage seems to really fly in the face of the Prosperity Gospel, in which preachers tell their congregations that if they just have enough faith, if they just believe hard enough, then God will give them anything they ask. Well, if we’re following Jesus, the same Jesus who, in love and mercy, gave himself up for sinners to be saved, then we half to assume that, as Jesus states in verse 14, that sometimes we’ll be hated. And, in case you think that protection looks like an escape, read verse 15.
A key concept of this passage is this – we are in the world, with all its aches, pains, storms, and grief, but we are not of this world. You may have heard that phrase before, that we are “in the world but not of the world.”
We are certainly in the world and God created the world to be good. The world was created for beauty by a beautiful God, for love, for peace. And we do get glimpses of that, don’t we? We can see it in love shared between people, we feel it in a comforting embrace, and we hear it kind words shared between friends and family. This is the world, although we also know that the world is broken and imperfect, too. We know pain and grief, sighing and tragedy. But we are certainly not of this world. We have hope and the promises of God that these things – the sin and brokenness that can break our bodies and hearts – are temporary. We believe that God is continuing to renew and reshape the world. We are protected by the fact that God is not done working. God is not finished on us and that nothing we experience goes unfelt by our God. Jesus experienced grief at the dying of his friend Lazarus, pain at the hands of his tormentors, betrayal and anger and frustration. God with us, Emmanuel, knows what we experience and walks with us each step of the way.
Now, I’m not saying, graduates and people of God, that life is going to be exactly what we want. I’m not saying that it’s going to be all pain and agony, either. What we all need to know is this – that God loves us, God knows us better than we know ourselves, that God cares for us when we are hurting and celebrates with us when we experience love and joy. We have hope at all times, in all circumstances, that God’s love reaches us where we are. And in that, we can find that unity that Jesus was praying about too. Just as God walks with us, we are called to walk with each other, to pray, laugh, cry, shout, rejoice, and play with each other. Regardless of if we all agree all the time or never agree any of the time, we all have a shared experience that makes us human. We are, as Christians, all in this world but not of this world. In the words of a song by R.E.M. –
‘Cause everybody hurts take comfort in your friends Everybody hurts
Don’t throw your hand oh, no don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone, no, no, no, you are not alone.
For those among us who are graduates of high school, college, grad school and for those of us who have yet to graduate and who maybe never have or will, the message is the same for us today is this. We will experience pain, but that pain will be nothing compared to the love and joy found in Christ. You are loved, you are protected, you are a child of God and nothing can change that. You were made for love by a loving God who knows what you go through. Don’t give up when things are hard (note: I say when, not if) because we have God and all of God’s people to walk with. You are never alone, even when the night feels long and the days are hard, you are never alone. We are never perfect but, in Christ, we find that we never had to be.