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Easter 7B Sermon
John 17: 6-19

May 16, 2021

Sermon Archives


John 17:6-19

6 (Jesus continued praying) ‘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. 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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

They do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. In the High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus begins by praying for himself (verses 1-5), ends by praying for believers yet to be (verses 20-26), and in the middle prays for his disciples. This is the appointed Gospel reading for us on this Seventh Sunday of Easter - a day of transition between the Ascension of Jesus this past Thursday, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday. In this reading we are transported back to the upper room on the night of Jesus’ betrayal where he has given his disciples a new commandment to love one another and to abide in God’s love, and now he is asking God to prepare them all for what is to come - life without Jesus with them physically.

Two words are quite ubiquitous in Jesus’ prayer today, the first one being, “world.” This is the Greek world, “kosmos” and you could probably tell that Jesus doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about it. That might make us think that there isn’t anything about this world is good, and that we should do all that we can to leave this world behind. It certainly does not jive with what we read in Genesis 1, the first creation account where we are told that everything that God has made is “good.” But Jesus is not talking about God’s creation and nature and the universe here. Rather we might say that “the world” is part of this creation. So, what is Jesus referring to when he talks about “the world” in such negative terms?
The kosmos, according the Jesus, is everything in creation that rejects Jesus. It is a mystery to us why forces work so ardently to oppose God’s loving presence for all people in this creation, but since these forces exist, we need to refer to them in a certain way. The world is everything in creation that poses threats to Jesus’ love and to Jesus’ disciples. The World is that which is at deep enmity with God. Again, it is a mystery why anyone would actively oppose or be hostile to God’s forgiveness and healing made available to the whole world through Jesus Christ, but there are those forces at work in God’s otherwise good creation. If we look around we can see all sorts of things that we have little to no control over, like the pandemic or other disease such as cancer or AIDS. The conundrum with unemployment right now where some employers are having difficulty finding people to hire while the numbers of our unemployed remain high. People grieve the loss of loved ones or the loss of independence in their lives because of health or age. We see violence against spouses and children, we see violence, especially with guns, growing in our city; we see ancient peoples battling over land in the Holiest of places on earth for Christians, Jews and Muslims; and we see signs that (whether we want to accept it or not) racism continues to impact the lives of God’s people, no matter the color of their skin. Meanwhile we see greed all around us from super rich individuals and corporations to people on the east coast and Florida running gas stations out of fuel because of a perceived gas shortage after the Colonial Pipeline was hacked. If we were to be totally honest, we all see ourselves as God’s good creation who still have some part of “The World” within us. We all are capable of being hostile against God’s will to love, forgive and heal, and we must confess that.

The other word that is ubiquitous in this passage is “gives.” Jesus speaks of the words that God gave him, the people that God gave him, the name that God gave him. It is further acknowledgement of the giving nature of God, that Jesus talks about this so much in this final prayer. Just as Jesus is doing, we also pray our hopes and dreams, our concerns, fears and expectations knowing that God listens, that God cares - that God gives. It is in the nature of God to give generously, abundantly to God’s creation even though we are in the world and part of the world is in us.

In light of these two words that Jesus shares so liberally in this prayer, I want to take us back to the single best known verse in the Bible, which is recorded about 14 chapters earlier in this Gospel, John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall never perish, but have eternal life.” Did you notice the presence of those two words in that passage? - What did God do? God GAVE his only begotten son. Why? Because God so loved THE WORLD … the kosmos, that part of God’s creation that rejects, poses threats and is hostile to God. God loves that same world so much that God freely gave his only son, the enfleshment of love himself, to die on a cross, to be raised back to life, to be ascended to the heavens, to send the Holy Spirit so that this same world might be saved from our sinful ways and so that this life - this eternally joyful and endless life - might be experienced and shared with all. It is a wonderful promise: nothing can withstand the gracious, merciful gift of God’s love, not even those who work hardest against God’s loving presence in the world - within others or within we ourselves.

Times of transitions seem to be the most difficult times, don’t they? These are the times when we are most likely to try to take things into our own hands, act out of selfish gain and put aside our call to witness to Jesus’ love. In the gospel passage, Jesus’ disciples may not have realized it but they were sitting in a transition time as Jesus prepared them for life without him physically. Our first reading depicts those same disciples in that transition time between the ascension and Pentecost preparing for what was to come next. While it seems that we are always transitioning from one thing to another, we especially seem to be transitioning right now from a time of pandemic to post-pandemic. With Governor DeWine’s announcement this last Wednesday that all health orders will be lifted as of June 2, and with new guidance from the CDC about masks and distancing, we cannot help but wonder how we will proceed with our worship and ministries here in this congregation, let alone in our own personal lives. As we seek guidance for this transition time, what better place to look than to those first disciples for what we are to be doing in this meantime. What did they do as they awaited the spirit? First of all they knew that they needed to position themselves to best witness to Jesus’ presence in the world. That is lived out by choosing someone to round out their numbers. Judas was gone - and twelve is a holy number, so they picked a replacement disciple. As they moved forward with that, they did two things - they first prayed, then they cast lots. Casting lots is like flipping a coin, rolling dice or picking numbers out of a hat - a decision that is taken completely out of the hands of those who are making it. Here, it is a decision placed firmly into God’s own hands.
So they positioned themselves for witnessing to Jesus, they prayed, they opened themselves up to what God was doing next in and through them. All of this was because they experienced the love that God showed when he gave his son for the world. I think that the first thing you can do to position yourself to be part of the ministries of this congregation is to be vaccinated. My family and I are, as are church staff and leaders. This is how we can position ourselves like the disciples did.
Next, we pray and watch and listen and talk and discern where it is that the Spirit is leading us next. We know that there will be opposition to our ministries, even from folks who are part of our congregation - we live in “the world” even if we strive to not be OF it. We are called to open ourselves up to ask God how we best worship and organize and give and study and fellowship and all of those things we want to do in order that we experience what God has to give to us and to the world. Just as Jesus has been with us for the last fourteen months - and for the last 100 years of this congregation - so too Jesus will be with us to give us eternal life - life that is eternal in joy and eternal in time. Where will the spirit take us? We will find that out next week on Pentecost … and in the weeks to come as we receive God’s gifts of healing and peace together. Amen.