Graduating with Jesus Sermon for May 24, 2020 from Pastor John

Sermon for May 24, 2020

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     May can be a busy month since many are getting ready for summer. Yard work has to be completed. People are rushing to the garden centers to buy flowers and bedding plants. Even I, Pastor John, otherwise known as Pastor Procrastinator, became impatient with myself and bought impatiens flowers for the church. May is also a time for graduations. Proud parents beam with happiness as they see their children, now adults or nearing adulthood receive diplomas. College graduates are hoping for employment in their fields. High School graduates are getting ready for the next step whether that be college, the military, or the workforce. In Phelps and Three Lakes I have noticed banners hanging on the main street with pictures of the grads. Communities love to show their pride and support. Pioneer Lake has one member graduating from Northland Pines. Faith Lutheran has four members, representing three area high schools- Three Lakes, Rhinelander, and Elcho. Congratulations to our high school and college graduates. Unlike former years for our graduates, this year poses the challenge of facing a pandemic. As they face challenging times we pray for their safety and well-being. The future is uncertain and in the midst of any frustrations may our graduates never lose the understanding of their precious worth and potential.

In today’s gospel Jesus was praying for his disciples. In the preceding weeks the gospel lessons spoke of Jesus preparing his followers for his departure: after his death, resurrection, Jesus would return to heaven. It was almost like the disciples were graduating; Jesus had prepared them to continue his work in the world. Jesus knew his first followers would face many challenges; he did not paint a rosy picture. He told them in the world you face persecution. But in the next breath he said “But take courage; I have conquered the world.” Now how did Jesus conquer the world; he did not have an army when he walked the earth. He did not overpower empires and as we know, when Jesus stood before the representative of the Super Power of the time, Pontius Pilate, he told him “My kingdom is not about bloodshed and fighting; my kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus conquered the world by being lifted up on the cross to take away the sins of the world. Jesus conquered the world by the power of God’s love. This love is not just a word, but backed up by his resurrection, overcoming death so nothing in all the world would be able to separate us from his love. Jesus told his followers I will never leave you abandoned, like orphans alone in the world. Jesus did say “I am coming to you”, and Jesus comes to us as he promised through the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit who will teach us and remind us of all Jesus taught.

We heard Jesus at prayer in the gospel reading. Jesus asked God the Father to glorify him. To glorify God is to show the world what God is like. At the beginning of John’s gospel, what is called an introduction, we read “no one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” In his prayer Jesus said he finished the work God the Father gave him to do. The Gospel of John is all about Jesus at work on behalf of the world. Jesus was busy at a wedding in Cana changing 180 gallons of water into the finest tasting wine. We can be sure the wedding guests appreciated Jesus’ work! The text said this was the first of Jesus’ signs, and he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him. The scene of a wedding and wine for the celebration helps us know the abundance of God’s love.

Jesus would soon have a night visitor, Nicodemus, a community leader and a religious teacher who wanted to check out Jesus. Jesus spoke of faith being like a new birth. Nicodemus did not understand Jesus when he said one must born again or born from above. Jesus would explain one is born again through the power of Jesus on the cross, revealing a love for the world nothing can ever overcome. Jesus spoke perhaps the most well known verse of the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” I was reading a review about a book called “Wuhan Diary”. It is a book translated from the original Chinese. You probably recognize the name of ‘Wuhan’ as the Chinese city where the Corona virus originated. The author made the brave wish that her culture would change and governments be more forthcoming about their mistakes instead of denying or covering up. We can say the same about our government at times. But in the review the author said there is so much pent-up frustration in the world that many would just like to punch somebody. She related the story of her daughter asking her grandfather, the secret of his longevity. He is 99 years old. He told his grandchild three things: eat fatty meat, never exercise, and curse people when they deserve it. Thankfully Jesus never took his advice about cursing people who may deserve it. Jesus revealed that God is not into such a thing. Jesus shone the light on the good news that God is not planning and preparing curses for sinners. Jesus revealed the glory of God by taking away the sin of the world.

Jesus would finish the work of taking away sin by being the Lamb of God. This is the work of his sacrifice on the cross. In the Gospel of John it is not only a matter of Jesus taking away the sin of the world, but on the cross it is Jesus’ work to draw us to him. In John’s gospel Jesus does not cry out in pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Instead at his death Jesus pronounced “It is finished”. Jesus accomplished the work of showing the depth and power of God’s love. The cross draws us to Jesus so we believe his is our Savior, the one who saves us from living in unbelief in God. Belief comes about not through force or fear, but the Holy Spirit reminding us that Jesus gave his life for you and me. In the gospel of John Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the Good Shepherd. Very simply the Good Shepherd cares for the flock. Jesus gave up his life, but also has taken up his life again. Jesus did not rise from the dead just for his own sake but made it clear “Because I live, you too shall live.”

Jesus work is to give eternal life. In his prayer Jesus did not describe eternal life as some future state in heaven. He said “This is eternal life, that that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” We might think “Is that it?” Eternal life is a matter of knowing God the Father and the Son Jesus? This is not a matter of reciting a Creed by rote memory. In John’s gospel knowing God the Father, and the Son Jesus is to know the truth. Know the truth: God loves you beyond all measure. Know the truth: Jesus is trustworthy, Jesus will not go back on his word and somehow dredge up former sins to confuse and condemn you. Know the truth: Jesus has forgiven you totally and completely that you enjoy a relationship of trust. Know the truth: Jesus gives you peace. He made it clear that this is not the peace the world gives. So often a common understanding of peace is based on good fortune and favorable circumstances. What happens to us can be anything but good or fortunate. We make poor choices or bad things happen that cannot be blamed on us. But know the truth: Jesus calls us to him and never goes back on his invitation which says “Make your home, abide, in my love.” God’s love has overcome the world, nothing can cancel this love, not even death. Eternal life is living in the good news of a faithful relationship with Jesus and his forgiveness, mercy, and grace. By the Holy Spirit listen to Jesus’ voice; it is not a voice of condemnation but one of compassion.

It is good news to know that Jesus was not only praying for the original disciples of the Bible. His prayer covers us with his faithfulness as well. We heard Jesus’ pray, “Holy Father, protect them in your name you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Stop and think, Jesus is praying for us. Last Thursday the church celebrated “The Ascension of Our Lord” with a prayer “Almighty God, your only Son was taken into heaven and in your presence intercedes for us.” Jesus prays I believe so we never lose the power of hope and assurance, that he is with us and in us, not forsaking us, not losing interest in us, never condemning, but ever helping us live a life that is meaningful and purposeful, all inspired by Jesus command to love others as he loves us.

As you leave the property of Faith Lutheran Church you are assured “Go in peace.’ This is the peace of Christ’s presence; the Savior who has forgiven you, saved you entirely by grace and is praying for you. Another reading for this Sunday is from 1 Peter where we hear “Cast all your anxiety on Jesus because he cares for you.” With Jesus we graduate into the world and by the blessing of the Spirit we are equipped to “Serve the Lord.” We enter our Mission Field. We all have a calling, to the glory of eternal life. We share eternal life by helping others know God, know Jesus, truly know deep within, ‘soul deep’, how much God loves them.

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