Sermon for May 16, 2021 from Pastor John

Sermon for May 16, 2021

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     I saw a commercial for Jeep featuring a variety of people, satisfied customers, driving the various models. The commercial spoke of people all across the land that own a Jeep, people from a variety of backgrounds and do not know each other. Yet they are united in the common delight in adventure which is a reason why they have purchased any of several kinds of Jeep vehicles. I thought with a little tweeking you could remake that commercial into one for the church. Instead of Jeep, we are united with Jesus. The church is made up of a variety of human beings all united in their love for Jesus and responding to his call for adventure, the call to represent him in the world.

In the gospel reading we overheard Jesus’ prayer for his disciples. He prayed for their unity and mission in the world. In the gospel of John we hear Jesus at prayer. Standing before the tomb of his friend Lazarus Jesus looked heavenward and prayed, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” Why would Jesus pray if he was the Son of God? Remember Jesus is true God who became flesh, a human being to dwell on earth. Truly human with flesh and blood, Jesus would need to pray for strength, confidence, and faithfulness for his mission. Jesus loved prayer because there was the confidence that the heavenly Father always heard him. Standing before the tomb of Lazarus Jesus prayed not only for the power to call this man from death to life, but for the people to witness the glory of God. The glory of God is Jesus who came to this earth to give life, life that overcomes death. When the time for Jesus to be crucified drew near Jesus needed to pray. He said, “Now is my soul troubled. And what should I say, “Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Jesus did not ask to be saved from the suffering of the cross, but to glorify God, which is to stay true to the mission of saving us.

Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel lesson today came at the end of a section in the Gospel of John where Jesus was preparing his followers for the time when he would no longer be physically present among them. Jesus was all too aware that his followers would face many challenges. They would be the ones to carry on the mission of Jesus, to speak of his love for the world, and to invite people to faith and eternal life. But this message would not be welcome by all and they would face hostility and hatred. There would be times when they would be tempted to give up the mission of Jesus. There would be times when they would feel disappointed and defeated. There would be times when they would feel abandoned, like orphans. But now Jesus would pray for them and the overall theme of his prayer was to help his followers know, for all time, that they have not been abandoned for he would be with them always.

So Jesus prayed, “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 they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them I protected them in your name that you have given me, I guarded them, and not one was lost, except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.” The one destined to be lost was a reference to Judas who would betray Jesus. The reading from Acts today told how Judas was replaced by one of two possible candidates who met the requirement of witnessing Jesus’ resurrection. Through prayer the replacement chosen was Matthias.

Throughout his ministry on earth Jesus guarded his followers. He protected them through prayer. He protected them by teaching them the truth about himself, that he came to this world to fulfill the command of the heavenly Father to give eternal life to all who believe and trust Jesus. Jesus guarded them by teaching the truth of God’s love for the world. When the disciples were lost and confused Jesus told them to focus faith on him saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through me.” If you want to know God the Father, look no further than Jesus. Does God seek to condemn sinners, look to Jesus who came to the world as the Lamb of God, the sacrifice on the cross who takes away the sin of the world. When some in the crowd left Jesus thinking his teachings were too hard, Jesus asked point blank his disciples, “Do you want to leave as well”. Peter said “No, for you have the words of eternal life.”

We need Jesus’ prayer of protection for the church today, and this is his prayer that the church, the followers of Jesus, be one. This is a special unity, ever focused on God’s will to save the world and not condemn the world. By all human appearance it may seem this prayer of Jesus is not working. We think of all the different denominations, the theological disagreements, and even mutual suspicions and criticisms. Unity among the churches protects the mission of the church which is to know and trust Jesus who has the words of eternal life. Eternal life is not only a reference to life after one dies, but life now as one lives on this earth. We are talking about a relationship of faith and trust with Jesus. The second reading from the first letter of John said it plainly, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; and whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Life is more than breathing as human animals. Life that is life is the fundamental truth that your life, my life, matters. In fact, according to Christian psychologist Richard Beck, psychologists have a name for this, ‘mattering.’ He writes, “You matter—your life has value and significance—when you get the promotion and when you don’t. You matter no matter your weight, romantic situation, employment or income. You matter in prison, in your failure, and in your mistakes. You matter, no matter what.” This ‘mattering’ is not something earned or applied for, for it is entirely by grace. You matter because you are a child of God, the name of God has been placed on you, and nothing can take that away.

Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian wrote about why Africans, brought to this country as slaves, and lives of unimagined cruelty, were attracted to Jesus. In spite of a personal sense of inferiority, and on top of that dealing with social inferiority, they listened to Jesus’ words of eternal life which told them their lives mattered. In this time of getting a vaccination to protect from the COVID virus, Howard Thurman wrote of another kind of vaccination. He wrote, “The first task is to get the self immunized against the most radical threats of violence, attacks on one’s dignity and worth. When this is accomplished, relaxation takes the place of churning fear. The person now feels that he or she counts, that they belong.” Maybe we should think daily of baptism as an immunization, that protects us from all in life that seeks to rob us of dignity and peace. Baptism is that important means of grace that tells us whose we are, beloved and forgiven children of God.

Jesus’ prayer for protection of his followers was central to this prayer. Again he asked the heavenly Father to protect his followers because, as he said, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” Dr. Pavel Goia was born and raised in Romania. He and his wife wanted to start a small clothing factory. They filled out all the necessary documents and passed needed inspections. Yet the permit was not granted due to the obstinate refusal of a communist official. When Pavel approached him and asked about the refusal the official told him, “I hate you Christians. I cannot agree with you. You all should be destroyed.” Eventually approval was granted, but it took many months. Then came the revolution and the fall of communism in Romania. This communist official lost his position and became a community pariah. He was desperate for work but no one wanted anything to do with him. One day this former official came to Pavel’s door. The official recognized Pavel and remembered how he had treated him. But Pavel offered him a job on the spot. This man was completely amazed saying, “Why would you help me when I hated you?” Pavel answered “I cannot agree with your views, but I do not hate you. In fact, I care for you.” Unity with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to dwell in their love. Earlier in the Gospel of John Jesus said to his followers, “As the Father has loved me, so I loved have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Jesus said the Evil One, the devil, has no power over him. Also Jesus said that by his death on the cross, revealing the full depth of God’s love for the world, the devil and his rule of fear is cast out. To be protected from the evil one is to dwell in Jesus’ love, ever know you are a child of God, and continue connection to Jesus by listening and living his teachings. Jesus said “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” To be protected from the power of evil is to live with Jesus and make his word part of us, learning not to return evil for evil, hate for hate, but seek his strength to respond with love.

We live in a world where many seem to enjoy conflict, name-calling, tearing other people down, insults and injury. But do they really, maybe they know of no other way. So many have said they do not want to watch the news any more. Jesus prayed that the church, his followers, not be taken from the world, or ignore the world, but promises to free us from the mis-guidance of the Evil One, and replace that with his own. Jesus will not leave us defenseless, helpless, or hopeless. His prayers of protection call us to know our home in his love that our lives matter in this love, as we seek to follow him and obey his commandment to love. Jesus prayed for our sanctification, the promise of the Holy Spirit to inspire and keep us faithfully united to Jesus Christ, our firm foundation.

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