Monday, June 1, 2009

Seventh Sunday of Easter (Series B: John 17:11b-19)

“Holy Father, keep them in your Name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this seventh and final Sunday of Easter is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, always pay attention to the Collect. This little prayer, said towards the end of our service today and printed in your bulletin, is supposed to be a summary of the entire service. A good Collect will bring together all the themes of the day from the Introit, the Gradual, the First Reading, the Epistle, and the Gospel, giving you an excellent synopsis of what I should be talking about from up here. Today’s Collect is especially good: “O King of glory, Lord of hosts, uplifted in triumph far above all heavens, leave us not without consolation but send the Spirit of truth whom You promised from the Father; for You live and reign with Him and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.” Do you see what is happening here? The Collect has set the context for this Sunday- last Thursday was Ascension Day, when the disciples saw Jesus disappear as He was lifted up high into the sky. We are tempted to think we are left alone, but wait, Jesus has promised a Comforter, the Holy Spirit who will bring Jesus to us. And for that Comforter, for Pentecost, the disciples wait, and we wait with them.

But waiting is not easy. We know that Pentecost is next week, we know that the first Pentecost was just shy of two thousand years ago, and yet we still wait. We wait for Christ to return, to fulfill His promises by making all things new. And while we wait, the Scriptures tell us we will face hardship. Our Gospel lesson comes from Maundy Thursday, and on that evening Jesus was especially concerned with what His followers will face while they waited. Before our text He tells us: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” We live, we wait in a world that despises us and the Gospel that has been delivered to us. They rejected Christ as Israel rejected her prophets, and having rejected the Master, they have few qualms about roughing up His servants. As He is preparing to travel to the cross, Jesus is giving us a reality check. We will face persecution, we will face rejection, we will face the hatred of the world because we belong to Christ, because of the hope that fills us. This is not some pessimistic prediction; for Jesus, this is simply reality.

When faced with the hatred of the world, there are two options that Christians are tempted to run toward. The first is simply giving up the faith. The history of the Church is sadly filled with people who abandoned what was given to them by Christ at the first sign of persecution. The way of the world looks so much easier, so much more carefree, than a life lived under the cross, facing hatred and rejection from even friends and family. That is where Satan wants us, that is where the world wants us, that is the goal of their persecution. You and I are tempted so often and so hard to simply give up, to take the easy path, to remove the stigma and burden of the name ‘Christian’ from us.

But Satan is still pretty pleased when we choose the second option- compromise. We see it all around us in the Christian Church today, that when faced with the hatred of the world, church bodies and individual Christians simply cave in. We saw it when women’s ordination became a big issue decades ago (it still is today), and church bodies simply followed the tide of culture rather than the truth of Scripture. We see it today as homosexuality finds acceptance even in our churches, when a bishop of the Anglican Church is an advocate for a lifestyle that is clearly condemned by the Word of God. Many Christians even support abortion, the heinous destruction of human life declared unwanted by our world. But before we point the finger at all those other Christians, at those so called ‘liberal’ church bodies, we need to look at ourselves. How often have we allowed the world to set the agenda for our life of prayer and worship, determining when and how often we commune with our Lord and Savior? Are we even shocked anymore by the transgressions of God’s command to ‘not commit adultery’ on our televisions, in our schools, or in our communities, as students ‘hook up’ and adults live together before marriage? How often do we look the other way when someone’s name is slandered through gossip or rumor? And our culture of entitlement has influenced us so much that we so often dictate our agenda to God and His Church. In these and countless other ways we have let the world’s agenda seep into our own lives, because standing against the world’s hatred is a lonely and tough task.

Jesus knows this. He knows that we will be hated by the world- He has told us that clearly- and He knows that we will be tempted to fall away, that we will be tempted to compromise. And so what does He do? He prays. The account of Maundy Thursday in the book of John is five chapters long, and in four of those chapters Jesus is speaking words of warning, the reality check we spoke of before. But He also speaks words of comfort, and He promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, for whom we wait this Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost. Having told us all these things, the good, the bad, and the ugly, in that fifth and final chapter Jesus takes all those who believe in Him to the Father’s throne of grace, He holds all of us up in prayer.

“Holy Father, keep them in your Name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Jesus prays that the Name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, might be placed on all people. This is the Name above all names, the Name that gave salvation time and again to Israel, and now it would be connected to a much greater act of salvation. Jesus is praying on the eve of the Day of Salvation that the benefits of His death and resurrection would be applied to all people. “Sanctify them in the truth, your Word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

Christ was sent into this world, this world of sin and corruption, a world in rebellion against its creator, a world that would reject the very Son of God, to make unclean people holy again. We were all filthy with sin, covered with that uncleanness that had separated us from God from the moment of conception. But Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, consecrated Himself, He set Himself aside as the One to make all people holy again. He was sent to cleanse all through His shed blood, and after finishing this great prayer, He would go forth to the Mount of Olives to accomplish that for which He was sent. For the next morning was Good Friday, the day on which Christ consecrated Himself for the task of giving His life on the cross, the Holy One nailed to the tree to make all people holy. For when His blood flowed from His hands, His feet, His head, His back, and then from His side, it flowed to cleanse all people. And when He rose again, He rose to show He had overcome every source of our uncleanness, He rose to “sanctify them in the truth.” Jesus prays in our text that this victory, this salvation, this cleansing may be extended to all people through the Word of God, “that they may be one, even as we are one.”

We are those who have been cleansed by the Word, we are the ones who have had the Name of salvation, the Divine Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on us in our Baptism, and Christ prays that we may be kept in that Name. “Holy Father, keep them in your Name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Christ prays for us, for you and me, that we might not fall away from this faith, this salvation delivered to us. What comfort this is, that Jesus prays for you and me constantly that our faith may be strengthened and preserved, that we may be kept in the baptismal Name given to us. Amidst the hatred of this world, we need this assurance, we need Christ’s prayer. “I have given them your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Christ prays for us, He holds us up in prayer that we may not compromise with the world, that we may be protected from the assaults of Satan. But we all know that we fall so often in this area, and so our Lord and Savior prays: “Sanctify them in the truth, your Word is truth.” He prays that through the power of God’s Word, our sins would be forgiven, washed away by His blood applied to us each and every time that we hear the beautiful message that “your sins are forgiven,” whether in His Word, in Absolution, or in the feast of His Body and Blood. And He prays that the Holy Spirit would continually work in our lives to make us more and more holy, living a life apart from the sin of this world and bathed in the forgiveness of Christ. And this is the life of true joy, living in the forgiveness of Christ, the hope that fills us despite anything we may face. “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”

We live with the joy of Christ because He died and rose again for us and we live with the joy of Christ because He bathes our lives with forgiveness by applying what He won directly to you and me. But we also live with the joy of Christ because He stands at this very moment before the Father praying specifically for you and me, because He is performing His great work as our intercessor before the Father, praying for us. It is only with the prayers of Christ that the people claimed by Christ’s blood can live in a hostile world. The Church then exists distinct from the world, as an oasis of forgiveness in a desert of sin, as the place where life is given to dying people, as the location where God delivers his very gifts to you and me. The Church is where, as we heard in our first lesson today: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.” May the Lord sustain you through His prayers for you each and every day as you wait for His return in this world, enabling you to stand and forgiving you when you fall, Amen.

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