7th Sunday of Easter (B) - John 17:11-17 - May 16th and 17th, 2015
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
What we hear in our Gospel lesson is part of John 17, a chapter that is known as Jesus's "High Priestly Prayer". John, in his Gospel, does something slightly different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. While those three tend to focus on the events of Maundy Thursday, John lets us know what Jesus talked about. He records the things Jesus said that night - and after He taught the disciples many things - including what we've heard the last few weeks, Jesus, in chapter 17 prays for the disciples, prays because basically their time as simple disciples is done and they will be apostles - apostles leading the church. When Jesus is done with this prayer, it's off to the Garden of Gethsemane and His crucifixion. So then, let us pay attention to this prayer which Jesus prays for His Church, prays even for us, for we are part of that same one, Holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church.
"Holy Father, keep them in Your Name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as we are one." Jesus here identifies one of the great problems that so often arises in the Church. A lack of unity. That uncomfortable situation where some folks want to go this way and others want that way and other people are saying no way - that whole mess. And Church history is chalk full of problems and chaos and struggles. Because frankly, that's what Satan wants to stir up, Satan wants a disunified church. Satan wants you to walk away from church angry and upset because you didn't get your way, or because someone else is doing something that you don't like, or because you heard how horrible the folks at some other church are. And why does Satan want you thinking that? Because when you are thinking about your anger, your upset feelings, when the obvious examples of disunity come to the foreground, what are you *not* thinking of any more? You aren't thinking of Jesus. You aren't thinking of forgiveness. You aren't thinking of the mercies of God shown to poor foolish sinners, whether that poor foolish sinner is the fellow next to you or is in fact you yourself. Satan wants you distracted, and there is no better distraction for Satan to use than to have you mad at church, mad at someone at church, or even mad at religion as a whole - because then your anger cuts you off from the place where God has said He would come to give you mercy and love and forgiveness.
So what is the solution to disunity? Go along to get along? Maybe come up with a program we can all get on board with? Or maybe a strong bishop, even a Pope to keep everyone in line? When I was up at the Pastors' conference they had a flier that was asking for possible solutions as to how to encourage unity in the district - because of course there isn't a lot of unity in the Northern Illinois District. We're centered in Chicago, and Chicago is the home of nasty politics, and the same thing spills out into the Church. And the temptation is always for us to try to come up with our own solutions. Not the point. Listen again to Jesus - "Holy Father, keep them in Your Name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are One." What is unity in the Church? What is the solution that Christ Jesus prays for right here? Not our actions, not our plans and programs, not our wants and whims. Holy Father - You keep the Church, You protect the Church and keep it safe... where? In Your Name. In Your Name. That's a weighted term, folks. We hear that idea of God's Name tossed around all the time in the Scriptures, and you know what that idea points to, drives to? It drives to the place where you yourself received the name of God, where God's Name was applied to you - right there, at the font, in Holy Baptism. In Baptism you were joined to God, His name was placed upon you, you were declared forgiven and part of His family. Christ Jesus is the Son of God - you are now by virtue of your Baptism also a child of God, a fellow heir - you have His Name applied to you. The Name of God is applied to you - you even get called "Christian" - little Christ.
The solution, the center of unity in the Church is right there - that font. At the font, whoever we are, whatever our differences, our unique wants and whims and talents and foibles - we are all unified, joined in the Name of God, made members of the same Body, the Body of Christ. Whatever our differences, we have this in common, this great unifying factor - we are sinners who are baptized and forgiven, and this truth trumps everything else in our lives. It's why we begin service with our Invocation - why that font is right there in the middle of the sanctuary. Because we come to this place, we approach God in His House not merely as individuals, but we come as the Baptized, we come "in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Whatever else is going on in the world, whatever baggage we have in our lives, or even with each other - right here we drop them, and we come before God remembering our baptism, and asking Him for the forgiveness of our sins - because that is the way we are unified.
Jesus continues: "While I was with them, I kept them in Your name, which You have given Me. I have guarded them." And how did Jesus do this? He taught, He preached... and what is to go on in the Church now? "But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your Word." How do we remain who were are in our Baptism, how do we remain focused upon Christ and the forgiveness He gives? We are kept safe when we are focused upon the life giving Word of God, the Gospel of Christ Jesus. That's what you need - God's Word. That's how the Holy Spirit works - He calls us by the Gospel - He enlightens us by His gifts, by Baptism, by preaching, by the proclamation of forgiveness, by His Holy Supper. You here - you don't need my opinion, and frankly I don't need yours. Everyone has opinions, and most of the time they stink, my own included. What we need is the clear, solid, Word of God, and that must always be our focus - otherwise we will spiral off into sin and vice and disunity and anger and hurt feelings and hatred. Otherwise sin will reign. It is only where the Gospel is proclaimed that forgiveness and life reign.
Our Lord continues: "...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." The world loves opinion. That's what talks shows are - that's what the news shows are. The world loves breaking us down into little camps and categories and groups - and then setting us against each other. And when you don't let that be your focus - when you do not let yourself be defined by the world's categories, but rather are identified by your Baptism, when you say "I am a sinner for whom Christ Jesus has died, and anyone I come across - that's simply what they are - another sinner, another one for whom Christ has died" - then the world will hate you. The world will rage against you. So be it. The world doesn't set the tune we dance to - it shall pass away -- but the Word of the Lord endureth forever. And that Word was attached to water and poured over you, baptizing you into Christ. That Word is joined to bread and wine so that Christ Jesus gives you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith, to give you life and salvation itself even in the midst of this dog eat dog world.
"Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth." If we want unity, if we want to be united in the Truth, in Christ Jesus who is Himself the way, the truth, and the life - then we must be in the Word. We must place ourselves underneath the Word of God and always be learning, always be focused on letting ourselves be shaped by that Word. It's not an accident that the in the absolution I say that I am a called and ordained servant of... the Word. We are people of the Word - and whenever we neglect that, whenever we want the focus to shift to anything other than what God Himself has declared that we need, that's how we go astray. And so, God has declared that His Church is to be a place of His Word. We hear the Word, we speak the Word back and forth to each other in our liturgies, we come as the baptized, and even to cap it off - what does Jesus say? "And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth." Jesus consecrates Himself - that is, He makes Himself holy, for our sake. Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven. He came down to go to the Cross, and He comes down again this day to this altar to give you His Holy Supper so that you would be forgiven, sanctified, made Holy as He is. Over and against the whims and wishes of the world and our sinful flesh, Christ Jesus comes to us, bringing us forgiveness, focusing us upon Himself. That is the point and joy of this place, that is why this place is a gift to us from God.
And so dear friends, know the love that Christ has for you, for He pulls all of you out of your own separate lives and ways, and here in this place He gathers you, unites you in one faith, one hope, one baptism - our hymns and prayers are joined as one, we pray "Our Father" to One and the same God - we are united together in Him as His forgiven children. And while the world will never understand this, while the world will never want this and will rage against this - we are the children of God. We have life in Christ's Name. He has said so in His Word, and He has given that Word to us, and so shall our song ever remain "Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord, my God and Lord, forsake me not, I trust Thy Word!" Thy Word is truth. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed).