St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for May 13, 2018

Seventh Sunday of Easter

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
May 12, 2018
Easter 7 B
John 17:6-19
     Take my lips, O Lord, and speak with them. Take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     Today is the last Sunday of the Easter season. Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, was this past Thursday, when Jesus ascends to the Father in heaven. Next Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost, always 50 days after Easter, when God sends the Holy Spirit to the disciples to empower them for their ministry.
     In our gospel lesson this morning, we heard another part of the High Priestly prayer. Jesus is with the disciples in the Upper Room having just finished the Last Supper. Judas has left to betray Jesus and Jesus knows that this will be the last time he will be with his disciples, to teach them and guide them. He needs to be sure that they know the importance of continuing Jesus' ministry after he is gone. He needs to be sure that they know he will not abandon them, that the Holy Spirit will be with them to guide them and give them strength for their mission.
     In the High Priestly prayer, Jesus prays for the disciples. He prays to God that the disciples will be one, that they will be united. He prays that they will have joy and that they will be protected from the evil one. And he prays that they will be sanctified in the truth.
     If you think that Jesus' words in this prayer are complicated and confusing, you are right. It is hard to know to whom Jesus is referring. This complicated prayer from Jesus shows us that we do not need to worry if our prayers don't go from point A to point B in a logical and linear way. When we pray, as Jesus did, we say what is on our hearts. Our words don't have to be perfect. As Jesus showed, prayer can be messy. And we are limited by language. But God knows what is on our hearts.
     In this prayer, Jesus is praying for the disciples who are with him in the upper room as well as all the disciples who would follow in their footsteps, including each of us. Jesus was praying for us as his followers, followers who would come 2000 years later. That is amazing, that in that upper room, Jesus prayed for you and for me.
     How good does it feel to know that someone else is praying for you? If you are like me, you feel encouraged, supported, loved. And that is one of the reasons to have a community of faith. When we go through a desert time when we do not feel God's presence, others may be praying for us, especially at times when we can no longer pray for ourselves. That is the power of a community of faith. There is something profound about knowing that someone is praying for you, remembering us and lifting us up to God by those we love.
     A story is told of a priest who had a daughter who was going through a difficult time adjusting to college life and dealing with depression. The priest happened to mention it at a meeting he attended. Three weeks later, he got an unexpected call from someone else who had attended that meeting. "How is your daughter?" she asked. "I have three hundred pastors praying for her." Asking for prayer can be important, but receiving prayer without asking is pure grace.
     A question I hear from time to time is does prayer really matter? Does it make a difference? There are no simple answers. When we pray, we have faith that God hears our prayers. And God always answers, either yes, no, or not yet. God may answer us in ways that we did not imagine, ways we never thought of. Because God is God and we are not. We might ask for healing for someone, but it doesn't come in the way we had intended, or when we had wanted it. And it is possible that the healing we prayed for does not happen in this lifetime, but perhaps in eternal life. Perhaps what happens is an inner healing we can't see, a closer connection to God, a sense of peace and joy. But prayer changes us. We are not the same. Prayer brings us closer to God, even if we don't feel it. Even routine prayers like grace before meals or bedtime prayers, if they are the same night after night, can change us in ways we cannot imagine. The mystery of prayer can help us comprehend the mystery of God.
     Jesus prays for his disciples to be protected in the world, and not be overcome by the evil one. He prays they will continue in the world and not separate themselves from it.
     How often have we gone to a place apart and felt God's presence and God's peace and we have not wanted to leave that place? We want to stay up on the mountaintop where we don't have to deal with the evil and injustices of the world - terrorism, hunger, homelessness, war, nuclear threats, gun violence, murder, people's inhumanity to each other, injustice, financial inequality- the list could go on and on. So why not go away with other like-minded people to live in peace and serenity? Because for most of us, that is not what God has called us to do.  As Jesus said to the disciples, they had to live in the world but not be a part of the world. They were to live as Jesus' disciples and teach others about a better way to live - to love one another, to strive for equality for all as children of God, to respect the dignity of every human being. That was their calling. And that is our calling as well.
     To quote Kermit the Frog, "It's not easy being green." It's not easy to be different from the rest of the world in the way we live and act, in the way we treat each other, in our relationships. We are to live for Christ in a world that, for the most part, has turned its back on God and the way God wants us to live. Jesus does not pray for us to be taken out of the world but to be made holy in the world. We are called to stay in this world as God's missioners, to show people the way to Christ.
     On the night before the Last Supper, just hours before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prays not only for himself but also for his disciples, including all who would come after him, including you and me - all of us who are God's witnesses in the world. He prays that we might be surrounded by God's protective love as we continue life in this world. Jesus knew its challenges, its disappointments, its hostilities. We may not, and should not, be happy with certain aspects of this world, but this is where we are and this is what we have, and we are called to change what we can. At times, we may feel betrayed by the church or political leaders and we may be disappointed with those with whom we are in community. But we will never be betrayed by or disappointed by God.
     We live in between the world we know and the one that is yet to come. But we are not alone. We have a God who loves us, a redeemer who prays for us, a spirit that sustains us, and we have each other - a community of faith that supports us and shows us the way of Christ. Amen.

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