7 Easter 2021

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As many of you know, I enjoy dabbling in genealogy.  I especially love reading the old colonial wills because they gave you great insights into the life and relationships of the individual.  They all begin with “being of sound mind” much as ours do, but then many of them unashamedly admitted the “uncertainty of life” and give thanks to the Almighty God for all the blessings they had received in life and state “I bequeath my soul to God trusting in the merits of my Redeemer.”  They then proceed to provide for their spouse, children, grandchildren, etc., not suggesting that everything  be sold to “share and share alike” but taking each of those blessing and giving it individually according to need and desire of their loved ones down to the sheets on the bed and the pots and pans in the kitchen.

The Gospel of John, beginning in chapter 17 in many ways reads like Jesus’ last will and testament.  It is the last lengthy prayer we hear from Jesus before his arrest and he reviews his ministry and seeks to provide for those closest to him knowing that death is imminent.  Our reading began at verse 6, but I want to back up to the beginning of this chapter and look at Jesus’ opening remarks to his Father.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all that you have given him.” (John 17: 1b-2)  Jesus pleads with the Father for a meaningful death acknowledging that both the authority given to him as well as the individuals who accepted his authority were gifts from the Father.  We have no power, no authority here on earth that God does not allow.  That means that we cannot look at our neighbor and think that we are better because we are richer, smarter, or better looking than our neighbor.  We received from God what God chose to give for God’s purpose.  Also those employers and politicians that really get on our nerves if not always godly in their ruling, have been allowed their authority by God sometimes for purposes that we will never understand in this lifetime.

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17-3).  Knowledge of God, both Father and Son (and not mentioned here, but Holy Spirit) brings eternal life.  How do we get to know God?  Primarily though prayer and studying the scripture, but according to Paul, also just observing the world around us and being open to seeing God in the beauty of a sunrise or the miracle of birth.

“So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (John 17:4) John begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (John 1:1).  Jesus is ready to go home, to return to his rightful place in the Trinity.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.  They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you and they have believed that you sent me.”  (John 17: 6-8) When God tried to speak to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai they were terrified and they said to Moses that they never wanted to hear the voice of God again for fear that they would perish. (Deut. 5) The experience of God they had consisted of fire and smoke, thick darkness another place describes thunder, lightning, and the earth shaking. They heard, but they failed to obey. This time God spoke to them through flesh and blood and Jesus says that they not only heard and acknowledged that he spoke the word of God, they believed and obeyed.

“I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and all yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them “(John 17:9-10).  Jesus is beginning to draw a clear distinction between those who have heard his words, and believed that he was sent from God and those who did not.  Those who believe belong to Him and because they belong to Him, they belong to the Father as well.  But those who do not believe belong to the world.

“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 that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11)  Jesus is acknowledging that he is about to leave this physical world and join his heavenly Father, but he is leaving behind all of his students.  They no longer think and live as the rest of the world, yet they must remain in the world.  Jesus is asking his Father to protect them and they are to live together on earth in the same relationship that the Trinity experiences, complete unity.  I was asked this week what I thought about the Wisdom of the Church.  In the first few centuries of the church, bishops would gather from all various areas and meet in Council to resolve matters of doctrine.  We call these Ecumenical Councils and there were seven of them before the Great Schism.  But in 1054 the heads of the Latin and Greek speaking churches excommunicated each other over a doctrinal understanding of the procession of the Holy Spirit.  In the 16th century, the Reformation caused further splitting of the Western church, and while that has been some mending of fences between the east and the west, there is far too much division and dissension within the body of Christ. Pray that we may co-exist within the bond of love and Christian fellowship despite our theological, liturgical, and ethical differences.

“While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. (John 17:12a) There is power in the name of Jesus Christ.  Do not be afraid to use it, but do so appropriately.  I always amazes me how often people invoke Jesus’ name when what they really mean is “I can’t believe you are that stupid.”  That is using God’s name in vain, but commanding evil to leave in the name of Jesus or calling on Jesus to protect us in danger is biblically sound.

 I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12b) What about poor Judas?  I don’t believe that God creates evil.  It is against God’s nature.  I do believe that God uses our fallen nature and our understanding of God to enlighten those who choose to respond to God.  I suspect Jesus knew that Judas was likely to betray him and choose him anyways.  Jesus in many ways seems to have set the stage, knowing what the scriptures said, and how they would be interpreted, but that does not negate the scriptures or what Jesus did, it only supports the idea that God works through human efforts to further God’s will.

“But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have joy made complete in themselves.  I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to this world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (John 17:13-14)  We should stick out like a sour thumb.  Recent immigrants are often easy to spot because they may not speak the same language, sometimes they dress differently, they eat different foods, listen to different music.  Everything about them says, “I am not from here.”  We are to be aliens in this world, because we belong to the kingdom of heaven and we are to take joy in that fact despite the fact that the world around us find us odd, or different, or even to be a threat to their way of life.

“I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth.” (John 17:15-17)  C.S. Lewis wrote a cute but profound book title “Screwtape Letters.”  It is letters from an apprentice demon to Satan.  He has a hard time understanding that by killing Christians he is not helping Satan, but hurting him.  Lewis indicates the Christians simply go home to heaven.  But that is only partially true.  By taking the Christians out of this world, we remove the Gospel, the Good News and the truth.  Jesus pleads with the Father, do not take them out of this world, but protect them from falling into the hands of Satan. 

We have an inheritance from God our Father, through Christ our brother.  We have an inheritance of joy in this life and life everlasting the world to come.  We also have an obligation to protect that inheritance and to pass it down to our descendants.  What are you leaving to your descendants?  Did you include God in the treasures you are leaving to your loved ones?

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