Sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter/Ascension Sunday/Memorial Day Sunday - John 17:1-11
Jesus is the absolute picture of the suffering God. The God who comes to earth with forgiveness and mercy, but receives none. The God who takes the nails, the tree, the tomb, who feels pain for you. The picture of the unity of God with humanity to bring life where death reigns. He is the one we look to when we want to know the nature of this God we profess. A God who yearns to send his spirit upon you, to inaugurate his kingdom inside yours, to humble you in a war for your soul, speaking of freedom to ones captured by sin, shame and fear. That is this God that speaks to you now, praying for his disciples and for you, desiring for you to know his eternal life that is this knowledge of God and his work for you in Jesus.
Comradery is somewhat of an important thing for unity. It can be hard to come by, this team-building stuff, but it is important. I can remember in football season, going through two-a-days was critical to growing the team. Those who puke together, stay together. You had to be able to suffer together. To be out there on a hot California summer day, twice, doing bear-crawls the length of the field. Wearing all the pads and helmet. Never changing your under shirt or socks, because, what’s the point? Everything is gross. Everyone stinks. Everyone is sore and hurting. You get done and think of yourself more as a team.
The same is said of the military or police and firefighters. There is something said for this joint work that is hazardous, a position which is hard to achieve, sent to horrendous areas to do horrendous work. All it does is bring people closer together. A sense of survival. A sense of commonality. A sense of tragedy that brings unity because those who have been there understand.
Even businesses and corporations attempt to mimic this. You’ll have various conventions and gatherings around the country to try and bring people together. I’m sure some of you remember the dreaded team-building exercise. Where you might have to do a trust fall, or be blindfolded and fed baby food, or told you have to go bungee jumping, mountain climbing. All an attempt to bring people closer together, knowing that closeness implies comradery, comradery assumes success, and success expects results.
Christ, though, does something else. He calls for unity here. He calls for comradery, but he places the work of this not on ropes courses and trenches but on…himself. He directs all of the unity of the people of God through the God whom the people trust. Do you see that here?
For you granted him (that’s Jesus) authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.
United because we are in him.
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
A unity found in this whole eternal life business. Eternal life not based necessarily on pie in the sky, but on the knowledge of God. Knowing him. True intimacy with God and Christ. As one may know their spouse, their best friend, their child. A knowing that is more than just a passing acquaintance.
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.
A God now who reveals himself to you in Jesus. You who are already children of God, being given to God as those who have the words of Christ, heard the gospel of freedom, the mercy proclaimed in a God who came for you, who suffered because of you, who died in forgiveness and rose in victory. All of it focused on Christ. That’s what binds us together as believers, as the family of God, is this work of God revealed in Christ. It isn’t a denominational loyalty, a morality play, a church building, a town, a nationality or common language – it is Christ.
Peter takes this unity to a whole new level by equating actual suffering as Christians. Not every day suffering that is common to all, but those who are truly persecuted, truly killed and maimed for professing the name of Christ, (thinking again of our brothers and sisters in Egypt this last week killed on the way to pray, or those in the Philippines, killed because they are Christian) being those who are so bonded to Jesus that they are sharing, in some way, in his sufferings. Knowing Christ so intimately as being introduce to the same suffering. Being cast aside because you actually are one who believes in this strange idea of free forgiveness. Of being humbled by God. Being not proud, but the least of all people. Meekness being given to you because the world hates you for loving it regardless of how good or nice it is or not.
This is a strange thought for us, because as Christians in America, the worst suffering we have is maybe people looking at us weird as we pray in public, or wear some sort of distinctive clothing. Maybe. Rarely. Persecuted for political stances usually, not for the name of Jesus.
A recent article by Pastor David Householder, out in California, talks about the Lutheran evangelism problem. How we really have no doctrine on evangelism because our ideology grew out of Christian Europe. Out of a society where Christians happened by birth, not necessarily by the Spirit or conversion. How that same mantra came to the new world in the form of America, a predominantly Christian country. Where we Lutherans have two choices of either having children or changing our theology into the turn-or-burn fundamentalism. One is dying off, while the other is appalling to most of us.
I think, in some ways, the hard part of Lutheran evangelism is that the gospel is always front and center. It is a declaration to you of this Jesus who knows you and wants you to know him. A Jesus who already has you, you just don’t know it yet. Where every Sunday should be evangelistic because that is what we are, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
If we lose that, we lose Jesus, and if we lose Jesus, we lose the truth of how this whole gospel thing works in our lives, in our churches, and the lives of others. Where unity is not based in intellectual agreement on all politics, all lifestyles, all sports fandom, all musical choices, all historical backgrounds. Instead it is based on Christ. Unity found in Jesus. In the one whom God gave us to, to only have us be given back to God.
This whole unity in Jesus, if it’s not the focus and preached regularly, we end up preaching other things in hopes of ending racism, abuse, neglect, hate, hypocrisy. Not thinking that the key is that the suffering God, came to earth in Christ, to be revealed to you by one who suffered and died on a cross, and rose again, to gather in all people to himself. All people being you, and those you may not like so much. All because of Jesus. Thanks be to God. Amen.