Monday, May 21, 2012

Easter 7 John 17:11b-19

Introduction:  The Coexist bumper sticker is a lie.  The idea of living at peace with each other is good, but the problem is that each letter in that bumper sticker represents a religion that is opposed to the last letter on the bumper sticker—the man on the cross.  The man on the cross says that there is only one truth, and only one way to heaven.  All of those other ways that the other religions have, no matter how dedicated, they are dedicated to the wrong god.  The man on the cross says his way is the only way, and all other ways go to hell.  He also says that even if we do worship the true God, there is no way for us to get ourselves to heaven. The cross says that God is satisfied with nothing less than punishment for all people, because of our sins.  It also says that we would never be able to suffer enough for our sins—an eternal life sentence of torture, with no opportunity for parole is what we deserve.  That man was on the cross because there was no other way for us to get to heaven.  The only way for us to get to heaven was for God to punish him instead of us—to punish that man on the cross who is also God, Jesus Christ.  That is the only truth.
The people of the world may sometimes be able to coexist with each other, but they will never coexist with Christ.  They hated him during his life on earth, and they crucified him.  But he rose from the dead, and then he ascended into heaven where he rules all things for the benefit of his church.  And here we are, left behind in the middle of all Christ’s enemies.  They want us be quiet while they mock Christ with their disobedience.  They want us to say that it’s alright, that God will be ok with their dedication to the lies that are told against him.  All this they do in the name of peace.  Aren’t you tempted to give them what they want?  Wouldn’t you like a little more support from your Lord Jesus?  Look with me at some of the last words Jesus gave us, as he was thinking about how we would be left in this world among his enemies.  On the night before he died, he gave us a glimpse into what he is always doing for us:

Jesus Prays for Us.
1.      The disciples needed it.
If I had been in their shoes and heard this prayer, I would have felt nervous about the future.  I don’t know if they did or not, but I would have felt abandoned.
Jesus prayed:
I will remain in the world no longer; but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.”
I would have been thinking, “Jesus is leaving?  But we have so much to learn yet!  And who will continue his work of preaching God’s Word to this stubborn bunch of people?”
Jesus continued:
“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.  While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.  None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”
I would have been thinking, “Yes, I am going to need a little protection down here, especially since one of the apostles would lose his faith and turn against Jesus—Judas, one of the 12 who were closest to him.  If that could happen to an apostle, then no one is safe!”  I would have been thinking, “I’m glad Jesus is praying for the Father to protect me.”
Jesus continued:
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.  I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.”
And I would have been thinking, “Wait, we are the ones who are supposed to continue the work of preaching the Word of God, and the world is going to hate us for it?  I’m not ready for that.”
But Jesus continued to pray:
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”
And I would have been thinking, “Really?  Why can’t we leave this world with you, Jesus?  Why do we have to be left behind?”
What do you think?  Did the disciples feel like they were being abandoned?  They certainly faced a daunting challenge.  It was like they were about to start a new job, and the boss was leaving!  The disciples needed Jesus to pray for them.

2.     We need it, too.
Do you ever feel abandoned, like God has dropped you right in the middle of a messy situation and left you wondering what you’re supposed to do next?
Jesus ascended into heaven and left us here.  He left us with his Word, and he has sent us out into the world to show them who God is.  He has sent you to your family, to the places where you work, and to the places where you meet your friends.
So here you are.  You have God’s word.  You are God’s messenger.  You represent him.  Where do you start?
What if a Christian who you know, a family member, or a friend, says that he or she is homosexual, and claims that God is ok with that.  You have God’s word, and you know that God says homosexuality is sin.  You represent God.  Where do you start?
What if you know two Christians, a man and a woman, who have decided to live together?  They might even be in their later years, and they just want a little company, but they don’t want to get married.  This causes offense.  It causes people to look at them and say, “look at these older people who live like they are married, even though they are not—they don’t take God’s word seriously.”  It causes younger people to think they can do that too.  You know the Bible says it’s wrong.  You represent God.  Where do you start?
You know people who don’t hear God’s Word very often.  The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing the message,” and if they don’t hear the message much then they can’t have much faith.  You represent God.  Where do you start?
What if you discover that one of your children has done something awful, and that child is crushed.  He doesn’t think God can ever love him again.  You represent God.  Where do you start?
Do you feel a little lost and alone, a little abandoned?  Perhaps later on, when the disciples began their new job as God’s representatives in the world, and their Lord was no longer anywhere in sight, they might have remembered that he had prayed for them.  In fact, he is always praying for us.  In the book of Hebrews we read that he lives to intercede for us—he is alive, and always praying for us.  (Hebrews 7:25)
When you are troubled, you sometimes ask me to pray for you.  How do you feel, knowing that Jesus is praying for you?
Jesus prayed that God would protect you by the power of his name.  He will protect you from the temptation to cave in to the pressure of the sinful world; he will protect you from your sinful heart, which wants you to keep your faith to yourself and live a quiet life.  He will protect you from the evil one, the devil who wants to take your faith away from you.  Then, at the heart of his prayer, Jesus prayed:
“Sanctify them by your truth.  Your Word is Truth. 
As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

3.     But what does that mean?
God is going to sanctify us.  It means: to set aside something or someone for a holy purpose—to consecrate, or dedicate.  By his Word, God is going to dedicate us to a holy purpose.  That reminds me of how everything in God’s Old Testament temple was sanctified.  All the furniture that was used in temple worship, and even the priests themselves were anointed with a special oil that dedicated them for God’s holy work.
Wasn’t Jesus praying that God would make us all be like those Old Testament priests who served him?  Elsewhere Peter said it more directly, “You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.”  Jesus prayed that the Father would dedicate us as priests—you don’t wear the fancy robes and hats, but you do represent God.  To the people in your life, you are a priest.  You represent God, wherever you go.  To your coworkers, your family, and friends, you are the one who has the Word of God. 
If you don’t feel like you’re ready to do your job, know that Jesus prayed for you.  He prayed that God would make you a priest, ready to represent God at your job and with your family and friends.  But maybe you don’t feel holy enough to even begin to do your job.  Do you feel worthy to hold the holy Word of God and tell someone, “This is what God says”?  Don’t you sometimes wish that God’s Word said something else?  Don’t you wish that it said homosexuality is Ok if that is the way you were born?  Don’t you wish that it would say your sins are ok, as long as you can’t help it?  I hope you feel that your sins make you a hypocrite, because that means that you are honest with yourself.  Jesus knew that our sins would make us hypocrites who are unfit to represent him.  He prayed for that too, that by the power of God’s Word we would be holy and fit to represent God.
Understand that this is why Jesus sanctified himself.  “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”  Jesus dedicated himself to his holy purpose of sacrificing himself for our sins, his life for our life.  Jesus is our priest, and he sacrificed his life to make us pure.  Whether you feel holy or not, God’s Word says that you are holy.  In Ephesians 5:26 we read that Christ gave himself up for us, to make us holy.”  See, we are not holy because of what we do.  We are sanctified, holy people with a holy purpose, because of what Jesus did. 
Now if Jesus actually left us all alone to carry his Word and represent God, we would be lost and abandoned.  You would be hopeless, looking at those sticky situations wondering, “Where do I start?”  But God continues to sanctify us by his Word.  We are his holy people, and he separates our hearts from everything that is not holy. In those sticky situations where we feel abandoned, we wonder where to start because sin clouds our judgment.  His Word pushes our sinful thinking out of the way and teaches us what God’s holy people should do and say in those situations.  You know that will happen because Jesus prays that God the Father will sanctify you by his Word.
Conclusion:  All of you have done everything you can to support me, but I still have times when I feel all alone and abandoned.  And I’m not talking about Sunday afternoon after everyone goes home.  I’m talking about how it’s a big job for such a young guy.  How can I have the wisdom to help you in your problems?  I don’t feel like I have the guts to confront your sins.  I don’t feel like I am old enough and wise enough to say, “This is what God says.”  I’m glad that all of you seem to think that I do.  Maybe you feel abandoned sometimes too.  But we have not been left here all alone.  Our Lord has returned to heaven, and we don’t see him anymore, but he has not left us alone.  He prays for us, so that his Word will be effective in us to cleanse us of our sins and teach us to represent him.  Yes, it’s a hard job.  Yes, there are many who are against us and against God’s Word.  But Jesus is with us.  Jesus prays for us.  Amen.