Sermon for 7th Easter -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
Many of you know and some of you grew up with a prayer called “The Jesus Prayer.” This short prayer goes back to the earliest days of the Christian Church. “Jesus Christ Have Mercy on Me” or “Lord Jesus Christ Have Mercy on Us” is the simplest form of this prayer. I use it as I sleep and sometimes as I awake. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
Today’s Gospel lesson from John 17 is a Jesus prayer, too, but a much longer one. 17 verses! As is often the case, the context of this prayer is very important – It is Thursday of Holy Week, a day we call Maundy Thursday in the church. It is the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. Soon Jesus will depart from his disciples. Jesus has important words of prayer and promise to share with his disciples and he does this through a long prayer to God, a portion of which you have just heard me read as our Gospel lesson today.
Scholar David Lose points out that there are three parts of this prayer, each of which is important for us today:
First, the world can be a difficult place. Now, that may not sound like much of a promise or very good news, but it is the truth. There are all kinds of forces in the world today which tell us that if we purchase the right product or vote for the right candidate everything in our lives will be just fine. At least here in the church we need to tell the truth. And the truth is that the world can be a difficult place and no product or candidate can change that. Life as we know it is beautiful and difficult, wonderful and painful. Jesus knows that his departure will be immensely challenging for his disciples. He tells them the truth – the world can be a difficult place. For Jesus’ disciples nearly 2,000 years ago. For Jesus’ disciples, you and me, today.
Second, and coupled with the first point, our Christian faith does not provide an escape from life’s difficulties, but, rather, our Christian faith offers support so that we can survive and even sometimes flourish in the midst of life’s difficulties. Jesus addresses this directly when he says, “I am not asking you to take them”– that his disciples, that’s you and me – I am not asking you to take them out of this world, but I ask you to protect them from evil. I am sure that is not what Jesus’ disciples wanted to hear! They probably thought – Jesus, if you are leaving, please take me/us with you!
However, that is not what Jesus promised them or us. Jesus promised them and us God’s support and protection amidst the evils of this world.
Lose notes that over the years he has seen people with one of two understandings of the Christian faith. Both recognize that the world can be a difficult and painful place. One view suggests that when you come to faith, the world stops shaking and everything makes sense. Another view is that our Christian faith gives us the ability to keep our footing amid the tremors of this life. I have found this view to be the most helpful for my life – my faith gives me the ability to keep my footing amidst any difficulties in my life.
This then is Jesus’ promise to his disciples and to us: they, the disciples, will not be exempt from life’s struggles, but they will never be alone in those struggles. And, thus, we will not be exempt from life’s struggles, but we will never be alone in those struggles.
The world can be a difficult place. Our faith helps us cope, survive and even flourish in a sometimes difficult world.
Third and finally, we, you and I, are here for a purpose – to care for this world that God loves. Dr. Lose notes the use of the word “gave” and “given” in today’s text – gave or given can be found nine times in this text, seventeen times in this chapter and seventy-five times in John’s entire Gospel. Why is this important? John is telling us, Jesus is telling us, that everything we have is given to us by God: God is our loving parent; God loves this world; God has chosen us and sent us into the world to make a difference.
Lose also likes the word “world” in St. John’s Gospel – “God so loved the world.” This difficult and sometimes painful world is yet beloved by God. And we are sent into this world to bear witness to the truth that God loves the whole world, even when this world runs contrary to God’s design or desire.
And that is Jesus’ prayer in a “nutshell,” so to speak – God knows that life in this world can be difficult, God has promised to be with us amid the challenges of this world not only to survive but even to flourish in it and that God’s intent is for us to do good in this world, a world that God loves.
Jesus’ prayer for us is that we go out into this world, this week and every week, with prayer and purpose whether that going out is work, or school, or home or volunteering and whatever the challenges and blessings we face and experience, that we go out with the assurance that God is with us, God will strengthen us and use us to care for each other and this world.
Thus, I invite you to think about your life in this world God loves this coming week: How can we, you and I, help make this world a more trustworthy place. Perhaps that will be as simple as being a good friend, listening to someone else’s struggle, standing up for someone who is vulnerable, doing a good job at work, volunteering to make a difference, praying for those in need, or inviting someone to come with you to church next weekend to hear the truth about God’s love for all of us. Any or all of these are possibilities and there are many others, too.
God is at work in this world through us and our congregation, though you and through me.
Let’s close with a prayer adapted from Jesus’ own words of prayer:
Dear God, whose love knows no ending, we know this life is beautiful and difficult and sometimes both at the same time. We do not ask that you take us out of this world, but that you support and protect us while we are in it. We pray that you would set us apart in the truth we have heard here, that your love is for everyone, and we ask that you would send us out from this place to bear witness in word and deed to your grace, goodness and love. May we hear your voice calling us at home and at work, at school, in social settings, and the places that we gather and volunteer, that we might feel and share your love. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the one set apart and made holy for us.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Jesus Prays for Us
Sermon for Easter 7
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
May 16 /17, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California