John 17: 20-26
8 May 2016
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Did you hear it? Right at the beginning of our Gospel lesson Jesus prayed for us. You remember: “I ask not only on behalf of these,” meaning his first disciples, “but on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word”, that is everyone who came after those first disciples, including us. It’s good to know, for those of us who are Jesus’ disciples today. God is always with us when we walk in Jesus’ way. Reading through our lessons this week I tried to imagine myself into Paul and Silas’ shoes. What, I wondered, was their sense of God in the midst of their experiences? Last week we heard how God opened Lydia’s heart in response to their teaching. She and all her household were baptized. This week we heard how Paul and Silas were jailed when they cast “a spirit of divination” out of a slave girl. Her owners were not pleased. She had been a source of income for them. So they used a law that forbade Jews from trying to convert Romans to their advantage. They had Paul and Silas arrested. Imagine yourself unjustly jailed, stripped, beaten and locked away. Paul and Silas spent their time singing and praising God. I would probably complain bitterly and tell God all about how unfair it was. But back to the story. An earthquake set Silas, Paul, and all the other prisoners free. What a perfect opportunity to get away. But was it an answer to their prayer, a just reward? After all there were real criminals in that jail too. Notice that Paul and Silas kept everyone from escaping in order to spare the jailer from being punished. Remember, that jailer was so afraid that he was at the point of suicide. Well, you know the rest, instead of choosing death the jailer and all his family found life in Christ.
Paul and Silas’ lives were certainly full of ups and downs, what the Book of Common Prayer refers to as “the changes and chances of this life.” Aren’t our lives often like that? We anticipate something good and it goes awry. We experience some setback and good comes from it. Life is complicated. It’s hard to see the big picture minute to minute. How are we, God’s faithful people, to respond? In the passage from Revelation we hear how Christ’s promise to us: “See, I am coming soon;” calls forth the response: “Come, Lord Jesus!” even in the face of all those
“changes and chances” of this life. It’s not so easy though, is it? The human tendency to put our own self-interest first is a strong one. I don’t know about you but while in my heart I know the promise of God’s presence my mind is another matter altogether. It is often enough hard to simply pray and trust. To say: “Come, Lord Jesus.” And then to rest in God’s presence, letting it fill and empower me. But what about the gospel lesson? Recall that for the last several weeks we have been reading from the Gospel According to John. We have been listening in as Jesus teaches the disciples at the Last Supper. Now, in John 17, Jesus is wrapping up his teaching in a long prayer. Today we heard the last portion of what is known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Earlier in the text Jesus prays for himself, then for the disciples. Today we heard his prayer for future believers. Jesus is praying for us and for all who make up the universal church. Did you notice? He is praying for our unity as he sends us forth to do his work. I will say that unity seems a fragile thing in our day-to-day lives. While these particular words of scripture are read in churches all over the world today events that contradict them are also happening all at the same time. Jesus prays: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you …” And in my memory I see the face of a young man gunned down when shooting erupted between gang members and police. He had stepped out trying to keep the peace in his own community. “May they also be one in us.” Watching television for an evening reveals ads that elevate the idea that getting all that you can for yourself is the most important thing in life. “The glory that you have given me I have given them…” And those prophetic voices that call for the valuing of all of God’s creation are dismissed as easily as changing the channel. “So that they may be one, as we are one…” And around the world church leaders argue with one another holding up right doctrine above all else, using scripture as a weapon, shutting other faithful people out. The contrast between what we hear and say on Sunday and what we actually face in our Monday through Saturday world is almost to contradictory to bear. Where does the truth lie? Is it in that Sunday message or in the fact of our day to day lives? Can the facts of our lives and the message that we confess be brought closer together somehow? It’s an age old question for faithful people. A clergy friend once commented that as Christian people what we do, how we treat others, day to day is important because we may be the only Bible some people ever read. With her comment I was transported back to my grandmother’s church. I remember Mrs. Montgomery. To my 6 or 7 or 8 year old eyes she seemed old but she probably wasn’t really. Mrs. Montgomery lived in the house where she grew up. As a newly-wed her husband was killed in World War II. As a widow she lived with and cared for her brother, disabled in that same war. I always looked forward to visiting her house with my grandmother in part because she let us look at the accumulated small treasures of her life and she took the time to tell us the stories behind them. But also because she made hand dipped chocolates that she sold nestled in pretty paper cups, arranged into white boxes and tied with colorful ribbon. It always smelled so wonderful at Mrs. Montgomery’s house, especially when she was dipping those chocolates. Then too she always let my sister, my cousins and me pick one chocolate each for a treat. Selling those chocolates provided much of her income I suppose but she was generous to us, her young visitors. She was generous on Sunday as well when she taught us Bible stories and helped us with work sheets designed to reinforce the message. That’s likely where I first experienced that wisdom about how we are to behave. It is as though I can hear her saying: “you may be the only Bible some people ever read”. Looking back I can see that with God’s help she lived that wisdom as best she could day to day. Looking back I kind of doubt that Mrs. Montgomery had found any hard and fast answers to the difficulties and dilemmas of her life. That contrast between the gospel message and the reality of life was no doubt there for her as it is for all of us. She never remarried, caught up as she was with the care of her only brother. However much she liked children she had none of her own. She was not a wealthy woman. But she was rich none-the-less. She was a woman of deep faith, who knew God as a constant and faithful companion. She held tightly to the promise, “See I am coming soon!” And in the face of all the changes and chances of her life she responded with the invitation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” As she lived into the unity that Jesus prayed for Mrs. Montgomery was a Bible worth reading. I give thanks for both God’s presence in her and the way that presence was communicated to me. Amen