"Reflection Upon Easter"
by Rev. Ronald Harbaugh
St. John's Lutheran Church (ELCA)
17:6 “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. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 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. 9 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. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 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. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.I believe that our Gospel lesson for this morning is quite fitting, as we bring to a close the season of Easter. This past Thursday was the Day of Ascension, in which our Lord’s first disciples witnessed the crucified and risen Jesus return to his heavenly Father, thus bringing to a close his resurrection appearances. For forty days, Jesus had revealed himself as having risen victoriously over sin and death. The disciples were now on their own, to ponder and try to grasp the significance of what they had experienced.
And if we are to join the first disciples in reflecting upon the significance of what had occurred through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, I can’t think of a better place to turn, than to our Lord’s high priestly prayer, as recorded in John’s Gospel. This prayer, of which our text is but a snippet, could provide fuel for hundreds of sermons. Yet, as a snippet, I can’t cover it all in one sermon. I have chosen just a few verses.
If the life death and resurrection of Jesus is to be comprehended in faith, we need to truly grasp the significance of verses seven and eight. Here, Jesus prays, “Now they [his disciples] 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 have come from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
As I have often stated, in John’s Gospel, the word “truth” often carries the meaning of “faith” or “faithfulness.” What Jesus is saying here in his prayer for the disciples, is that he has spoken God’s Word to his disciples, and that they have received God’s word in faith. More than this, Jesus says that the disciples have in faith come to understand that Jesus had come from God, and believed that God had sent him.
Herein lies the challenge, according to Dr. William H. Willimon, for the Christian Church in this 22nd century. He says, in two separate articles, and I quote: “From the earliest days, Christians believed that, in Jesus the Christ, they had seen the fullness of God; they had seen as much of God as they ever hoped to see on this earth. They believed Jesus was God, not God as God may be in God’s totality, but as much of God as we mortals hope to see or comprehend.
In the first four centuries the church fought the Christological heresies, in which the great creeds of Christendom were developed. The great heresy, which the church seemed to be fighting in these controversies, was the fact of Jesus’ humanity.
“Was Jesus really a human being?” “Yes!” said the church. He was born of a human mother, he suffered, bled, and died as human beings suffer, bleed and die. As a result, the church claimed that Docetism, the belief that Jesus only appeared to be human, was a heresy.”
Dr. Willimon then concludes his remarks with these words. “Don’t you find it interesting that in our own day our great challenge seems to be to believe that Jesus is divine? Oddly, it has become a threat to modern people to think that Jesus might just possibly be – an inspiring person, a great thinker, a noble human being, one of the greatest prophets – but also God. That which was almost a non-issue in the church of the first several centuries has become hotly contested today. I wonder what that tells us about us?” End quote. [Pulpit Resource, Logos Productions, Inc. 2009]
As we come to the close of the season of Easter, we return to Christmas, and assert that it is not just some humble and noble man who gave his life on the cross for us. We assert the truth of the incarnation, that in Jesus, God was present to us, that the incarnate Son of God, his holy Word that took part in creation, came among us. In Jesus, God revealed himself to us, and offered himself to atone for our sins, that we might have the hope of eternal life. This is not a philosophical principle! Jesus was truly human and truly divine.
Secondly, let us turn to verse eleven. Here Jesus prays, “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.”
To realize the truth of the incarnation, to embrace Jesus as truly human and truly the Son of God, this petition of our Lord’s priestly prayer drops me to my knees. Here Jesus prays, the night before he is nailed to the cross and gives his life in atonement for my sins, praying for his disciples, for you and for me. He prays that we might be protected from those who would persecute us. He prays that we might be protected from those who would discourage us in faith, and our belief in the revelation of God’s Word that he has given to us. But more importantly, he prays that we may be one, as he and the Father are one.
As a country, we pause this weekend to remember and honor those who have fought to maintain our freedom and especially those who have given their lives in sacrifice, that we might continue to enjoy our life as citizens of this great nation. Having served in the armed forces, although never serving overseas, I, like many of you who have had family members serve in defense of our country, feel a debt gratitude to those who have. Even if we have not had a family member serve during a time of war, we still may feel gratitude for those who did. After all, these people fought to preserve our nation and their families from tyranny, and the forces of evil that would destroy what we believe and hold dearly as our human rights.
But this is not the cause that Jesus embraced. Clearly there were those who wanted to see Jesus take up the sword and fight to free Israel from their captivity by the Romans. But Jesus resisted that direction. Even though I believe that Jesus was sympathetic to those who were oppressed, his mission and goal was centered on a higher plane. Jesus, as the Son of God, proclaimed a New Kingdom, in which all who came to believe and have faith in him, might be one with God, as he was one with God.
I am so humbled by these words of Jesus in his prayer, on the eve of his execution, that he gives his life so that we might be one with God, as he is one with God. Only the Son of God, only the incarnate Word of God could make such a claim. Jesus is praying, that he is willing to lay down his life, to die to protect those who have come to believe and have faith in him – those who came to understand that he had come from God, and that God had sent him – to be counted as God’s own children.
Of course, there is no way that you or I could ever contemplate being one with God, as Jesus was one with God. I certainly don’t feel a need to stand up here in this pulpit and enumerate all of my sins, just to prove this point. I am, like you, and Peter who denied knowing Jesus, or James and John, who wanted special privilege, all persons who have failed to realize the tremendous gift of God’s grace present to us in Jesus the Christ, who gave his life for our redemption. And he gave his life, so that we might be embraced as a child of God.
On this weekend that we remember and honor the sacrifices of the men and women who have given their lives to maintain our freedom, may we also remember the ultimate sacrifice given by Jesus, who gave his life that we might become a child of God.
Finally, let me refer to verse 18. Here Jesus prays, “As God has sent him into the world, so Jesus sends us into the world.” If we are able to grasp at all, in the very least, the importance of the Easter message, then we must humble ourselves, and confess that we have too easily heard the Gospel message proclaiming our deliverance from sin and death, but too easily dismissed our responsibility to proclaim that message to those around us.
Now I’m not a fundamentalist, and I don’t believe in a lot of the tactics of the “church growth movement,” but I do believe that our primary mission as a member of the family of God, of being one with God as Jesus was one with God, is to proclaim that fact. On our own, that may seem like a tremendous burden. But we are not left to our own resources. Through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been given the power of God’s Holy Spirit, which, if we open our hearts to its presence, will give us the power we need to fulfill this petition of our Lord’s prayer for his church.
As Jesus gave himself to sanctify us, may we give ourselves, in witness to his redeeming grace, that his church might grow and be sustained.
Let us pray: Almighty God, Creator of the universe, we give you thanks that you came among us in the person of your Son, Jesus the Christ, to reveal you grace and truth for our lives, and to redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to the truth of your living Word, inspire us to deepened faith in your incarnate Son, and empower us for witness. This we as in the name of our crucified and risen Lord. Amen.
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The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. Sermon contributed by Rev. Ronald Harbaugh on May 23, 2009.
I believe that our Gospel lesson for this morning is quite fitting, as we bring to a close the season of Easter.