Sermon for Year A, The Seventh Sunday of Easter
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
June 1, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
These people -- these Galilee boys and lakeside fisherfolk --
These people have been with Jesus since the beginning --
Watching him work, seeing the miracles pile up, listening to his teaching,
Witnessing him as he went up against the authorities and excelled them at all points --
Not to show them up, but to teach them something for once, not let them off the hook.
Likely these Jesus-followers have felt some guilt about him always having to be out in front,
Dragging them from place to place, always having to be the leader;
Some guilt, and some shame about not completely understanding what was going on.
Yet they have traveled these hard roads with the growing inclination that he is the Messiah --
The one sent by God, the one of God, to restore the fallen and redeem the creation.
Now -- after all that -- it’s the night of Jesus’ betrayal.
He’s gathered with those same followers -- the small group at the middle of it all,
The ones who supposedly understand what’s going on.
The air is electric -- suffused with anticipation and dread.
It’s clear that something is about to happen,
And if they’d been listening up to now, it might be clear enough what that something might be.
But they don’t listen; it’s hard to listen;
It’s difficult to bring all the pieces together and make a whole picture out of them;
It’s hard to keep the entire picture in mind,
When life is so fragmented and so difficult,
And they have spent the past three years away from their families,
Just following this man around.
It’s hard to keep the whole story together and flowing,
Even when it’s apparent that this man more than likely is who he claims to be.
At least -- that’s how it feels from their perspective:
A kind of deep understanding that resolves itself, then fades away, only to return in the night --
Or comes up clean and sharp, like stepping on a pin.
A game of hide-and-seek they play with themselves --
Because if he is the Messiah ... well, doesn’t that change everything?
So now on this last night, Jesus has engaged them in a long but straightforward conversation,
The point of which seems to be:
I’m leaving you, but I’m not leaving you comfortless.
In my physical absence you will know the presence of the Holy Spirit,
Who will come and guide you and give you peace and strength to endure any trial.
Love me and walk in my ways.
I am going to the Father, but you’ll see me again; meantime, keep the faith.
In this way we are all one, and you will do greater things than me.
This dialogue takes up a pretty good chunk of the Gospel of John,
So we need to see that John, at least, thinks it’s important.
In fact, it’s long enough that at one point in the middle of it,
Jesus tells everyone to stand up and go,
Then he seems to sit back down again because he has thought of a few more things to say
And then he picks it up again and it goes on for another three chapters.
At any rate, the last thing he tells them is,
“The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered,
Each one to his home, and you will leave me alone.
Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.
In the world you face persecution.
But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
You can hear it in his voice: equal parts condemnation and encouragement;
And audacity -- coming at them in these big, bold, bright claims he’s making --
“[T]ake courage; I have conquered the world!”
And then there’s some sort of shift, and he’s not speaking to them anymore just then.
He’s praying for them. What a turn of events!
Now, does that sound so novel? To have someone praying for you?
After all, in the age of Facebook,
You can ask a thousand friends to pray for you all at once,
And they can share your status in turn,
And pretty soon half the planet will promise to pray for you.
And if even half of those promises get honored, ... well, that’s amazing.
We stand to see nothing less than a revolution in this way.
My cousin Deric, in Wichita, has surgery scheduled for tomorrow morning.
He was out working this week, and just went unconscious.
They took him in, checked him out, put him under the high-powered machines.
A tumor is on his brain, they said, and underneath that is a dark spot
That we honestly won’t know what we’re dealing with until we can behold it with our own eyes.
I want to pray for Deric. I want to ask you to pray for Deric.
His home church is getting together for a prayer service, so fiercely do they believe in such things.
Deric is someone’s son and someone’s brother and someone’s father.
So, please, remember him.
Half the planet would make a nice start.
When it’s you in that machine or under the knife,
You want every prayer you can get,
Thrown out there by anyone who wants to intercede on your behalf. The whole human family.
Yet in the widest scope of things, I can’t think of a bigger blessing
Than to have Jesus Christ himself praying for me,
As he did for these followers of his, on the most stressful night of his life.
Some theologians call it a pastoral prayer; I guess I just call it a benediction.
It’s like a listing of his deepest desires for us.
Now, I want you to hear this -- the whole thing --
Because it is how Jesus prayed for his disciples.
I know that elsewhere in Scriptures, he’s asked to teach folks to pray,
And that what he gives them is what we call the Lord’s Prayer --
Something very familiar to us, very intimate.
But this is Jesus’ prayer -- his own prayer -- for his disciples. It’s like we really get to see him.
Then and now, I think.
We really get to see him and hear his prayer for us. For you and for me!
Would you like to hear Jesus’ prayer for you?
I looked around to find whatever version of the Bible I thought spoke this prayer most clearly.
I wanted us to hear the prayer in today’s language.
And I ended up settling, as I often do these days,
On a translation by Eugene Peterson called The Message.
It’s in street-level, everyday English.
It’s kind of long, but it’s also -- well, it’s just so good;
Let me offer this over you today, knowing it’s his prayer, and then we’ll be quiet a moment,
And that’ll be enough.
I invite you to do whatever you do when you know someone is praying for you.
So anyway, here it is.
Then, raising his eyes in prayer, [Jesus] said:
Father, it’s time.
Display the bright splendor of your Son
So the Son in turn may show your bright splendor.
You put him in charge of everything human
So he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge.
And this is the real and eternal life:
That they know you,
The one and only true God,
And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
I glorified you on earth
By completing down to the last detail
What you assigned me to do.
And now, Father, glorify me with your very own splendor,
The very splendor I had in your presence
Before there was a world.
I spelled out your character in detail
To the men and women you gave me.
They were yours in the first place;
Then you gave them to me,
And they have now done what you said.
They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
That everything you gave me is firsthand from you,
For the message you gave me, I gave them;
And they took it, and were convinced
That I came from you.
They believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world
But for those you gave me,
For they are yours by right.
Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,
And my life is on display in them.
For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world
While I return to you.
Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind.
As long as I was with them, I guarded them
In the pursuit of the life you gave through me;
I even posted a night watch.
And not one of them got away,
Except for the rebel bent on destruction
(the exception that proved the rule of Scripture).
Now I’m returning to you.
I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
So my people can experience
My joy completed in them.
I gave them your word;
The godless world hated them because of it,
Because they didn’t join the world’s ways,
Just as I didn’t join the world’s ways.
I’m not asking that you take them out of the world
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.
I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
Father, I want those you gave me
To be with me, right where I am,
So they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me,
Having loved me
Long before there ever was a world.
Righteous Father, the world has never known you,
But I have known you, and these disciples know
That you sent me on this mission.
I have made your very being known to them—
Who you are and what you do—
And continue to make it known,
So that your love for me
Might be in them
Exactly as I am in them.