Sermon at LHUMC- 5/12/13
May 12th Seventh Sunday of Easter (Mothers’ Day)
Title: Generations to Come Gospel: John 17:6-26 (Unity)
“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. 8 For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
(Jesus Prays for All Believers)
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” The Word of God for the people of God. Praise be to God!
Our Scripture reading today from John 17 is part of Jesus’ priestly prayer for his disciples before his arrest, death, and resurrection. It shows very much his concern for them, for their spiritual, physical, and relational well being after his departure. It is part of a very tender and compassionate plea, Christ demonstrating verbally the reality of his deep care and desire for the best for those whom he loved.
This being Mothers’ Day, my reflections this week have been born somewhat out of my own experience as a Mother and as a Daughter. However, what I have to say applies no less to fathers and even further, to any Christian who loves God and desires to see His kingdom come on earth.
For many of us, it is quite likely that the person in our lives who helped define and mold our earliest knowledge of what it means to care for another person, to love, was our Mother. The one who tucked us in at night, who nursed us when we were sick, who cautioned us about potential dangers in the world, the one who knew the things that brought us joy and the things that broke our hearts. Those of us who had good mothering may be remembering that relationship now, on this day that honors Mothers, even though for many of you, your Mother may have been deceased for many years. I was noticing on facebook this weekend, as I connected with various friends, that there are many photos of Mothers being posted, some still living, others recently or long ago deceased. The memory of a Mother’s love is strong.
At Bethel Village we require all of our students to take a 10 week parenting class, regardless of the student’s parental status- no matter whether they’ve never had children, or have grown children, or have lost their children to foster care or adoption, even had their parental rights terminated. Students usually question our reasoning for that requirement…..”why do I need a parenting class? I am not a parent” . Although many of us were blessed to have good mothers, not everyone is as fortunate. In fact, often times part of the reason that individuals’ lives got so off track so that they wound up with lives of chaos and substance abuse, is that they lacked good mothering…good fathering… good parenting. With such a deficit in one’s life, there is often an unmet need to be parented, no matter what one’s age…..and sometimes the thing that we have to do is learn how to parent ourselves. Sometimes as adults we have to learn, or re-learn, the life skills, emotional intelligence, and disciplines that parenting would have conferred upon our lives had it been done properly or had we not rejected and rebelled against it.
Sadly for some, too, who lacked adequate parenting it has been demonstrated that our early childhood formation of our concept of God is, to a significant degree, defined by the behavior and example of our parents. If our first family has been one that failed to model love well, then our view of God is likely to be deficient. God may wind up being confused in our minds with an aloof, unengaged, emotionally unavailable Mother or with a stern, demanding, perhaps even abusive Father. That risk of misconstruing the true nature of God because of the frailties and inadequacies of the model set by human parents requires that we be educated about the real character, attributes, and personality of God. The church, which Christ instituted through his followers and his commission to them to go into all the world and make disciples and baptize in his name and teach according to his Word, can help accomplish that spiritual parenting function in our lives.
The Apostle Paul calls us to mature living when he says “When I was a child I spoke as a child and reasoned as a child. But when I became an adult, I put away childish things.” As we mature intellectually, spiritually and emotionally, we come to realize that God is truly our Best Parent, demonstrating the kind of selfless love that puts the needs of the child above those of the parent. God demonstrates His desire for our best, and His willingness to discipline us even when it means we may hurt and cry in the process. He is not limited, as some human parents are, by ignorance, or moral deficiencies, or emotional wounds, or selfish personal motives. Most of us get to the point in life in early or mid-adulthood that we have grown sufficiently in understanding, and into the capacity for mercy to be able to forgive flawed parents for being less than perfect. Usually, that happens as we have children of our own and, being parents ourselves, we begin to realize that parenting is a daunting responsibility, one for which none of us is fully prepared. We begin to realize that it is only by the grace of God that we can even begin to be good enough parents.
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 reveals the things that he, as a loving guardian of the hearts and minds of his disciples, desires for them. Today we are looking at a portion of that prayer in which Jesus prays, not only for his own earthly disciples with whom he has walked in the world, but also for “those who will believe in Him through their word.” Even then, as Jesus knew what was ahead in his own life, he was thinking of you and me….. and the spiritual generations to come who would believe in Him because of the witness of those few devoted followers.
Jesus’ prayer for us and all the spiritual generations after himself and his disciples contains several very specific requests. Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer for his disciples both then and now to discover what Jesus’ priorities are.
UNITY– The first thing that is very clear in this passage is that Jesus desires unity for his followers. He describes his own unity with the Father and desires that his disciples, too, would have unity with the Father, just as Jesus Himself has unity with the Father. Unity, he asserts, is to be had in believing and proclaiming the glory of God through Christ. In this heartfelt plea, Jesus asks that they would have unity with one another in Christ. And furthermore, intimating the purpose and character of the future church, he prays for unity with and for all future believers who will come to faith because of the witness of the disciples and the word of Christ they proclaim.
The testimony of witnesses is a powerful thing. Much of what we know about the history of humanity is because of the testimony of witnesses who recorded what they experienced. The power of witnesses’ testimony has been affirmed and included in the United Methodist Church’s membership vows, which in the last few years have been revised to state that we promise to serve the Church and this congregation with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. Witnessing to the work of Jesus Christ’s Word in our lives in the present and for the generations to come is no less a necessity for us than it was for Jesus’s contemporary disciples. In the same way that they witnessed through proclaiming the gospel of Christ and its power in their lives, we must do so, as well.
JOY– In verse 13 of this prayer, Jesus asks that His joy may be fulfilled in our lives. Prophecies before His birth stated that he would anoint with the “Oil of joy” (Isaiah 61:3) At His birth the angels proclaimed “Good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). The list of the blessings, or spiritual fruit, conferred upon believers by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives lists love and joy as the very beginning of the list. (Gal 5:22) In John 15:11 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joymay be full.” What a blessing to desire joy for anyone for whom one prays!
PROTECTION FROM EVIL– As a third petition by Christ, in verse 15, Jesus does not ask that his disciples be removed from the world, but that they be protected from the evil one who is in the world. Some have misunderstood and misapplied Christianity by attempting to withdraw entirely and permanently from the world. It is clear from Jesus’ ministry that is not what He did nor what he called us to do. How can we be salt and light in the world if we withdraw from it? What He did do, was show us how to call out and confront evil. Also, Jesus told us that in any temptation a way of escape was available. With God’s protective hand upon obedient believers and using prayer and discernment of the Holy Spirit, we can experience the protection for which Christ intercedes on our behalf.
SANCTIFICATION– In verse 17 Jesus further asks that the disciples be sanctified in the truth of God’s Word. Sanctification is the process of being set apart and made holy and righteous. It occurs in our lives as we learn and embrace the principles and promises of Scripture and become attentive to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit who illumines our minds and hearts as we study and obey. Additionally, in verse 23, Jesus pleads for the perfecting work of righteousness in the lives of his followers. During his time with them he sought to help them accomplish this. Even as he prays for them, he knows that, as he prepares to leave them, he will leave his Holy Spirit with them to continue that sanctifying work in them and in all who will follow for all generations to come. And those righteous disciples would become the means by which Jesus’s words would be recorded for all time and would become the additional holy Scripture, the Word of God of the New Covenant, that would instruct us.
TRUTH- Jesus observes that this sanctifying process will be the result of truth, something Jesus speaks about frequently throughout the Scripture. Jesus asks that they, and we, be set apart in the truth, the word which he has proclaimed. Throughout his life he has spoken and his disciples have recorded that Jesus is the Truth, that he teachestruth. In John 18:37, standing before Pilot, Jesus declares the reason he has been born when he says, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Here in his prayer for his disciples, as he prepares to depart from the world, leaving his disciples in charge, he leaves them with the reminder that they are to be unified in proclaiming the reason that He came……The implication is clear. His disciples were to continue in the truth of His teaching and we, too, are to continue in the truth of His teaching, unified with one another by it and unified in continuing to proclaim it to the world.
LOVE- Love is the final request that Jesus makes on behalf of his disciples- in verse 23 Jesus says, “that the world may know that you love them as you have loved me.” As brothers and sisters and heirs of the Kingdom of God with Christ, Jesus desires that we would know without a shadow of a doubt that we are loved by God. The Apostle Paul made the love of Christ for us clear in Romans 8:38-39 when he said, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In verse 26 of Jesus’ prayer here in John he adds this additional thought: “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them”. Jesus desires not only that we would know the Father’s love for us as He does, but that we might have in us love for others…..selfless, sacrificial, perfect love. Elsewhere in this book of John, from Jesus’ heart, he says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)
And so, we see the priorities for our lives for which Jesus prays:
Unity with God and one another
Protection from evil
embracing and witnessing to the Truth
and that we would know God’s love for us and be able to love others as He loves us…….
These were the concerns on the heart of Jesus Christ for those whom He loved, His disciples, as he prepared to depart from this earthly human existence back to His spiritual realm. His years of personally nurturing them in wisdom and faith were coming to an end. In a few short months they would experience Pentecost, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, and they would be trained through their engagement with His Holy Spirit on how to walk with Him in the Spirit from that time on.
These are the same concerns Jesus has for my life and for your life today. And he has also provided His Holy Spirit for each of us, as believers in Him, to help us make wise decisions and know how to follow His will. This weekend, as we enjoy the celebration of Mother’s Day, let us reflect on the prayer of Jesus Christ, our Holy Parent. What better things might we pray for our own physical or spiritual children and grandchildren than these?
When our daughter in law was expecting our first grandchild in the spring of 1997, I was burdened with the desire, the compulsion, the intercessory urgency to pray for that child…..for physical strength and beauty, intelligence, wisdom, godliness, relationships and so much more. It was so much on my mind that I shared my prayer burden with a friend of mine who had recently become a grandmother, too, telling her how daunting it was to try to consider all the things that I would desire for my grandchild. She said to me, “You need to take a break. Just ask God what He wants you to pray over this child’s life.” That’s what I did. And within 24 hours God had given me a very clear indication through His word and in my Spirit as I prayed and meditated on His word that the only thing I needed to pray for my soon-to-be-grandchild was this…….that the child would know Him. That was it. And thankfully, through the faithfulness of her parents, being raised in the church, and by the desire that God himself put in her heart to know and love Him, she does know God. And I would add that, hopefully, through the example of God’s work in the lives of her grandparents, and through our witness, I pray that she would come to know that God is sovereign, good, and intimately available to us. She has been baptized and has a relationship with Christ. She loves, obeys, and serves the Lord to an extent that I didn’t even understand at her age. She will be sixteen in two weeks.
I have had to learn to pray for my children and grandchildren in the same way that Jesus prayed for his disciples……those whom he mentored and loved. Is there anything more valuable that our loved ones need than to know the unity, joy, protection, righteousness, truth, and the love of God? That is what Jesus desired for them and for us, as current day believers. Is it not also what we should desire for ourselves and for one
another and for the generations of believers to come? Thank God that Jesus continues on his throne on high interceding for us today. I am confident that these are among the things He prays for in our lives always. Let us learn by the example of Christ how to pray for one another.
Join me now as we pray.
Lord, you instructed your disciples on prayer and generations of believers have prayed your model prayer, what we call the Lord’s Prayer. But even further, you have revealed your loving heart toward us, children of God, as you prayed for all believers- of the first century and every century since and for all time- in this tender expression of parental care. You have said that you longed to care for us as a mother hen cares for her chicks. You have demonstrated the selfless, sacrificial perfect love of a Good Parent. Whatever role we have in the lives of others- whether family matriarchs or patriarchs of extended families of several generations, or active parents of children or youth in our homes, or spiritual parents of those whom you have placed in our lives to guide and encourage, let us pray. And pray according to the priorities that Christ has demonstrated for us in this prayer for his disciples and all believers. Teach us, as the church, to not only pray for one another but to also be part of the answer to those prayers as we teach, witness, serve, and worship together……as we celebrate one another’s lives together with joy…. As we love one another selflessly and sacrificially……And as we hold one another accountable for living faithfully according to the truth of your word. In unity with you, Father, and with one another…..grant that we would pray rightly at all times and know that our prayers are heard. And even when words fail us and we do not know what to pray, hear the intercession of your Holy Spirit within our hearts. Amen.