The Seventh Sunday of Easter
John 17:6 -- 19
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Actions and words are both important but sometimes actions do speak louder than words. Jesus is coming to the end of his ministry. He knows his time is short. He is aware that before much longer his days of teaching and preaching with his disciples will come to an end, a brutal and terrifying end as he will be handed over, tortured, harassed, mocked and finally crucified. As our Lord approaches the end of his life he draws near to the source of life and in a way he summarizes the work that he has done in his prayer for his disciples. Every aspect of the prayer that our Lord offers in today's Gospel text he has already lived out through his life and teaching among his disciples and those who've come to him and who have been blessed by his ministry.
Jesus’ own life is a kind of perpetual prayer. His life is a continual offering of self to God and to those whom God has given him to serve. In today's Gospel text we hear his high priestly prayer, praying that the work he has done, the efforts he has made, the word he has spoken, the witness he has shown will not come to an end but will continue in those whom his father has given to him to serve. The prayer will be further confirmed as Jesus moves to his passion, those last days where he will show his ultimate care and concern for the whole human community as he willingly takes upon himself the sins of the whole world.
As we read his prayer we can be sure that it is offered for more than those disciples who were present to him during his lifetime on earth. As we open ourselves to our Lord and his prayer we may discover that his prayer is for us, for you and for me just as strongly as it was for James and John and Peter and all the disciples who knew him in the flesh. Perhaps today more than any other time the Christian Church needs to experience the power of our Lord's Prayer for his disciples.
At a recent dinner with some church friends we found ourselves contemplating the violence in the world and some of us expressed a feeling of helplessness. Some of us wondered out loud if we really could make a difference in the world today. First of all, Jesus prayer is very clear that Christians, our Lord's disciples are in the world. We are not called to be a spiritual people who separate ourselves from the world, rather our Lord knew very well that we were to participate in the world and he prays that like him, through our witness we would be equipped to change the world. Our call is to accept his word and his truth and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. During our conversation at dinner I found myself reflecting upon Jesus’ call to us all to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I firmly believe that Christianity, participating in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, may be the best if not the only way to change the world and the violence within it. Unfortunately I'm afraid that most of us are more attached to our cultural and societal values than we are to the teachings of our Lord. Perhaps we are more attached to the things of the world, to the things God has made, than we are to the creator of all things.
One of the great witnesses for Christianity was St. Francis. St. Francis found in the Gospel text a way to live out the Gospel message in his time. He associated with the story of the rich young ruler found in the Gospel text, he found himself in the story, and unlike the rich young ruler in the Gospel text who went away from Jesus with a deep sadness unable to release his dependence upon his wealth, Francis went and gave away everything he had so that he could posess an unencumbered spirit and follow the Lord. He was not denouncing the world rather he was announcing his complete and utter faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and he believed that through taking on the call of holy poverty that his witness could reform the Church. Has Christianity lost its power? Is our Lord's ministry to simple for the complexity of today's world?
Our Lord knew we would be in the world, he said, "now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world..." I don't believe our Lord was naïve about the challenges that his disciples and his church would face from the world. Look at the challenges he faced in his world. He faced a corrupt religious system. He faced not only a corrupt political system as well, but he lived in a country that was occupied by an oppressor force, Rome. Yes, our Lord did not have the same technologies that we deal with; he likely didn't need to deal with issues like identity theft, or methamphetamine or reports of global warming or even nuclear warfare. But our Lord did have to face the same corruptible human nature that causes human sin to flourish.
In some small way the questions that were asked around the dinner table and the feelings of inadequacy are not all that different than the feelings our Lord expresses in his high priestly prayer. He prays that his life will make a difference, and his prayer suggests to us that he's not sure that it will or that it has. And yet his prayer provides us with another layer of assurance of our Lord's continuing care and power is available to us. Not only did Jesus teach with his healings and his word, he was the word, and he expressed the word through his actions most particularly at the cross.
Jesus prays that his disciples will be one as he and his father in heaven are one. It may make us wonder why this was such an important part of his prayer. Even in his ministry there was conflict among his disciples. We see the conflict before and after his death and resurrection. Peter often moves before the Lord, Thomas denies the communities word and witness as well as the Lord's resurrection, Judas betrays Jesus believing in his own idea of what a Messiah Liberator should be. Jesus must have been aware of the difficulty of holding a community together even in the short years when he wondered the land of Israel with his band of disciples. Certainly the Church has struggled with unity ever since our Lord's death and resurrection. New factions and splits within the Church continue at an alarming rate. Though there has been some movement towards ecumenism in this last century we still argue over aspects of the Gospel pointing fingers at one another, getting caught in self righteous and judgmental thinking while denying our Lord's desire that we all may be one. We are often more in allegiance with our own denominations and theologies, becoming inflexible and unable to agree to honor and respect follow Christians or even to simply gather as a people who believe that Jesus is Lord.
Our Lord strengthens us with his word. In his prayer he says, "I have given them your word." In John's Gospel we learned that the Word was made flesh and that word, is the word of our Lord's body and blood, life and action, his teaching and sacrifice, his passion, death and resurrection, his ascension and his continuing prayer and presence for and with us today. The word that we have is also the word of the New Testament which teaches us about the ministry of Jesus, a word that can come alive and even bring us into our Lord's presence. Our Lord gives us his word in action and in speech to strengthen us to participate in the world with the surety of his ministry working through us.
This seventh Sunday of Easter is a bit odd in its placement within the church year. This past Thursday we celebrated Ascension Day and now we find ourselves a week away from Pentecost. It was during these days that Jesus called his disciples to wait, to listen together and discover together what there ministry should be. They were equipped with the life and witness and word of their Lord but they were waiting for the Spirit. Perhaps during these days between the Ascension and Pentecost we too would be wise to gather together in one another's presence, quietly awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. The world brings us many challenges and most of us have likely gone through emotional and momentous occasions and we likely crave the presence of others who have walked that road. We may long to be with others who have faced this world and at times felt crushed by it, perhaps we need to gather in community because we have discovered a cancer, or are about to get married, or our first child is going off to college, or we have lost a friend, or we find we must stand against war and intolerance. Like those first disciples we can find comfort in being in the presence of someone who has been there with us, in the world, and the challenge of our experiences. Those first followers had 10 whole days to simply pray and wait and be together, to know in their hearts and in the eyes of each other that they had shared in some of the most momentous occasions in the history of the planet. This first important ministry of the church was a ministry of presence, of being together in waiting.
Think how out of control they must have felt yet because they accept and respond to his word, because they are present to one another, because they realize the powerlessness of their present situation and just settle in to wait, they are ready to hear and respond when the empowering Spirit does come on Pentecost.
Are there places in your lives that feel like you fall in between the cracks? Are you one of those who feel overwhelmed by the world and unable to make a difference? Do you sense the familiar has gone and the new has not yet come along to replace it? Where you feel like you're just left staring up into the sky wondering what's going on? It is comforting to know God's Word and discover that our Lord himself felt this way at times. Our Lord at times needed to withdrawal from his disciples and simply hear the voice of his father. We need to hear Jesus words, and to wait together with other believers. It is a difficult place in which to be. We would much rather go off on our own to work things out, we'd much rather grab onto some plan, any plan so we have something to say for ourselves, and we'd much rather give friends caught in such places a quick and easy answer. But Jesus calls us to wait and to wait together. He promises that in the vulnerable place of admitting our powerlessness we will receive the ministry which will enable us to hear and respond to the Holy Spirit when clear direction does come.
Every age has its critical moments. Every generation has its challenges. Today we may be challenged by an ever increasing question, does Christianity matter? This is not a new question. St. Paul wrestled with this question when he said that if resurrection is not true, that if the resurrection didn't happen we Christians are the most to be pitied. We are a people of the resurrection. We have a Lord who has triumphed over sin and death. We have a Lord who was willing to not only share the word with us but to show the word to us. We have a Lord whose actions spoke louder than words when he was willing to be lashed by Roman authorities, spit upon by the crowd, betrayed by his own disciples and the religious authorities of his day. We have a Lord who was falsely judged by governmental authorities, a Lord who was persecuted because of his faithfulness. We have a Lord who was crowned with thorns, pierced with a spear and nailed to a cross. We have a Lord who anticipated the needs of his followers and prayed for them. We have a Lord who has been true to his promise to send an advocate the Holy Spirit to lead us and to guide us into all truth. We have a Lord who continues to nurture his church through his Word and through his presence in bread and wine, and in the people of God who share in his life because they know him as their Lord and dedicate their lives to serving him.
Our Lord prays for more than us to simply get by. Our Lord prays for us to be like him, to know in his strength, the source of grace found in an intimate relationship with his Holy Father. Our Lord prays we will discover the power of the Holy Spirit through the mediation found in himself. Our Lord prays for us to be in the world as he was in the world. Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit? Can you receive God's living Word to you today? If you answer yes then I invite you to take these last few days of this Easter season and wait upon the Lord to guide you into action. Let us be, “Into Christ and out to Serve."