You are witnesses

       I struggled all week on how to start this sermon.  I just didn’t know what it would feel like to step into this pulpit for the first time in fifty-eight Sundays and see people sitting in the pews.  As I wrote this on Thursday, I still had no idea, but goodness does it feel ___________________.  It has been way too long.  While I can’t say I’ve missed the five am alarm clock, I have certainly missed you, my Christ Church family, and I look forward to May 2nd, when, God willing, we’ll be able to restart our 10 o’clock service as well.  The prospect of returning to Church in the Pews this week has been an opportunity for me to look back over the last 13 months and to think about what we’ve learned, how it’s felt, and what we might take with us into the future.  Surprisingly to me, I’ve found myself feeling profoundly grateful for the experience of the last year-plus, and wondering if maybe you’re feeling some of that as well?  I’m grateful that our girls got to be kids for most of 2020, riding their scooters, jumping on the trampoline, and using their imaginations as the world around them shut down.  I’m grateful for flexible work schedules, for polo shirts, and for strong WIFI.  I’m grateful for amazing teammates in our staff and parish leaders who have worked harder than you can imagine making sure Christ Church continued to live into its mission despite all kinds of hardship.  I’m grateful for each of you; for your patience, your support, and your witness to what God is up to even in the midst of unprecedented challenges.  In doing so, you have lived into the commission that Jesus gave to his disciples in our Gospel lesson this morning, serving as witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ for a world that desperately needs it.

       We might be two weeks out from Easter, but our lesson this morning takes place still on that first Easter day.  In Luke’s account, it has already been a loooooooong day.  It started just before dawn, when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other women gathered to prepare the spices and ointments to give Jesus a proper burial after he was hastily laid in a tomb on Friday afternoon.  At sunup, they found the stone rolled away from the now empty tomb, and were met by two men in white who asked one of the most profound questions in all of Scripture, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here.  He has risen.”  Quickly, the women departed and returned to the upper room, where they found the eleven remaining Apostles, who, apart from Peter, dismissed the word of the women as an idle tale.  Peter, however, ran to the tomb, found it empty, and somehow decided to just go home.  At some point, we find out later, Jesus appeared to Peter, maybe over his morning cup of coffee as he scrolled mindlessly through his Facebook feed.  At least two of the disciples were so dismayed by the events of those three days that they decided to give up, go home, and see if they could get their jobs back in Emmaus.

       Just before our lesson for today, is the well-worn story of Jesus meeting those disciples on the Road to Emmaus.  Downtrodden, they plodded along the seven-mile journey, discussing with sadness all that had transpired.  “We thought, we really thought, he would be the one to redeem Israel.  He was a prophet, mighty in word and deed, and God was with him, but they killed him, and now his body is gone, and hope is lost.”  Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures and how all that had been written by Moses and the Prophets had led straight to the cross, but it wasn’t until they sat down at the table together and Jesus broke bread with them that he opened their eyes to see him, in his resurrection body, their Rabbi, Messiah, and Lord, before he disappeared from before their very eyes.  The two of them took off back to Jerusalem, where the rest of the eleven and a cadre of women were still in the upper room, sharing stories of the day, and wondering what it all meant.  “We’ve seen him!” the two exclaimed.  “So has Peter!” the crowd responded, and just then, Jesus entered the room.

       “Shalom.”  “Peace be with you,” he said to the small crowd that was nothing close to peaceful.  Luke tells us they were startled and terrified.  It’s the same root word Luke used to describe the shepherds watching their flocks by night on that first Christmas.  Jesus speaks peace into the midst of chaos and passes the standard tests to prove one wasn’t a ghost in antiquity, at least according to Union Lutheran Seminary Professor Mark Vitalis Hoffman.  First, they checked for extremities, where bones would be obvious – hands and feet – and saw them, intact, though scarred.  Next, the disciples made sure Jesus wasn’t Caspering around, and that his feet were touching the ground, which they were.  Finally, everyone knows ghosts don’t eat food, so when Jesus asked for and ate a piece of broiled fish, he passed the final test.  What they were witnessing wasn’t a group hallucination or a hopeful vision built upon stress and grief, but the actual flesh and blood of Jesus who had been crucified and died three days earlier.[1]  Even as they grew joyful that this was, in fact, Jesus in their midst, they were still amazed and in disbelief that it could all be true.

       For the second time that first Easter Day, Jesus opened up the scriptures to remind them, yet again, that the Messiah, HE, would die and rise again, that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed for the whole world in his name, and he commissioned them as his witnesses to all these things.  They were empowered to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ despite the hardship of the previous three days.  As inheritors of that Apostolic Tradition, you and I are still called to be witnesses of the ongoing work of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the world today.

       As such, our work is two-fold: proclaiming the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus of Christ and proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  The first task is summed up in First Peter 3, “If someone asks you about your hope, always be ready to explain it.”  This past year has been a difficult one for us all, but from where I stand, I’ve seen amazing signs of hope all along the way.  That so many of you continued to give to the mission of this congregation was a sign of hope, that someday, we’d be back together to do the work God is calling us to do.  That so many of you signed on to Zoom calls, Facebook Live, YouTube, and podcasts was a sign of hope that despite the hardships, you are committed to deepening your faith for the days to come.  That so many of you sent notes, emails, and text messages of encouragement and prayer was a sign of hope that we are connected, even when we are apart.  There are stories of hope to be told, no matter how crummy the last 13 months have been, and as Christians, we are all called to share them.

       The second task isn’t quite as easy.  Proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sin means calling sin, sin; both in our own lives and in the world in which we live, and then trusting in God’s forgiveness.  To take our calling seriously, we must be willing to take stock of the places in our own lives where relationships are broken, both with God and with our fellow human beings.  In the wider world, as Christians, commissioned by Jesus Christ to preach repentance, we must be willing to call out systems of oppression like gun violence, xenophobia, white supremacy, and police brutality, which keep the Kingdom of God from being fully realized here on earth.  God is eager to forgive, but we must be willing to repent, to change course, and move toward wholeness.

       Your witness over this last year has been a gift.  As we move into this next phase of pandemic life, I invite you to consider how you might proclaim repentance, forgiveness, and the Good News of the resurrection of our Lord to a world that still desperately needs it.  It’s been a long road, but our work is just getting started.  I look forward to the journey.  Amen.


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-luke-2436-48-4

An Ironic Collect

Irony – a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, in which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works…

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…

In the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t been that long since we heard an excerpt from Jonah read on a Sunday morning. Portions of Jonah are only read twice in the three-year lectionary cycle, and the lessons overlap by a verse which reads “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”

Back in the more Biblically literate times of the 1950s, hearing only a small portion of this story would elicit in the congregation’s mind the fuller context, but that can’t be assumed in 2021. While the preacher might chuckle at the irony of the Collect for Epiphany 3 being matched with a lesson that starts “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time…” not everyone will be in on the joke. Of course, maybe that gives us our entrance into the sermon. By helping our folks see how the prayer we pray on Epiphany 3 is basically one that says, “Give us grace, O Lord, not to be like Jonah,” we can help our people see two basic truths. First, that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. And second, that even one of the Lord’s great prophets struggled to share the good news of God’s grace at times. In an era of virtual evangelism, these might be helpful lessons for members of our congregations who are seeking to discern how God might be calling them to be evangelists.

So, tell the whole story. Let them in on the joke. It’ll be a great way to open the conversation.

The old familiar story

With apologies to my friend EFel, I have to admit that by Epiphany 1, I’m pretty sick of hearing about John the Baptist. As if two straight weeks of JBap in Advent isn’t enough, we hear pretty much the same story yet again around the Baptism of our Lord. Yes, the focus is supposed to be on what happens to Jesus at his baptism, but the Gospel accounts are so lacking there, we’re forced to once again hear about a wacky prophet who wears camel hair and eats bugs while proclaiming a baptism of repentance. Maybe it’s almost two decades of Lectionary preaching or misdirected anger after 9 months of pandemic restrictions, but God help me, I’m over JBap.

Of course, maybe that’s the point. In his Crucifixion altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald sets history aside and makes John the Baptist present at the foot of the cross. As you can see, with a wildly elongated finger, John is pointing at Jesus and the words printed above his arm read, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John’s whole purpose in life was to draw attention to the Messiah who was coming and then to get out of the way. I don’t want to attribute too much thought or purpose to the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary, but I wonder if hearing about JBap three out of six Sundays does the job of reminding us of John’s mission and then getting us so annoyed by the old familiar story that he has no choice but to move along having done his job.

Again, I don’t want to jump to too many conclusions, but there seems to be some merit in hearing, repeatedly, someone say, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” only to have them disappear from the scene when the one who is greater shows up. There’s probably a lesson in here for those of us who follow Jesus as well. Rather than getting so focused on how difficult we might find evangelism, on how much we think the Gospel depends on us, maybe we’d do well just to point to Jesus through our words and actions and then get out of the way and let God take care of the rest.

The Spirit?

I think I can understand how the Ephesians felt when Paul asked, “Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?” That gut sinking feeling that goes with feeling out of the loop or unable to keep the conversation going is one of the worst, in my opinion. This is a silly example, but one that I’ve experienced more than once recently. I have a friend who has really enjoyed the Disney+ series The Mandalorian. A month or so ago, he asked me about it, excited to talk about the season finale, but I hadn’t seen it. We were talking last week, and, still excited, he asked me about it again. I still haven’t watched it.

It stinks to not be able to share in someone else’s excitement. My friend can’t simply lay hands on me and impart two seasons’ worth of content in my brain, but Paul was able to pray for the Ephesians and God willingly poured the Holy Spirit upon them with power and might. All it took was a willingness to experience the joy of God and Paul’s willingness to share the gift he had received.

I wonder if the general shyness Episcopalians have around evangelism is in part due to our limited comfort with the Holy Spirit. As a Church that was focused in the Apostles Creed for most of our existence, we’ve had very little liturgical pedagogy in the Spirit. This underdeveloped understanding of the Spirit has, for too long, robbed us of the joy of the the Spirit’s gifts and the desire to share them with others. Rather than living lives imbued with the Fruit of the Spirit like patience, kindness, humility, and self-control, we take to Twitter to rip one another’s pandemic liturgical choices and puff up our own liturgy and enlightened theology.

Perhaps this Sunday, as we recall the Baptism of our Lord, we should pray for some of that Spirit that descended upon Jesus at the Jordan and upon the Ephesians when Paul laid hands upon them. God is always willing to share the Spirit with us, and we should be ready to do the same.

The Presentation

There are only a small handful of Feasts that take precedence over a regular Sunday celebration.  A couple of them – Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday – regularly fall on a Sunday.  One, Ascension Day, can never be a Sunday as forty days after Easter Day will always add up to Thursday.  All Saints’ Day can be celebrated twice, but it is only Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Name (January 1), the Presentation (February 2), and the Transfiguration (August 6), will bump a regularly scheduled Sunday.  This week, we have a rare double Feast as the secular festival of Super Bowl LIV happens to fall on the Sunday of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple – a name that just rolls off the tongue.

The Feast of the Presentation, while not often celebrated on the Lord’s Day is still a pretty popular story in the minds of many Episcopalians.  Anyone who grew up going to an Episcopal Church Camp could probably still recite the Song of Simeon from Compline by heart.  Simeon’s song sums up not only the hope of an old man who longed desperately for the redemption of Israel, but it strikes deep chords within all of us who are looking forward to and working toward the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is through the light to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people that we as Christians have come to know not just our salvation, but the redemption of the world.

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What gets less play, because her words were not recorded, is the prophet Anna who, Luke tells us was also waiting for the restoration of her beloved Jerusalem.  Upon seeing the babe, she too couldn’t help but express joy, praise God, and tell anyone who would listen what the birth of this particular child would mean for the whole world.

While the focus in the name of this Feast is the ritual act of presenting Jesus at the Temple for purification, what really stands out to me this morning is the faithfulness of Simeon and Anna, and their willingness to share the hope that was within them.  Too often in our worship, Episcopalians focus on the ritual acts, forgetting that the Eucharist is meant to nourish us spiritually that we might go forth to share the love of God and the Good News of salvation in Christ with everyone we meet.

Praying Shapes Believing

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Praying Shapes Believing is one of the standard texts for anyone who is discerning a call to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.  It has been for at least two decades, even if the Eucharistic Prayer chapter based on what is now thought to be some pretty outdated scholarship (that’s another post).  My own discernment process in Central Pennsylvania was pretty well based on the structure of this text, so its core concepts are engrained in me, and I am a firm believer that the things we pray for eventually become the things we believe and the things we believe shape the way we act.

Thus, I read with great excitement the Collect for Epiphany 3, which at Christ Church is also Annual Meeting Sunday.

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Would that we really wanted this prayer to be answered.  Would that all of us were ready, by God’s grace, to answer the call of Jesus to share the Good News of salvation with all people.  Would that we weren’t, and I’m not saying anything about “we” that I don’t also mean for “me,” weren’t so afraid of what others have done in the name of Jesus that sometimes, we hide our own faith under a bushel basket.

I’ve written extensively on the Episcopal Church’s discomfort with evangelism as anything more than doing good deeds.  I’d be happy to send you my doctoral thesis, if you need help falling asleep at night.  Alas, we’ve taken to heart this made up anachronistic supposed saying of Saint Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  When necessary, use words.” to the detriment of the Gospel and the lament of our churches.  As followers of Jesus, who experience the Gospel as a Way of Love rather than a way of fear, judgement, or condemnation, we should be the one’s out there, shouting from the rooftops the Good News of God in Christ.

We might not be there, yet, but thanks be to God for this prayer, which I hope will lead to belief in the importance of evangelism, which I hope will then lead us outside of these walls with the Good News of Christ Jesus in our hearts and on our lips.

Testify to the Light

Long before I took any sort of flying lessons, I spent many hours in the right seat of my father-in-law’s single engine airplane.  Around the hangar, I learned that one of the pithy sayings in the flying community is that “every take-off is optional, but every landing is mandatory.”  The primary goal of a pilot is to bring the aircraft to a safe landing at its destination.  This requires all sorts of training as well as reliance upon many safety mechanisms both inside and out of the cockpit.  Travelling down Scottsville Road near Rafferty’s on a gloomy evening or foggy morning, you might notice a light occasionally streaking across the sky from south to north.  This light, which shines brightly out into the night sky is the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport Beacon.  One of the first things a student pilot is trained to look for in lowlight conditions is this beacon.  No matter where you might be above the earth, you should be able to see at least one white and green light calling you home.  From the air, these lights are visible from many miles away, which can help a pilot flying under Visual Flight Rules locate an airport and begin the approach process.  These beacons can be particularly helpful in an emergency, when finding an airport quickly can mean the difference between life and death, but on a less dramatic level, the reality is that if you can’t see the beacon at an airport, you can’t legally land there under VFR.

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One of my jobs as co-pilot for my father-in-law was to find the beacon.  While he was busy getting the plane ready to land, communicating with air traffic control, and going through his check-lists, my eyes were fixed in the general vicinity of the airport, looking for that familiar light to flash across the windshield.  “Got it,” was my usual response when the airport beacon was in sight.  These two words were enough for Doug to know that the mandatory landing ahead of us would be as standard as a visual landing can be.  As the co-pilot, I am the one responsible to testify to the light.

John the Gospel writer is very careful to remind his readers that John the Baptist was not the light, but one who had been sent as a witness, to testify to the light that was coming into the world.  Both the noun “witness” and the verb “to testify” are translated from the same Greek root, martyr.  John the Baptist would die a martyr’s death because he lived a martyr’s life, as a witness to the light of Christ and testifying to anyone who would listen about the light that darkness could never overcome.  To stretch the flying metaphor a bit, John the Baptist was given the ability to see the beacon of God’s work in Christ long before the rest of the world could see it.  He was called to get on the radio to tell anyone with who would listen where to find the light; calling everyone back to their home field.  John’s role was to invite everyone within earshot to open their eyes and see the light shining in the darkness.

This morning, as we gather on the First Sunday after Christmas Day and hear the familiar, yet lofty words of the prologue to John’s Gospel, we are also welcoming two new members into the Body of Christ.  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit that Maya and Alex will receive today, they will join with us as inheritors of the primary vocation of John the Baptist and every disciple in every generation as witnesses of the light.  In just a couple of minutes, we will all make a pledge to support these two young people in their life in Christ by living our lives as examples of what it means to testify to the light of Christ that shines in the darkness.  It isn’t hard to notice that the world is in a constant state of low light conditions, but filled with the light of Christ, Christians of all ages are called to shine in the darkness,  With God’s help, we are called to show Alex and Maya what it looks like to share the Good News of Jesus, and to help our family, friends, and neighbors to see the beacon that is so often obscured by the fog of fear, anger, hurt, and regret.

A little more than two years ago, when we baptized Jocelyn, Maya and Alex’s big sister, I asked you to consider how you might live into the commitment you made.  “As you renew these promises, are you doing all in your power to grow in the knowledge and love of God?  Are you reading the Bible?  Are you praying?  Are you giving? Are you serving?  Are you sharing the Good News and the hope that is within you?  Are you giving back to God everything that is God’s?”[1]  Today, I wonder how those same practices of discipleship are helping you shine the light of Christ in a world filled with darkness?  How is God inviting you to testify to the light?  As followers of Jesus, we are to carry Christ’s light out into the world to help people see that in the light of Christ there is life, and that life is abundant with joy, compassion, grace, hope, and love.  No matter how dark it might seem, the beacon of Christ’s hope is always shining, always visible, and always calling us home.  Amen.

[1] https://draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2017/10/22/giving-our-lives-to-god-a-sermon/

Paul’s Logic

If you thought yesterday’s Proper Math was challenging, then you must not have read the New Testament lesson appointed for Epiphany 6C.  Anyone who has done any reading of Paul’s letters can attest to the fact that he could really spin a yarn.  A former Pharisee and a Greek citizen trained in rhetoric, Paul loved to dive into the weeds of logic, and only occasionally came out the other side with something that made any sense.  I even saw recently that someone on Facebook had nominated him at the Patron Saint of dependent clauses.

Paul’s penchant for circular arguments is made all the more difficult when the situation which he is addressing is a complicated one, and boy howdy was the church in Corinth a complicated situation.  Having dealt with arguments over class and privilege, over apostleship and gift, now Paul finds himself face-to-face with a group of Jesus followers who came from a tradition that didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead.  It is likely that among them were some former Sadducees, a sect within Judaism that didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.

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What makes Paul’s argument so convoluted is the problem that occurs in most religious arguments – they always begin at a point of presumed certainty, which then requires some kind of mental acrobatics to fit within the logic structure of the other.  The gospel that Paul proclaims is based on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  The basic premise of his interlocutors is that there is no resurrection of the dead.  In the world of Venn Diagrams, these are mutually exclusive sets.  How then can Paul prove that Jesus’ resurrection is a real thing to someone who doesn’t believe that resurrection is possible?  Well, you can read Paul’s attempt and see that it ain’t easy.

What I learn from Paul’s mind experiment is that religious discussion must always begin from a place of vulnerability and humility.  Logic is not the way to win a conversation with someone who believes differently than you do.  Winning shouldn’t even be the goal.  Rather, the goal of any encounter with an “other” is to learn and grow yourself.  Conversion is not our main end, that’s God’s work.  Ours is only to tell the story of the Gospel as we have experienced it.

Paul may never convince these former Sadducees that the resurrection is real, but he can certainly share with them the power of his own experience of the resurrected Jesus, from the road to Damascus all the way to imprisonment in Rome.  That’s the crux of evangelism.  Not well crafted apologetics, but a true accounting of the hope in which we, as followers of Jesus Christ, live our lives.

I was hungry, and you fed me

As is the case most mornings, as I got ready for work today, I turned the TV to SportsCenter on ESPN.  Amidst the coverage of the MLB trade deadline and the Mets getting totally blown out by the Nats (baseball has a serious problem) was the story of Lebron James, through is foundation, opening a new public school in Akron, OH.  In the interview with Rachel Nichols, who is one of the best in the game, she noted that one of things that caught her attention was the ways in which this new school was working to change the lives of kids.

RN: As I look around here, one thing that caught my eye just beyond all the academic stuff is that kids will go here for a longer school year and also longer school days. They’re here until 5 o’clock, partly just so they’re in this supported system and not out in the world as much. The other thing was food. That if a kid is hungry, it’s hard to learn, so you guys are giving these kids breakfast, lunch and a snack. How important is that?

LJ: I think first of all, fueling the body keeps the mind sharp. I remember when I was a kid, my attention span — I mean, you can have me for a little bit, but you have to keep me engaged. I think obviously fueling these kids and giving them food and breakfast and lunch and a snack — but just keeping them here under our support, keeping them here under our guidance, giving them objectives and criteria that they can match and not feel stressed and feel like they’re family. That’s what we want to create. We want to create an environment of family and not like a workplace. Sometimes you can get tired. If you look at it like work, you kind of get tired of it. We want to create an environment of family, where you want to always be around your family no matter the good and the bad, you always want to be around that support system. So that’s what we’re creating here.

As I listened to Lebron talk and thought about my own experiences at Foley Elementary and now Dishman McGinnis Elementary, the words of Jesus to the crowd that he had fed with five loaves and two fish came to life.  In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we hear Jesus speak frankly about the human condition. “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

First and foremost, people came to Jesus because they were hungry or hurting or in need of something they thought he could give, but the reason they stayed wasn’t because of a few pieces of bread and salted cod, but because of what else he had to offer.  Lebron James is making sure hungry kids are fed, not simply because feeding them is the right thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do, but because by filling their stomachs, the possibilities for learning open up.  In the same way, we reach out into the community not simply to make ourselves feel good or to have photo opps with our homeless neighbors, but because through sharing the love of God in action, we have the opportunity to share the love of God in word as well.

Every Wednesday at 11am, Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green opens its doors to feed 80-100 folks a free lunch.  Our volunteers don’t stand safely on one side of a service counter, however.  Instead, they are sitting at tables, hearing stories, learning about our neighbors, and, generally, just treating the stranger as a human being.  Our ministry at Dishman McGinnis, in which we might do as little as simply have lunch with a kid, means that for those 30 minutes, an adult who would otherwise have nothing to do with them, cares, and that act of caring can make all the difference in the world.  It isn’t an either/or proposition.  We don’t just feed someone’s body without also feeding their soul with the bread of eternal life, and in return, we too are fed.

Jesus Prays for Evangelists

I’ll spare you a long rant about the RCL and its oddball usage of John’s Gospel, and simply note that on Sunday, like every Seventh Sunday After Easter (see A and C) we will hear a portion of Jesus’ final prayer for his disciples, ripped from its context and nonsensically placed on the final Sunday of Eastertide.  As such, we hear Jesus using pronouns for which there is no direct antecedent.  As the preacher, I’m privy to the larger story, as I should be, but since we, like many Episcopal congregations, have no Bibles in the pews, those who show up on Sunday, will only get a small glimpse into Jesus’ prayer, and will likely be left wondering what Jesus is talking about when he says:

“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.”

Asking what, exactly?  The pericope appointed for Year B skips what Jesus is asking for.  As we look back to the opening verses of John 17, we note that despite the section heading that has been inserted into the text, “Jesus prays for his disciples,” what Jesus is really praying for in this moment is that the Father might “glorify the son, so that the Son my glorify you.”  In John, this language of glorification is a clear reference to the crucifixion.  In being lifted up on the cross, Jesus is raised upon his throng as king.  Paradoxically, through his brutal and embarrassing death, Jesus is glorified as the Savior of the World and the King of the Jews.

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With that context in mind, we return to the appointed lesson for Sunday.  When Jesus says that he is asking for his glorification, it isn’t so that world, which in John’s Gospel is synonymous with sin, will see it and be changed, but rather, that those who already believe might be further empowered.  As the disciples will soon look upon the glorification of Jesus, it is his hope that they might be encouraged, rather than dejected.  In verse 18, Jesus makes hope this overt, when he prays to the Father, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have them them into the world.”

If those words sound familiar, it is because they appear almost verbatim in the much more popular John 20:21, which we hear every Easter 2 and on the Day of Pentecost in Year A.  There, the now resurrected Jesus enters a locked room where his disciples were gathered, clearly dejected and afraid, having failed to live into his prayer from a few days before.  He breathes upon them, and essentially answers this prayer for them in saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

In praying for his glorification, on behalf of his disciples and not the world, Jesus prays that the Father might encourage future evangelists.  His prayer is that those who have experienced relationship with God through Christ might have the ability and desire to share that Good News with a world that is evil and fallen.  In praying for the disciples to be empowered through his death, he prays for us as well, that we too might be sent, as the Father sent his only Son, into the world, empowered by the Spirit, to tell the story of God’s saving love.