FPC Sermon May 28, 2017 John 17: 1-11
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus has just told his disciples that he will be going back to his Father and that they are going to be persecuted in his name. He has also told them, however, that the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who will be speaking for him, will come to guide them. They will grieve, he says, but their grief will turn to joy. They will have trouble in this world, yet God will give them peace.
On this seventh Sunday of Easter, knowing that Pentecost is coming, we can grasp the feelings of Jesus’ disciples as they heard him pray. It’s down to the nitty gritty for him and for them. He’s leaving them very soon. He knows they’re going to be exposed. So he prays specially for them, for their protection and for their unity.
It’s his final speech to them in the Gospel according to John. There’s an urgency here. I feel that same urgency in preparing the last sermons to be preached to you. There is grief, but there is also joy.
Jesus, in speaking to his disciples, knows they have more often than not been confused. He wants them to know what matters most.
Maybe you’ve heard about Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch. On December 19, 2007, the 47-year old professor delivered his “last lecture” on “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Maybe you’ve heard it.
Pausch had just learned that his pancreatic cancer would take his life in three to six months. It turned out to be a little bit longer, 10 months. Pausch didn’t despair. He used the time he had left to inspire others.
Randy Pausch wasn’t an ordinary professor. He pioneered in that growing field we now call “virtual reality.” He was not just creative himself. He inspired creativity in others.
In his last talks, Pausch passed along life lessons that have helped many people. He talked about how his list of dreams had been somewhat fulfilled. We all know we can’t achieve dreams unless we have them in the first place.
In Pausch’s talk on time management, he said, “it’s more important to do the right thing than to seek perfection.” He also said, “Do the important things first, even if it means never getting around to doing the unimportant things.” Pausch left us this legacy to help all of us live life to the full, as he did.
Jesus’ last talk, part of which we read today, also aims to help us to follow our dreams. It highlights what is most important. There is a lot about “glorifying” in this scripture.
What does Jesus mean when he talks about glory?
The word for glory in Greek is doxa, from which our word “doxology” is drawn. We sing the doxology most Sundays. We sing it after the offering to remind ourselves that everything comes from God.
We also sing another praise song, the Gloria patri, or Glory be to the father. We sing that one right after confessing our sins and passing the peace. We do it then as a reminder that God, not anything else on this earth, is the greatest. Maybe some of us think singing these ancient songs is a rote exercise. Maybe we never think deeply about what we’re singing.
Yet, the glory about which Jesus is talking and the glory about which we are singing is the transformative power of the cross. That transformative power takes us ordinary people and turns us into loving disciples of Christ who, by his love, can change the world. The glory and the love go together. Glory on earth and eventually, glory in heaven.
Remember that John was writing at a time when Christians faced hostility and disbelief. The message of the risen Christ had only a small following. There was plenty of reason to be discouraged.
It’s easy to be discouraged in our world as well. The unity called for by Christ is a difficult concept for many people. We look around us and see that we have very different ideas. Seminary dean Nancy Ramsay writes, “we also find ourselves tested by such things as radically different interpretations of the wideness of God’s love and the boundaries of the church; the full inclusion of all God’s people; and deep and historically shaped emotions about the way God’s vision for economic justice has implicated Christians in dominant and developing countries differently.”
It’s a social and economic message that we ignore only at our peril. Frances Wattman Rosenau, who pastors a Presbyterian church in Culver City, California, down the hill from where I grew up, wrote on the NEXT Church website this week, the following:
“The Church is called to live differently than the powers and principalities of this world. We are called to stem the cultural tide of racism and inequality in the way we do church, to intentionally work against our biases and form a community of equality. Since we swim in the waters of injustice from Monday to Saturday, we have to work very hard at doing things differently in the Church.”[i]
Yes, Christ speaks about unity. Unity, not uniformity. It requires forebearance and love.
God has created us as many peoples with different cultures, languages, and faith beliefs. God wants us to value and appreciate those differences, and yet, to live together in harmony.
Christian unity is like a choir with different voices singing different parts. Each of us has his or her own part. We should never seek to press each other, and certainly not our pastors, into a mold. Because that’s when creativity is stifled, enthusiasm wanes, and prophecy disappears.
Let’s remember that Jesus’ disciples were a motley assortment of humanity, but Jesus loved them, and he loves us, too. Yes, my friends, the glory and the love go together. May it be so today and every day. Amen.
[i] NEXT Church website, “A Place of Response and Action,” May 15, 2017.