The collect and readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter may be found here. The following sermon is based on John 17:6-19.
“Protect them from the evil one,” Jesus prays.
We live in a dangerous world. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. We read about the dangers of this world every day. We see the pictures on the internet and the daily news. Some of you have experienced first hand the dangers of life.
The human instinct to danger is fight or flight. Neither one, however, really changes the situation. One adds to violence and increases the danger. Someone will get hurt, life will be lost. The other creates and opens a space and a place for the danger to exist. Again, someone will get hurt, life will be lost. The events and circumstances that we perceive as dangerous are real but they really just point to deeper issues. They are symptoms of what is going on within the human heart. They reveal the wounds and brokenness that often stand in opposition to the life, love, and ways of God. This opposition is what St. John means by “the world.”
John is not talking about the created order, nature. That was created good and remains so. The world refers to the many different operating systems that we use, and have come to accept as normal, to order human life: our social, cultural, political, and economic structures. Far too often those systems both arise from and create fear, anger, division, injustice, and greed. That is the world into which Jesus sent his disciples and it remains the world in which we live and practice our faith.
Jesus knows that the human ordering of life is often contrary and even opposed to God’s ordering of life. That concern is the subject of his prayer in today’s gospel. It is the evening of the last supper. Feet have been washed. Supper is ended. The betrayer has left and it is night. The darkness has descended: the darkness of Jesus’ impending death, the darkness of not knowing the way, and the darkness of the world.
Jesus neither runs from nor fights the danger of the world. He offers a different way. He loves and prays. He lays down his life in love. He prays for us, the ones who will continue his life and work in the world. We live in the world but we do not belong to it. We belong to Jesus and the Father.
The great danger for us is that the darkness will invade, fill, and overtake our hearts. We either give up or buy in to business as usual. You hear that in phrases like, “What can I do? I am only one person” or “That’s just how it is. It’s always been like that.” Jesus’ prayer, however, suggests that is not how it is intended to be and it doesn’t have to continue that way.
Jesus prays that his joy may be made complete in us. This happens in the midst of the world and its dangers. It is neither running away from the systems of the world nor standing up to them but laying down life before them in witness to Christ’s love. That’s not easy to do. Jesus does not pray that it would be easy or that we would be taken out of the world. Instead, he prays for our protection in the world. Live the amen.
Our protection is not found in escaping or avoiding the danger. The protection Jesus asks for us comes through sanctification. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth,” Jesus prays.
Sanctification separates us from the usual operating systems of the world. We neither give up nor buy in. Instead, our lives are transformed. We live according to and reveal God’s system for the world: things like love, mercy, forgiveness, beauty, wisdom, generosity. Our protection is in being made holy and wholly God’s. That is what keeps us safe in the midst of the conflict.
It is not enough to just hear Jesus’ prayer. His words ask that we live, act, and work with God in answering his prayer. We are to actively participate in Jesus’ prayer by shaping our life to be increasingly like his. So while we might give an “amen” to Jesus’ prayer we must also examine our own hearts and ask ourselves some hard questions.
The real issue is not about what’s out there in the world but about what’s in here, in our hearts. What is our hearts’ orientation? How do we benefit from, participate in, and foster the systems of the world that oppose God’s life? Are we willing to change? Do we operate out of our wounds and brokenness: resentments, the need to win, looking out for number one, living with an attitude or scarcity, prejudice, fear, self-condemnation or hatred? To the degree we do, we deny God our life and contribute to the darkness of the world. That is not God’s desire or hope for our lives or the world.
You, I, and all humanity are worth so much more than that. Jesus’ own life and prayer declare that. We are the gift he and his Father share and exchange between themselves. Jesus entrusts us to his Father’s protection even as he entrusted himself to the Father. To do anything less denies us God’s sanctification, our protection.
“Holy Father, protect them,” Jesus prays. In large part the answer to Jesus’ prayer rests in our hands, our hearts, and our “amen,” not just a spoken amen but a lived amen.
Live the amen. Offer forgiveness rather than retribution, mercy instead of condemnation, and compassion rather than indifference. Lay down your life in love for another. See life through the lens of beauty and not cynicism. Choose unity over individualism and God’s ways over personal agendas. In those moments you are the amen to Jesus’ prayer, your heart is healed, and the world is different.