A Resurrection Prayer
I don’t know if you have heard about the recent Pew Research Poll about the state of Christianity in the United States or if I have only been inundated by because most of my friends are church nerds, but this poll stated that in the year 2015 the number of people declaring themselves unaffiliated (not tied to any religion or faith tradition) grew from 16.1% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014, and that number of professed Christians fell from 78.4% to 70.6%
Needless to say these findings have many crying that the sky is falling and wondering what will become of this country. Is the end near for the church? Churches are in a panic because they see this as a harbinger of years to come. Seminaries are wondering if they will have students to fill the seats. But, if you can’t tell from my tone, none of these are worries for me. Yes, the numbers are shocking, but in them I see hope and promise. I see an opportunity, and I hear Jesus’ pray over the disciples being prayed over us anew.
In today’s gospel we find ourselves in the middle of Jesus’ prayer at the last supper. It is strange that we are hearing about an event that happened before the crucifixion on this the seventh Sunday of Easter. But if we hear his words, if we hear them as they were intended, this resurrection prayer is laying the foundation for the church to come. It is clearing out the rubble and the impediments of and laying a firm foundation upon which the church would be built.
This prayer comes at the end of what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. For the previous four chapters in John’s Gospel, Jesus has been spelling out what is about to happen. He has washed the disciples feet, sent Judas on his way, told Peter he will deny him. Jesus spoke to them about being the true vine of God, send from God. He tells them the world will hate them because the world hated him. Gathered around that table, their world is crumbling down.
Imagine what it must have been like to hear these words from your best friend. Some of us have in a way, when our mother tells us that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer or that you will have to have assistance in your own day to day lives. Some know the pain of loosing a child before her or his time, or are still struggling with the grief of loosing a parent.The pain is all too real. And most of us can relate to the soul crushing, spirit draining experience the disciples must have been going through on last night of Jesus life. It is all too real.
But in the midst of the crushed souls and drained spirits, Jesus begins to tell them that something extra ordinary will happen to them. That because of all these things, because of them, they are now co-workers in the work of God. They have been grafted into the vine of God. They will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit to help them in their new lives. He commands them to love one another as he has loved them, and when they do – the world will know whose they are.
And then he prays for them. He prays that they will be strong. That they will remember that when it is dark, they are marked with the love of God and they are a part of God just as Jesus is a part of God. He prays that whatever fear they have will be allayed and that remember they have the one thing that the world can never take from them – the authority of the Name of God. Love.
Jesus sends the disciple out into the world, not away from it. They are sent into the places where love is absent in order to bring the love of God into those darkest of places. And Jesus pleads for their protection. He knows the road is hard and the journey dangerous. He knows that there are many who will refuse to hear the message they bring and will even kill those who bring it. And yet, Jesus prays that the disciples go into the world and be protected from the evil one. That they face the dangers bravely and boldly, secure and confident in the one who sent them.
And finally he prays that the disciples be set apart, sanctified in the truth. The truth of the name of God. Set apart in the world changing love of God. And set apart they are sent out.
Jesus’ prayer lays the foundation for the church that is yet to come. A fledgling church that will have its brand new world upturned.
This passage from the Gospel of John was written for a community of believers no more than 70 years old. They were the second generation of believers and had seen the temple in Jerusalem destroyed – their center of worship. They had seen the beginnings of persecutions. That had experienced Rome doubling down on their oppression. This new community of believers is hearing these words of Jesus as their own world is in chaos. These foundation words. This resurrection prayer.
So this prayer of Jesus for his disciples is also a pray for this new community of the resurrection. A new community that formed after Christ rose and ascended. A community that settled at the corner of Emerson Avenue and New York in 1921. Jesus prayed for the community of disciples gathered here today.
This resurrection prayer for this resurrection community is the foundation for the building up of God’s beloved community. A community that binds us together across lines of age and gender; race and sexual orientation. This prayer is a prayer that is for this church today. Jesus asks that God protect us, that God give us strength, that God give us a voice to be bold in this world. That we be more than just pew sitting people and that we go out side of this church and testify – give witness to the amazing love of God. He asks these things so that we may be united together, made strong in our story. That we have joy in Christ. And in that joy we are set apart. We are sanctified in truth.
When the people of God rise up in testimony to the love of God, to the redeeming message of God – change happens. This past Monday, the voice of God was heard loudly proclaiming, “everyone is worthy of redemption,” as the city council stopped the mayor’s bid to build a new criminal justice center. A center that would do nothing to stop crime, but that would be built on the premise that the beds would be filled – the 1500 additional beds would be filled. The thought behind this new jail was that we would keep the beds full. It gave no thought about the fact that what is needed is opportunities for those humans returning to life after jail. The money for the additional beds could have been spent on job training and half-way work. For mental health treatment instead of inmate warehousing.
I, along with a coalition of churches and pastors called IndyCAN rose our collective voices and gave witness to the name of God – the Love of God and confronted the evil in this plan. We built a coalition of voters, we put faces to statistics, and we spoke the truth of a God who loved humanity enough to die for it in order to save it. And we changed the city council’s mind. They were set to rubber stamp the mayor’s proposal, but the refused to sit still and had to testify to the love of God. And the voice of God, the voice of love, won. The criminal justice center as it was presented by the mayor is all but dead.
When the people of God rise up and speak with the authority of they name of God – walls come a tumbling down. When the people of God are set on the firm foundation of the resurrection prayer of Jesus – are embrace by this words – all things are possible. And we are sanctified in truth – in the joy of Christ.
We are enveloped in the love of God. Marked as holy, set aside for more than we can ever expect. We are the light of God’s love in a world that does not know God. And we are one. The body of Christ.
And yes, there are things that will try to take us down. The evil one is always trying to turn us away from God’s love and to trust in our selves as the sole authorities. This has happened since the earliest days of the church – the gnostic heresies that questioned the humanity of Jesus; the church becoming the church of the Roman Empire – immersing is self in the state; the ignorance that fueled the crusades and the inquisition; current interdenominational conflict. The evil one is always trying to tear the people of God away from the truth of God – the love of God. The evil one is good at making sure we trust in ourselves more than we trust God.
Our personal animus against each other; our idolization of the past; and our idols of the future; the way we thing change is the only thing or that things can never change; we trust our own narrow interpretations of scripture rather than being informed by 2,000 years of interoperation and tradition; we pride our selves on our exclusivity. Theses things that drive people away from the church – because we are more concerned with ourselves that the love of God.
But again, when we open ourselves up to the power of this resurrection prayer – when we allow ourselves the humility and the grace to realize that we are called by Jesus. When we are able to hear Jesus saying, “I love you. I have called you. I have called you as an individual. I have called you as a church. You are mine. You are good enough for this task, because I have called you by name.” When we hear Jesus praying for us – for us – our elders will dream, our young will see visions. They will cross lines and work together – hand in hand, arm in arm, giving witness to the love of God. And nothing will be impossible.
When we open ourselves up the status quo, the mission becomes more important that the status quo. The doors are open and we go out. We don’t just sit hoping people will walk in to the church – we walk out into the world – set apart in the the truth of God’s love, marked by the cross of Christ, named beloved of God – we walk out and show everyone we meet that the love of God for us and for them is stronger than any evil that may come. And then maybe people will find their ways into our community – but we the onus is on us to leave the safety of the church. But even so, that is not the point. The point is that we are faithful to God’s promise. That we trust the foundation laid for us in the resurrection prayer of Jesus.
That we are witnesses of a God who so loved the world that he gave is only son, so that all who believe will not perish, but here and now begin living into the reign of God – the truth of God – the love of God and be saved by a God whose love knows no bounds. We are witnesses to the great joy that is the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ.
In this prayer we are told we are part of God’s divine plan for the word. That we have bee call to a time such as this. Hear the prayer again with new ears:
I have made your name known -your name of love – to Emerson Avenue Baptist Church – the ones you gave me from they world. They were yours, and you entrusted them to me. They have kept your word. And they know that everything you have given me is from you.
I am asking on this church’s behalf, not on behalf of the world, but I am begging for those you have given me – those gathered at Emerson and New York – because they are yours. Your beloved.
All mine are yours and all yours are mine! and I have been glorified in them.
And now, I am no longer in the world, but the church is. I am coming to you. Holy God, protect Emerson Avenue in your name -your name of love – so that they may be one as you and I are one.
While I was with them, I protected them in your name and by your authority. I have guarded them and not one was lost…
But I am coming home, and I am saying these things so that they may have joy in them and that their joy be made completed – for they are yours. That church on the corner.
They have a tough task ahead because I have given them your word. But don’t make them complacent, don’t keep them from the world – send them out, but protect them, too, from the evil one.
Set them apart. Make them holy. Sanctify them in the truth of your name – in your love.
As you have sent me – I and sending you Emerson Avenue Baptist Church into he world.
Beloved, The foundation has been poured. we have a wonderous and difficult journey ahead. Can we do it?
Thanks be to God.