WORSHIP THIS WEEK: This Sunday, June 16, we worship on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (the time after Pentecost).  Jesus highlights the mysterious horticulture of the kingdom of God, in which we can never underestimate the magnitude of what can be done with something small.  We welcome Pastor Arden Krych, who will preach and preside. Join us at 10:00 in our physical sanctuary at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary for worship:https://www.youtube.com/live/BVwInjrcBG0?si=931YpLrC1LksyemF

7th Sunday of Easter Year B

May 19, 2024

You’ve heard me talk before about my days as a high school English teacher in South Carolina.  Many of my students were active in their various faith communities.  I taught Muslims and Jews and Mormons and Christians of all kinds.  They knew that I went to church, not because I made a big deal about it, but because it sometimes came up in conversation or in the writing that we did together.

I don’t remember what I was so frustrated about on one particular day, but it was evident to the students.  Teachers try very hard to maintain their composure.  If one class makes you angry for whatever reason, you try not to take it out on the next class.  That’s not fair.  But on the day that I’m remembering, I was clearly not doing a good job hiding my exasperation.

Sensing my frustration, a 10th-grader named Katrina looked at me and said: “I will pray for you, Ms. Compton.”  I said: “I will take those prayers, Katrina.  Thank you.”  And I immediately felt better, more grounded.

I also felt a little uneasy.  I didn’t want my students to be worried about me.  I was their teacher.  I was supposed to worry about them, to support them, to encourage them, and, yes, to forgive them when they had provoked me.

It is hard sometimes to be the recipient of care, isn’t it?  We’re often OK offering care to others, taking care of other people in ways both tangible and intangible.  But to be on the receiving end?  That can make us squirm.

In today’s gospel we hear Jesus praying for his disciples in a continuation of that Farewell Discourse we heard a part of last week.  It’s still the night that Jesus will be arrested.  He will be crucified soon.  He has shared a meal with them and washed their feet and given them some final words of wisdom.  And now he turns his attention to God.  Jesus offers a beautiful prayer on behalf of his disciples, these friends and followers who will soon be left grieving his absence and struggling to carry on his ministry.

Who is it that you would pray for in your final hours?  If you knew that the end of your life was drawing near, what would you lift up to God?  Whose well-being would you entrust to God’s care before departing this world?

Jesus prays a long prayer.  We only heard a piece of it this morning.  And he does it within earshot of his disciples, so imagine them listening in as he prays about them.

In the prayer Jesus repeatedly acknowledges what the disciples have received from God through him.  Jesus says: “They know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you.”

So the disciples have received from Jesus the words and the wisdom and the faith that have revealed Jesus as the messiah, the Son of God, the One who would save them.

And what does Jesus pray for

He prays for their protection.  He keeps talking about protecting them from the world.  In the Gospel of John the Greek word for “world” is kosmos, and it means those political and religious powers that create hatred and division.  Jesus is talking about the powers and principalities that will put him to death – and will continue to be a threat to his followers. 

He knows the disciples will continue to live and serve and teach and heal and preach in the midst of a world that will come after them for showing love and compassion.  They will be at risk for being people of peace in a world of war.  They will be threatened for standing up to the powerful on behalf of the vulnerable.  “I have given them your word,” Jesus prays, “and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”

On this Mother’s Day I think about all the prayers that mothers have uttered over the centuries as their children ventured off into the world – when kids take their first steps, when they start kindergarten, when they head to college, when they get their first jobs, when they fall in love, when their hearts are broken.  Whether kids succeed or fail in any given moment, those prayers remain – for protection, for resilience, for joy.  It is a terrifying and vulnerable thing to watch someone you love do hard things without you right there to guide every decision.  And yet we do it because that’s what allows them to grow into who they are.

That’s something of what Jesus is thinking when he prays: “Protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one…that they have my joy made complete in themselves.”  That is what Jesus wants for those first disciples, and that is what Jesus wants for us – that we may find unity in our glorious diversity, and that our joy might be complete.

My friend and teacher Pádraig Ó Tuama summarizes what the disciples might have overheard in Jesus’ prayer:

In short it is: I love you, we are friends. I have done everything I can to protect you. But I am going now. But that which has protected me also protects you. Be made holy by truth. Go into the world — a world that may misunderstand or even reject you — with truth. I came with truth. You can too. 

Are we able to receive that prayer as well?  Are we willing to receive all that God has to offer – a reminder that we can’t go it alone, the gift of a community that is held together by God’s grace, a love beyond our deserving, a commitment to truth?

I think church is partially about helping us practice receiving.  We receive forgiveness.  We receive God’s word in scripture and in song.  We receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  We receive the joy of companionship on our faith journey.  We receive all of these things, and then we are sent out to share them with others.  To share forgiveness and wisdom and food and encouragement and love and laughter and protection and joy and prayer.

I discovered this week a prayer written by the Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.  In it he prays:

[God], you have loved us first.  Help us never to forget that You are love so that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts over the seduction of the world, over the inquietude of the soul, over the anxiety for the future, over the fright of the past, over the distress of the moment. But grant also that this conviction might discipline our soul so that our heart might remain faithful and sincere in the love which we bear to all those whom You have commanded us to love as we love ourselves.

Amen and amen.

S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ

Sources:

https://www.spiritualityofconflict.com/readings/311/seventh-sunday-of-easter
https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/seventh-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-john-176-19-6
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Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!

Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.

Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm

Click here for registration form:

VBS – Registration Form _18

 

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