Lessons: St. John 17:11-19; I John 5:9-15
In the 1960’s Paul Newman starred in a movie called Cool Hand Luke. It was in essence a story about a clash of wills between Luke who was a prisoner and the Warden. The Warden over and over again described their conflict this way. He would say “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
Luke was a kind of hero because he represented a man whose will would not be broken. And as much as we can admire that in some circumstances that must not be the kind of relationship that a Christian has with his Lord. What the Christian must NOT have with Jesus is a failure to communicate. And we must realize that if there is a failure to communicate it is not because the Lord has failed to make Himself clear. It is because we are not listening. In some cases our unyielded wills are keeping us from hearing Him clearly. In other cases we have an agenda or a picture in our heads of how we think things ought to be and we are so busy making that picture come true that we don’t really hear what He is saying to us.
I bring this up because in today’s Gospel Jesus is communicating very clearly about our relationship with the world but that agenda or picture does not fit with what many many Christians have in mind and so His words fall on a lot of deaf ears. His words are not easy to hear and so it is easy for us to create another reality. He tells us we are enemies to the world and yet Christians all over are making friends with the world, wanting the world to like them and even acting just like the world. Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus is saying so that we don’t have a failure to communicate.
First let me clarify the language. When Jesus is speaking of the world here He is not talking about the created order. We are not enemies of the land and seas and sky. The earth is the Lords and all that is in it. He created it and called it good and so it is. When Jesus speaks of the world in this context He is speaking of the people and systems of this world that are under the forces of evil. These people and systems use power and control and fear and in essence seek to replace God in our lives. They seek to enslave us while Jesus has come to set us free.
We need to hear what Jesus is saying here about our relationship with the world. The bottom line is they will hate you because you won’t play along. He said, “The world has hated them because they do not belong to the world.” They hated Him and so they will hate us also. And so it should not shock us when they denigrate us or their puppets make fun of us on TV or laws get passed that contradict our beliefs.
The wrong response, the very wrong response is to wring our hands and try to figure out ways to make them like us again. This is a wrong response because it inevitably leads to compromise.
The Supreme Court is poised to change the definition of marriage this summer and I have been seeing a lot of chatter on the Internet that the Church had better change her position on same sex marriage or she will die. And I bring this up not to single out gays because I have my own set of sins. But the difference is that I am not trying to get my sins legalized or try to put others out of business who can’t accept me.
Quoting from the Old Testament, Jesus defined marriage. A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh. St. Paul goes on to tell us that the husband and wife are icons of Christ and the Church. Heterosexual couples who live together outside of marriage and same sex partners and polygamous relationships all assault those holy icons. Jews held marriage as a sacred institution and for 2,000 years it has been honored as a sacrament of the Church. Neither the State nor the Supreme Court has the authority to redefine what God has ordained. It can no more tell the Church what marriage is than it can tell us how to celebrate Holy Communion, but you are naïve to think that they will not try.
If the Supreme Court redefines marriage we cannot compromise in hopes of making the world love us. It won’t and it never will. I told the Bishop that if they redefine marriage then I have signed my last marriage certificate because in doing so, I am declaring that the Church accepts the new definition. Of course I will continue to officiate the Sacrament of Marriage but if a couple wants Caesar to recognize their marriage then they will need to get Caesar to sign their paperwork. In the end it may be a better thing to get the Church out of the State’s business and the State out of the Church’s business. It has always made me very uncomfortable when I have been to Protestant weddings and the minister declares, “By the authority vested in me by the State of Tennessee, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” The authority of the Church does not come from the State, it comes from God and it is a good thing to have those two distinct from one another.
But it won’t stop there. I can easily foresee a time when the State will try to force the Church to accept its definition. Under antidiscrimination laws or hate speech laws or threats to take away tax deferred status it will try to silence the Church and force her to comply. Still we will not be able to compromise and at that time we must certainly not have our faith waiver. If opposition comes then it should come as no surprise. Jesus already told us that it would. He said that they will treat us as they treated Him. We don’t need to think that we have done something wrong or have lost God’s favor, we just need to stand and when all else is done remain standing.
So in this context of the world hating us what is our task? Are we to build bomb shelters, fill them up with food and ammo and hide out until the Lord’s return? Do we resurrect the Moral Majority, seek to take over the government and change all the laws and in essence make American a theocracy? I read of one guy who suggested that Christians go into massive debt so that when the Rapture comes we leave the Antichrist with all of our financial problems. I‘m not crazy about any of those options. What is our task?
Jesus tells us in His prayer. He prays for them to be sanctified in the truth and then He sends them out into the world that hates them just as the Father sent Jesus into the world that hated Him. Sanctified and sent. Later in the prayer He says that He is not only praying for them but for all those who will believe, so this all applies to us as well. Let’s consider these tasks of sanctify and send.
Sanctified is one of those theological words that can be scary. Sanctification or holiness can bring up images of women with long hair and no makeup or a long list of all the things that we and and can’t do and it may even involve snakes. But when we see how it is that Jesus prays for us to be sanctified then it comes into better focus. He prays for us to be sanctified in the truth and then He declares “thy word is truth.”
In praying that we would be sanctified by the truth He is praying that we will get the world out of us so that He can send us back into the world. We are not going to do the world any good if we think and act just like them. And the best way to get the lies of the world out of us is to fill us with the truth of God.
But to be even more specific I don’t believe that Jesus is praying for us to get our theology right nor is He praying that we memorize a ton of Scripture. In praying for us to be sanctified in truth I believe that He is praying for us to have the right picture of who God really is so that we have something truly wonderful to share with the world. With the true picture of God we have some very good news to bring to them. And when we bring them the good news THAT will make them like us, right? How did that work out for the Apostles?
There is one other part of Jesus’ communication to His disciples through this prayer that we must not miss. Amidst these sober sayings of the world hating them and sanctifying and sending them, He declares that He is telling them these things so that His joy would be made complete in them. And how does that joy come about? Our lesson today cuts off the remainder of the prayer that tells us how the joy comes about. Later He prays “I in them and you in me that they may be perfectly one, so that the world will know that you send me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Sometimes we focus our attention so much on the call to unity in this prayer that we miss the other parts. Did you catch them? Jesus prays for us to have the same kind of unity with Him that He has with the Father and then He states that the Father loves us as much as He loves the Son. Take a moment to wrap your mind around that one. God the Father loves you as much as He loves Jesus Christ and invites you to share the same kind of relationship that they have with one another. Belonging and love; these bring us great joy in our life and God invites us to find ultimate joy in belonging and love with Him.
Now let’s take this idea of belonging and love and come full circle back to Jesus’ statement that the world will hate us. When you realize that you have belonging and love with God and then are told that the world hates you, you will quickly come to the realization, “Who cares?” As St. Paul put it, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” In fact I want to end this sermon by allowing St. Paul to finish that thought.
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,k neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And the Church said, “Amen.”