Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 1:15–17, 21–26; 1 John 5:9–13 & John 17:6–19
Modern day life is increasingly busy. Regardless of how many tasks we attend to each day, there always seem to be other jobs that get added to our ‘to do list’. And not only are we kept busy attending to these daily tasks, but we are also constantly bombarded by hundreds, if not thousands, of advertising messages each day; whether they be on television, radio, in newspapers, or through social media. At times it can all get a bit overwhelming and we might long to escape from the world, even if it’s just for a short time.
It appears that this same desire to live apart from the world was also present in the community that the author of John’s Gospel was writing to, probably because of the opposition of those who were hostile to the message of the gospel at the time. The passage from today’s gospel reading, which is an excerpt from a prayer that Jesus prays to God on behalf of his disciples, provides another way in which to retreat from the world without giving into the pressures of the world.
It’s fitting that today’s passage comes from a prayer that Jesus prays to God, because my sermons over the past two weeks have themselves been about the subject of prayer, in the context of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, which is of course the global, prayer movement that began on Thursday on Ascension Day.
Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel is a prayer that Jesus prays to God, and in today’s passage, which is an excerpt from that prayer, Jesus states that his disciples do not belong to the world, in the same way that he also did not belong to the world. Jesus says that he was sent into the world by God, and the world hated him, meaning that people opposed him and the message he was giving them. Now people will also hate the disciples, because the disciples are to continue the ministry that Jesus has begun. The disciples have received God’s word in the teaching they received from Jesus, and this is the same word that they will now proclaim through their own ministry.
So Jesus prays to God, that God will protect the disciples as they carry out their ministry, in the same way that Jesus himself protected them while he was with them. Jesus makes it clear that he is not asking God to remove the disciples from the world, because their calling after all is to proclaim the gospel to all the people of the world, however he is asking God to protect them from the “evil one”, meaning the devil or the spiritual forces that oppose God in the world. Jesus prays to God to protect the disciples because they are not of the world, meaning they no longer live according to the expectations and desires of others, but according to those of God, however they must obviously live in the world in order to perform the ministry which Jesus has called them to, and they will need God’s help as they carry out that ministry.
Last Sunday I suggested that perhaps life was a spiritual struggle between the Holy Spirit that resides in us, and the spiritual forces that seek to alienate the world from God. This is essentially what Jesus is saying in his prayer to God in this morning’s reading from the Gospel of John. The spiritual forces that oppose God, which are under the control of the “evil one”, are those that present themselves to us in the form of temptations, which threaten to come between us and our relationship with God; those things that divert our attention away from God and our own calling as disciples of Jesus to proclaim the gospel in the world today.
And when I talk about us proclaiming the gospel in the world today, I am not talking about literally standing on a street corner reading from the Gospels trying to convert people to Christianity. What I am talking about, is living a God-centred life where people, having witnessed our actions that are based on God’s word and the teaching of Jesus, may be drawn to question what it is about us that causes us to behave in the way we do. This then provides us with the opportunity to talk about our faith and values, which in itself is to proclaim the gospel.
Having the Holy Spirit reside in us, which happens after we are baptised, is God’s answer to the prayer of Jesus to protect the disciples. We are disciples of Jesus today, and the Holy Spirit, who we receive at our baptism, has been sent to us by Jesus to guide our thoughts and actions in our daily life.
As disciples of Jesus in the world today, we too, like the community of the author of the Gospel of John, face opposition from those forces that seek to alienate us from God, not only in terms of the various temptations that we regularly encounter in our life, but from people who vigorously oppose the Christian Faith itself and the message that it proclaims. Public reaction to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent open expression of his faith is a good example of that.
Today’s reading from the First Letter of John tells us that those who don’t in believe in God have made God a liar by not believing in God’s testimony concerning Jesus. This is a reference to the two declarations made by God in the gospels that Jesus was His Son; the first at the baptism of Jesus, and the second at his Transfiguration. God’s testimony concerning Jesus is that God gave us eternal life through Jesus. As the First Letter of John tells us, whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.
And the Holy Spirit, who has been sent to us by Jesus, will guide and instruct us on our journey of faith, as we follow the path to eternal life.