St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. Patricia Dickson
Easter 7, Year B
May 13, 2018
John’s gospel was written somewhere between 75 to 85 of the Christian era, which was about 20 to 30 years after Matthew’s, Mark’s and Luke’s accounts were written. Their gospels are seen as historical. John’s is also historical, but a far more spiritual and theologized gospel. It is often described as mystical poetry, born of the Holy Spirit’s actions in the Christian community as time went on.
Today’s gospel reading from John is part of a farewell discourse that starts in chapter 13 with foot washing and culminates in chapter 17 with the last meal Jesus would have with his disciples. Jesus offers a prayer (part of which we will look at today), after which he and the disciples will go to the Kidron Valley to the garden where Jesus will be betrayed.
John’s gospel is known for the repetition of words and themes, which makes it a challenge to comprehend at first or second glance. I had a heck of a time getting it, and had to work to put together this summary:
It appears Jesus is giving God an overview of how everything went. He noted that the disciples were given to him from God, they knew he was from God and that everything he had was from God. The disciples knew Jesus gave them God’s words, and they kept those words so their joy would be complete. They were one as Jesus and the Father are one, and they glorified him. The disciples didn’t belong to the world any more than Jesus did, but Jesus sent them into the world as God sent him—- for the world’s sake.
This message is full of sermons. But today, I am concentrating on Jesus’ two petitions that were also couched within this prayer. Jesus asks God to sanctify and protect his disciples.
When Jesus prays for their– and our– protection, he does not mean protection from physical harm or the hardships of life. While miracles can happen, we must recall that God did not create humankind to circumvent the order God created every 5 seconds— or to re-fashion it in accordance with our will. As I have said to youth (this can be rather jarring to adults), God is not a vending machine. God is a helpline to whom we can pour out everything in our hearts to the one who loves us beyond belief and be assured of a response.
There was a time when I thought that with enough faith, God would make my life more predictable, safe, and without pain. After all, he kept his eye on the sparrow. I would knock as Jesus said to do and wait to receive. But I didn’t receive. It felt like God had given me a stone and a snake instead of the bread and fish I asked for. Jesus said a good father does not give stones and snakes to his child. But it felt like I kept getting stones and snakes. How could I possibly trust such a capricious God?
Eventually I understood that the miracles Jesus performed on earth were not meant to show us what we will get, they were meant to show us who Jesus was. I also came to see that Jesus’ lifetime on earth showed us that suffering is a part of life. God did not spare his son from what we endure— Jesus knew poverty, work in the broiling sun, exhaustion, illness, grief, doubt, despair, tears, the death of loved ones, temptation, disappointment, discrimination, the hatred of others, abandonment, mockery, physical abuse, agony and a terrible death. The hardships of our lives on earth will be no different. But God will get us through as God got Jesus through. Our prayers for help should continue as they always have— but perhaps now and then we simply need to adjust our expectations.
So, what is Jesus praying for when he asks God to protect us? He asks that we will be protected from the evil one. And God accomplishes this by sanctifying us in God’s life and truth. That is, we are to live in accordance with God’s will, not our own, so God’s word and spirit will transform our hearts and minds to be like his. This is God’s purpose, the point of this whole thing— the salvation of all humankind. God wants to save us from ourselves without God, which is sin and death. God wants us to have eternal life. And on earth, hearts full of joy, not from selfish lives, self-centeredness, or an overabundance of material things, but from loving relationships– with God, others, ourselves, all creatures, and creation.
Case in point— Mother’s Day. We celebrate the nurturing love of all mothers, all who have mothered us, all who have mothered creatures and creation and even congregations. We celebrate their laying their lives down for new life, their self-sacrifice, their bond of love like no other that nothing can sever. We also celebrate Jesus’ mothering love today in asking God for humankind’s protection– it is as if he is standing at our bus stop on the first day of school watching us go forth on our own. Did he teach us enough? Will we remember? Will we be ok without him beside us? Will we find our way home?
Well, Jesus needn’t have worried. Pentecost is coming. We will be alright, with God’s help.