Seventh Sunday of Easter
John 17 6-19
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for 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; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.'
May these written words lead us to the living word – Jesus Christ. Amen
We continue this week in the great discourse at the Last Supper. Jesus prays with all his might, not just for those around the Passover table, but for the whole Church, then and to come. He wants his followers to remain faithful to his teaching, as he knows that this is the way in which God's world can be renewed and made more perfect. He knew that it was not going to be an easy task in a world where many would reject his message.
There is an old Indian story which tells the tale of a woman who was so concerned that her children would be influenced for evil by the outside world that she built a huge wall around her home. Her infant children were used to their restricted world but as they grew older they became curious about life beyond the boundaries of their garden. One day, while their mother's attention was distracted, two of the children climbed over the wall. As they landed on the other side they were met by an ocean of faces of local people who laughed at their nervous expressions. The villagers had also been curious to know what existed on the other side of the great wall. The two children became very frightened and frantically searched for a way back to their home. They could not cope with the world outside the wall.
There is a very human temptation to build walls around ourselves for protection; to build boundaries around our families or communities in an effort both to guard those within and to keep others out. The worst kinds of boundaries are those around our minds: those which cling to the outmoded concepts and habits which limit the expansion of thought and the creative imagination which God gave us in order to do his work more effectively. Like those children escaping from their comfortable safe garden, a sudden burst of new ideas can disorientate and frighten us. But if we are to grow as individuals and as a Church we have to have confidence in the prayer Jesus prayed and learn to accept that change is inevitable, if we stand still we will stagnate and eventually die. We only have to look at the age group of our congregations to see that we have to find new ways to reach people with the gospel, ways that they understand. It is interesting to note that there were more people attending services on Zoom and Youtube during the Pandemic than attended church in person in the previous year!
With hindsight we know that the disciples accepted the challenge and continued his teaching and many received harsh treatment and were martyred. Those who believed and have continued to spread the good news have also found themselves badly treated, as we know Christianity is not a cosy club. But Jesus had confidence in them and us and in our ability to keep his message alive, despite the hardships and dangers that some will face.
For many self-doubt and a lack of confidence in ourselves as Christians keep us from realising the degree of faith which God has in us. We know it is not easy and that there are dangers and we do need protection not only from our own weaknesses but against what St. Paul calls the "dark forces": those aspects of life which are not of God, which can divert or tempt us away from God’s grace.
Jesus had no doubt in the faith and ability of his disciples and those of us he has called to follow him today. We are gifted just as they were. Of course we have our doubts, we struggle with questions of faith. But it is all part of our love for God that we persist in spite of difficulty. The walls we might build to protect ourselves rarely do, but God can and he hears our prayers and the prayers of his Son on our behalf. If Jesus has confidence in us, as individuals and as part of the Church, then we should have confidence in ourselves and each other. We are a force for tremendous good in the world. In our families and communities, in great acts of generosity and in simple acts of kindness we make the presence of God known. This has been so evident in the past year. As we become confident disciples, believing that we have been sanctified and consecrated in the truth, we will be ready and able to spread his word by living out the example of his love.