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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service; click on the video camera icon.
May 16, 2021
Seventh Sunday of Easter
This sermon inspired by: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=3013
Grace and peace to you from our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the devotional word for our Trendings newsletter last week, I wrote the following prayer:
God, there is so much to pray for in our world: the violent uprising in Israel and other places, deciding whether or not to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, making wise choices to help repair the damage to our planet, the health and well-being of our loved ones…the list goes on. When it gets to be too much, help us remember that you hear our sighs, our pleas, and our longings even when we can’t put words to them; and help us to trust that you answer. Amen.
We know from scriptures that prayer is a foundational piece of Jesus’ ministry. In each of the gospels, we are told that he prayed often – sometimes with the disciples and others, and many times by himself. So, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that he prayed on the night before he died.
John’s gospel records this prayer in more depth than the other ones do. And because of the way he presents it, we can see three distinct parts to it. In the verses leading up to today’s reading, Jesus prays for himself. In today’s reading, he prays for his disciples. And in the verses that follow, he prays for the people who will come to believe in him.
More than the pieces of it, though, in this prayer we learn the depth of Jesus’ trust in God. On the night he was most pained, most troubled, and genuinely grieved about being separated from his friends, Jesus didn’t perform one last miracle or act of healing. He prayed.
In his final moments with them, Jesus knew he was sending the disciples into the unknown, that they wouldn’t be able to just live in a bubble. They were going to have to figure out how to continue his ministry and teachings without him being physically present. That life as his followers wouldn’t be simply a series of “either/or” choices. They would have to navigate a middle path and, in many cases, forge new ones and make hard decisions about how to live in his name.
Jesus wouldn’t be able to protect them from any of that. So he did as so many of us have done, and do, when we’re in a situation that feels overwhelming and utterly terrifying. He humbled himself, and in a profound act of faith, he entrusted himself and his beloveds to God.
And in doing that, he showed the disciples what it means to trust God and God’s love. He showed them how to love the world even when things were difficult. He revealed a source of strength that would give them the courage to keep moving forward. And he did it because he loved.
Our world today isn’t any less dangerous or complex. There’s no shortage of reasons to pray or people to pray for. Most days, the events in the news are enough to drive us to our knees. And in the U.S., we don’t face persecution for our faith, but we are confronted with decisions for how to live and be as people of faith.
Because we’re confronted with the needs of the world. Sometimes those needs are easy to navigate, and we know exactly what to do or say. But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes people tell us what to do or say in a situation – or even what to think about it, or how they think we’re supposed to treat others.
And sometimes what they say seems to make a lot of sense and we want to follow along, but in our gut we know it goes against what our faith teaches us. Especially when it comes to how we treat others.
It’s the world we live in. And like the disciples, we find ourselves in that middle place, trying to determine the path forward. And it’s in those moments that we take our cues from Jesus and we pray. We humble ourselves, and entrust to God and God’s love our lives and whatever situation we might be in. Trusting that God does hear and will guide our hearts and our steps.
One of my seminary classmates, Carrie, is an ELCA missionary and she serves as pastor of the English-speaking congregation at Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. And she currently lives in East Jerusalem, where much of the conflict is going on.
Early last week, she went to the grocery store in Sheikh Jarrah for some basics. When she went to pay, her U.S.-based card didn’t work – which happens sometimes, but she was understandably embarrassed.
As she was apologizing, the store owner and his son – who are Palestinian – said, “Don’t worry, ma’am.” Carrie replied, “I’ll come back tomorrow with cash!” They said again, “Don’t worry. Tomorrow, next week, it’s okay. We trust you.”
She left the store, groceries in-hand, without paying a dime, and overwhelmed at the hospitality she so often experiences from Palestinians in Jerusalem, even as a white American woman.
On Friday, Carrie shared that as she entered the Damascus Gate, she passed many more soldiers than usual, and she held her breath because she didn’t know what to expect in the Old City. But there were some Israeli women there handing out flowers and she took one.
Carrie isn’t naïve. She knows that flowers won’t solve the conflict. They won’t stop bombs or bring dead children back to life or rebuild homes. But the kindness of the gesture made her smile.
Yesterday, though, there were no flowers being handed out. There was only frustration and dread and worry for the people.
This morning, she planned to arrive early in the Old City, but forgot her church keys at home. As she waited for a friend to bring them, she stopped into the Church of the Resurrection and unexpectedly came upon a Coptic procession around the tomb.
At one point, one of the priests saw her and smiled, and paused in front of her so she could view the holy icon he was carrying. She described as a holy moment in an unholy time. And a reminder that in spite all of the fake news, Christ is risen. And that there’s hope that love has already one.
This is the world we live in. A complex, beautiful, dangerous, welcoming, and sometimes confusing place. It’s the world Jesus loved when he entrusted the disciples to God on that night so long ago.
And it’s the world we pray our way through today. Not just so we know how to make the hard decisions about what to do and how to treat others so that we can navigate a clear path, but because it’s the world God loves and sent Jesus to save.
When we pray as Jesus did on that night, when we humble ourselves and entrust to God our lives and whatever situation we might be in, it shapes the way we interact with the world and all that it is. We become vulnerable and open ourselves to meeting people where they are, and to recognize them as God’s beloved and learn who they truly are. No matter what anyone else tells us we should believe or think or do.
In this process, we learn what it means to trust God and God’s love, and we learn how to love the world even when things are difficult. We take in that love, that source of strength, and it gives us the courage to keep moving forward. And we’re able to do it because Jesus loved. Thanks be to God! Amen.