7th Sunday of Easter
May 13, 2018
“The Heat Is On”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that serves as the basis of the sermon today is the Gospel lesson that was previously read from John chapter 17.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
HEY! Where did everyone go? What happened? Oh yeah, now I remember. This is that awkward time of year when everyone leaves Sarasota because it gets too hot in the summer. The average temperature in Ohio this month is only around 73 degrees; next month that jumps up to 83. By comparison, our average temperature this month will be around 86 but will quickly jump to 90 next month and will stay there for the next 4 months. And that’s why everyone leaves…because it gets too hot for them. It’s an awkward time, no? The stores and streets and restaurants are less crowded, which we like, but so many of our friends are gone for the next 4-5 months and that part we don’t like. Awkward time, is it not?
Today is also a awkward time in the church year. This Saturday/Sunday falls between the celebration of the Ascension of our Lord (which was Thursday) and the festival of Pentecost. This is kind of an awkward week in the church year. Given today’s temperature, some would say that it is already summer, but that’s not what the calendar says…the calendar says it’s still spring. In the church year we can say that it is still sort of Easter and not quite Pentecost. It’s all so confusing!
Today’s Gospel lesson from John 17 helps bring some clarity to at least the church year, but doesn’t help with the temperature outside…you’re on your own out there. John 17 is a portion of Holy Scripture commonly known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It is the prayer that He offered up to God the Father before the events of His passion began to unfold. Jesus knew what was about to happen. He had accomplished His earthly ministry, He knew that His suffering and death were almost at hand, and He knew that following that He would ascend back to the glory of Heaven. Jesus knew that after He ascended, we would be left in the awkward in-between time following Jesus’ ascension and His return. Jesus knew we would still be on earth, and He knew that the heat was going to be turned on and turned up repeatedly until His return. This prayer was offered up for many things, and among Jesus’ requests was that the disciples and us be prepared to live in this world during the awkward, in-between time when the heat would keep getting higher and higher.
And the heat is on. There is no denying that this world has been and is still hostile towards Jesus Christ. The world hated Jesus’ disciples and almost all of them died a martyr’s death. Peter was crucified on an upside-down cross. James was put to death by the sword. James the younger (son of Alphaeus) was thrown off the Temple tower. Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross. Thomas was killed by a lance in India. As those first apostles went forth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus the heat was definitely on, and in many cases, they died as a result.
So much has changed over the last 2000 years, or has it? The chances are slim that you will find yourself on an x-shaped cross, at least not in the U.S., but world still has intense dislike for Christians and Christianity. The heat is on for the Christian Church. According to the International Society for Human Rights, in 2009 Christians were the victims of 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world. Closer to home, church attendance and membership numbers are shrinking. Over the last 20 years, LCMS membership is down 14%, a trend across Christendom. The Christian church has lost its voice in the public square having been shouted down by those who oppose the church. The number of children being baptized, attending Sunday School and getting confirmed is shockingly low. And in so many places, the church has abandoned its message of sin and grace and the cross in favour of entertaining people with praise bands and smoke machines. Churches stopped standing for something and so now its members fall for everything; they have no theological backbone. One of the questions of the confirmation rite is to ask the Confirmand if they “intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” They say I do, by the grace of God…but where are they? They didn’t ALL go to Ohio. See what I mean about the heat is on for the Christian Church and its future?
It is easy to feel that way with declining membership and empty spots in the pews. It’s too easy to feel alone and unprotected. It is too easy to feel isolated and abandoned and helpless and hopeless. It is too easy to lose heart and give up when the heat is turned up in your life when you deal with the pain, addictions, anger, loss, and so on. The modern Christian church isn’t too helpful; contemporary pastors know more about guitar solos than dealing with grief. Being a Christian is hard in any time during any age, but today with the heat turned up even more, we truly walk in danger all the way.
The reality is that we are not alone. Jesus, our High Priest, has been praying and continues to pray for us. He also told us that not even the gates of Hell would prevail against His church! From John 17 we heard Jesus pray for His disciples and, therefore, He prays for us as modern-day disciples. Jesus prayed that His disciples would be protected from the world – please note that we’re not to be taken out of it – and protected from the evil one. The danger that we face is not so much protection from suffering. Suffering is a natural by-product of living in a world stained by sin. The protection that Jesus is praying for is that we would not lose our faith. When the heat gets turned up in our lives and things get difficult, Jesus’ prayer is not that we be automatically taken away and spared from any suffering. Jesus knows that suffering WILL come. But the prayer is that when the heat does get turned up, that we would not lose faith in Him and all that he did for us. He came to earth for us. He lived here amidst the pain and persecution and strife for us. He died on a cross for us. He rose again from the grave for us. Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified – the people of God made holy by God and set apart for God’s service by the truth of God’s Word.
God the Father has heard Jesus’ prayer. How do we know? Because we have seen the results! We have been given that joy that Jesus prayed we would receive (v. 13). We have the joy of sins forgiven! We have the joy of fellowship with each other! We have the joy of eternal life! Amidst the heat and danger of this world, we have been and are protected by the power of God’s name. Jesus prays for His church – and He prays for you – that we may live and have our sanctified being even in the midst of a hostile world. And there is nothing – NOTHING – no amount of heat, no enemy, can stop our faith or our church for we know the truth, and the truth has set us free.
Happy Mother’s Day everyone. Amen.