7th Sunday of Easter
May 8, 2016
John 17:11, 14-15, 20-26
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages today is the Gospel lesson taken from John 17.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
I had already screwed up in the “round about,” which by now I have mastered, but in 2009, not so much. Now I approached the northern part of Kansas City, Missouri. I was taking some friends back to the airport so they could fly out to Washington state. We were all tired and hadn’t eaten a solid meal all day. I said a prayer to myself asking that God would protect me as I drove into a busy, unfamiliar area into an airport where I had never been. Everything was going pretty good. So far God’s protective hand had been hovering over us pretty well despite my bonehead move in the round about. Traffic began to pick up as I entered the on-ramp for I-435 heading west into Kansas City. A stopped pick-up truck blocked my way on the on-ramp which, of course, seemed odd. I took another quick look and realized to my horror that a black jeep was lying on its side in the ditch with the front end facing us. An older woman with a cane came hobbling towards us as I brought the Trailblazer to a quick halt. She yelled in her thick Mizz-our-a accent, “that ghirl just flipped her cawr and I can’t git down there. Can you go down inta there ta make shure she’s awl right!” Joanne and I headed into the concrete ditch and that’s when I saw the child’s car seat. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind as we scrambled into the crash scene having no idea what we would find.
Today, the 7th Sunday of Easter, is a peculiar time. We are between the celebration of the Ascension of our Lord and the festival of Pentecost which is next week. Today’s Gospel lesson, which is far from peculiar, is from John 17 is a portion of 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 He would then ascend back to the glory of Heaven. Jesus knew that after He ascended, we would be left in a peculiar time, the awkward in-between time following Jesus’ ascension and His return one day. Jesus knew we would still be on earth, and He knew that we were going to need protection until His return. He prayed, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one…I have given them your word…My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Jesus did not pray that we would be taken out of the world or kept inside some divine little bubble. He prayed that we would be protected from the evil one.
But if that’s the case, then why do people get hurt and die in car crashes? Why do Christians lose their jobs and their homes? Why do believers in Christ suffer from cancer and sickness and Alzheimers and ALS? Isn’t God protecting us? Doesn’t God care? Isn’t God paying attention? How could God allow an infant or anyone for that matter to crash along a busy interstate? What’s going on around here anyway? Did Jesus’ prayer not take? If so, if Jesus’ prayers weren’t heard, then how are my little prayers going to be heard?
Take heart, my friends. First of all, God did hear and answer Jesus’ prayer. But let’s consider for a moment why these things happen in this world. God did not create a world for us to suffer in. He created a world in which we could live with Him and be in fellowship with Him. But then sin entered this world, we were forced to leave His presence, and it’s been a downhill slide ever since. Bad things happen not just to good people or bad people…bad things happen to ALL PEOPLE because all people are subject to sin, and that includes Christians. I don’t care how “good” of a life you’ve lead; all people are sinful and are in need of a savior. No one is exempt from bad things…no one.
And Jesus Christ knew that. He knew that we would need protection because we would be left living in this world until He returns. And so He prayed that we would be kept safe in knowing the Word of God, a Word that tells us things like “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 4:9). Things like “if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 2:20b). Things like, “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19).
Look, I cannot promise you prosperity and protection as a Christian day in and day out and I’d be lying if I said I could. You will suffer the temporal or earthly effects of sin. No doubt about it. But my dear friends, our God is a God who ETERNALLY protects us and the truth is we have more protection than we ever need through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Him we have the forgiveness of our sins. In Him we have life everlasting. In Him we have the promise that though this mortal life may end, we have a promise that more is yet to come when all believers join with the heavenly throng to celebrate the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven which knows no end. Jesus Christ has lived and died to conquer all those things that assail us in life. When the evil one approaches our lives and makes things miserable, we can repeat to ourselves as Martin Luther did, “I am baptized. I am baptized.” And because we are baptized into the death of Christ, we are also baptized into the life of Christ which knows no end.
Jesus prayed that we would be protected. God answered that prayer. He answered it at the cross and at the empty tomb so that you would be protected every single day no matter what may come your way. And you know what? Some of us are going to get sick. Some of us are going to suffer. All of us are going to die. But thanks be to God that we have the protection that we REALLY need – the forgiveness of sins through faith in our crucified and risen Lord Jesus.
Joanne reached the vehicle first. By this time Stephanie* (*name changed) had crawled from the wreckage. I checked with her and saw she was clearly in shock. Joanne then came towards me holding the baby and placed little Joseph* into my arms. Not a scratch. He wasn’t even crying. With sirens wailing in the background, I prayed with that tiny little family in a muddy concrete ditch outside of Kansas City surrounded by broken plastic and smashed car parts. I thanked God for the protection that He provides in this life in preparation for the life of the world to come…and I still do that. Every single day. And I pray that you do too.