Easter 7B – May 13, 2018

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” John 17:20
Six years ago, next Saturday, May 19th, Pastor Skyle Rea was ordained at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Folcroft, Delaware County. She asked me to serve as the preacher, a request I was honored to fulfilled with one caveat, that, if possible, John 17: 6-19 would be the gospel, because I was preaching on that text the next day here at St. John’s. I’d hope to get two sermons for the effort of one. She graciously accommodated me. So, instead of laborers being sent into the harvest or making disciples of all nations or feeding the sheep, texts full of action verbs that set the course for a life-time of pastoral adventures, the Gospel heard that day was centered in prayer and specifically the prayer Jesus prayed just before he was betrayed. Set before us were some of the most intimate words of scripture that drew us into the heart of Jesus and the heart of God. And they do so again today.
Jesus begins the prayer by immersing himself into his relationship with his Father. We can almost see him taking a deep breathe, slowing down, focusing upon God. He says his time has come for the cross is near. Now, the promise of eternal life will be made real in our knowing of God through him. Ah, think on that. Isn’t that what we all long for – what everyone who walks through the door of a church whether for the first time or the thousandths longs for – eternal life? Then Jesus tells us that eternal life is knowing and being known by God. Most of the time when we think about eternal life, it is what happens when life ends. Frederick Buechner suggests “that we would do better to think of it as what happens when life begins…It is to be with God as Christ is with God and with each other as Christ is with us.” After last summer’s mission trip in Philadelphia, Pastor Skye told me about the end of a long, hot day, when our young people and their adult guides gathered to share their experiences. That day they discovered a Philadelphia they never knew and the mission trip turned from being something their parents made them do into something they wanted to do more than anything else. For them eternal life was beginning. Pastor Skyle put it this way, “They got some Jesus.” They were with God as Christ is with God and with one another and those they worked with as Christ is with us.
Then, Jesus focuses upon his followers, the ones God gave to him. At first, Jesus speaks about his immediate followers, specifically his disciples. But then in verse 20, which included in our Gospel reading today, he adds us, the ones who believe in him because of the disciples’ words and witness being past down through the generations. We know how that happens for we are a six-generation congregation where infants in arms worships along side of saints in their 90’s. Faith is passed from one generation to the next. Today when we hear Jesus praying for us, it’s because God gave us to him. Ponder that. We, you and I, are God’s gift to his Son and gifts from the Son to God. All are mine are yours, Jesus says, and yours are mine. In this holy exchange there is glory. The glory of Jesus in his cross and the hope of the resurrection are given to us. We belong to him. I saw this a few months ago in a whole pile of get well cards and drawings that Pastor Skyle asked our Sunday School children to make for Mark Yanchek when he was in ICU at Jefferson. Taped up on the walls of his room were prayers for healing, notes of love and reminders of the Eagles’ Super Bowl win to spur him on. When Mark finally opened his eyes and saw all the messages, he knew he was loved by God and his church. The cards and pictures, embodied the love of Jesus, the love of the children for their teacher, and the love for God. It was glorious to behold.
But then Jesus gets worried because he will not be physical with us and so he Jesus’ won’t be able to protect us in the world. He knows this world can be a dangerous place. He’s like a parent sending a child off to school. Whether it’s kindergarten or college it hardly matters for you won’t be with them. I did neither well with our oldest. His kindergarten teacher needed to tell me, “Mrs. Stong you need to leave now. We’ll be OK and so will you.” When it came to college, we were both so full of anxiety that we had a big fight over directions. It was only when carrying a box of books up three flights to his room and noticing his Bible on top that I calmed down. I thought even if he never opens it, God’s Word is still with him. In his prayer Jesus tells God, “I protected them but now I am coming to you and leaving them behind.” You can hear his concern and anxiety. He lays it all out on the table and reminds God that they are God’s responsibility now. He even commands God to protect them and to keep them safe from the evil one.
On that eve of our Jesus’ crucifixion the danger of being in the world is obvious. He about to be nailed to the cross for preaching good news to the poor, healing the sick and raising the dead. Sixty or so years later when John wrote his Gospel, Christian often faced persecution and even death. That remains true today, especially for our brothers and sisters in North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and many other places around the world. For us the threat is far more subtle. We can get so busy we hardly have time to breathe. Will our children be on the soccer field or in Sunday School, a guard on a traveling basketball team or serving as an acolyte? Once one of our young men had to leave his Confirmation early to be at a baseball game because if he wasn’t on time, the coach would bench him. Faith becomes nothing more than a commodity in the vast marketplace of consumerism. What is so dangerous about this is that it creates a sense of scarcity instead of abundance, feeds fear instead of courage and promotes selfishness instead of sacrificial love. And if we are honest, we need to be protected from ourselves and our egos. It is way too easy to become convinced that the church exists for us and our happiness instead of sharing God’s love with the whole world through word and deed. No wonder Jesus prays, “Protect them that they may be one heart and mind as we are one heart and mind.”
Think about that – being one heart and mind as the Father and the Son are of one heart and mind. That’s what Jesus wants for us. In our very divisive society being of one heart and mind seems almost impossible. And yet in Christ it becomes possible for we know that each and everyone one of us is a forgiven sinner and out of that amazing grace we can dare to listen to and to learn from one another. In other words, how we do church is as important as what we do for there is no separation between the means and the ends for it is all about love and in that love joy is born. A couple of months ago our Social Ministry leaders were wrestling with some challenges around one of our projects. The ministry was proving more difficult than they imagined. In the midst of the discussion Pastor Skyle asked a question, “Is this giving you joy?” Note she didn’t ask, “Is this hard or easy?” She asked about joy, because that’s what Jesus promises — joy. What we wind up discovering again and again is that often times the most challenging of ministries are the most joyful of ones.
Next Jesus asks God to sanctify us – it is the same word as “hallowed” as in “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” We are sanctified, made holy, and given a mission – which is a way and a place to share God’s love. For over three years, Pastor Skyle’s mission was to be here at St. John’s serving as our Youth and Family Pastor. We have been blessed and will continue to be blessed by the fruit of her ministry among us. And now we pray for her in her next mission as the Senior Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fairview Village that it will filled with love and joy.
Every one of us is given a mission in the world. We are to share God’s love through our words and deeds each in our own unique ways. This is why Jesus ends his prayer to God with “I made your name known to them, who you are and what you do, so that your love for me might be in them and I in them.” God’s love in us. Amen.
Pastor Cynthia Krommes

St John’s Lutheran Church Phoenixville