Big Words: Be
Big Words: Be
Isaiah 6:1-8 and John 3:1-17
Second in a series of six
May 26 and 27, 2018
“Woe is me! For I almost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are exploring a sermon series in these days called “Big Words.” So very often in the English language the words that have the greatest depth of meaning are the simplest. Words like go, be, with, but, and for. In this sermon series, we examine five little words, we ask what they mean and how they help us to express the depth of our theology.
Last Sunday was the Festival of Pentecost, an event which happened in Jerusalem 50 days after the resurrection of our Lord and at which time God poured out His Spirit in superabundant fashion and commissioned his church to go and make disciples by baptizing and by teaching all things he had commanded. Pastor submitted to us that the Triune God has commissioned us to go first of all to those near and dear to us, and secondly to places and people yet unknown to us. That we are called to be Christians in every moment to folks inside of our comfort zone and to those outside.
Today we focus on the little word BE. Our “As We Gather” paragraph in our bulletin today says it this way. Before we do, we be. Before we go, we are. Before we were, God is. Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery of the God who is, because who God is has made you and me. Who God is has redeemed you and me. Who God is sanctifies you and me.”
Before we do, we be. In other words, before we can carry out the Great Commission near and far, we need to know who God is and who we are. Specifically, we need to know who we are in relationship to God.
Who are we? In recent months, about 1-3 times a week, the internet has asked me to verify that I am not a robot, to check a box that verifies that I am in fact human. That question strikes me as odd one, but it’s an easy one to answer, and so I do. A question more difficult to answer is what does it mean to be human?
The Lutheran answer to that question has been that we are simultaneously sinners and saints. John 3 language would answer that we are at the same time born of the flesh and born again of the Spirit. Isaiah 6 language would answer that apart from Christ we stand in God’s presence as lost and ruined mortals with unclean lips. In Christ we stand with our guilt taken away, our sin atoned for, and ready to serve.
Who are we? Two answers to that question today – the first answer is in relationship to the holiness of God, and the second with regard to His desire to have mercy on our souls. The first answer is that by nature we be lost, we be guilty, and we be, good for nothing. The second is just the opposite. By the grace of God we be found, we be forgiven, and we be ready to serve
Who are we and what does it mean to be human? The first answer is that by nature we be lost, we be guilty, and we be, good for nothing. Perhaps you remember a commercial back in the 70’s for Mennen Skin Bracer. It featured a guy finishing his morning shave in front of a mirror by splashing on some aftershave lotion, then he vigorously slaps himself on both sides of his face and says to himself, “Thanks! I needed that!” The commercial’s message was that everybody needs a good waker-upper to be ready for the day.
In a much more profound set of circumstances, God was calling the prophet Isaiah to slap the nation of Judah alongside of the head and wake them up. They needed to wake up to the dangers of national pride. They needed to wake up to their lack of attention to social justice. They needed to wake up to the reality that they were relying more and more on foreign and political alliances and less and less on the promises of God.
According to one tradition, Isaiah was a cousin to King Uzziah, which would explain his ready access to the royal court. The end of Uzziah’s reign marked the beginning of the end for Judah, whose neighbors Assyria and Babylon were becoming the military superpowers that would threaten and destroy Judah.
Perhaps you remember the scene where the Lone Ranger & Tonto are riding down into a box canyon. At the far end, the Lone Ranger notices an army of Comanche Indians, in full war-paint, frowning down from the cliff walls at him. Turning to his left he notices a great number of very mad looking Arapaho Indians staring down.
On his right he observes a host of Cherokee Indians peering at him over the rim of the canyon. Looking behind, he sees every Apache brave in the world slowly creeping into the canyon, blocking the exit. You may remember that the Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, "We're in a heap of trouble, Tonto!"Tonto's nervous reply, "Uhh...who do you mean we, pale-face?"
The Kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where all kinds of folks wake up every morning, they look themselves in the mirror, and they don’t like what they see. They have learned over the years that God is holy and they are not. They have learned that if they try to live even one day without confessing their sins and asking for guidance, they are in a heal of trouble. They have learned that if they try to solve their problems without the Holy Spirit guiding them, if they schedule themselves too busy to pray, if they let their Bibles collect dust, and if they try to go even one week keeping Jesus Christ at a distance, they are in a heap of trouble. Individually and collectively, they ask what does it mean to be human, and they realize again and again by nature they be lost, they be guilty, they be good for nothing.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having n his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for...And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Who are we and what does it mean to be human? By the grace of God we be found, we be forgiven, and we be ready to serve.
The grace of God changes everything. According to our sinful nature, we were lost and condemned creatures. In the waters of Baptism, the Triune God claims us as His very own, the forgiveness of sins is delivered into our very souls, our hearts are made new.
The grace of God changes everything. It is our very nature to wander away from the truths we have learned from our mother’s knees, it’s our very nature to try to blaze our own trails, to find our own solutions to life’s most complicated situations, and it’s our very nature to take little molehills and make them into mountains, but in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, our Father in heaven refuses to give up on us, our Good Shepherd time after time comes looking for us, the Spirit of God guides us back into the very truths that set us free.
By the grace of God we be found, we be forgiven, we be ready to serve. At closing chapel this past Friday, I told the story I’ve told before- of Uncle Alvin (Grew up in a Christian home, attended German Lutheran Parochial School, fought bravely in World War II, was wounded, receive awards that he really didn’t brag about as far as I know, he was a hero in the war, but not so much in the 45 – 50 years that followed. His drinking caused all kinds of troubles, for decades he turned his back on church, his family members including my mom lost sleep many a nights worrying about and praying for his soul, and it seemed as though his life was headed for an unhappy ending.
But His Father in heaven never gave up on Uncle Alvin, His Good Shepherd kept following him around with goodness and mercy, and at the end of it all, it seems as though the Proverb came true, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
In the days and weeks preceding his death, he accepted a visit from a Lutheran Pastor and Professor Dr. Rudnick. Dr. Rudnick read Scripture, he prayed, he listened, and finally, in preparation for Holy Communion, Pastor Rudnick asked if Alvin was sorry for his sins, he asked if he believed in Jesus as Savior, he asked if Alvin wanted to amend his sinful life. To which the answer was yes. At which time the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven rejoiced. As the very bread and wine touched his lips, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ was delivered into his soul, his guilt was taken away, and one more time the gates of hell had failed to prevail.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who look themselves in the mirror every night, and they like what they see. They know that even though they have fallen short of God’s glory that day, their Father in heaven still refused to give up on them, their Savior is with them, He loves them, and His angels will be guarding over them all through the starry night. They say their prayers, they make the sign of the cross, and they sleep in peace, believing that their God’s mercies will be brand new in the morning. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
8th Grade Graduation, 2018
8th Grade Graduation, 2018
The victory of faith.
1 John 5:1-5
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” 1 John 5:4
What kind of victory do you want? I remember it was in 5thgrade, I was never a good athlete. I still am not a good athlete, but it was in grade school that my parents made each of us to try at least one sport. And so in 5thgrade, I played basketball. I never really played in a game. I never scored a point, and my dreams of victory were pretty small.
I wasn’t thinking about winning tournaments or bringing home trophies. I didn’t think about outscoring our rivals – that was St. Paul’s Grafton Panthers. I didn’t think about buzzer beaters or three-point bombs. My dream was to steal the ball and do a layup, just once. Just once, to steal the ball and do a layup.
That was a pretty small victory.
What kind of victory do you want? Search your heart. Another way to say it, what is success for you?
Or, finish this sentence: I would be happy if I only had X. In high school for me, it was, if I only had a group of really good friends, I would be happy. In seminary school, it was, if I only had a wife, someone to love.
Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. The word overcome is the same word as victory, it’s the word NIKE. John is saying, at the end of this letter, he’s saying that we have won the victory over the world.
Act like you’ve been there. The first time my high school’s soccer team won a game. Ethan and the first shot the 5thgrade team made. Another way to say it: Make sure you answer the big questions before you answer the little ones.
The story of a man, one Christmas Eve, he was having a day that was pretty much hell on earth. His wife was in early and painful labor in Mankato. His dad was approaching his last hours in Owatonna, and he had a gash in his hand the size of a sheet of paper. His world was falling apart, so what can he do?
Well, for the Christian, am I baptized? Yes. Does the life of Christian end in death? No, because Christ has won the victory that matters. He has wrestled death to the ground for me and won. And he took a deep breath, and went to help his nearest neighbor.
There was a girl a few years older than me in high school, a beautiful gal who loved Jesus. Her name is Alyssa. She went to the big high school just down the street from where I lived. She said that high school was tough for her. Really tough. She cried every day when she parked her car. I don’t know what made it so tough, but this I do know: she spent the first moments of her day praying and reading her Bible. She survived the tough days and did well in the good days, because her victory was in Jesus Christ.
I’m not saying that your years will be that bad. Mine certainly weren’t that bad. But what I am saying is that she looks back on those days now knowing what she knew then, that Jesus has won the victory, and knowing what she didn’t know then: that tough times, they pass.
Victory. We are victorious because Christ is victorious. One more point to make: the victory that makes us victorious comes through our faith.
What does that mean: Through faith? It means what Jesus says in Luke 17: “Truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can tell this mountain: Be uprooted and thrown into the heart of the sea, and it will obey.” It isn’t the size of the faith that matters, that does such great things; it’s the object of that faith.
Or as John wrote earlier in his letter, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
What is our victory? It is a victory that Jesus won over death for us. What gives us that victory? Our faith. Why does it matter? We answer the biggest questions of life, so that everything else can be what it is.
Amen and amen.
Funeral Sermon for Norma Mittelsteadt
“To Whom Shall We Go?”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Some time ago, a school teacher friend of mine had the brakes on his car go out in my next door neighbor’s drive way. A day later, on one of the hottest days of the summer, I drove into my driveway only to see him underneath his car, sweating up a storm, working on his car with the help of his dad. I rolled down my window and hollered out, “Hey, there’s people that can do that for you, you know!” We talked smart for a bit and I went off to relax in the shade on my patio while he finished the job. Or so I thought. A few days later, when I asked Eiden how it all worked out, he admitted that in the process of fixing one of the brakes, one of the other brakes was damaged and in reality, he caused more damage than he fixed! When it comes to car repair, there are two kinds of people – the do-it-yourself kind of a person and the take it to the repairman kind of a person.
So also when it comes time for soul repair, it seems as though there are two kinds of folks – those who go running with their questions to the lover of their souls, Jesus Christ, and those who try to slug their own way through their own days of trouble. Our text for today is a portion of the Gospel lesson appointed for yesterday, the 12th Sunday of the Pentecost season. Jesus was teaching the people how vitally important it was to believe in Him and follow Him. Again and again, He declared Himself to be the living bread that came down from heaven. Again and again, He pleaded with people to know that if they eat of this bread, they would live forever. Again and again, He taught them that blessed would be the folks who would hear His Word and blessed would be the folks who would hold on for dear life to His promises and blessed would be the folks who would keep on running to God for refuge and for strength.
But on the other hand, cursed would be the folks who would try to answer their own questions and handle their own troubles. Weak and burdened would be the folks who would try to carry their own loads and solve their own conflicts. Confused and injured would be the folks who would try to fix their own messed up lives and blaze their own trails.
In John 6, Jesus had proclaimed these realities of sin and grace so clearly that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. Perhaps it was with tears of sadness in His eyes that Jesus asked the Twelve Disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” And then the outspoken Peter, the one who often got it wrong, actually got it right. He answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Norma got it right every time she ate the living bread that came down from heaven, every time she sat still and knew that God was God. She got it right every time she made her way slowly and surely into the house of God and used her ears to hear. She got it right every time she admitted that she was a sinner and threw herself on the mercy of Almighty God. She got it right every time one of her pastors asked her if she would like Holy Communion and with that famous smile of hers she said yes. Of course she wanted to receive the very body and blood of her Savior. Of course she knew that she couldn’t make it through the trials of life on her own strength and with her own ingenuity. Of course she couldn’t fix her own troubled heart and struggling soul. Where else would she go?
We all know where to go if we have medical concerns – to the doctor. If our problems are financial, we go to an accountant. If we have serious legal difficulties, we are wise to consult a lawyer. But what about days like this, when we spend a few hours following caskets into and out of the church and over to the cemetery? Where shall we go after the dust has settled and the casket is buried? Where should children and grandchildren go after laying to rest a mom and a grandma you’re not sure you can live without? If we really want to get it right in the quietness of tonight, where shall we go? Specifically, where shall we go with our questions?
In Jesus’ day, people could walk up to Jesus and ask Him the questions that they had. They would ask and He would answer. Not always, in fact rarely it seems, would Jesus give a straight answer. Frequently He answered questions with another question. Often He answered with a story or a parable that seemed unrelated. On more than a few occasions, Jesus answered the questions people should have been asking instead of the ones they actually did. In our text for today, after Peter asks and then answers his own rhetorical question, Jesus responds, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is the devil (referring to Judas Iscariot).
This morning, there are a few questions that really matter and all kinds of questions that matter not very much at all. Rather than asking if Norma believed enough, we ask, was she baptized? Yes, she was. Rather than asking if she did enough good, we ask was and is God faithful to His promises? Yes. Rather than asking why she could have lived a longer life, we ask if her Good Shepherd followed her around in all the chapters of life with goodness and mercy? Yes He did. When she cried out in her days of trouble, did God answer in a way that was perfectly thought through and for her benefit? Yes. When her believing heart pumped for the last time, and as she breathed her final air, did the angels of God take her soul into the very presence of Jesus? Absolutely. On the last day, will this cold and lifeless body be resurrected and reunited with her soul and will she see Jesus face to face and is it true that in heaven there is no more heart failure and are there no more falls and no more fractures and no more worrying about grandchildren and no more sadness? Yes, yes, and yes, this is all as certain and valid as the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The final questions are for all of you, dear friends and family of Norma? Where are you going these days for your refuge and for your strength in time of trouble? Where are you going with the wrong that you have done and the good you have failed to do? Where are you going with your fears and your doubts, your worries and your failures?
I invite you to know one more time today the great desire of your Father in heaven, which is to hold you close and never let you slip away. Know the desire of your Savior Jesus which is to forgive your sins and never bring them up again. Know the desire of the Holy Spirit which is to work in your hearts a strong and a growing and a fruitful faith through the ups and down and the zigs and the zags of life.
Recently I read that medical researchers have found that one of three adults cannot name any of their great grandparents. My first thought was to see if I could name mine, and I did find that I am able to name seven out of eight. My next thought was to be dismayed that a third of my great grandchildren wouldn’t even be able to name their short and fat great grandpa preacher man. But once I get past being full of myself, I was reminded that my name isn’t at all the name that matters. What matters is that the next generations know the name of Jesus. In fact there is salvation in no other name than His Name.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Norma could have one wish come true, it would be that God would send his holy angels to guard and to be with all of her descendents and that the wicked foe would never have any power over them. What else would wish for than for all of her descendents to calling on the Name of Jesus in every day of trouble, to be taking all of their burdens and brokenness to their Savior in every day of frustration, to be crying out for mercy in every day of falling short, to be standing in God’s grace in every chapter of life, to be sitting in the assembly of the redeemed in a regular kind of a way, and to be walking humbly before God in all of their days.
Dear friends, wherever you are at in your own spiritual journey, it’s a beautiful sight to see all of you gathered around this casket, missing that beautiful smile, and listening to God’s precious Word. Please know that from this day forward, every time you are still and know that God is God, every time to pay attention to His Word, every time you eat the bread and drink the wine at His Supper, every time you receive the very body and blood of your Savior into your souls, you are getting it right.
If you want to fix your own cars or tear apart your own lawn mowers or sheetrock your own basements, go ahead and knock yourselves out. But for heaven’s sake, when it comes to getting your hearts mended and your minds corrected and your souls repaired, do come running to the One Who has already gone on before you, all the way to the cross. Do come running to the One who already got it right on your behalf. Do come running to me, with all of your faults, your failures, and your fears. Come running with your burdens, your brokenness, and your bruises. Come running with all that needs to be fixed, and as often as you do so, know that the words of eternal life will sweep over your soul as a cup of water quenches the thirsty, as a piece of bread satisfies the hungry, and as a word of forgiveness heals the broken. God grant that the children and the grandchildren and the great grandchildren and the generations to come would always know how beautiful are the words of eternal life, that you would spend your days holding onto those words and cherishing those words and being changed by those words and sharing with other those words, and may Norma Jean Mittelsteadt rest in eternal peace.
Big Words: Go
Big Words: Go
Acts 2:1-21 // John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
First in a series of six
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Acts 2, to which I add from Acts chapter 1: “He ordered them not to depart Jerusalem but to wait… and later, “you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are exploring a new sermon series in these days, called Big Words. The words that have the greatest depth of meaning in English are always the simplest. In this sermon series, we examine those little words, and we ask, what do these little words mean and how do they help us to express the depth of our theology? Be, with, but, and for. These little words harbor incredible theological truths, and today we ask the question, on Pentecost Sunday, on the Sunday when the disciples were given the Holy Spirit, were sent, were told to go, what does that word “go” mean? What does it mean to go?
It’s a command. Go. Get away. Go. Get moving!
It’s a way to encourage. Go. Go for it!
It’s a way to end conversations. Go. As Pastor Griffin has got me saying at the end of conversations, “Well, there you go.”
It’s a way to describe life. Go. He’s going on his own path. He’s gone to his Lord. He’s heading toward greatness.
So, as we look at our text today, where did Jesus tell his disciples to go?
To answer that, we have to back up to the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts.
The days after Jesus’ death, the disciples were huddled together, with the door locked. Jesus appears among them in the locked room and says, Peace be with you. Then, he appears among them again, with Thomas, the doors still locked and says again, Peace be with you. Then he appears to the disciples going to Emmaus, then he appears to 500 or more witnesses of the resurrection, and then, forty days after his resurrection, he ascends into heaven.
In Acts 1, what does he direct them to do? They’re on a mountain outside of Jerusalem, hearing the last instructions of their Savior before he ascends into the heavens.
He tells them to go. Go back to Jerusalem. He tells them to go, go wait for the Spirit to come. You wonder how different their room would have looked after that. You wonder what different kind of air they would have felt, not one of fear or one of failure, or one of defeat, but instead one of triumph, of anticipation, of excitement and impatience to receive what their Savior was handing out to them
Our text begins with the disciples not knowing what to expect, but knowing that they will see it when they see it. They wait, not knowing what will come or when it will come, or what it will be – have you ever imagined the perspective of the disciples? – but when it comes it is all that God had ordained it to be. They are where they have been for the last 2 months, but the calling of their God to go and wait – to receive the Holy Spirit – changes everything they thought they knew about their surroundings.
There’s another answer to the question, where were they told to go?
As Jesus ascended, there was another side to his command to his disciples. First, he said, “Go and wait in Jerusalem.” Second, he said, “Go and be my witnesses to every nation.”
This is the definition of “go” that we’re more comfortable with, at least on some levels. He invites them to follow him and go out to all the corners of the earth, and he starts in Jerusalem.
God is bidding them to go, and at the same time he is drawing all the nations to them. He is preparing them by his Holy Spirit and he is preparing hearts to hear his message. He is calling the equipped and he is equipping the called.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be Peter, on that first Pentecost? His entire life so far has been forming him, with success and failure, coming from the most painful of betrayals, his entire life has been forming him for this sermon. But it isn’t the end. There is far more for him to do. There is a far greater calling, and throughout the book of Acts, you see Peter in the end, in a different place than he was in the beginning, both physically and spiritually.
So, what does this mean for us?
The calling of God, the way God calls us to go, I would submit to you, is twofold. Sometimes, to go might mean to stay. Let me tell you what I mean. TO go – that is to be sent on a mission – means that your mission is to those who are around you right now, even as God has a plan that moves you forward in the end.
Let’s take an example. If a woman was working in a strip club, or in the mafia, or perhaps (the most black-and-white of situations) in Nazi Germany, and became a believer or started taking their faith seriously, what would the calling of God be in her life?
Calling number one would be to be Christian to all those who are around you, to be a Christian to them because where you are is where God has called you to be in this moment. Let me say that again. Wherever you are, there is a calling that you have from God for that very place and time. How do I know? Because you are there. The first calling of a Christian is to be Christian to all those who are around you.
To be kind. To be loving – and remember be loving is to sacrifice for what another needs, not what they want, nor what they deserve. To have self-control and patience. To have joy and goodness, because the calling of God is to those who are around you.
Second, the calling of a Christian is to know that where you are isn’t where you will be. Look at Peter -- where he was in the Gospels was not where he was on Pentecost and that certainly was not where he ended up at the end of his life. That is to say, your God as the true vine is wanting you to grow fruit. Your God as the good Shepherd is wanting to lead you toward waters that are more still, to pastures that are even greener. That, as Pastor Griffin said a few weeks ago, your God is not satisfied with your status quo.
Because the journey of the Christian life orients us toward something entirely other. Most times we think of life beginning at birth and ending at death, but for the Christian, we are called to know we are on a different path. For the Christian, we orient ourselves not to the day of our birth but to the day when we are born anew in the waters of baptism. We see our end no so much as our last breath on our last day, but instead we see our end as the day when Christ comes to give eternal life me and all believers in Christ, serving him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Amen and amen.
John 17:11b-19 // 1 John 5:9-15 // Acts 1:12-26
Seventh in a series of seven, Jesus Building His Kingdom
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is John 17, Jesus’s prayer for his disciples: Holy Father (and I summarize) keep them in your name; keep them from the evil one. Give them joy. Make them holy.
Dear friends in Christ,
In our Easter sermon series we are focused on Jesus building His Kingdom near and far. We have said it again and again in recent months that Jesus is on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners, and He has invited every local congregation big and small to join Him on that mission. Our Easter Sunday sermon focused on Jesus risen and living for us, the week after that Jesus preparing us to be kingdom builders, then Jesus persuading Thomas and us, then our Good Shepherd shepherding us, Jesus abiding in us. Last week, we explored what it means for Jesus to be choosing us. Today, Jesus prayingfor us.
If your mom wanted one thing for you, what would it be? Or rather, I’m going to say it a different way, if you had to articulate your wishes, what would they be?
In these days, Benjamin is learning to put on his pants and pull on his socks, which first causes me to remember again how many learned activities you forget that you learned and how difficult it can be to explain a seemingly simple task. But in these days the temptation is to do it all for him. It’s faster. It’s more efficient. There are certainly less tears.
Although, it might do for the short term, it doesn’t help him in the long-term. What he truly needs is for me teach him and to expect him to do better than he can do right now. And so, although it is more expedient for me to do whatever will make my child quiet and happy, my prayer for Benjamin these days has been that he would grow up big and strong and kind and wise, even though it is not easy. Or as Hebrews says, “No discipline is pleasant at the time.”
And so, if your mom wanted one thing for you, what would it be?
In our text for today, we see Jesus in his final prayer before the storm begins.
What is Jesus asking for? He uses three verbs; he has three parts to his prayer.
Part One. Jesus’s first prayer is that his dear and heavenly Father would KEEP them, and if you look at our whole text, you’ll find that he’s asking that his Holy Father would keep them in two ways. 1) In your NAME. and (2) From the EVIL ONE. But notice the verb first. It’s the Greek word ΤΗΡΕΩ – it’s the same word for when Jesus tells his disciples to keep his commandments. Isn’t that wild?
Jesus is asking his father to keep his disciples as he asks his disciples to keep his father’s commandments. Just as he’s asking the disciples to abide in him as he abides in them. He’s asking his father to diligently and wholeheartedly follow after his disciples. This entire section so far (and we’ve been going through it for weeks!)
And the two parts: 1) to keep them in your name. That’s the name spoken over you in your baptism. That’s the name that your sponsors promised to uphold in your life. That’s the name that we begin our service every week with. That’s the name that gives us a worth that isn’t based on abilities and doesn’t fade with time.
And to keep them in your name, he goes on to tell us two things: it’s NOT keeping them out of the world. It IS keeping them from the evil one. What does that mean? It means that we are not called to leave the world, but to be a light in the world. We are not called to separate ourselves but to know the hope that makes us different.
Lord God, keep us today. Keep us in your name, and keep us, even while we are in the world. Keep us from the evil one. Amen.
Second, GIVE them JOY. What is that joy? He says, it’s a joy that come from abiding in his father’s word. It’s a joy found in the places where Christ promises it. It’s a joy that – and listen closely here – it’s a joy that Jesus is expecting to enter soon.
Step back a minute. He’s between the Last Supper and his agony in the Garden, and he’s talking about joy? The darkness is getting deeper. He is dreading the cup that he will drink and in this last hour he’s talking about joy.
One preacher said it like this: “Joy is the product of abiding in commandments and love of God (Do you remember that language from the past few weeks?)… [It] is the experience of peace and contentment because we are kept in the Father’s Name.” This is the joy that widows and widowers can know – a joy that can hold even in the bitter. It is a joy that moms and dads know – it is a joy that keeps their children, regardless of how their life goes.
Lord God, give us joy that lasts, joy that finds significance in what you say, regardless of what circumstances, our intellect, or even our feelings dictate. Amen.
Third, he asks his holy Father to MAKE them HOLY. Notice the progression here. Holy Father, make them holy as I am making myself holy. The holiness of the Father is the holiness of the Son, and that holiness works a holiness in us. So, what does the word holy mean?
It means, “Set apart for special use.” It means that (this is Romans 8) “all things work together for the good of those who love him, who are called according his purpose.” It means that for those called by the gospel, enlightened by its gifts, sanctified (this word means to “make holy”) and kept in the one true faith, we have the everlasting conviction that God is using our words and our deeds in cosmically significant ways, that when we look back from a heavenly perspective, we will see our words and deeds affecting those around us in ways we wouldn’t have imagined, in conjunction with a plan so great that it only could start at the beginning of time and it only ends with the recreation of the universe.
Lord God, make us holy as you are holy. Set apart our words and deeds to do more than we can imagine. Remind us again and again how big the Body of Christ is. Amen.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that God is keeping in the world in his name, even as he keeps it from the evil one. God is giving them joy that lasts in all circumstances. He is making them holy for a purpose only he can fathom. And among them are at least some no good sinners who are wondering if there is any point to it all. They doubt their place. They doubt they have worth, but in his quiet way, their savior feeds them with his Gospel, and his message, his prayer, for them stays the same on the good days and on the bad.
What does Jesus pray for us? That his Holy Father would keep us. That we would have joy. That his Holy Father would make us holy.
And if he prays for that, what should we pray for?
Amen and Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters