EASTER 7 YR A. Jn 17:1-11.
How would you like it if God spoke to you and told you that you were going to do great things in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and everywhere in the whole world?
I guess you would panic a bit, wouldn’t you? I mean, what about your job, and who’s going to look after the kids, and what about your bridge group next Wednesday?
It would be a bit scary.
I had a similar experience, you might say. I was in my final year in seminary, and I was staying on campus during the summer. There was a man, another Yorkshireman, originally from Doncaster, fifteen miles from my home town – he had that accent – and he was visiting from the Arctic. He was a priest, recruited in Britain by the Bishop of the Arctic, and he had ministered in the far North for, I think, seven years.
He had seen an ad in the church paper asking for priests to go to the Arctic. He responded, and after a while, the Bishop of the Arctic, who was in England for that very purpose, came to interview him in his home.
He said the bishop was unlike the UK bishops, some of whom live in palaces, and what goes with all that. He said the Bishop of the Arctic came into his home, sat in an armchair, put his feet on the mantelpiece, and told him about the challenges of ministering in that environment. .
He responded and after a short while found himself in the far north, getting off the plane in his raincoat, and brown shoes, totally ill-equipped for the climate.
He spoke eloquently to us students, at one of our morning prayer services about serving the church in the North. He told about the great challenges, and the way they were being met. He talked about the great joy and satisfaction he got out of his ministry. He talked about the gratitude shown by the native population for the mission work that he did. And he talked about the great need for priests to work in the North.
” A great need for priests to serve in the north,” he said. And I felt he was talking directly to me.
In fact I was sure he was talking directly to me. And I began to panic.
Is this God’s way of calling me to go to the Arctic, I wondered? I hope not. I can hardly stand the winters here in Southern Ontario.
I am here, so you know I didn’t go.
When I had thought about it, some more I decided that maybe God wasn’t calling me to go North. After all I had a family.
But I still wonder, sometimes. I wonder how different my life would have been.
Jesus, just before his Ascension into Heaven, told his disciples, “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you with power, then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world.”
The whole world!
The whole world?
Wait a minute!!
You can imagine them thinking, “ I can’t go out into the world. I am not prepared. I have never traveled more than a day’s journey from my home. How can I go into the whole world?”
“I just told you that the Holy Spirit will come upon you with power. That is how you will go, and how you will glorify me.” Jesus assured them.
If God is helping you, then surely everything, and anything, is possible.
John tells us that Jesus is praying with his friends in that upper room, the night before his crucifixion.
He says to his Father, “Father, the time has come for you to bring glory to your Son, in order that he may bring glory to you.”
The glory that Jesus is talking about is the glory of the cross. Jesus glorified his father by obeying him in all things. Even to dying on the cross.
As it says, “In all things he did his Father’s will.”
That’s another way of saying that this man Jesus, lived for the Father. And he had such faith in the Father, and was so empowered by the Holy Spirit, that everything that he did, especially his death, did in fact, glorify God.
You know, we all do a lot of self -glorifying, don’t we? Probably without realizing it. But think about it.
Human beings have done that throughout the ages. We seem to need to build ourselves up. The way we dress. The way we talk, carry ourselves, the people we mix with, the car we drive, the house in which we live, the schools we went to, the level of education we reached, all helping to elevate us in the eyes of other people – we hope.
It’s worse in America. You are never too far into a conversation, down there, before someone asks you what job you do. And if it isn’t something impressive, then you are going to be talking to yourself pretty soon.
What a relief it would be to be free of that eh? Not to care. Just to live as someone who is so at ease with oneself that we don’t care what the world thinks.
Jesus was at ease with who he was, wasn’t he? He stood up and spoke in the synagogue, in front of learned people; he gathered a group of followers around him and taught them as a rabbi would, this son of a carpenter.
He stood up to those in authority, he reached out to those who were scorned by society.
And finally, he went to his death on the cross, in supreme obedience to His Father’s will.
He needn’t have, you know. He could have said, “No.” He could have stayed away from Jerusalem. Avoided it.
But if he had done that, then God’s plan would have been thwarted.
His death would show us the length to which God would go, in his great love for us, and in his wish to save us.
And now we see Jesus sending his disciples out into the world – the whole world – to face dangers similar to the dangers he himself had faced. They would be hated. They would challenge the evil powers of this world, and put their lives at risk.
And how are these men, who haven’t shown signs of great bravery yet, going to do this?
How are they to handle all the stuff that’s going to come their way?
Because make no mistake about it, they will face danger. Their lives will be forfeit, some of them. Some will be thrown into prison, others brought before tribunals, some flogged, thrown out of town.
How will they handle this?
Shouldn’t God protect them? Keep all harm away from them?
Note that when Jesus prayed for his disciples, and this is important, he prayed, not that they should be taken out of this world, not that they may find escape, he prayed that they may find victory.
Christianity was never meant to have us withdraw from life, but to equip us better for it; never meant to release us from problems, but a way to solve them; never meant to offer us an easy peace, but a triumphant warfare against evil; never meant to offer us a life in which we escape our troubles, but a life in which troubles are faced and conquered.
Linus and Charlie Brown were walking along one day, and chatting with each other. Linus said, “ I don’t like to face problems head on. I think the best way to solve problems is to avoid them. In fact, this is a distinct philosophy of mine. No problem is so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.”
If you ran away from every problem in your life, where would you be today? Back in the womb! See how your mother would like that.
God doesn’t promise us no problems. He promises us the courage to face them, and the ability to overcome them.
God has chosen us and dedicated us in his service. He doesn’t expect us to carry out that great task of our own strength, however. In fact, he graciously fits us for whatever task faces us, if we can just place our lives in his hands.
I was speaking to a young mother once. Susan and I had already met her a short while before, and I remembered her saying then, that having two young children to look after was very hard. And she looked tired.
She said she didn’t have any family nearby who would take the children off her hands for just a little while.
Then some time later, I saw her again, and we chatted for a few minutes. She told me she is extremely busy. She works week-ends, and has a part-time job she does at home, and then of course she has the two babies to care for. And she does housework, and meals, and so on. And she couldn’t talk for long, as she had the laundry in.
I bet that if you had told that young woman how much she would accomplish, once she became a wife and mother, she would have laughed in your face.
Don’t tell me that God doesn’t equip people when he gives them big jobs.
God also equips us to handle sorrow, and suffering, and all sorts of hardship. I can tell you from my own observations that I have seen people face great challenges, such that I thought they would never be able to handle, and yet, by the grace of God, they did.
He is there in our suffering, right there in the dirt with us, waiting for us to feel his presence, and know his love.
We have just got to let Him in.
A man by the name of Rufus Jones lost a son of eleven years, who was all the world to him. He wrote many years later about the experience, concluding with this luminous parable of how his own heart was opened to God’s love.
“When the sorrow was at its most acute, I was walking along a great city highway, when suddenly I saw a little child come out of a great gate which swung to and fastened behind her. She wanted to go home behind the gate but it would not open. She pounded in vain with her little fist. She rattled the gate. Then she wailed as though her heart would break.
The cry brought the mother. She caught the child in her arms and kissed away the tears. ‘Didn’t you know I would come? It’s alright now,’ she told her child.
“All of a sudden,” he said, ” I saw with my spirit that there was love behind my own shut gate.”
This life is never fair, it seems. ‘That’s why God had Jesus Christ choose you to share in his eternal glory. You will suffer for a while, but God will make you complete, steady, strong, and firm.’
He is right behind that gate. Just waiting for us to call out to him.
God is in control
You can count on it.