The Sunday Sermon: World Communion Sunday – October 4, 2020
Scripture: John 17:13-21
Joy Through Unity
Paul challenges us: “Let the same be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5
Jesus teaches us: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon us because GOD has anointed us …
… to bring good news …
… to proclaim release and recovery …
… to let the oppressed go free.” Luke 4:18-19
Jesus also teaches us: “Those who find their life (here) will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39
Jesus spoke his mind, the mind of Christ, GOD’s anointed. The mind of Christ commits itself to serve others, with no desire for personal gain. The mind of Christ seeks not to build up self but to build up others. We’ve learned all that in the weeks past. This morning we ask, “Why?” Isn’t it more prudent to care for and to think of ourselves first so that we will have enough – money, time, and energy – to care for others? Why is he telling us to lose our life by giving two figs about the poor and the oppressed before our own families?
Jesus, himself, tells us why in his prayer in yet another Gospel … Listen for the Word of God. Read John 17:13-21. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
So … How many of you have, or have ever had, a “red-letter” bible? If you have to ask, then you haven’t ever had one. A “red-letter” bible is a bible in which all the words that Jesus speaks are in red, not black, colored font. In a red-letter edition of the Bible the final verses of the seventeenth chapter of John close out four chapters of almost solid red.
In chapter thirteen Jesus defines leadership as servanthood (verses 1-20) and talks about the upcoming betrayal (verses 21-30). After that, John unleashes verse after verse of the teachings of Jesus beginning with a “new commandment”, to love one another as he loves us. Chapters fourteen through sixteen offer one last round of teachings, imploring those who are listening (us!) to remember. Then, in Chapter seventeen, Jesus switches to prayer and we are faced with a damning question: Are we more comfortable with Jesus telling us what to do? Or would we rather just have him praying for us?
That’s a trick question, in that he does and always will do both in and through our faith. But when we’re most honest with ourselves, we have to admit … We’d rather have Jesus praying for us when we fail to do what he told us to do. Forgiveness from a loving Lord for inaction is always easier to swallow than any distress or discomfort we may experience from friends, family, or foes for the actions we take.
Here’s the thing, though: Jesus is not praying to GOD to forgive us in this chapter of John’s Gospel . He’s praying to GOD to empower us – to empower us to do exactly what he’s just told us to do. Why? So that the joy that is in him may be made “complete” … in us, so that we may all be one.
Can you imagine? The joy of Jesus in ourselves? The Unity of Christ in our church, village, city, country? What a different world we would inhabit, inside and out. With that joy we could look at ourselves and find the courage to be all we were created by GOD to be. With that unity we could look at our country and envision it, not as it is (or even was!), but as it can be. With both we could look at the world and see justice and peace. And then, with our new found courage, vision, and imagination that comes from the joy that consumes us and the unity that defines us, we could get to work transforming the world through lives committed to serving others, with no desire for personal gain; with minds that seek not to build up self, but to build up others. With the mind of GOD’s anointed, with the mind of Christ. Is it too late for us, for our country, for the world? A good question for our time … a timely question.
Well, if you even imagine that it might be, that it might be too late, consider this: Jesus speaks of the joy that was in him and he prays for the “one-ness” of those who follow him in his prayer even as he prepares for his “end,” for his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. As chapter seventeen comes to a close, Jesus’ prayer ends. Amen … So be it.
Chapter eighteen begins with the words “After Jesus spoke these words” and then in the verses that follow he is betrayed and arrested. The “red letters” grow more and more sparse after chapter seventeen. And when Jesus utters his final words on this earth in the Gospel of John, “It is finished,” all goes “black.” But he knew – he knew, and so do we now because of him – that death is not the last word, that there is joy beyond death, and that there is a unity and a continuity between the past and the present and the future. We call it resurrection, redemption, reconciliation and it’s possible even, perhaps especially, when all seems lost, or hopeless; when we feel discouraged and divided; when we are anxious and scared about action or witness; when we want more than ever to keep quiet and stay hidden. It is never too late for us to be of and act from “the mind of Christ.”
(Incidentally and as you well know, the words “It is finished” toward the end of chapter nineteen are not the last red letter words of John’s Gospel in a red-letter bible. Chapter twenty and twenty-one bring color back into our lives – resurrection, redemption, reconciliation!)
Jesus said, “Be not afraid. Follow me.” And so we do. Thinking with the mind of Christ. Standing with the courage of Christ. And witnessing with the Joy of Christ. So that we may all be One in Christ.
Can you only imagine? We can do more than that. We can witness together, on behalf of all of us here, and on behalf of all who will come to believe in the Joy of Christ and the Love of GOD through us, “that we may all … all … be one.”
If you’re able, willing, and if you feel safe enough, join with your fellow church members after our Benediction this morning as we gather around our church sign, with signs of our own, as witnesses through prayer and presence to our commitment to dismantle systemic racism. If you are too uncomfortable for any reason, please know that we are standing with you and for you this morning in prayer, liturgy, affirmation and Joy.
Why? So that the joy that was in Jesus, himself, may be made complete in us and so that we may all be one.
May it be so. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 4, 2020