Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 5/16

       Would you rather have Jesus talking to you or praying for you?  There isn’t a right or wrong answer to that, it’s just a way to get at the fact that what Jesus is doing in today’s gospel is praying…for us!  This part of John’s gospel is called the farewell discourse as for five chapters (13-17) you have very little action and not a whole lot of speech from anyone except Jesus.  If you look at a “red letter” Bible that has the words of Jesus printed in red, chapter 13 is about half and half between red and black but 14 to 17 are pretty much solid red; it’s all Jesus.   

      Much of what is contained in these chapters is instructional information; it’s Jesus explaining to his disciples the significance of the fact that his time with them is about to end and that he will return to the Father.  It’s written in typical John style which means it kind of rambles and repeats itself and because of that much of it would probably be better taken one verse at a time.  It’s kind of the opposite of what usually happens with the Sunday readings as they can be somewhat diminished, cut out as they are from the wider context; but with this part of John it might be better to make the cuts even smaller and just focus on a verse or an image and dwell with it for awhile. 

      Anyway, chapters 14, 15 and 16 of this farewell discourse contain instruction for the disciples. There’s a fair amount about the coming of the Holy Spirit and the significance of that; the command to love one another is repeated several times; interspersed with that Jesus creates images like that of the vine and the branches.  But then in chapter 17, he switches to prayer.  That’s worth thinking about. 

      In some of the commentary I looked at on this passage there is something of a rush to make this prayer into a “to do” list.  That’s not completely inappropriate; the prayer may ultimately lead in that direction; but first consider what prayer is or perhaps what it isn’t.  Prayer isn’t a list of things for someone to do.  When you pray for someone, you’re not like an instructor handing out assignments.  Most commonly, in intercessory prayer, we are offering God our vision for, our hope for an individual or group or situation or for ourselves.  With that is the belief that God has something to do with this, that God is involved and able to make our vision a reality.  Along with that is the belief that God can move and inspire people to become part of the vision or part of bringing it about. 

      That’s a good way to think about what Jesus is doing in this chapter of John.  He is offering his vision, his hope for those who have followed him and who will follow him.  It’s not a list of things to do, it’s a vision, a conversation among the members of the Trinity which we are privy to and that’s a good thing because this is about us.   

      So what is the substance of this vision?  In part at least, it would appear to have something to do with oneness; “that they may all be one;” “that they may be one as we are one;” “that they may become completely one.”  Like I said, John tends to be rambling and repetitious, but we do well to pay attention to things that are repeated and this is one of them.  The vision has to do with oneness, but what is the nature of that oneness?  That’s where it can get a little complicated.   

      When Jesus says “that they may be one as we are one,” he seems to be indicating the kind of relationship into which we are invited.  Without getting bogged down in Trinitarian three in one, one in three complexities, however we understand or don’t understand that, we do understand the closeness of the persons of the Trinity.  As Jesus said back in chapter 10 of John, “I and the Father are one.”  That’s pretty close, and if that’s the kind of relationship we can have, it’s a pretty powerful statement, a pretty powerful vision.   

      From there though, Jesus doesn’t continue with a “how to” manual to tell us how to achieve this closeness, this oneness; remember this is prayer, not instruction, but the tradition of the church would say that the path to this oneness includes prayer and worship, engagement with the sacred writings of scripture, the sacramental life of the church along with holy living especially as it relates to life as modeled by Jesus.  It makes you see how easily this can move toward being a “to do” list. 

      This is a prayer for unity between each of us and God, the underlying premise being that we are not all we can be as human beings unless we are in relationship with God.  Without that, something is missing, so understanding that, we see ourselves as always becoming, becoming what we can be, moving closer to the experience of being one as they are one. 

      But that’s not all; there is also oneness among believers.  This is different; the first oneness had to do with relationship between us and God, this is about relationships with each other and it has to do with witness; “that they may become completely one so that the world may know that you have sent me.”  So that the world may know the authenticity of Jesus as the one sent by the Father; that was Jesus prayer.  I think we all know about prayers that aren’t answered, or at least aren’t answered the way we’d like them to be; well, here’s a prayer of Jesus that remains unanswered. 

      The history of Christianity has been marked by dispute and division much more than it has by any expression of being one.  Some of us head up for synod assembly this afternoon where at least some of the time, maybe a lot of the time will be taken up by issues that divide us as a Lutheran church body never mind worrying about things that divide and separate us from other Christian denominations.  This of course is nothing new. 

      Back in the fourth century, John Chrysostom, the bishop of Constantinople, paraphrased Jesus telling his disciples that if they kept among themselves the peace they had learned from him then, “the world will know the teacher by his disciples.”  It’s just basically another version of, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.”  Unfortunately, more often it has been, “They will know we are Christians by our inability to get along, by our inability to get along.”  Chrysostom wrote, “But if they quarrel, people will deny that they are the disciples of a God of peace and will deny that I (meaning Jesus) have been sent from you (the Father.) 

      Church history is full of the kind of quarreling that Chrysostom references and depending on your perspective, some of it has been substantive, much of it not, some of it necessary, much of it not.  Certainly as Lutherans we would argue in defense of some of the quarreling Luther provoked, but as things evolved, he got hung up on some things that could have been settled more gracefully.  These days, in a time when there is a lot of skepticism and resistance toward organized religion, the division within and between individual churches, and larger church bodies does not contribute much to letting the world know about Jesus as the one sent by the Father. 

      To illustrate this I’ll end with a little story Kathy found.  It’s attributed to a comedian named Emo Phillips and if I was clever I would have rewritten it to make it about Lutherans rather than Baptists, but you’ll get the drift. 

      I was walking across a bridge one day and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off.  So I ran over and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!” 

      “Why shouldn’t I?” he said. 

      “Well, there’s so much to live for!” 

      “Like what?” 

      “Well, are you religious?” 

      He said yes. 

      I said, “Me too! See? We’ve got lots in common already, so let’s talk this thing through.  Are you a Christian or a Buddhist?”   

      “Christian.” 

      “Me too!  Are you Catholic or Protestant?” 

      “Protestant.” 

      “Me too!  Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?” 

      “Baptist.” 

      “Wow!  Me too!  Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?” 

      “Baptist Church of God!” 

      “Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?” 

      “Reformed Baptist Church of God!” 

      “Me too!  This is great!  Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879 or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?” 

      He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!” 

      “Die you heretic scum,” I said, and pushed him off the bridge. 

      If Jesus had included a “how to” manual telling us how to achieve oneness, I don’t think it would have included pushing people off bridges. 

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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