Gospel Reading: St. John 17:11b–19
You may remember some of the spy movies during the Cold War, when some American crosses over into the Soviet Union and a brusque guard commands, Let me see your papers. Having actually experienced that back then in a Lutheran college trip to Russia and Eastern Europe in the ‘70s, I can verify that is no fiction. We saw Soviet soldiers in the middle of the night on the train into Russia literally rifling through our train seats looking for contraband, such as Bibles and Fascist literature. For all my laissez-faire progressivism, I began to realize that we had crossed the border from freedom into slavery. Jesus sends out His Apostles fully aware that He is sending them into slave lands. The entirety of John 17 is the Lord’s Prayer to the Father in the Holy Spirit for His apostles. He prays,
“ I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
Jesus prays they be kept from the evil one, because the world is God’s good creation but without faith, hope and love,it became the “world” and has as it’s ruler the devil. Jesus sends them into a world that has hated them. Too long too many churches have wanted to be loved by world, accepted by the world, adopting their morals, life styles of the rich and famous…it is the stuff of the news and the world pats those churches on the back and says that’s nice, go sit over there. Too long have churches wanted to hate the world and worldly people. Jesus did not send the Apostles into the world to hate the people in it, but even to love your enemies and pray for those who persecuted you. Jesus died for His enemies, us. “When the devil is mocked, he sheds the blood of the mockers. When God was mocked, He shed His blood on the mockers.” (Pr. Hans Fiene).
All of John chapter 17 is literally the Lord’s Prayer. He prayed this in the night in which He was betrayed. The prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer is actually the disciples’ prayer, the Church’s prayer to her ascended Lord, the head of the Church, as He taught us. Jesus knew He was sending His apostles into the world and He knew exactly the kind of world He was sending them. He knew the stratagems of the evil one, from along time ago in a garden to a desert fasting to a garden called Gethsemane. Here in John 17, He prayed they be kept from the evil one. He taught us to pray, Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one.
The evil one desires to blur the border between the Church and the world with our complicity. He first did so at the border around a tree, of the knowledge of good and evil, as if the knowledge of the Lord were not enough. He blurred it by asking, Did God say? Eve and Adam were complicit and said, Yes to the devil’s lie as he misrepresent the truth of God’s Word. The line was blurred and sin entered the world and made the world worldly.
Jesus sent the apostles into this dark world for the life of the world, with the light of His Word of His death and resurrection, if you forgive the sins of any they are forgive, if you retain the sins of any they are retain. He sent them out with message of repentance and forgiveness, of washing in Holy Baptism in the Name of the Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all He has commanded and Lo, He says, I am with you always even unto the end of the age. And the devil like those Russian soldiers will rifle through your heart, telling you do not believe enough, have not done enough, and as Luther, say, I know that devil but I have a mighty Lord who died and rose and ascended for me and He is with me, even to the end.
When a church begins to look, act and feel like the age we live in, like the world, then it is lost all over again. When a church walks the counsel of the wicked from the counsel of so many TV shows, blogs and magazines, such as, “follow your heart”, “you are your own best friend”, “look out for number 1”, “be all that you can be”, then its bound to fall. When a church stands in the way of the sinners, then its way is the dead end of hell. When a church seats in the seat of the scornful denying Scriptural truth with worldly theologians then it will become fat and indolent in its conceits. When a church walks the wide and easy path, it will lead to destruction. Walking, sitting and standing then that church is on a road to nowhere. Our delight is in His Law, in His Word, every Word of the Bible. When crossing the threshold of a church building, however religious it may look, into a building where the Word is not preached in all it’s saving purity and soundness, that church will only extend worldly darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great the darkness will be, warned our Lord. And you have beheld the light of His Word, clearly Law and Promise and the light of the knowledge of God shining in the face of Christ.
The Lord clearly sends out the apostles with the understanding that you are going into the world, the cosmos, which is against God, in the world, but not of the world, into slave lands. No one will say explicitly, Let me see your papers, but the world will do so implicitly: “Are you trying to impose your morality?” “Who do you think you are? God almighty?!” “Hey, I do good!” No, we are not angels but neither are we beasts (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus), as we are the Lord’s own in Baptism.
We have no papers to show, no certificate from Synodical headquarters that we have attained a certain level of holiness, and we are reluctant to show our good works because they are not even our own…we can only show the Cross, Jesus. Christ is our freedom to be His servants. Thomas More was King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor. More did not go along with his King’s lust for a divorce. As More said, we are “the king’s good servants, but God’s first.” And we are the king’s better servants because we are God’s first (Fr. Neuhaus).
Jesus says, “And you will be my witnesses.” Paul wrote of the apostles that we are Christ’s ambassadors. Yet, ambassadors of a disputed sovereignity. Jesus sent out the Apostles to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the end of the earth, across so many borders, languages, cultures. All three of today’s lessons are about witness and testimony. Jesus told the Apostles: You are my witnesses into the world. The Church and her people follows His outstretched arm. Ours is not to master the public but to make public the Master. Someone may be dying to hear a good word this week, tell of Christ, give your witness when asked for a defense of the hope that is in you, but do with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
The odds are stacked against the church maybe in order to show from whom comes the power of Pentecost. As a 2nd century Christian wrote a Roman official about the Christians:
“They reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens. They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their home, and every home a foreign land.”
All three lessons refer to prayer. The apostles, and Mary and Jesus’ brothers between Ascension and Pentecost, next Sunday, were 9 days in prayer, praying the Psalms. John wrote His congregation and encouraged them to pray that they will be heard. Thy Kingdom Come has been answered when the Lord takes hold of your heart through His Word of His forgiveness crossing the border with His mercy. But it has not been answered fully, but it will be. Then the Gospel: the Lord’s prayer. But the Lord did not just pray once for the Church. In the 1,933 year of His sitting at the right hand of the Father, If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. It is not our prayers alone but in union with the Lord’s Prayer, “interceding for us”, the ascended Lord, at the right hand of the Father which is every where His Word and people are. “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”