Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from Sunday, May 15, 2021
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Remember what it was like many years ago to be a high school senior. You might recall mailing out college applications and then waiting nervously and hopefully for an acceptance letter from the university or college of your choice. That was an important decision to make.
High school graduation can be an especially exciting time. Kids dress up for the senior prom. They complete academic courses and prepare for graduation. It’s a moment to say good-bye to long time friends and teachers. Soon these seniors will be on their own, more or less, taking on additional responsibilities for their lives. They are growing up and becoming adults.
I don’t want to push this analogy too far. But here are several points of similarity between graduation activities and the situation faced by the disciples at the Last Super. Most of these similarities are fairly obvious. Both the disciples and graduating senior face a great change in life. Seniors are in the process of completing class work and leaving home often for work or college, while the disciples understand that the earthly ministry of Jesus is now complete. In both cases, it’s an occasion to look back and reflect on what has been.
Both graduation and the Last Supper also provide a time to anticipate the future. Seniors most often focus on their educational plans and careers. The disciples, on the other hand, need to come to terms with leading the nascent Church without Jesus’s leadership. Jesus provided the perfect expression of God’s will for them. He had that direct prayer line to heaven, which they do not have. They have to work out a decision making process for themselves. That’s not easy.
Our list of similarities could go and on, but suffice it to say the disciples face an important and critical change in life. Jesus responds to their concerns in the form of a prayer to God at the Last Supper. He says his disciples will go out into the world with important resources to sustain and guide them in their work. He prays: “For the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” The disciples understand that Jesus comes from God and brings a life-saving and changing Word to them. They have God’s Word as their great resource.
Not only are they equipped with the Word of God, but they are sent out into the world. Jesus says: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”“ The disciples do not have the option of hiding themselves away. They received a mission. That mission includes proclaiming the Word of God, living as God’s people and ministering to others. It’s what we call a game changer and requires their complete commitment to God’s purpose.
Unfortunately, God’s mission creates several problems for the disciples. One problem is the Word has not been not well received by the world in which they live. Now we may ask why is it that the world is at odds with God’s word. The reason I simple. Since the Garden of Eden humankind has gone it’s own way, lived by its’ own rules, pursued its own ends.
Remember how Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree in the center of the Garden. That was a big no-no. Adam and Eve disobeyed God. They believed eating the fruit conferred God’s knowledge and power upon themselves. They wanted to be on God’s level; so they ate and all hell breaks out, so to speak. God drives them from the garden. Creation falls into disrepair and has remained that way ever since. God and humanity find themselves at odds with each other. The Word of God confronts the sinfulness of the world and the world does not like it one bit. People chose to be their own God. They do not want to submit to their creator. It has been one big and enduring conflict ever since and we are caught in the middle to this day. That’s why the world hates those who represent God’s word to them.
Jesus also raises the issue of the evil one who poses a great danger for the church. I often say I don’t know what the evil one looks like or where he is, but I certainly know where he has been. When I hear about drug wars in Mexico. I know the evil one has been at work. When I hear Iran and North Korea threatening war, that’ the evil one doing his best to sow the seeds of war. When children die of starvation, the evil one is at work. The evil one represents conflict and poverty and disease and death and sinfulness. The evil one challenges God’s good intention every step of the way. We need God to protect us.
Recently week I read an interesting article in the newspaper with a bearing on what it means to be in the world. I read about the president of J. P. Morgan bank, Jamie Diamond, and how that bank lost several billion dollars in a failed hedging strategy. What went wrong. The bank failed it’s own standards. People were asleep at the switch or over confident. But the end result is clear. The bank got caught up in a process that overwhelmed it’s better judgement.
The same thing happens to us. We have received God’s Word. We understand the life God intends for us to lead. But get swept along too by forces in our culture that our difficult for us to resist. We grow lax in our vigilance and succumb to cultural pressures.
Today Jesus reminds us that we may live in this world but we are not of it. We act upon values received from God’s word in Jesus Christ and not those picked up from culture. We resist the urge to conform to behavior inconsistent with Christian teaching. A recent study has shown that more than 28% of American adults have left their faith or now have no religion at all. That’s a significant statistic. Fewer people join and [participate in the life of the Christian community. Many more drop away and participate in no Christian community.
Jesus says we have been sanctified in truth. That means we have been equipped by the word of God to not only live in this world, but to resist the temptations facing us. We have a greater power working through us.
Let me describe the Christian movement this way. Many years ago my wife and I lived not far from the Roma bakery in Springfield, Illinois. On Saturday morning I would go to the back door of the bakery and purchase a fresh loaf of Italian bread. That loaf smelled good and tasted delicious. Without yeast that loaf of bread would not be the same. The yeast changes the loaf from a lump of dough into a tasty bread. God’s Word does the same thing for us. It transforms us into something wonderful. By that I mean there is nothing more beautiful than a human being who is loving and forgiving and merciful in a troubled and unforgiving world. Let God transform you into a true disciple of his son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.