Updated: May 24, 2020
In the name of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
On the 7th Sunday of Easter, which falls between the Ascension and Pentecost, our Gospel each year in the 3-year cycle is from John 17. In this chapter, Jesus follows with 4 chapters of teaching the apostles with this prayer of self-dedication to the Father and intercession for his disciples: “for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19).
For our reflections this year, we will limit ourselves to one theme I think is particularly timely. Jesus acknowledges that we are “in the world” (vs. 11), and indeed prays later, “I have sent them into the world” (vs. 18). Having said “I am no longer in the world…I am coming to you” (17:11), he prays further that “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (17:16). Putting these together, we understand that Jesus has sent us into the world as he was sent, to present Christ through our lives and words. In order to do so, we need to see that our true life, our true home, is with him, that this world is not our final home.
We can fail to benefit from his prayer in one of two ways: Either by not being “in the world” as he was, or by living as though we were indeed “of the world” and allow this life to frame our values and choices. Let us examine these rejections as they might affect us.
Christians have always been subject to the temptation to ignore the world. In today’s Acts’ reading, we heard Jesus tell his disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit and be “my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. However, when he ascended after speaking these words, they had to be told, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). As someone once said about some Christians, “They are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” Through the centuries, there have been Christian communities who have withdrawn from the world. Monastic communities have done so, but with the purpose of interceding for the world rather than ignoring it. Other communities have withdrawn from the world both to avoid temptation and focus on personal holiness. Some individuals turn their backs on the world simply by being selfish, and looking at others as competitors. Each of us is tempted to judge others and to justify ignoring them.
It is often difficult for us to remember that Jesus has sent us into the world with the same mission he began. As we read about it earlier in John’s Gospel, “God so LOVED the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16; emphasis mine). Do we regard others with God’s love? If not, then our ability to fulfill the purpose for which we were sent into the world is greatly limited. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (I John 4:20).)
The other type of temptation we face in the light of this message is to so focus on this world, on what God has created, that we simply settle down and make this world our true home. Again, there are many ways for us to succumb to this. In the Old Testament, we read God’s prophetic word, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1). If we are relatively comfortable in our daily lives, it can be easy for us to derive our security from this world, making God’s promises distant and irrelevant to daily life. Secularized people already tend to look upon religious hope in this way, as an escape from reality. While we would not say that, we may functionally behave as if it were true, how many of our prayers concern this world? Do we tend to see God’s purpose to make this life earthly life better? Do we feel that God has not answered our prayer if we have requested something pertaining only to this life?
We can take advantage of our sheltering at home to address each of these temptations. First, we can make sure we are holding people throughout the world in our daily prayers. As we noted last Sunday, we are all in this pandemic together, and we can best discover ways to address it by sharing what we are learning. Next, we can remind ourselves daily that our true life is in Christ, and that is the life that cannot be taken away. We can have something or someplace where we live to remind us of our Lord and his Kingdom (a ‘picture of home’, so to speak). This can then become a focal point for our prayers and study.
We do not have to do this alone. We conclude with today’s Collect, which is a good petition for the help he promises us in this struggle:
O God, the King of Glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.