Sermon for May 24, 2020
There is the funny story of the raw army recruit standing at attention on the drill field. The drill instructor yells, “Forward, march!” And the entire ranks begin to move, all except this one raw recruit. He’s still standing there at attention so the drill instructor strolls over to him and yells in his right ear, “Is this thing working?” “Sir, yes, sir!” the recruit yells. Then the drill instructor walks around to the other ear and yells, “Is this thing working?” “Sir, yes, sir!” the soldier says. “Then why didn’t you march when I gave the order?” “Sir, I didn’t hear you call my name.”
Don’t all of us wish that we would hear God calling our name out individually so we would know exactly what God wants of each of us. I think today’s Gospel comes very close. I ask you to hear Jesus praying to God for you, personally, and all of us collectively. In this prayer, Jesus tells every one of us what to do. We are to know God and to know Jesus Christ. Then we will have eternal life.
Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, the celebration of Jesus going up to heaven in a bodily form. Many of us probably didn’t even notice and we didn’t do anything special here at Transfiguration to celebrate the day. That is why we hear the reading of the Ascension from Acts. Ascension is always celebrated forty days after Easter. Forty days we didn’t have Easter services open to everyone and now we have gone another forty days. Forty is also used in the Bible as a sign of a long time. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness before he started his public ministry. The flood was caused by rain for forty days and nights. The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. Forty is both a long time period and a time of important change.
Did you notice the reaction of the apostles as Jesus ascended? The angels told them to stop looking up to heaven, Jesus will be back. They returned to Jerusalem and prayed, waiting. The Gospel of Luke also tells about the ascension. In that version, probably written by the same author as the person who wrote Acts, the apostles “worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” They were not sad that Jesus left, they were joyful. They were happy because Jesus was expected to return again soon, possibly because this confirmed that Jesus was the Messiah.
I was thinking about the ascension as I meditated on the gospel. For in the gospel Jesus is praying to God. As part of that prayer Jesus said, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father.” Yes, Jesus was going to leave the disciples and go to be with God the Father in heaven.
Perhaps you think that Jesus offered this prayer when he went off by himself and spoke with his Father in heaven. Actually, Jesus said the prayer at the last dinner he shared, with his followers gathered around.
Can you imagine being there at the table with Jesus and hearing him offering this prayer for you? I feel strengthened when I experience prayers being said for me. How do you feel when you realize Jesus said this prayer for you? In a way, it is a teaching about a prayer that we might offer, a prayer asking God that we might believe and asking God to give us eternal life. It is a prayer that helps us to focus on our relationship with both Jesus and the Father.
Jesus prayed for his followers just before he was crucified and Jesus blessed his apostles just before he ascended. Today, I feel the connection of the three books of the Bible: Luke, John and Acts. They celebrate Jesus as our Lord and Savior and they all have prayers that Jesus offered for his followers just before he left them.
This prayer in today’s gospel was offered on our behalf just as it was offered for the apostles. We are followers of Jesus. We believe what he taught us and we believe in God. Jesus prayed that we would be protected and that we would be nourished. Perhaps the strongest words are offered by Jesus in the second verse of today’s reading. “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
John’s gospel often speaks of eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.”
Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
What does eternal life means to you? I have heard so many different explanations. People who have had near death experiences say that they see a bright light. People describe heaven in many different ways. They speak of family members that they will see once again. Some talk of their dogs being part of heaven. I even heard someone describe heaven as a picnic, a time of happiness for us and all those that are with. I am sure that much of what people imagine heaven to be like will be true. But I ask you to come back to the words of Jesus. Eternal life is knowing God and knowing Jesus. Is it possible that you are experiencing eternal life now? It is as if we are part of this world but not part of this world. Jesus said eternal life is already here when we know God and Jesus Christ.
John’s gospel supports this idea of eternal life right now. In Chapter 3 we hear, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life”. in Chapter 5 we hear, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life. Knowing God gives us some glimpse of what we will experience after we die. We live in the protective arms of God now and cannot wait to have that experience even stronger later. There are so many mysteries about God. Will we have eternal life when we understand all of those mysteries about God? I sure hope so.
We are in a time of the church year that is an in between time. Jesus has given his life for us. Jesus has left the earth and the Holy Spirit has not yet come. We are in a kind of limbo. The forty days means that something big is happening. Jesus has left the earth and the Holy Spirit has not yet come.
We know all of what has happened. But I ask you to imagine that Jesus has left and yet the Holy Spirit, the power of God given to us all, has not yet come. Imagine still that Jesus has told us that if we believe then we have eternal life. And yet, we must live our lives without the presence of Jesus physically here on earth. We have no one else to turn to but the other believers that are with us. Isn’t that why Jesus prayed that we would all be one. He prayed “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Let us pray together to God that the Holy Spirit will come one more time at Pentecost to guide us and to strengthen us. Imagine that you are with the other disciples. You have followed and believed in Jesus and you have been promised that the Holy Spirit will come. You go back to Jerusalem after the Ascension of Jesus and you are joyful. You remember the prayer of Jesus that we heard today in the Gospel and you pray that God will send that same Holy Spirit to be with you.
If you have some uncertainty in your life now, I ask you to look forward with hope, asking the Holy Spirit to be with you and knowing that God will protect you just as Jesus asked. May you be certain of eternal life because you have believed. Amen.
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