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20080420 Elizabeth Vale

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Sermon text Elizabeth Vale 20/04/2008

Text: John 17:9-23.

 

Jesus is praying.

9I pray for them. 
        I am not praying for the world,
        but for those you have given me,
                for they are yours. 
10All I have is yours,
        and all you have is mine. 
        And glory has come to me through them. 

11I will remain in the world no longer,
                but they are still in the world,
        and I am coming to you. 

Holy Father,
protect them by the power of your name—
                the name you gave me—
        so that they may be one
               as we are one. 
12While I was with them,
        I protected them
        and kept them safe
               by that name you gave me. 
                                                             None has been lost
                                                                    except the one doomed to destruction
                                                                            so that Scripture would be fulfilled. 

13 “I am coming to you now,
        but I say these things while I am still in the world,
                so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 


14I have given them your word
        and the world has hated them,
                for they are not of the world
                       any more than I am of the world. 
15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world
        but that you protect them from the evil one. 
                16They are not of the world,
                       even as I am not of it. 
17Sanctify them by the truth;
        your word is truth. 

        18As you sent me into the world,
I have sent them into the world. 

19For them I sanctify myself,
        that they too may be truly sanctified. 

20“My prayer is not for them alone. 
        I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
                21that all of them may be one, Father,
                       just as you are in me and I am in you. 
                May they also be in us
                       so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

22I have given them the glory that you gave me,
        that they may be one as we are one:
               23I in them and you in me. 
May they be brought to complete unity
        to let the world know
                that you sent me
                and have loved them
                       even as you have loved me.


Our text is part
      of what is often called
            “Jesus' High-Priestly Prayer”,
      which he prayed in the presence of his disciples
            just before he was betrayed. 
This prayer, recorded for us by John,
      comes at the end of a long session of teaching
            given to the apostles
                   on the occasion of the Last Supper. 
      This part of John’s Gospel starts in chapter 13. 
We are, as it were, listening in on Jesus' prayer,
      so he can teach us important things.

Here, Jesus prays
      specifically for those who belong to him,
            and through him,
                   to the Father. 

        I pray for them. 
               I am not praying for the world,
                but for those you have given me,
                       for they are yours.

Verse 20 tells us
      that we are included in the scope of his prayer.

         “My prayer is not for them alone. 
               I pray also for those who will believe in me
                       through their message.

We have believed in Jesus
      on the testimony of the first disciples,
            as it is given to us in Scripture.


Jesus is praying
      for our safety;
            not for our removal from the world,
            but for our protection from evil
                   while we are in the world. 
Jesus is continuing this ministry of prayer for us,
      as Paul reminds us in Romans:

Christ Jesus, who died—
        more than that, who was raised to life—
               is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  (Rom 8:34)

Jesus sends his disciples (and us)
      out into the world
            with the same message that he had,
                   as summarised in Luke chapter 4,
                          at the beginning of his ministry:

        “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
                because he has anointed me
                       to preach good news to the poor.
                He has sent me
                       to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
                               and recovery of sight for the blind,
                       to release the oppressed,
                       to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus himself,
      and the salvation he offers,
            are the content of what we are to proclaim:
                   Jesus
                         crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again. 
      His love for the world should also be in us. 
            This isn’t love of the world,
                   but love for the world.


Jesus prays for us,
      that we may be one,
             in holiness and love. 
Just as Jesus is in the Father,
      and the Father is in Jesus,
            we are to be in Christ,
                   and he will be in us. 
      We will be included in Christ. 
      Just as a bride is one with her husband,
            so will we, as the Bride of Christ,
                   be one with him,
                         partaking of some measure of the divine Glory. 
      We, the body of believers,
            the Church,

            will be one body,
                   having one character,

                         though made up of many and various members. 

This unity that Jesus prays for
      is not the same as uniformity,
            nor is it union.

It is a unity that can contain various ministries
            and callings
                   and giftings,
            different backgrounds and histories,
      because, in Christ, we are one.

This unity is the one proof that the world can’t ignore. 

                   It is the proof that God has sent Jesus,

                         and that God has loved us,

                                that God is love.


In John chapter 13 verses 34 and 35,
      Jesus gives us what some have called
            “The mark of the Christian.”

“A new command I give you:
        Love one another. 
As I have loved you,
        so you must love one another. 
By this all people will know
        that you are my disciples,
               if you love one another.”

If there is no visible unity,

      it is only reasonable
            for the people of the world to conclude

                   that the Christian message
                          is only a sham or a con.

And if there is no observable love
            among us and between us,
      it is only reasonable for the world to conclude
            that we are not Christians,
                   that we are impostors posing as Christians.

The conclusions that the people of the world make
      may be wrong in fact,
            but they are not unreasonable
                   on the evidence presented to them.

Sometimes,
believers will have seemingly irreconcilable differences
      in matters of doctrine or practice,
            even after we have prayerfully considered everything. 
      And if a parting of the ways is unavoidable,
            the parting must never be with triumph and rejoicing,
                   but with tears and sorrow that the Body of Christ is broken. 


The way we deal with our differences
      must be different
            from the way the world deals with differences in its ranks.

We can talk about unity in love,

      but what does it look like on the ground,

            as we live out our lives in the world every day? 

John tells us in his first letter:

This is how we know what love is:
        Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. 
                And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 
        If anyone has material possessions
                and sees his brother in need
                       but has no pity on him,
                               how can the love of God be in him? 
Dear children,
        let us not love with words or tongue
                but with actions and in truth.

Here are a few concrete examples of this unity in action:

Institutions like the Bible College of South Australia –

      where there is a unity in the common purpose

             of learning and spreading the Word of God

                   without watering down the Gospel,

                         despite all sorts
                                of different denominational
                                and personal backgrounds.


Or, listening to ‘preachers’
      who do not necessarily have
            the same doctrinal or cultural heritage.

      If this were not a display of visible unity,
            you wouldn’t have invited me here to speak today,
            and I wouldn’t have wanted to come.

Or, our common support for Christian agencies

      providing relief and support

            around the world and locally

      Things like

            World Vision,

            The Bible Society,

            our various denominational and congregational
                   mission and relief funds,

            and so on.

When we look at Christian love in action,
      we can look at the various relief and support agencies. 
            Their ministries are worthy of our support,
                   both corporately and individually.

We can support and pray for
                   (not pray against)
      the ministry of people like
            the Salvation Army,
             or Teen Challenge. 

      These groups conduct specialised ministries
            that often we are not equipped for. 

      Incidentally, the current Director of Teen Challenge is a Lutheran,

                   and his ‘other’ job is as a senior official
                          in Lutheran Community Housing.

            The services of Lutheran Community Housing itself
                   are not limited to Lutherans. 

                   Their purpose statement is:

"For all people to know Jesus
        and be integrated into the body of Christ
                through the vehicle of Christian based community housing"

Getting closer to home. 

Perhaps there are some among us
      who because of old age or sickness,
            are struggling to cope
                   with the pressures of everyday living. 
      Here are opportunities to live out
            our common Christian calling. 
      Perhaps we could
            prepare a meal for someone,
             or help with the shopping,
             or mow the lawn
                   (not that most lawns need much mowing at the moment,)
      and all this without being busybodies or gossips.

But these things can be done for others around us, too,
      not just our own church members and friends. 

Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatians:

        “Therefore, as we have opportunity,

               let us do good to all people,

                       especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”


Perhaps there is a single mother out there who needs help. 
            Single parents have one of the hardest jobs in the world. 
      Invite her and her children around for a meal. 
             A meal in your home might seem a bit threatening,
                         both to you and her,
                   so perhaps a picnic in the park or similar –
                         somewhere on ‘neutral turf’. 
      Offer to look after the kids for a while,
            when she does the shopping
             or has a Centrelink appointment. 
      Your own family may be the only exposure
            that the kids get to what God intended families to be. 

The Lord brought this home to me a few years ago
      when my elder son was a teenager,
            spending some of his time with the other local lads. 
      Eli was the only lad in the area
            who was living with both of his parents,
                   who were married (to each other),
                   and neither of whom had ever been married to anyone else. 
      However imperfect I may have been,
             I was the only example of godly fathering
                   that these lads were likely to see in their formative years.

Perhaps some of us could offer
      to take in people like street kids
             to give them somewhere to stay. 
                         That might need to be coordinated
                                through an agency like Teen Challenge, or the like. 


      Taking people in can be costly,
            personally, and financially, and emotionally. 
                   [I know; I have been there, taking people into my home.]

But what is a little cost or hardship for us
      compared with the enormous cost –
            his own life –
                   that Christ paid for us?

And our commitment to love
      has to continue unconditionally,
            even if there seems to be no result,
                   no response,
            even when it hurts.

Certainly, we can all pray for those
      who are involved in the front lines, as it were,
             of bringing Christian love
                   to the people of the world. 
      For some of us,
            that may be the only ministry that we can exercise. 
      But that ministry of prayer is of vital importance. 
            There was a lady who died late last year,
                         whom I may have met once or twice,
                   who, for more than 40 years until her death,
                         each week wrote a letter of encouragement
                                to a missionary couple in China,
                         and every day prayed faithfully for them.

Some of us may be able to use
      trade or technical or administrative skills
             in giving practical help to the ‘hands-on’ ministries of others.


There is also our involvement
      in ‘ordinary’ community groups,
            never hiding the fact that we are believers
                   (but also not hitting people over the head with it.) 
      Things like
            the Country Fire Service, or the State Emergency Service,
            Meals on Wheels or St John,
            the Lions and so on. 
                   Of course, there may come a time,
                         when, with tears,
                                we have to walk away from them
                                      for conscience’ sake,
                                             but at the moment, that may not be often. 
Unless we are actively involved in the world,
      genuinely contributing to the welfare of its people,
            but not working from the value system that the world has,
                   no-one will ever see or experience the message of the Gospel.

I want to look briefly at some examples of a lack of love,

      without dwelling on them.

I was giving out tracts

      in King William Street one Friday night
            when a young lady came up to me. 
                         The kindest description of her appearance
                                is that her face was covered in hardware. 

                   She said,
                         with an air of longing in her voice:

        “I really want to follow Jesus,
                but whenever I go to church,
                       people don’t like me.”


How sad,
      how incredibly sad,
            that such a little one,
                   for whom Christ died,
                         should feel so rejected
                                by the very people who should accept her. 
      If,
            and it’s a big IF,

                   there was any problem in her appearance,
                         then it is for God to deal with
                                in his own time and his own way.

Another example is the sexual, emotional and physical abuse
      that has occurred in some Churches and ministries –
            things that have been in the media a fair bit of late. 
      These things,
            and the fact that there were so long denied or ignored,
                   are symptomatic of a lack of love,
                         and a lack of commitment to truth and holiness.

Or the sad lament of one Pastor I know:
        “You can persuade a girl not to have an abortion,
                but then you can’t find anyone to take her in
                       when she’s kicked out of home.”

For all that we might criticise the Roman Catholic Church,
      their practices,
                   both corporately and individually,
             in showing God’s love to a hurting world
                   often put a great many ‘Protestants’ to shame. 
The same could be said for the Salvation Army.


 

In conclusion,
      I would like to read a few words
            from Francis Schaeffer’s little book
                   The Mark of the Christian:                                  [Hold up book.]

What then shall we conclude
        but that
                       as the Samaritan loved the wounded man,
                we as Christians are called upon
                       to love all men as neighbors,
                               loving them as ourselves? 
        Second,
                that we are to love all true Christian brothers

                       in a way that the world may observe. 
        This means showing love to our brother
                              in the midst of our differences —
                                      great or small —
                       loving our brothers when it costs us something,
                               loving them even under times
                                      of tremendous emotional tension,
                       loving them in a way the world can see. 
        In short,
                we are to practice and exhibit
                       the holiness of God
                       and the love of God,
                               for without this we grieve the Holy Spirit.

Love — and the unity it attests to —
        is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. 
Only with this mark may the world know
        that Christians are indeed Christians
        and that Jesus was sent by the Father.

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