John 17:11-19 – May 17, 2015
“Jesus Sends Us Forth!”
Most everyone I know like to receive packages. Have you ever received something extremely fragile in the U.S. mail, or from Federal Express or UPS? Can you just visualize the package? Unpacking something like this is a multi-step process! Opening the box, taking out the protective foam pellets, unwrapping the layers of encasing bubble wrap, taking off the newspaper cushioning the fragile piece. And, then—there it is. Finally, unwrapped.
We didn’t want to allow the fragile piece of glassware—or pottery—to get chipped or broken. Heavens, no! So, we take extra-special care. We wrap it, protect it, and swathe it, even immobilize it, in order to make extra sure that it’s safe and won’t get hurt or broken.
Except—as we consider our gospel passage today, we aren’t talking about fragile glassware or delicate pottery. Here, our Lord Jesus is praying to His Heavenly Father about the disciples. Asking some things for them, specifically.
Let’s set the scene. It’s a familiar scene. The Upper Room, after the Passover dinner with His disciples. Jesus has just finished His last words to His friends, and now in John 17, He prays. It’s an intimate time, with Jesus addressing God His Father in the most intimate way.
God sent His Son into the world—special delivery. Into a battered, fallen, sinful, hate-filled world. Did you know that? Did you realize that? From time to time we may say that, in an Affirmation of Faith, or some such statement of belief. I try to make it a central point in my sermons, when the Scripture passage mentions it.
Yes! Jesus, the Son, was sent into the world in order to proclaim the gospel, as well as to give everyone a picture, an actual physical representation of God in heaven. Here, on earth. One of the names of Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.
Question: when God sent Jesus into the world—special delivery, what was the situation?
Where was He sent, in the first place, according to the Christmas narrative in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2? We remember! Jesus—the eternal Son, laid down all of His heavenly Godly-ness, all of His awesome power and might, and was born as a helpless infant to an unmarried girl. In an occupied state, from a marginalized people. Here on this earth in amongst fallen, messy, dirty people who often make mistakes. Lose their tempers. Are unkind and rude—and even worse—to others. Where sin and disease and unemployment and accidents happen, on a regular basis. Imagine that!
God the Heavenly Father could have wrapped the man Jesus securely in bubble wrap. Or, in case Jesus even moved, God could have made sure He was packed in protective foam pellets, so Jesus wouldn’t get injured or harmed. But—that sounds silly! Maybe that idea works for shipping fragile items or glasswear, but not for people!
Let’s take a closer look at verse 18 of this intimate prayer. Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” So—Jesus is talking about sending the disciples out into the world. Do you get the picture? The past three years were a training program. An internship, if you will, to get the disciples prepared for ministry.
Being sent out. Getting down to the business of letting others know about God. The disciples are getting ready to be launched into the world. In order to proclaim the gospel, the Good News, as well as to give everyone a picture, a representation of God in heaven. Here, on earth.
Wait a second, Jesus. That’s scary!
The thought of the disciples going forth, being sent out. Who knows where they might end up? Here on this earth in amongst fallen, messy, dirty people who often make mistakes. Lose their tempers. Are unkind and rude—and even worse—to others. Where sin and disease and unemployment and accidents happen, on a regular basis. Imagine that!
These words in this intimate prayer to God are words that entrust the future to God. These words do not leave the disciples as orphans (as Jesus said), nor do they set the disciples adrift, completely on their own. These words do prepare the disciples for His departure, and for their work and lives in ministry after His death and resurrection.
In short, Jesus is asking God to take care of His friends, after He leaves. How caring! How considerate! How awesome! But, Jesus did not ask for God to pack the disciples in protective foam pellets or encase them in bubble wrap.
In preparing this message, one of the resources I used is one I occasionally turn to. An online website where clergy discuss the lectionary passages of the week. In one of the discussions on this gospel passage, a pastor from North Dakota gave the following reflection and then, illustration.
“The thing that strikes me this year about this text – this prayer – is that Jesus prays for protection. He doesn’t pray for removal – removal from the world – removal from evil. It seems to me that we are expected to be in the world (not of it) and with that comes dealing with sin and evil. And Jesus prays for protection. I also think there is a difference between protection and shielding.
“Here in North Dakota (not in May, mind you!) an image that works for me is that we dress our kids in snowsuits and hats and mittens and boots and then we send them out into the cold. We don’t just hide out in the house with the nice warm furnace and hot chocolate and we don’t shield our children from the weather. We protect them, yes, but, still, they are sent out into the wind and cold. I think God is like that with us as well. God doesn’t help us to hide from the world and all its ‘stuff.’ God gives us what we need as protection … the Word, faith, a conscience … you get the idea.”
You get the idea—God protected our Lord Jesus while Jesus was here on the earth, even though I’m sure Jesus and His friends had to put up with being itinerant and homeless all the time they were traveling around Israel, with all the accompanying discomforts and getting dirty and sometimes going hungry. God protected the disciples, the followers of Jesus—and they were still sent out into the wind and the cold. Into the world where sin and disease and unemployment and accidents happen, on a regular basis.
The part of this passage that hits home the most, for me, is that Jesus prays for His friends. Not only the disciples, but we can also see His prayer broadened to include all those who follow Him. That includes you and me! Us. All those who receive Jesus’ good news, His Gospel of the revelation of God.
Just as Jesus prays for us in this prayer in John 17, so we share in this mission. We, too, are being sent! We, too, have the awesome direction from our Lord Jesus to go forth, let others know about God. We are launched into the world. In order to proclaim the gospel, the Good News, as well as to give everyone a picture, a representation of God in heaven. Here, on earth.
The best part is that Jesus has prayed for us, already! He has covered us with prayer, with protection, so that we are suited up to go out into the world. Just as we don’t shield our children from the weather; we protect them, yes, but, still, they are sent out into the wind and the weather and cold. I think God is like that with us as well.
We are sent out into the world, to spread the Good News about Jesus. God is right by our sides, too. God gives us what we need, too. We can have that assurance. For sure, and certain. Alleluia, amen!