Seventh Sunday of Easter/Confirmation Day (May 20, 2007)
“That Thay May All Be One” (John 17:20-26)
Today, three young people of our congregation will reaffirm the promises that God gave to them in their Baptism. After instruction in the Catechism over the past two years, they will stand before you and say “Yes” to all of God’s promises and publicly confess faith in Jesus as their Savior. The congregation will pray for them, asking the Holy Spirit to confirm them...to strengthen them...in their God-given faith.
But did you know that Jesus once prayed for you? Did you know that he prayed for you while he was here during his earthly ministry? Our Gospel lesson today from John 17 records that prayer for us. It’s been called Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” In it, he prays for his disciples. He would soon be leaving them in his death, resurrection, and ascension. The Holy Spirit would be poured out upon them later on the day of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday. Some of those men, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would write portions of the New Testament. Each of them went out and preached the Word of Christ. And in the portion of John 17 that was read a few moments ago, Jesus prayed for “those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” That’s you and me he’s talking about. Jesus prayed for you and for me.
Individualism: It’s all about me!
The words of Jesus’ prayer speak against something we all struggle with. There is a streak of independence and individualism in all of us. It’s the attitude that thinks, “It’s all about me.”
Take my daughter for example. At her age, she thinks it’s all about her. She sees a train go by or she hears a train in the distance, and she gestures that she wants to ride on it. She sees a picture of a boat or a horse in a book, and she gestures that she wants one or that she wants to go on it. She gets through eating plenty of her own food, but immediately after she’s done she runs up to mom and dad and opens her mouth to mooch like a little puppy dog. Another toddler comes over to visit, and if she doesn’t like the fact that the other one is playing with her toys, she’ll let the kid know with a swift smack of the hand. It’s all about her right now. Like all toddlers, she thinks the world revolves around her.
But this is not just limited to toddlers. As you continue in your teenage years, you are going to find that sometimes it seems like the world is against you. It really isn’t. It just seems that way. Why? Because in this time in which you are in-between being a child and an adult, you are discovering more about being independent. You are finding out who you are as an individual. You will soon be learning that the world does not revolve around you. And this often causes conflict with your parents, with your teachers, with your friends.
And you know what? Things don’t really change all that much as we grow up and enter the world of adulthood...whenever that is. Most of us don’t go around smacking other adults if we don’t like what they do or say. But each of us from time to time engages in behavior that isolates us from others. Hurtful words, cold shoulders, and unforgiving hearts drive others away from us.
By the time we become adults, we should already know that the world does not revolve around us...but we sure would like it if it did. Even when we get older, we would prefer to think that it’s still “all about me.” Each of us has a bit of self-centeredness inside of us that can potentially alienate ourselves from others.
That was the problem all the way back in the Garden of Eden. It wasn’t about what God wanted. It was about what Adam and Eve wanted. The devil tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, telling them that if they did, they would be like God. Now that’s a tempting offer: “Instead of having to be subservient as part of God’s creation, I could be just like him.” You know what happened. Eve ate the fruit. She gave some to her hubby and he ate. And what happened next? They knew what they had done. They covered themselves up. They hid from God. They blamed everyone else except themselves for their sin. Adam even pointed the finger at God... “The woman whom you gave to be with me...it’s all your fault, God! You brought this on! Couldn’t you have given me someone else, someone who wouldn’t have brought this fine mess upon us?” What was the result of God’s creation taking a turn down a path he didn’t intend them to go? What was the result of Adam and Eve acting in such a self-centered way without any thought of God’s command...without any thought of God’s love for creating them in the first place and placing them in a perfect paradise? Isolation. Hiding. Alone. Kicked out of God’s perfect paradise.
This problem of thinking that “it’s all about me” causes us to be isolated from each other and from God forever. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ version of hell in his novel The Great Divorce. In the book, hell is a huge gray town that goes on for millions of miles in all directions. One of the occupants describes it this way: “As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbor. Before the week is over he’s quarreled so badly that he decides to move. Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarreled with their neighbors—and moved. So he settles in...He’s sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and he’ll move on again.” The speaker explains that’s why the town is so huge. Everyone keeps moving farther and farther apart from each other until each inhabitant lives thousands and thousands of miles from the next one.
Hell will be much worse than just a huge gray town where everyone lives miles apart. But you can see Lewis’ point. God never intended us to be isolated from him or from each other.
One in Christ: It’s all about Jesus and His Church
That’s why Jesus had to be all alone on the cross...so that you and I don’t have to be isolated from God forever. The leaders of his own people condemned him to die. His friends deserted him. One betrayed him. His brothers rejected him as insane. Only a few women and the apostle John remained at the foot of the cross...and even then, Jesus gave his mother into John’s care.
Above all, his Heavenly Father turned his back on him. Although he was without sin, Jesus died as if he was the greatest sinner who had ever lived...and that meant that God the Father had to turn his back on his own Son. Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus felt the weight of the world’s sin upon his shoulders. The one who kept God’s Law perfectly became a curse for us who have not kept God’s Law (Gal. 3:13). He felt the very same isolation and aloneness that Adam and Eve must have felt in the Garden...the very same isolation and aloneness that each of us feels when we come to recognize that we are sinners who also ought to be cast out of God’s presence.
But God has not left us alone. Jesus our Savior rose to life again and appeared alive to his disciples. He pronounced them forgiven and does the same to all who trust in his saving death and resurrection. He ascended into heaven so that he might be present with us always as True God and True Man. And he sent his Holy Spirit to us to call us by the Gospel, enlighten us with his gifts, sanctify, and keep us in the one true faith.
And God has also not left us alone to be “Lone Ranger” Christians. He places us in the Church so we can share God’s love and God’s gifts with one another. When you are baptized into Christ, you become part of a new family. Notice how Jesus puts this in his prayer: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that world may believe that you have sent me...The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” As members of God’s Church, we are made one with God and with each other. You and I are brought into the same close relationship as the members of the Holy Trinity have with each other. God the Father’s love is in us even as God the Son is in us, as he prayed, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
As we remain faithful to God’s Word, we make known our oneness to the world. “I made known to them your name and will continue to make it known.” What does this mean? (There’s a good confirmation question, for you) Remember how Luther explained the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. God’s name is kept holy when we teach the Word of God in its truth and purity and lead holy lives according to it. So that’s how we show our oneness to the world...by faithfully holding to the truth of God’s Word and by living God-pleasing lives by his grace. And through that Word, his love will empower and motivate us to love each other, to forgive each other, and love others who are not yet part of his Church.
You know, really, there is one sense in which it IS “all about you.” That’s why Jesus went to the cross...because he loved you so much...each and every one of you. But when it comes to our life in Christ, it’s all about Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith alone in Him. In Baptism, he places us into a new family called the Church, where we confess a common faith and serve one another in love. And in Holy Communion, as we kneel together with those whom we are united in that common confession of faith, Jesus gives us his very body to eat and his very blood to drink, forgiving us and assuring us that he is truly with us...that we may all be one.
It’s not about you...it’s about Jesus...and it’s about being a part of his family called the Church.
God bless you today as you make that confession of faith with us today.