Sermon May 16th 2021
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
Handing on the anointing.
In our Gospel Jesus is asking his Father to protect the disciples. There is a sense of a hand-over here, that Jesus knows he will not be around for much longer to protect them. He says that he has kept all of them safe, except the one who was destined to go his own way – that is, Judas. But now, Jesus asks his heavenly father to take care of them.
We see the fully-divine nature of Jesus in this passage, that he knows the task God has for him, he knows why he is on the earth, and what will happen, not only to his physical body, but to his resurrected self.
On Easter Sunday, we celebrated that Jesus was restored to life from death, that he had conquered, and could not be wiped out, held down, negated by death. That his ministry would continue. But right from Easter morning we know that it would not be business as usual. Jesus’ resurrection was not like that of the people he had restored to life, like Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus. They picked up where they left off. But after the resurrection Jesus appeared to many people, in different places, and had a habit of disappearing just as quickly. He knew he wasn’t going to be around for long, but that he would be going to the father – he knew the ascension was in his future. This is why he is preparing the disciples for their next challenge – how to fly solo, so to speak.
Do you remember learning to drive? It was a long time ago for me, I was 16. After I had got my licence, Mum and Dad felt that I still needed to be accompanied for 6 months to gain experience. I knew I was competent, but I didn’t really have to take all the responsibility for controlling a tonne of metal on the roads by myself. I was safe and guided as I improved. After the 6 months, Dad said, right, off you go, you’re on your own. I got into the car and expertly backed down our curved driveway, carefully avoiding Dad’s meticulously manicured lawn edge. I set off around the corner, a bit scared of doing this by myself, but exhilarated with the freedom! I loved it!
I wonder if the disciples were feeling that way? Jesus had been with them – sort-of- after the resurrection, but after he went up into the clouds, they were on their own. They knew that Jesus would send something to help them, in the form of the Holy Spirit, but at this point they didn’t really know what that would be, and they didn’t yet have that fire in them that would take the word to the farthest reaches of the earth. And yet, they carried on.
Jesus knew that there would be this time for the disciples when they would feel a bit wobbly about what to do next. That’s why he prayed for them.
There were several requests Jesus made – first, that the disciples’ joy would be made complete.
Perhaps this is a model for our prayers – if we pray that someone may be filled with joy in all they do, that will cover every circumstance! Jesus wants us to be joyful – if our Christian life and ministry is not bringing us and others joy maybe we need to come for more guidance in prayer.
The second request was that the disciples be protected from the evil one. This is not a general feeling of evil, but the direct opposition to their ministry that the devil stirs up whenever people step out in faith and love for Christ.
As Jesus prayed these things for his disciples, he also prayed them for us, because we too are disciples. Jesus wants us to be filled with joy, and protected from the evil one. We too can pray this way. There is a real adversary out there – the church in recent decades has been very quiet about the devil – it has gone out of fashion to mention him, and certainly too much obsession in that way is not a good idea. It can even lead to a diagnosis of mental health problems! But hang on, Jesus believed that the evil one was real. That’s good enough for me.
Jesus has one more request from God – “Sanctify them in the truth” he asks God.
What does he mean by this?
To be sanctified is to be made holy. As we accept the truth about Jesus, we too can share in being sanctified, being made holy. That’s why we are all saints! All members of the kingdom of heaven!
We read more about this in John’s first letter:
‘God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.’
Being sanctified, being members of the kingdom of heaven, having eternal life. These are all ways of expressing what happens when we are in Christ, and Christ is in us. We don’t need to fear death, because it is only a gateway, a pearly one, to eternity with God. We don’t need to fear loneliness, because Jesus is always with us. We will be opposed by the forces of the world, by the flesh and by the devil,
because we are of God, and others don’t like that, because it challenges them.
But in the end we will prevail, because we have been sanctified by the truth of God, by the great love that is God.
It is really challenging to be a Christian. I saw on Facebook this week that Alice Cooper, the rock musician, said: ‘It’s easy to drink a lot of beer. It’s easy to smash up a hotel room. But to be Christian, that’s not easy.’
Alice is right. We have so much opposition. We live in a time where most people don’t even know church exists, let alone would consider getting out of bed on a frosty Sunday morning and going there! We live in a society where care for one’s self is more important than loving your neighbour, and good deeds are so few and far between that they get a mention in the newspaper. It’s hard times we live in, but we must not despair, because Jesus has prayed for us that our joy may be complete!
Did you know joy is infectious? In a good way? If you see someone laughing and smiling, it’s hard not to laugh. In fact, there’s a game where you try not to laugh when other people do crazy things. We want to be joyful. How will we share that joy this week? Try smiling, talking kindly, complimenting people. Then the hard part – try telling people why you have that joy. Try praising God for all the things that bring you joy. This light will shine on in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.