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Lectionary Sermons: Easter

Full Participation in the Life of God

By Derek Olsen

Seven Easter Year C:
Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97, Rev. 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26

This is an amazing Gospel, but it's not an easy gospel. It's not an easy gospel to understand or to hear or to do, but it is an amazing gospel. The psalms tell us that the word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path and if so we need sunglasses for this gospel; and not just sunglasses but UV filters, polarizers, and sunscreen because if we get too close we might just get burned. Folks, this is an amazing Gospel!

This reading from St. Johns gospel contains information about what Jesus does before his arrest and crucifixion. At the Last Supper he says a prayer called the "high priestly prayer." This is his great prayer for his disciples, a prayer just as important as the Lord's Prayer. John 17 is the end of it; this is his final action of Jesus with his disciples and on behalf of his disciples before the cross. These words are important.

Now, there are a lot of directions that we could go in here. Some people read this and to start talking about denominations. Jesus prays that we all might be one, which means we Christians should all be one big happy family. This is a message about which I could preach. After all, my wife is Anglican, my parents are Presbyterians, and my best friend is a Methodist preacher. I could go there - but I'm not going to. That's a sermon for another day. As important as ecumenism and relations between churches are to me, that's not the primary point of this gospel.

Or, I could talk about mission. That's another direction we could go in with this gospel. It mentions something about "that the world might know that you sent me" so we could talk about telling the whole world the Good News and that would make a good sermon. I could go there but I'm not going to. There's something that is even more important; there's something here that demands our attention. It's not just words about the Good News; it's not just a prayer concerning the Good News; it is the Good News!

It doesn't always get preached, though. I've heard people preach this passage and barely mention the Good News. You see, this isn't an easy thing to do. When you preach about the Good News, it's actually safer than preaching the News. You can talk about the Good News and try to circle around it and point out neat facets without ever getting close enough to touch it. And that's a whole lot safer because when the news is proclaimed a little bit of the reality of who God is shines through. It's like lifting the veil, the curtain to the holy of holies in the ancient temple. Remember the veil in the temple, the veil covering the most holy place, the veil covering the place where God dwelt? It wasn't for God's protection, but was for ours.

In this passage, Jesus prays for nothing less than that we should participate in the life of God. Jesus prays that we might share in the very life, the very existence of God. We are made an offer and given an opportunity, to not just know about God or to learn of God, but to live inside of God, to hide ourselves in God. You see, this is the glory that we have been given. As verse 22 says: "The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one." Jesus lives and dwells within the glory and the power of God, and we have also been given that opportunity, that is if we seize it. But, how do we do that? How do we do it?

I've done a lot of learning in my life. When I graduated from high school, man, I thought I knew it all. I didn't think there was anything that anybody could teach me. I was "the man." When I got out of college, I thought I was doing fine. Seminary? I was going to teach those professors a lesson since I had everything figured out. Then I got married. It was during that rapid slide back down to the bottom of the food chain that I learned that I had no idea how much I had to learn. And one of the hardest things for me to learn so far, probably the hardest thing, is that when I make decisions, they don't just affect me. When I was a bachelor, I had this idea that I could do whatever I wanted and that the only person who would be affected by my choices was myself. I could make decisions about where I wanted to live, what I wanted to do and how I wanted to spend my spare time. When I got married, things changed - because, there was another person in the picture. Suddenly if I wanted to make a decision about how to spend my money or how to spend my time, it wasn't just about me anymore. There were consequences and those affected Meredith just as much as they affected me. I hurt her at times because sometimes I still make decisions based on "me" - instead of decisions based on "we." It is a hard thing to learn. I don't want to hurt her, because I love her; she means everything to me. So, after a year and nine months of married life, two of the hardest things for me to adjust to are remembering that I don't live in a vacuum and that my choices affect someone else.

So why do I mention this? What's the point of bringing this up? It's because falling in love opens up whole new worlds. Falling in love teaches you new ways of thinking, new ways of being. And more than just falling in love, more than that initial rush of joy and happiness, living into love is a process of transformation. I don't make choices the same way I did two years ago. I don't think about things the same way I did two years ago. I don't read the Bible the same way I did two years ago. It's not because the choices have changed; it's not because the Bible has changed. They haven't - I have. Love unites us; love transforms us.

In his prayer, Jesus invites us into nothing less than the transforming, refining, burning, love of God. Verse 23 reads: "I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." What kind of offer is this - do we realize what he is saying? God's love for his perfect pure, spotless, only begotten Son is the same love that he has for you and me and for all of his creation. There is no difference between his love for Jesus and his love for you. The same intense, overwhelming, overshadowing love that loved Jesus back to life that Easter morning burns in God's heart for you. God has loved you before the very foundation of the world and Jesus Christ has been sent into the world that he might point the way and that he might proclaim through his life, death, and resurrection, the enormity, the incomprehensibility, the limitless, infinite flood of God's love for his whole creation.

But that's not all: "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." And after this Jesus doesn't just says these words, but he does them. He offers his body, his blood, his spirit, his very life for us and for all creation upon the shadowed hill of Calvary that we might know that the power of God's love has no end; that death, that cruelty, that hatred, that Roman imperial power or any imperial power does not have the last word, but that the last word belongs to God through the power of his love. This is a love that is for us and can be in us.

You see, what Jesus offers us is nothing less than participation, a sharing in the very life a God, a living within the love of God - a love that he died to proclaim, a love that death could not silence. God has loved you from before the foundation of the world and for what? For nothing more and nothing less than being you. There is nothing that you can do to make God love you. Isn't that a scary thought? There is nothing that you can do to make God love you because he already does so with a love of such intensity that is almost frightening and sometimes overwhelming. Receive it; open yourself to it; soak it up; and pour it out. Don't worry - there's enough to go around. Play in it; splash in it; wash yourself in it; hide in it; drink it in; soak it in; breathe it in. The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. But I warn you - drink it, and you will never be the same again.

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