Summary: This Sermon is an encouragement to live out our faith in the midst of a world that is hostile to followers of Christ.
Every now and then, you hear about someone who makes a lasting tribute to a loved one. Jack Benny comes to mind. He made arrangements that upon his death, flowers would be sent to his wife every day for the rest of her life. Makes the rest of us look bad, I know! Sometimes however, memorial messages aren’t so intentional. I love the story of the man who sent his wife a text message after checking into his Florida hotel on a business trip. She was going to meet him there the next day, but he died shortly after checking in so she never went. As it happens with text messages, every now and then one will get lost in the system and show up days, or even months later. His showed up the day after his funeral. It was short and to the point: “Honey, it’s been a long journey, and I am finally all checked in here. I am so excited that you will be joining me soon; I can’t wait to see you. P.S. – It’s really hot here.” Not the message he would have sent if he had known the circumstances!
In John 17, we find a message from Jesus in a powerful prayer he prays to God the Father. First off Jesus prays for himself, then for the disciples, and then continues on to pray for all those whom the Gospel will reach (you and I are in there!). And unlike the text message from Florida, Jesus knows his circumstances. He knows what’s coming very shortly. In fact, John tells us that immediately after this prayer Jesus crosses the Kidron Valley with the disciples, and goes to the olive grove where he is arrested. So we can’t miss the impact of this prayer. Not only is it Jesus prayer for you, it is his prayer that the disciples and those who follow will carry on His mission of Salvation after he ascends into heaven.
This is our prayer too for our time today: That we would be encouraged in our faith that the midst of a harsh and hostile world, we too would carry out Christ’s mission of salvation as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. I hate to use those words, harsh and hostile, but there isn’t really any way to make it softer. Jesus himself uses plain language in telling us what life on this spinning globe is like for Christians: the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Jesus was about to experience the full hatred of the world in less than 48 hours as he was going to die on the cross for the sins of the world. He paid sin’s full and horrible penalty for us, but it seems there is still plenty of hatred to go around.
You know it, you read about it all the time, you see it on TV; you listen to it on the radio. Much of the world is full of hatred. And much of this hatred is directed at God and those who follow him. It’s fun to try and humiliate Christians. It’s cool to try and poke holes in faith. I know people who are afraid to share their faith at work because they will be treated differently. There are atheist groups who take out ads attacking faith. They have even started calling themselves the “Brights,” as to imply that those of us who believe in God are the “Not-so-brights.” It’s pretty clear that the life of a Christian isn’t supposed to be easy in the short term. Jesus knew hatred, his disciples knew hatred, and frankly all those who follow Jesus will come to know it as well. In our country we actually have it pretty easy in this regard, but it’s there all the same.
So what’s the answer? A few years ago, I realize that my mom gave me a gift. A gift I didn’t want, namely a kind of claustrophobia mixed with a dash of agoraphobia. It means that if I’m in a big crowd and things get a little tight, I start to shut down and look for an exit. I know what you are thinking, “what a great quality for a pastor to have!” I almost made it all the way through my 20’s without suffering from it, but then Anne and I went to a Greek festival in Texas. It was fine at first. I was standing next to Anne and our friends casually talking and then suddenly a Greek band began to play and some Greek dances ran out and began twirling around and around. The crowd lurched forward and here I was being squeezed in from the back and in front people I didn’t know spinning, and spinning, and spinning in front of me. I couldn’t take it. I looked at Anne and said, I am going to go sit down outside, you stay here with everyone as long as you like. Anne found me sitting on a curb breathing in deeply the humid summer air. I told her I was fine. And I truly was, it felt wonderful just to sit and be out of the crowd, and relax.