Summary: It's Jesus' final evening with his disciples, empty dishes are on the table, feet have been washed, and one of them has gone. But two things have kept recurring in Jesus' conversation. He's leaving. And they must remain connected to the Holy Spirit.
Sermon by Rev Ruth Newmarch
After the happiness of Steph and Nic's wedding yesterday, its hard to hear about suffering for our faith. But if you think about it, hardship is mentioned even in the wedding service, 'for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health...'.
In today's passage, it is Jesus' final evening with his disciples, there are empty dishes on the table, their feet have been freshly washed, and one of them has gone into the night. But two things have kept recurring in Jesus' conversation.
Firstly, he's leaving them and returning to the Father, but the Holy Spirit is coming to replace him. There's rich Trinitarian material here, but the main point is that by believing in Jesus, the disciples are brought into the life of God! They're threaded into the very love and life of the Godhead...like the grape-grower's vine, with its branches and fruit.
The second things that has kept recurring is, they must stay connected to the life of God. How will they do this? They must obey his commandment to love each other. They must serve each other in humility, during their physical separation from Jesus.
But in our passage today, Jesus prepares the disciples for – rejection by the world. Now remember the 'world' in John doesn't mean the world God created for us to enjoy, but the moral world, a way of thinking that stands in opposition to God.
A few years ago Ben Wong, Ivy's husband, was preaching at a baptism service for new believers from mainland China. I was surprised that he made point after point about the hardships they might encounter. Their business might not be as successful; splits might occur in the family; they might not get promotions; they might not be as welcome in certain social circles; their status in the Chinese community might well go down, not up. Ben wanted these new believers to be prepared when they encountered opposition from the world.
In verse 18 Jesus tells the disciples the world will hate them. Why? Quite simply because they hated Jesus first. He had chosen them out of the world, so the world reacts in anger towards them, v 19. Like the White Witch in Narnia, the world is not happy when Aslan is on the move bringing warmth and life and spring in his wake.
But Jesus reminds the disciples that a servant isn't greater than their master, v 20, so if Jesus was persecuted, they may endure hardship too. If people kept Jesus' words, so some would also keep the disciples' words.
But notice that Jesus is the immovable One, like a lighthouse. He is the stationary object around which the waters swirl. His light can be heeded... or ignored. But why would you ignore a lighthouse? Only if you don't know what the flashes mean. And if you don't know what the flashes mean, its because you don't know there's a lighthouse keeper...the one who sends the message for your survival. People who ignore Jesus, don't know the light-house keeper, the Father, the one from whom the light emanates, who sends the Light, verse 21 tells us.
Verse 21 also says hardship will come 'on account of my name'. If we have become connected into the life of God through Jesus, we are his family, we bear his name! We are Christians. We get both the glory and suffering of Christ.
But what are some examples of hardship we may be encountering? If you're a CRE teacher, you may have felt quite vulnerable lately. One CRE chaplain I spoke to recently said she had been called to a meeting last year with parents who were very opposed to government funding of school chaplains. Although she was not attacked personally, heated words were said in her presence about religious groups. For weeks she felt quite fearful, and struggled to go to school. CRE teachers are experiencing some frontline opposition, and need our support and prayer.
If you believe in objective truth, rather than everyone's truth being equally valid, you may have felt marginalised in some conversations. Australian society no longer accepts the historic definition of marriage, which may cause you to feel out of sync with mainstream Australia. If from Romans 1 you believe that living out a gay lifestyle (as opposed to having same-gender attraction) is against God's moral order, you may have felt quite uncomfortable in some company. If you are unmarried, you're not expected by society to live a celebate life. So if you are, you may be made to feel like you're missing out. Someone I spoke with recently was feeling alone in their own family as they're the only one who now goes to church.
The persecution Jesus is warning about is incurred simply because we belong to Jesus.