Sunday, May 24, 2009
Be careful what you wish for. I wonder if anyone ever shared THAT little pearl of wisdom with the disciples. Someone probably should have, right? Be careful what you wish for, ESPECIALLY when it comes to Jesus.
I imagine the prayer we heard today was an answer to their wishes. All throughout his ministry among them the disciples try to stay close to him while Jesus seems to try awfully hard to get off by himself once in a while, go to a quiet place, at night, up a hill, in boat, on another shore, just to be away from everyone and pray. He tries awful hard, but he is rarely successful.
Like the paparazzi in pursuit of the perfect picture, the coveted interview or overheard sound byte, every time Jesus tries to sneak away under the cover of darkness when he thinks they are all asleep or relaxing, bellies full from another meal of abundance, the crowds and the disciples still get up and follow him. But, finally, here in the gospel according to John, the disciples get the money shot. They record the most anticipated conversation ever. Be careful what you wish for, right?
It seems to start out alright. The opening lines, which we did not hear this morning, speak of eternal life, the gift of Jesus to give to those whom the Father gives to him. There is talk of glory and the presence of God. Then comes the assurance that the people who have been with Jesus are God’s people. In a way, Jesus vouches for them. He lets God know that the disciples whom he has been keeping have heard what he has had to say. They know the truth; they believe Jesus is who he says he is. What a WONDERFUL prayer to overhear!
But, there’s always that saying - - be careful what you wish for.
I can see the disciples shooting each other nervous glances as Jesus continues. Questioning, worrying, maybe even indignant stares as his prayer makes a change in tone. After all this talk about what the disciples have done right, after all this talk about their knowledge and their belief and their place in the presence of God, now all of a sudden, Jesus starts praying for their protection.
The disciples aren’t stupid. Well, they aren’t always painted in the best light in the gospels, but they aren’t clueless about where they are and what is going on around them. This is the Thursday before Jesus’ death. Even if they can’t see the immediate future, they KNOW they are not sitting in the safest place in the world. Jesus is a wanted man. He has disturbed the peace one too many times in the eyes of the local leaders, and they are threatening to do just about ANYTHING to stop him.
But on the other hand, if Jesus really is going and going soon, what’s the big need for protection? Once he’s gone won’t the danger be gone? What’s the big threat?
His farewell message, recorded in the previous few chapters, has been intense, but it certainly doesn’t sound life-threatening. “Abide in me and I abide in you.” “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” “I have called you friends.” “I chose you.” With these words and others Jesus finishes his final lessons with his disciples before they are sent out to ministry in his name. More than anything Jesus has been talking about love, and what’s so dangerous about love?
In the last two weeks we have talked about two kinds of love that come up quite a bit in this farewell speech in John’s gospel – abiding love and active love. Abiding love, we determined, is love that is available. Love that is open and ready to give and receive whatever and whenever the object of our love needs. Abiding love is equated to hospitality in the most spiritual sense of the world. Not the hospitality of hotels and Martha Stewart, but the hospitality of welcoming monks who receive the stranger in their midst, no questions asked.
The hospitality of the disciple who is ready to answer questions of faith, ready to share what she has experienced, ready to join another on his journey, wherever that journey may take them both. The hospitality of intimacy that comes when schedules are disrupted, faults and failures are exposed, short-comings are made obvious. The hospitality of welcoming others into our midst when we don’t know how they may change the way things have always been, when we don’t know if they will love us back as much as we will love them, when we don’t know how long they will stay.
Hm! Put that way, abiding love doesn’t sound so safe after all. It threatens our comfort. It threatens the expectations we have built around ourselves and our lives. It threatens our sense of security, our sense of control, our sense of independence. Abiding love can be unsettling. It throws us off our game. It challenges our faith because it challenges our ideas of what we thought we got into this for. It means risking our hearts when we choose to follow the command that bares them to the world. It means risking our lives even if we are open to others with the unconditional love of God.
The ministry of abiding love forces us to look outside of ourselves or our community of comfort. It forces us to be open and welcoming to those who aren’t already included, to those who no one else wants to include. It forces us to look beyond our own bellybuttons to see who God has put us next to, who Jesus has brought near us to love in his name.
Protect them, O God, Jesus prays. Protect them as I have protected them, so that they do not fall away in the face of this challenge. Protect them and guard their faith so that they can love as I have loved, so they can welcome as I have welcomed, so they can abide in you and abide with others I have, with my ministry of love and welcome.
And then there is love that is more than a feeling, love that is action, what we do. We talked about this last week when Jesus gave the command to love. Feelings can’t be commanded, but actions sure can. Love is more than a feeling because it is what we do because of who we are. Love is more than a feeling because we are called to lay down our lives, we are called to carry the lives of our friends, our neighbors, our companions and co-creations on this earth.
Love is an action because it was an action for Jesus – it was feeding the hungry who had gathered. It was healing the sick who crowded around him. It was serving the tired, dirty, worried, and grieving who flocked to get close to him.. Love is an action because the forces of evil in this world cry out and demand that we confront them with our touch, our faith, our words and our actions on behalf of others.
So if we’re still questioning why Jesus’ followers needed this prayer of protection, this intercession for God’s blessing and sanctification, there are plenty of followers of Christ who can tell us. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his partners in the Civil Rights Movement can tell us why Jesus prays for his disciples’ protection. Whatever each of us thinks or believes about the lifestyle, those who fight to protect gays and lesbians from the horror of hate crimes can tell why Jesus prays for his disciples’ protection. The brave faithful who gave food, shelter, and refuge to their Jewish brothers and sisters who faced the horror of the Holocaust can tell us why Jesus prays for his disciples’ protection. Men and women who give voice to the voiceless, who advocate for children, for the homeless, for undocumented workers, for forgotten prisoners of this and every war, can tell us why Jesus prays for his disciples’ protection. Churches with the courage to pray for their enemies as often as they pray for themselves can tell us why Jesus prays for his disciples’ strength in the face of the hatred of the world.
Loving others when no one else will love them, loving others by reaching out to the poor, the outcast, the shunned, and the purposely ignored is not popular and not safe. It puts Jesus’ disciples on the side of the minority. It puts us at odds with the establishment. It throws us in the middle of battles that are raging in our culture and our society and asks us to love with all that we have and all that we are where others are only hating. And doing that puts Jesus’ disciples, puts us, right in the line of fire of that hatred. Right where we belong.
There are branches on our Christian family tree that take a look at this struggling and sinning and hurting and hurtful world around us and see only a reason to get out of it. They separate themselves physically or spiritually by refusing to be with people who are at all different in practice or belief. They try to remove themselves from the present world to look ahead only to the world that is to come.
I’d argue that Jesus’ prayer doesn’t anticipate this mentality. Jesus’ prayer doesn’t ask that his followers be removed from the world because of the hatred they will face. Jesus’ prayer asks that his followers, that we, will know and believe we are here for a higher purpose. We aren’t here to be a part of the hatred; it isn’t even enough to just run away from the hatred. We are here to combat the hatred with the love of God that is abiding and active. The love of God that is cleansing and refreshing. The love of God that drenches us, washes over us, and claims us as God’s own.
In her baptism this morning, V was prepared, as most, if not all of us, have been prepared, for living and loving in the world. We haven’t been taken out of the world; we haven’t been spared the hatred of the world that we will see and feel when follow Jesus’ command to love. Instead we are wrapped in the prayers of the Son of God. We are wrapped in the prayers of the people of God. By water and the Spirit we have been named and claimed as children of the God of love. We have been given the grace we could never earn so that we will know the feeling of unconditional love, so that we will have grace to share with the world.
In V’s baptism, in our baptisms, we have been set apart for service in the name of the God of love. We haven’t been given a free ticket out of this world, but we have been given the covenant and the promise of God’s presence with us in this world. Our call is to trust in that promise, trust in it enough to love as we have been loved – unconditionally, hospitably, without regard for whether or not we will return it, with the sacrifice of the Son of God, with his life-giving resurrection and eternal life. Trust in the promise and presence of God, that we might know and share his love with the world.