Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
Anybody else start to feel their eyes roll up in their heads in the midst of the Gospel reading this morning? I know I did. I just want to shout, “John, just stop!” I mentioned last week that Jesus has been giving his very long farewell discourse to his disciples. I was wrong, it isn’t quite half the book, but it is 4 chapters and this prayer is right at the end, right before Jesus is arrested. Jesus is trying to make sure his Disciples feel equipped to be without him. We get to overhear this because we need to be equipped to be without Jesus and yet live as his body in the world, as the church, believers who gather in community.
Picture a mom as she bids farewell to his child who is leaving for college. The kid is sitting in the car piled high with clothes and supplies for this next stage of the journey. And mom is running beside the car as it pulls out of the driveway, “Don’t forget to test the smoke alarm! Call if you need anything. I can be there in an hour! You’ve got this kiddo! Did you remember to pack the popcorn popper?” and on and on.
Like a caring mother saying goodbye for now, Jesus wants to make sure we are equipped to be without him. Are you interested to know what Jesus wanted us to know? Are you interested in being equipped?
Jesus was aware that this world is full of dangers and temptations. Mom would say, “Don’t drink too much at parties. If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you? Be sure to wear protection.” Jesus prays to God with his Disciples listening, “I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” Jesus prays especially about the world. Yes, there are many joys in this world and much beauty, but that’s not what Jesus is talking about. This concept of world is mentioned over and over again this morning. It refers to whatever is at odds with God or rejects Jesus and his values. Jesus stands against the values of this world, like greed and might makes right and division and a limited view. The world’s values and power can easily tempt us, like they did Judas, and we can succumb to the pressures of this world and reject the life that Jesus is trying to give us.
This world is dangerous, so Jesus prays for God’s protection. This isn’t protection from pain or injury or even death, this is protection from temptation that may cause us to stray from values that give us life.
But even though the world is hostile, Jesus doesn’t hate the world or want to destroy it. Remember John 3:16 “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son… that we may not perish but have eternal life.” The world is hostile and life-taking, but God created the world—it got way off track. So God came into the world as Jesus to show love, to show another way, to redeem the world. Just a few sentences before our Gospel reading for today, Jesus says, “Take courage; I have conquered the world!” By dying and rising again to give life to the world, he’s shown the powers of the world are nothing. They won’t have the last word. By the way he’s lived his life, he’s exposed the hypocrisy of the world. By his death on the cross he’s shown the cruelty of the world. He’s conquered the world, but not to destroy it. He’s conquered the world in order to give the world new life.
Mom says, “Call when you get there so I know you’ve arrived safely. Be sure to call if you need anything.” Jesus says, “All mine are yours and yours are mine … may they be one as we are one.” Through this prayer, Jesus is affirming that even though he won’t be there in person, God and the apostles will still be connected. God will still reveal God’s word to them. They will have all the powers that Jesus has. They will have all their belief and faith that guides and motivates them. They will have a sense of belonging, a relationship with God that will sustain them.
Part of this is reflected in the reading from Acts. There the apostles are trying to move forward. There had been 12 of them and there is this empty space left by Judas. It is making them feel deficient. Maybe they wonder if they should have done something different to prevent Judas hurting Jesus. Maybe they point the finger at each other for what happened with Judas. But 11 isn’t a number that is working for them. They want to fill that slot, not only to move on, but to honor the number that Jesus picked which corresponded with the 12 tribes of Israel. 12 is a number that means complete and they wanted to make sure no one was left behind as Jesus’ ministry went forward. They pick a new guy to help them feel they have a solid number of apostles to stay in connection with God who will sustain them.
Funny thing is, God agrees about leaving no out, so keeps picking more and more apostles to keep the community connected. Matthias is chosen to make sure all 12 tribes are represented. Mary Magdalene is nearby and we know she does the work of the apostles, sharing the good news. The Gentiles need to know they are included in the next steps and so Paul becomes an apostle, and you and I are appointed to be part of this crew of people who are so connected with Jesus that we are living life in a countercultural way.
So on to my next point, the values and direction of the world are so destructive and hostile to Jesus’ values and here we are trying to live those values of Jesus. It is like we are aliens in a foreign land (the world), speaking a different language, having different customs and rituals, and living in a completely different way than the world around us. Mom says, “Don’t forget who you are.” Jesus says, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world.” The world is full of division and hurt and greed. The world tempts us to value money and possessions and late night parties and fleeting pleasure. That is the culture we live in in the world. But that is not the culture we have in our hearts. That is not who we are. Jesus is asking that we would remain true to our values and identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God, of forgiveness, generosity, love, truth-telling, and standing up for the poor and forgotten.
And the final point. Mom says, “Have fun!” Jesus says, “I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.” This is a little more than “Have fun.” Fun is a momentary, fleeting feeling, but joy is a deeper satisfaction, a more lasting contentment not based on outside happenstance. The whole point of the protection and the staying connected and the focus on the values of God’s Kingdom is that we would have joy and that joy would come to the whole community and the world. The whole point is joy.
So in a little while we won’t see each other, but I encourage you to stay connected, act on your values, remember who you are, and be joyful. We come here each week, like a college student, to do our laundry and be washed clean, to speak our native language of forgiveness, generosity, and love, to be strengthened against the temptations of this world, to stay connected with our heavenly Mother and our family, and to experience joy. And lets not forget that we eat together the food that nourishes and sustains us and connects us to our story and what is true.