Message the Sunday following the State Track Meet

Following is the message that was heard in our church the day after the State Track Meet, on May 28, 2017. The scriptures used were: John 17:1-11, I Peter 4:12-14 & 5:6-11 and Acts 1:6-14. The title was “That They May Be One.”

Today it is really the beginning of summer in our house. The track season is over, and we are as some would say, finally free of meets and practices. I am thinking that it might even be time to put out the garden one day this week. As I said in the newsletter, it is my favorite time and my least favorite time. I have so enjoyed this season even for as tightly crammed as it was and even for the way I felt so tired sometimes. As I sat down on Friday night to put together this message, I couldn’t help but think of the scriptures a few weeks ago that pointed us to the message of “Life Here, too,” which was based off a podcast from the National website called “Enjoy this life.”

I have tried to use that whole concept of enjoying the life you are given as a jumping off board, a focus of a way to think of things, and to that I have been trying to add the idea of living in the moment. That thought of being present in what is happening in your life at the time and enjoying it has really been gnawing on me. I tried hard to put that into play this weekend, and for the most part it seemed to work. Maybe we will take a little time out here to give you the grumps of the weekend, just to get them out of the way so that the rest of this message will really have a turned up, happy note to it.

Ok, so the down side was really limited to a couple of things and mainly it boils down to only one thing and that is the attitude of entitlement. In North Dakota we only have a Class A and a Class B, and it gets really tiresome to learn that rules are being changed because certain things don’t seem to suit the important people in Class A. It is also annoying to have certain people on the team end up always doing the heavy lifting, and I do mean heavy in terms of setting up and taking down while others seem to skate by, always, even when duties have been assigned. And mostly working with youngsters is emotionally draining because they have this awful tendency to grow up and graduate and move on, and that is just way too hard for some of us. So, my warning to you is that no one here is allowed to move away, even if you get some notion that you want to be closer to children or other family or whatever the excuse is. I just won’t have it.

The entire group heading to state.

Ok, grumpy piece over, now for the good part. I ended up driving a mini-van on our trip, and instead of putting the older students in it, we left them with Mr. Haak on the mini-bus where there was more leg room, and I took the youngest group, the 7th graders. Let me just say that I have not heard so much giggling in a very long time, and I think that a few of them might have had stomach aches from laughing. It was a wonderful sound even somewhat musical and as I listened to them, I could feel their complete, absolute and pure joy. There was nothing better, even when they were giggling because they were making fun of my driving. So understand that it was this last story, this young childlike joy that was in my mind as I did a reread of the scripture lessons for this week.

As we start with the lesson in Acts, we find a story very similar to the one at the end of Luke in terms of the ascension of Jesus. Although in Luke it flat out uses the phrase “great joy,” I also get the impression of joy from the accounting of the event in this passage in Acts. We don’t see the word joy or exultation or anything on that line, but we also do not read anything that might indicate fear or alarm or sadness or gloom. These verses tell about how Jesus talks to his disciple, basically giving them their final instructions before he leaves them. In some of the other gospels we are told that this is when he is taken to his rightful place at the right hand of God. To me that idea alone should give us the image of an unimaginable joy that Christ is able to experience.

The other joy and the part I want us to concentrate on is the feelings of the disciples and what feelings that should give us. When Christ is taken away, according to the story in Acts, the disciples are visited by two men in white, two angels we presume. They tell the disciples to stop looking, or staring up looking for Jesus, because he will come again. Now the disciples had been told earlier to return to Jerusalem. They know he wants them to stay there waiting for the Holy Spirit to come to them, and so they go, and I will bet it wasn’t with dread or sadness over the past, but with joyful anticipation for what is next. Of course they were grown men, so it might not have been with giggles, but I kind of believe that they were on their way with smiles, even though Jesus had just left them.

If we look at the words from I Peter we read that Peter told the early Christians to rejoice that they were sharing in the suffering of Christ because they would then be able to shout for joy when he returns. Nothing could be truer than that statement. Think about it, no matter how bad things get, and I suppose the worse they get, the more we will shout in for the return of Christ to end the suffering and the agony. And this is true if we actually live to the age of his return or if it is the day that he comes for us alone. In truth, that day will be one of great joy for us as Christians.

The remaining verses in Peter give us some advice for the in-between time. Two things stand out for me. The first is the idea that we should cast all of our cares, all of our anxieties on Christ, and the second is that we should keep ourselves alert for the evil powers which exist in that world that would keep us from what is right, from what Christ wants of us. I love that image of the devil prowling the earth around looking for someone to devour, as if he were some giant swamp creature or the abominable snowman. Maybe it is those sorts of images that make us think there is no such evil power in the world. Perhaps if we thought more of a cunning and conniving con-artist sort of creature, maybe then we would be more likely to believe that there is a power that works to perpetuate evil in the world. Peter’s point in essence is that we need to keep our faith and trust in Christ and God will take care of us.

Exactly! For God to take care of us is just what Jesus prays for in the verses that we read in John 17. This passage is known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It is his prayer for the disciples and his prayer for us. He offers it to God shortly before he is betrayed and crucified. In it, Jesus asks for God to take care of his disciples and give them the task of completing the work he has started so that his work will not have been in vain. I know we can all understand that concept of hoping that what we do is not in vain, I can’t imagine how much Jesus felt the need to make sure his work would be finished by faithful disciples. And in many ways that means us as much as the original 12.

Tomorrow many of the communities in our country will be celebrating Memorial Day. We will gather to honor the men and women who served in our military and especially those who died while in service to secure and protect the freedoms that we have. As much as some of us might disagree about which freedoms we should embrace or exercise and how much we should value any or all of them, if we were to give up any bit of those freedoms, we would be essentially telling those who served and sacrificed especially those who died that what they gave up was not important. We would be telling them that their sacrifice no matter how big or small was really all in vain. I know that I couldn’t do it, and I am pretty sure none of you would be able to do it either, to tell a Veteran that their service was worthless.

I know that what Christ did for all of us was so much more than any of us could do for another, yet isn’t it written that the greatest love a person can have is to lay down their life for another? Each Memorial Day as we gather to honor our country’s fallen soldiers, we do that to ensure that none of them died in vain, that none of them sacrificed their lives or physical or mental well being or even their time without it being worth something.

Jesus in his final prayer to his Father in heaven, as he is about to leave his human existence, asks that his work, his time on earth not be without meaning. His prayer is that God look after the disciples that were given to him, so that they will be able not just to fulfill the work Jesus started, but that they will complete it and in doing that they will also experience the joy that Jesus knew while being about that work.

Of course we also read this to refer to us as believers and disciples in our own way and time. Jesus wants us to continue his mission of spreading his gospel, his love all the way to the ends of the earth, and while we do that he wants us to have the same rewards of knowing him and knowing the joy of eternity that he asked God to give to the original disciples.

At the end of the gospel lesson we read for today, we come across the words: “that they may be one.” A bit further into the chapter in verse 21, we see those words again with just a little twist. In verse 21 it is written, “That they may all be one.” That is the verse picked to be the motto of our wider church. Jesus wants that for us, that we would be one with each other as he and the Father are one, united and working together as soldiers in the trenches, and perhaps to put it in language I understand better, as members of a team, who all have the same goal. That they may all be one.

Jesus asks God to protect his disciples, the 12 that were closest to him, and all who have come to believe in him. He also asks that all his disciples could be one as he and the father are one. To me that means we should learn to love each other in a deep, intensely joyful, Christian love. This love is not restricted by family or gender or skin color or culture or economic status, but it is a love as Christ loves. Christ wants us to be one, to be open and accepting and caring for each other in the same way that Christ and God love each other.

I really believe that when we are willing to open ourselves up to that attitude and when we are willing to take up the task of helping the gospel to spread to the ends of the earth, we will know the love and peace and joy of Christ, and when we do, we will also be able to experience the kind of happiness that makes our sides hurt from laughing. Go this week living in the moment and experiencing the joy of Christ. Amen!

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