GOSPEL: John 17:1-11
On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prays to his heavenly Father, asking that those who continue his work in this world will live in unity.
1After Jesus had spoken these words [to his disciples], he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
As a kid I was left behind by my parents a lot. And by a lot I mean twice. It happened at church, and at a school event. My parents were so busy trying to get my two younger and naughtier sisters in the car that they didn’t notice I wasn’t with them. Of course, I was indignant and calm about it, simply waiting by the door until they returned.
At some point in our life – we were left behind. Whether it was by your parents accidentally – or perhaps by your older siblings quite intentionally. Maybe friends left you behind when they got new friends, or when they got new hobbies. Maybe a boyfriend or girlfriend left you behind as their life took a new turn and your place was not considered. Which immediately causes us to think – what’s wrong with me? Why wasn’t I chosen? Why wasn’t I included? Am I really not worthy?
Today we hear the ultimate left-behind story from the disciples’ perspective in the book of acts. 50 days after Easter we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus is floating into heaven, the disciples are stuck on the ground, craning their necks to watch their world just get turned upside down. Again. Again, their hopes are dashed. Again, Jesus goes someplace they cannot follow.
I would imagine that would get old. And confusing. The point of having a rabbi is to follow the rabbi, to be close to your rabbi, to watch your rabbi like a hawk and do everything your rabbi does and go everywhere your rabbi goes. And Jesus keeps skipping town.
One can only imagine what the disciples are feeling. Are we not worthy to follow Jesus? Are we not chosen? If Jesus loves us so much, why doesn’t he just take us with him. And what is this power from on high that we should be expecting to be clothed with? Now what? They are left – according to the book of Acts – looking toward heaven.
Abundant life, and glory, and a relationship with God – in John’s Gospel these aren’t things waiting out there somewhere for us in heaven – but instead are all around us – Where, we may ask? In doing what Jesus does. Healing, feeding, caring, listening, sharing…. making manifest the grace and mercy of the God “who so loved the world.”
Being left behind then is neither a sign of imperfect faith nor a chance to prove yourself worthy. Rather, for the disciples being left behind is an honor, an invitation to participate in the glory of the Father, a commissioning, in fact, into the work of the Son.
Jesus has left disciples behind for the good of the world, to continue the mission of sharing God’s love. And fortunately, we are not left to our own devices. We cannot do this by our own power and might – nor are we expected to. But it’s tempting, isn’t it? … It’s tempting both to despair at the work to be done and our inadequacy for the task. Or for the lack of members or lack of money or lack of whatever you think your church needs to be good at being disciples. Most churches are guilty of this. As if an empty pew is a sign that you’re failing.
Here’s the truth. Churches that grow too fast burn out. Churches that faithfully serve their neighbors, give of their time talent and treasure, and show the love of Christ? The holy spirit is keeping it at a steady pace.
Jesus’ last words to his disciples were a prayer, and not a prayer for growth or success or fantastic things, but protection and unity. To know the love of God, and to know that Christ is with us, and the spirit moves through us. These are the things that are true and promised. We are not called to a life of standing around looking up at the sky. Christians get a little wrapped up in this sometimes, whether it’s obsessing over when Jesus is gonna come back down and fix everything,
or obsessing over when Jesus is going to come back and judge my neighbor.
We may also stand here looking up into the sky by asking what God is going to do for us. We may look up and just ask how the Lord’s going to come down and fix our families or finances, or how the Lord’s going to give us a spouse or more friends. Or we stand here looking up into the sky by just waiting for some perfectly clear message from God about what to do in a particular situation.
The Call committee has been working hard to write a profile for this congregation. And the truth of the recent difficult years, conflict, and grief at what had been lost. But what is also true, is the Holy’s spirit’s movement here, and the story of the faithful disciples who continued to gather.
You are doing it. This is a growing congregation. You have what you need to be faithful disciples. And Jesus’ prayer for you is protection and unity.
The epistle reading today reminds us…. the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.
And perhaps it’s a good thing Jesus isn’t standing here with us. Cause really if Jesus were still here on Earth with us – we’d count on him to get the important work done. We’d count on him to tell us what to do – who to minister to – and do the hard parts when we’re tired and frustrated.
Are we there yet Jesus? Is it time yet? Are these people worthy? How far are we going here?
7Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
That’s who is worthy and that’s how far we’ll go.
You will receive the Holy Spirit – not you might if you’re good enough, or smart enough, or strong enough. You will. We proclaim the Holy Spirits presence because it is promised. That if you ever feel left behind or left out – if you ever feel unworthy or scared or not good enough. That you have been left behind for a purpose.