Finding Your Place in the Story

Easter7 / John Stiles / 6-5-11 / Holy Cross Lutheran Church

John 17:1-11
17After Jesus had spoken these words, 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.

Children’s time: Have you ever wanted to do something really bad, and you asked your mom or your dad and he said, “No”? How did that feel? Not too good, right. Well what if instead, mom said, “We’ll see.” What does that mean? Some people think “we’ll see” always means “No!” What it really means is that there might be some waiting to do. When we are impatient, sometimes people say “we have ants in our pants.” We can hardly sit still. But God sometimes answers our prayers with a “we’ll see” or a “not yet.” In our lesson for today, Jesus told the disciples to go and wait until they received power from God. He was going back into heaven, but they wanted to make him their king. God would be with them, instead Jesus said, through the Holy Spirit. So, the next time you get impatient and can hardly sit still, remember that “we’ll see” doesn’t always mean “no” …it might just mean “you’ll see… someday.”

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

This story has a beginning and an end, but I’m not quite sure where to start. You see, in one respect, it’s about Jesus and his comings and goings. Really we’re at the end of his ministry on earth. If this were a movie, you could start with this scene of Ascension: of Jesus being taken up into the clouds… then the whole rest of the movie could be a flashback, to tell us about him and his ministry – of his miraculous birth, life, death and rising. That would be one possibility. But notice that he’s promising power to the disciples after he leaves: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” So, it could be the beginning of a sequel to the gospels: “Jesus 2: The Power of Pentecost.” You remember that day: the birthday of the church, where tongues of fire descended from the heavens, igniting the disciples with holy fire – ready to take the world by storm! But that can’t be it – because in John, we have Jesus praying this lengthy prayer, on the night he’s arrested, saying: “I was with you, Father, before the world came into being.” So, it’s got to be a prequel to the Bible: “Jesus First Class: Genesis Revealed.” Here is the cosmic Christ, who was there at the beginning, separating atom from atom – co-creating Eve and Adam – setting the stars and planets in their courses! Just imagine the special effects needed to try and pull off a billion years of creating! And, let’s not forget those two chaps dressed in white, addressing the disciples, who are standing on Mount Olivet, gaping toward the sky after Jesus was taken up: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking up in the sky? Don’t you know that this Jesus will come back to you in the same manner he was taken up from you?” Of course! It’s a movie entitled: “Jesus: End Game – the Second Coming.” A grand spectacle of de-scension, beginning with Jesus’ return to this earth in glory on the Last Day!

So, you see just how pivotal these stories are to all of us, past, present and future? We’re in here, too, you know. And maybe that’s the best place to start – in finding ourselves in the story. Jesus said to his disciples (in Acts 1:8) “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and all the ends of the earth.” Now, I’ve never been to Jerusalem or Judea or Samaria… but I’m pretty sure the disciples got those places covered. Plus, there are plenty of Christians who live there today – bearing witness to Christ. I’m more interested in this last line “and all the ends of the earth” which leads us right here to our doorstep in Oakdale, Lake Elmo, Woodbury, Maplewood, North St. Paul, River Falls, Newport, Cottage Grove – just where is your little corner of this world? That end of the earth upon which you stand? That place you come to and go from each day? It’s your turf, your “beat on the street” so to speak. The place you do your living.

If you live in Oakdale, you can pretty much bet that “end of the earth” starts with a “G” or an “H” (unless you live on a street with a number). Is it “Hadley” or “Helmo”? “Gentry” or “Geneva”? There’s Heron, Hilo, Heath and Homestead – where I come from. And, down here by the church you know of Glenbrook, Greenway, Grospoint and Greystone.

When it all comes spinning down to the particular place you happen to be – this story takes on new meaning. Suddenly, it’s not just about Jesus and the disciples anymore. It’s not a sequel or a prequel – It’s about us live and on location. Yes, we are filming right now – catching all this on tape at your end of the earth. What do you see there? And do there? Where does your Christ story begin and end?

And, like the disciples, we often try to change the subject. Notice the first thing the disciples ask Jesus in our lesson today: it’s about what “he’s going to do…” “Lord, is this the time you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” They want to go back to the glory days of Israel, with a king and a mighty army – when, all along, Jesus is calling them to a kingdom of hearts transformed – a country that has no borders – a plan for a multitude so great it cannot be numbered. “And, you will be my witnesses” he tells them.

But they want him to do it.

You can’t have witnesses without someone standing up and opening their lips and telling their side of the story. It just isn’t possible. So, how does that happen? What are we supposed to say?

It’s been said that there are basically 3 answers to a prayer request: “Yes,” “No,” and “Wait.” Or “Not yet.” Or “We’ll see.” (and we all know what that means!) At the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells them to wait. Just before he’s taken up into heaven at the town of Bethany, he says, “Go and wait in the city until you are clothed with power.” And then you’ll know what to do.

I don’t like to wait. Sometimes it drives me crazy. When I get an idea in my head, I want to see it strait through, from beginning to end – often times pouring all my energy into completing the task – without thinking about what others have in mind. This happened a few weeks ago, while I was at a continuing education event. I had a whole morning free and I took it upon myself to stain the back deck behind our house. All the materials had been purchased, the weather was looking nice (no rain in the forecast for the next 2 days). The kids were still in school. I can do this, I thought to myself. What I didn’t think about was asking Sandy what she thought. She wanted to sand down some of the boards first and do some other prep work… and I was impatient… and in the dog house for a few days after that! Waiting doesn’t come naturally for most of us. We’re impatient. We want to see results.

And Jesus speaks instead, of mustard seeds, taking root in the earth… becoming (in due time) the largest of all shrubs, providing nests for every kind of bird. When I’m in a hurry, Jesus reminds me of that yeast in the dough – it takes so very little, but the loaf won’t rise without it. Do you know how long it takes for bread to rise? Who’s got the time for that anymore!? But ours is not a God of quick fixes and flashy endings. It’s the ordinary routines that win out with Jesus.

Chatting with a neighbor – volunteering in our community – raising your children – caring for an aging loved one. All around us are ordinary opportunities full of extraordinary promise.

And, while Jesus won’t do it for us… he doesn’t want us to “go it alone” either. How do we get it right then? Well how does this story end? In fact, just what do the disciples do at the end of this section in our lesson today? They go back to Jerusalem, to that upper room, and devote themselves to prayer.

Prayer is where this reading ends today. And it’s where the journey begins for the disciples. So, let it be where we begin each day, living live, on-location, as the story unfolds in our own end of the earth.

O God, you sent your Son Jesus to accomplish what we could not do on our own – that salvation won through his death and resurrection from the tomb. Hold us in prayer, as we find our way as your witnesses in our own particular corner of the earth this day. Amen.

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