Here is your great blessing and joy: God knows the struggles you have to follow Christ in a threatening world, and shelters you in love, giving you grace and strength to follow.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Seventh Sunday of Easter, year B
Text: John 17:6-19
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Do you see what a blessing and gift this prayer is?
Look, Christ’s call is always clear. Open almost any page of the Gospels and you’ll see Jesus, God Incarnate, calling you to follow, to live in God’s way of love, to be transformed into Christ yourself. In fact, last Thursday, we saw that the Ascension handed the job of bearing Christ in the world to us, to those who follow Christ.
But that’s a really difficult job in an overwhelmingly challenging world. Look at the problems that our society and political systems have that crush life out of so many, or at our complications living into our relationships, or at your dealing with your own internal struggles, mental suffering, spiritual lostness, self doubt. This isn’t an easy calling. To be God’s love for yourself, and in your relationships, and in the world: it’s easy to feel inadequate. To judge yourself, even to despair.
But did you see this blessing today, this gift Jesus gives you?
Today, Jesus reveals a wonder: God knows exactly how hard this all is.
This is an overlooked blessing of the Incarnation. The Triune God entered into our human life and lived all we did. Experienced grief, the death of loved ones, challenging relationships, and a society with poverty, oppression, war, violence, hatred, even faced death.
Today Jesus names that following his path in this world is really hard for us, that sending us to be Christ’s love in the world is daunting, and Jesus carries in-person knowledge and experience of this into God’s heart.
Of course God sees all, and knows the world is hard for those who seek to love God and neighbor, and even for those who don’t. But because of Jesus’ life here, your struggle to be Christ, to be God’s love, is now known in the very center of the life of the Trinity.
And Jesus also shared this as prayer. Consider that gift.
The Son lifts up to the Father, with the Spirit dancing alongside, that those of us who follow are going to have a hard go of it in a world with evil and suffering. And in this prayer, Jesus says, “We have to help them.”
“As you have sent me,” he prays, “so I have sent them into the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” Jesus prays, “Let’s hold them together and protect them as they live their life as Anointed Ones in the world. Let’s be on their side.”
That means whatever you struggle with to be Christ, you are now and always wrapped in God’s love.
Whether you’re struggling with your family, dealing with your internal grief or anguish, anxious about the health or well-being of those you love, overwhelmed by the problems of the world that you don’t know how to change, ashamed by your own sin or wrongdoing, whatever it is, you are sent out into this world protected, watched, forgiven, cared for, sheltered in God’s eternal love as you are sent to be Christ.
It’s fair to ask: does that really make a difference to your life?
Well, having someone understand us in our struggles is huge. When someone else knows what you’re going through and empathizes with you, that can transform you. You’re not alone, suffering and struggling unnoticed while the world rolls by. So, anything, anything, you share with God in prayer is something God already experienced and knows you’re dealing with. That’s deeply comforting.
But this prayer means the Triune God commits to actively help you, protect you, bless you. Jesus, this same Thursday night, promised to send the Holy Spirit as a comforter and advocate, literally as someone who walks alongside you. The Spirit brings you peace, guidance, and wisdom, and is with you always. That’s Jesus’ gift and blessing today.
And the end goal of all of this for God is shared joy.
Last week Jesus promised that abiding in his love will complete our joy. Today Jesus prayed the same, for completed joy in all who follow. In this prayer, and the sheltering love of God that surrounds you, the door is opened for you to find God’s joy.
That’s God’s ultimate desire for the whole creation, Scripture says. Yes, God wants to end poverty and oppression and all that is evil in how we live together, and create justice and peace. Yes, God wants to heal your heart and spirit, and your relationships. Yes, God wants to draw all into a life of love of God and neighbor. But all those things serve God’s deeper goal: to draw the whole creation into the joy of abundant life in God now and forever.
Don’t fret if you don’t feel complete joy now. That’s where Christ’s abundant life is drawing you, making in you and in the creation. It may be that you and I won’t know “completed” joy, “end-goal” joy, until the life that is to come after we die.
But Jesus came so that you might have abundant life now. That you might walk through the door opened in God’s sheltering love to find joy even in a world that’s threatening and confusing and overwhelming, with the Spirit giving you the courage and strength to follow Christ’s path ever more faithfully.
That’s what God will do, and is already doing, for the joy of all creation.
In the name of Jesus. Amen