[Jesus said:] "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. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for 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. I 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. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

And 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. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 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. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth."

John 17:6-19

Pastor Marc's sermon on the Seventh Sunday of Easter (May 17, 2015) on John 17:6-19. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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When was the last time you rode off into the sunset? 

Now maybe it’s because I just came back from Denver and I have cowboys and westerns on my mind - but last Sunday, I rode off into the sunset. Well, more like I flew into a sunset. During the flight from Newark, we spent the whole time trying to catch the sun. But it wasn’t until we neared the Rocky Mountains that we got close. As we descended into Denver, the sun was supposed to be setting. But it wasn’t because we couldn’t really see it. For over a week, Denver had been suffering a miserable weather. It rained and snowed and last Sunday was the worst day of the bunch. From 38,000 feet up, we couldn’t actually see the ground, the mountains, or the city. All we saw was the tops of clouds. And the clouds looked like a giant fresh batch of cotton candy, fluffy, light, and spread out as far as the eye could see. And the sun - since it was supposedly setting - it was just at the edge of the clouds - with sunbeams kissing and bouncing through the them, giving each cloud a hint of red, orange, and yellow. It was beautiful.  

So we descended - heading right into this giant pile of cotton candy - and there was a jolt. And a little bump. We were in the cloud - and then we were out. And as I looked out the window - looking at the ground in the state I grew up in - there was snow - dirty, muddy, ugly SNOW. The sun was gone - swallowed up by the clouds - and everything was just damp, gray, and cold. We were no longer riding into the sunset, like some cowboy in an old Western, into some unknown but happy ending. Instead we were heading straight into a dark, wet, and cold world. And this is usually the opposite of what we want, isn’t it? We rarely want to head into the grime, into the snow, into the cold. We want to head the other way - into the cotton candy, sun kissed world, on the otherside. We’re looking forward to riding off into our sunsets, into stories with a happy, and continuing, ending. Yet Jesus’ words today from the Gospel of John pushes us into this unlikely journey - into a journey away from the clouds and straight into the dirt, into the cold, into the places where the sun has just been swallowed up. 

So this last week, I attended the Festival of Homiletics - which is just a fancy way of saying a conference about preaching. 1800 preachers from more than a dozen denominations and from as far away as England and Australia gathered to spend the week learning from the best-of-the-best. I’ve heard it described as “Burning-Man-For-Pastors” but to me, it felt a little more like a comic book convention - or a Comic-con for Pastors. Our favorite creators were there, giving talks on what they’ve done and what they’re going to do next. Everyone who spoke had written a book or eight - so we’ve had walk the tables to make sure we collected them all. And we’d run into our favorite preachers, we’d stop them and take a picture to share on Facebook with a caption that included more than one exclamation point. And then, when it wrapped up, we all headed home - inspired, refreshed, and recharged by the Holy Spirit - only to discover that Sunday is coming and we’ve still got to peach. I just saw the best-of-the best, bishops: professors, presidents of seminaries and some of the rock stars of the Lutheran church - and now it’s my turn. 

And I’ll admit I find this totally intimidating. Each night, after the Festival, I’d sit down, trying to write. And “trying” is the key word in that sentence. I usually just ended up with a blank screen. And then, in the middle of the night, I’d wake up - and my mind would be racing - like, even when though I was sleeping, my brain was still working on the problem of today’s sermon. And that’s my anxiety; my nerves; my fear of what’s about to come. It’s not a gripping fear. It’s not an anxiety that some of our brothers and sisters have that limit who they can see and what they can do. It’s a minor anxiety - a minor issue - but it is one of my minor darknesses that I’m bringing here today. 

And that’s the thing about darkness - we know we’ve got them. We know we carry them. And darkness come in a variety of sizes and shapes, experiences and longing. Some can be small - like my anxiety about preaching today. But other darknesses we carry are bigger. There’s the broken relationships that’ll never be mended; the words and actions spoken or done that caused hurt in the people around us. There are the times when our own greed and selfishness, our own failure to understand ourselves and others, causes darkness to spread between us and other people. We’ve carry the darkness that we’ve created - and then there’s the darkness that happens to us. Darkness that found us: Illness,  sickness, and maybe just getting old and discovering our body doesn’t work like it use to and that’ll never be like it once was. There’s also addiction and mental illness, oppression and abuse, job loss or a lack of fulfillment in what we’re doing, and then there’s all that others have done to us - that continues to shape us even today. 

And that’s a lot. Living through our own darkness or the darkness we have caused others is physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting. And I kinda wish that was all the darkness we had because that’s more than enough. But there’s more. Turn on the news and we can see it or if we listen to those around us who suffer, we can see the darkness we’re participating in that we didn’t even know was there. And if we tried to name all of these kinds of darkness, this sermon won’t end. Earthquakes and volcanoes, climate change and pollution, civil wars and terrorism, epidemics, poverty, and hunger. There’s also political divisiveness and tyranny, mass incarceration and lack of opportunity, racism, sexism, income inequality, and the list goes on and on. The thing about darkness is that whenever we think we’re about to ride off into the sunset, ride off into a better place, the clouds of our souls, our lives, and our world can collapse in on us - and sun just seems to vanish from our sight. 

And Jesus - he gets that. He understands darkness - and he’s, at this point in the story of John, is about to experience it. Jesus is wrapping up his final teaching before his betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and death - and so, today, we hear him praying for his disciples. But he doesn’t pray like we would hope. He doesn’t ask God to take his disciples away from him, to rapture them to someplace safe so that they won’t experience harm or illness or fear. Jesus doesn’t ask for his disciples to escape the darkness they’re about to witness or the darkness they carry within them. Jesus doesn’t ask God to let his disciples escape from a world where evil looks like it’s going to win. No, instead, Jesus asks God to protect them. Jesus asks God to protect us. Because the Christian story isn’t about escaping darkness - it’s about heading into it. We’re honest about how we have darkness, how we carry darkness, and that we sometimes perpetuate a world that values darkness, greed, and power more than it does light, love, and hope. Jesus knows that. The disciples are about to see it with Jesus tied to the cross. And so Jesus asks God to protect his disciples because Jesus didn’t come to escape from the world - he came to love it.

And that’s what we’re to do too. 

It’s why we, as a church, are in Nepal even when another massive earthquake hits the region. It’s why we were in Liberia to fight Ebola before anyone else. It’s why, wherever darkness seems to be on the march, we’re called to be there. Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples to fix their own darkness before they head into the world. Jesus, instead, sends us out in spite of the clouds in our lives. We’re not called to ride off into the sunset, away from the world, but we’re called to be the Son in the world. We’re called to bring light to dark places; to bring love where there is hatred; to offer hope where everything seems hopeless. And we’re not asked to wait until tomorrow to love the world. We’re called to love the world right now - because that’s what God did. God didn’t wait to enter our mess. God didn’t wait for Israel or Rome or the Gentiles to have their act together before Jesus showed up in Mary’s lap. God doesn’t wait for us to see the darkness before we’re brought into God’s light. We’re called to live, and be, that light. The clouds of our lives - and the clouds of the world - don’t define who we are and they don’t limit whose we are. We’re part of the body of Christ - we’re part of the Son - and the thing about the Son is that even though it looks like it’s going to set - like the clouds are going to swallow him up - we know - we trust - and we believe - that the Son will, and does, rise.

Amen.