By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 24, 2020
John 17:1–11 (ESV)
1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
How are we doing? I ask this in all seriousness. Some of us have some major concerns because our health or the health of a loved one is not where we would like. For others we are trying to wrestle through the decisions of going back to work or sheltering in place for a bit longer. Some of us are trying to figure out how to make our places of business accommodate our customers and clients in a way that they will feel safe. And of course, those of us in church leadership on multiple levels are weighing the pros and cons of meeting together again. These concerns are serious, they have consequences and none of us want to make the wrong call. How do we approach these situations? How do we find the clearness to move forward?
The world is filled with struggles, suffering, tough choices, and opinions from people everywhere. It can almost become overwhelming. I must admit that at times, I struggle under the weight of it all at times. It seems as if I am pushing ahead and when I look up nothing has changed, or it feels as if I have gone the complete opposite direction. How are we doing?
Today is a unique day in the Christian calendar. It is Ascension Sunday. It is the day of the year that we as Christians celebrate the final day that Jesus walked with his disciples. This day is often overshadowed by days like Easter or Christmas, but it is an important event to remember. Because it is one this day that the church took on a different role.
In the Gospel according to John, we have from the very beginning, a view that Jesus existed even before the world began. Jesus is the word of God, that was with God in the beginning, and it is through the Word of God that all things are created. John then said that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus became human. He lived a complete human life, from the preborn, birth, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Jesus endured the struggles of childhood, having to do chores and assist his parents and siblings with various activities. He even had to endure school in some form. He lived within this family and community for thirty years, and for seventeen of those years he worked along side the family as a carpenter.
We need to remember that Jesus spent this amount of times within a community because often when we read about the life of Christ, we do not always recognize the passage of time. We focus on the three years of ministry because that is the time that is recorded in the gospel accounts, but there were thirty years of time where Jesus was not living as a traveling rabbi. Those thirty years he appeared to the world as a common blue-collar laborer. Jesus endured similar struggles. Jesus endured those struggles and as he entered ministry he showed and taught us how to thrive in the adversity.
Ascension Sunday we celebrate the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry, but he did not leave us without hope or help. We are told that Jesus spent forty days among the disciples after that first Easter. During this period, he continued to share meals with them and to teach.
No matter when or where Jesus was, his focus was on encouraging and deepening relationships. Nearly every episode we are shown in Jesus’s life he is encouraging in worship, prayer or in ministry. This is what I call the holy rhythm or the holy lifestyle. Throughout the gospel accounts we see Jesus making it his custom to worship in the synagogues with the community. That is where most of his teaching occurs. But this teaching is only after they worship. We see on several occasions that he withdraws to an isolated place to pray, and it is usually after these times of prayer that Jesus then moves to the next area of ministry.
In the passage from Luke today we see Jesus leading and teaching them as they travel to Bethany. He reminds them of who he is, what had to occur according to scriptures, and he encourages them to remember what they witnessed. Then he blesses them and is lifted into the sky. The disciples watch this occur before their eyes, and instead of locking themselves in the room in fear, they leave that place celebrating and worshiping Jesus. The passage concludes by telling us that they then shared these things in the temple, where they would teach and bless God continually.
They were teaching in the temple, even before Pentecost. It is on Pentecost, when the Spirit of God rushed in on them like a fire and empowered them to not only be disciples of Christ, but people sent out or apostles of Christ. This shows us that they were participating in Jesus’s holy rhythm, and because of this they made themselves available to God’s leading.
We look at these words and we find them inspiring. We read them and we celebrate along with them, because the gospel account does not show us the struggle that they also face. We can get a glimpse into this struggle if we turn the Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles. This day that Jesus ascended was just over a month from the day the leaders within the community had conspired together to silence and execute Jesus. These emotions do not just go away in a month. Just look at Facebook, there are people still upset that someone was elected, and there are people upset that the president before the current president was elected. I know people that still have emotional reactions to the election of people that have not been in office for my entire life. They remember, and so would this community. They remember Jesus, and the fact that there are disciples running around saying he has risen from the grave that the leaders so carefully tried to fill would not sit well.
How would these disciples be able to live in that environment? This is where the holy rhythm comes into play. The main passage I would like us to focus on is from John. This is the account of one of those moments that Jesus withdrew to an isolated place to pray. This episode is just after the last supper, and just prior to Jesus’s arrest. If we were to read the other gospel accounts, we would find that this moment of pray was not one of those sweet hours of prayer that we often sing about. It was intense, filled with immense emotional stress. Stress so deep that the capillaries surrounding Jesus’s sweat glands were rupturing and blood was mixing with this sweat to make it look as if he was sweating blood. Jesus embraced his life and the fulfillment of his mission, but even for the Son of God it was not easy to face the cross.
I want us to consider that for just a moment. Jesus fully knew where his life was heading, he knew what he would have to endure, he embraced that life and was joyful in it. Jesus welcomed the cross, yet it was not easy for him physically or emotionally. He took that stress out into the garden and prayed. Do we notice this as we read the gospel? Do we see the humanity of Jesus? Are we able to look past the reward we receive and recognize that Jesus understands suffering?
The disciples were witnesses to this struggle. The disciples were with him in this instance, they were there in the garden. They watched him as he withdrew because he asked them to join him. He was struggling and they fell asleep. He pleads with them to pray again and again. But they do not quite understand what is going on. Jesus prays, but what is interesting in all that emotional stress. Jesus’s prayer just barely recognizes his struggle. Jesus spend most of that time praying not for himself, but for his friends.
“The hour has come,” Jesus says, “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Jesus says these things, knowing what it will mean to glorify. He knows what he will endure, and he knows that it is one of his closest friends that will initiate it all. He says, let that suffering come so that you can be glorified.
What is the point of suffering? None of us enjoy struggle, we seek to avoid suffering whenever we can, yet somehow, we all at some point will find ourselves in a place where we will have to endure the pains of life. I do not want to lessen the reality of suffering. I have friends that are enduring the intense pain associated with cancer treatments. I have watched as parent’s mourn the loss of children. I have listened to screams coming from the mouths as addicts attempt to break the chains of their bondage. Suffering is very real. It is not pretty; it is not glamourous. Suffering is not something that can be gilded in gold and celebrated, because suffering sucks. I know it does because I have experienced enough to know that I really do not like it. Jesus knew suffering. He felt it and he embraced it. He looked the beast of suffering in the eyes and he held out his arms and said it is finished. And he did this not for himself but for others. He embodied suffering so that we might know what is on the other side, glory.
“The hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” Jesus says, “Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
We all suffer. It is part of the human experience. We will not escape the struggle no matter how hard we try to avoid it. Eventually we will find ourselves in the eye of that storm. The real question is how will you endure the suffering?
Jesus endured his suffering so that we could know God. Jesus became Emmanuel, God with us, so that we could know God. Jesus spent his days eating, worshiping, praying, and serving so that we might know God. Jesus endured a life of suffering, so we could know. The concept of know in this since experience. Jesus came so that we could experience God with and through him. I want us to consider this experiential knowledge. I want you to think of the best day you have ever had. You do not have to try ridiculously hard, if you cannot think of the best day ever just think of a good day. Who was with you? In almost every instance the days that we remember the most are experienced with others.
Jesus endured complete human suffering so that we could live with God, so that we could experience life with God. Jesus said that that is eternal life. It is not just life beyond the veil of death, but life here now. The abundant life Jesus promises us is a life experienced with others, where we know and are known.
Jesus gladly endured suffering, and he endured it because he knew that by experiencing it with us it would give us hope while we intensely endure our lives. He was able to see beyond the pain to the place beyond. And he knew that his time had come, so when he prayed, he did not have concern only for himself, instead he prayed for us.
When we endure suffering with other, something amazing happens. During the most stressful moments in my life, a friend of mine was there. I am a pastor, I stand every week and preach faith, but I am often weak. There are people that have seen me in tears. There are people that have listened to my voice crack and have sat with me when I have not been able to see. They were with me in the struggle, and they were the strength I needed. I can only do what I do, because my friends have stepped up and carried me when I could not walk myself. When we endure suffering together, there is a bond that is forged that is not easily broken. We witness this in the stories veterans tell about those that served beside them. We witness this in the marriages that have endured the tests of time. And when we hear these stories of others, they give us hope while we endure our own struggles. Our testimonies of life with God can give strength to others.
I say can, not will. Our witness can only inspire when we are with those around us. Jesus was with his disciples. They ate together, worked along side one another, and they walked the same roads. Jesus was able to teach the disciples the most while he was with them. The most inspiring words that Jesus spoke were uttered while they sat around a table.
Jesus prayed for his disciples, and he prayed for us on that night before he was arrested. He prays for us because on the day of his ascension his physical presence is no longer here. Jesus came and he provided the lifestyle and the way. But we still need to walk the path. Jesus prays for us because we are in the world, his part is finished, our part of the commission of Christ is still underway. He prays for us because it is our turn to struggle with him and with others.
How are we doing? In this time of social distancing, we can sense the strain of “with” ness. We are with some people more than before, and we are feeling the loss of the extended communities we once enjoyed. This is challenging us in what it means to be part of the church, because it has been weeks since we went to “church.” We are struggling, but are we concerned with the struggle of others more than our own? Jesus prayed for us the day he was about to face his greatest trial; can you spare a few moments to listen to a friend?
As we join in Holy Expectancy and centered prayer consider your life. Jesus prays for his own and not for the world, but he prays for his own because they are in the world. Are we living our lives in a way to deserve the prayers of our Lord? Are we living his commission of Loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others? Is Christ glorified through us, even in our struggles?