First Congregational Church
May 16, 2021
First Sunday after the Ascension (5/13), 7th Sunday in Easter
“It’s Good to Know”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It's good to know that the most religious pastry is the donut, because it's holiness cannot be denied. It's good to know that even if you don't know the best thing about Switzerland, their flag is a big plus. It's good to know that the reason the chicken went to the séance was to get to the other side.
The Scottish preacher John McNeill liked to tell about an eagle that had been captured when it was quite young. The farmer who snared the bird put a restraint on it so it couldn't fly, and then he turned it loose to roam in the barnyard. It wasn't long till the eagle began to act like the chickens, scratching and pecking at the ground. This bird that once soared high in the heavens seemed satisfied to live the barnyard life of the lowly hen.
One day the farmer was visited by a shepherd who came down from the mountains where the eagles lived. Seeing the eagle, the shepherd said to the farmer, "What a shame to keep that bird hobbled here in your barnyard! Why don't you let it go?" The farmer agreed, so they cut off the restraint.
But the eagle continued to wander around, scratching and pecking as before. The shepherd picked it up and set it on a high stone wall. For the first time in months, the eagle saw the grand expanse of blue sky and the glowing sun. Then it spread its wings and with a leap soared off into a tremendous spiral flight, up and up and up. At last it was acting like an eagle again.
This morning’s scripture passage is one that can set us back on the high stone wall of that which is secure and safe and good. It happens after Jesus’ last supper and before his arrest, most logically in the Garden of Gethsemane, before Judas returned with the other authorities who would arrest him.
6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
At first glance, I confess that this passage didn’t seem too special. It’s Jesus praying, talking about relationships between God, himself, the Holy Spirit and us. But then I got to thinking -
that it’s good to know that when your sister fries maple flavored bacon, the odor can linger in your house at least five days, and counting, after the event. It’s good to know so you don’t plan fancy parties or to show a house if you plan to sell it.
And it’s good to know who left a box of cat food on your back porch so you can thank them. Or the fish skeleton yard ornament a few years back. Or the musical note ink stamp on your desk. I love a surprise like the next person, but I’d also love to be able to thank you.
It’s also good to know things like hereditary tendencies, like heart disease or particular cancers or other genetic issues, so that you can keep an eye out for them. And it’s really good to know when test results come back, especially if they are negative - in the positive sense.
It’s also good to know certain prayers, like the one that goes along the lines, Dear Lord, as your humble servant, let me prove to you that winning the lottery won’t change me. Or the prayer that goes Lord, as I go through my day, please keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.
Or Dear Lord, so far today, am I doing all right. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self-indulgent. I have not whined, complained, cussed, or eaten any chocolate. I have charged nothing on my credit card. But I will be getting out of bed in a minute, and I think I will really need your help then.
I don’t know if anyone has been in that place, especially if there is nothing “wrong,” when someone prays for you. The fact that someone takes some of their valuable time to do that, is a big deal, since they could be doing other things. But what they say and the words they use in those transparent, holy and other worldly moments are really big deals, and actually, good to know.
At various times, rather than send a sympathy card or a get-well card, I have written a prayer and passed it along to an individual. The words I chose are carefully selected for that person, making it a multi-layered piece of communication and knowledge. And just so you know, you all are free to openly take that idea and run with it.
So when we get to this scripture passage, it comes with some of those same aspects of intentionality, thoughtfulness and transparency. It’s good to know that the savior of the world prayed for you then, and continues to intercede for you before God. It’s good to know that Christ recognizes those things that we do well, like when we believe in God’s word, know with certainty things of God, believe and embrace the fact that we belong to God. To “catch” Jesus praying for us is a tender moment, especially in that the prayers continue all these centuries later.
In verse 17, Jesus said “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Sanctify. It’s related to the word “sanctification,” which is one of those big words in Christian theology that we don’t hear so often these days. So I looked it up, since Christ prays us to have it. It means to set apart, to declare something or someone to be holy.
He could have spent more time pleading with God to “take his cup away,” to avoid the pain and agony that was to come. Instead, Christ spent part of the time left to him, asking God to make us holy, to consecrate us and set us apart with God’s truth.
Wife of famous evangelist Billy, Ruth Graham announced what she wanted engraved on her headstone, and for those who have visited her gravesite at the Billy Graham Library, they have noticed that what she planned for, was carried out to the letter. Long before she became bedridden, she was driving along a highway through a construction site.
Carefully following the detours and mile-by-mile cautionary signs, she came to the last one that said, “End of Construction. Thank you for your patience.” She arrived home, chuckling, telling the family about the posting. “When I die,” she said, “I want that engraved on my stone.” She was lighthearted but serious about her request. She even wrote it out so that we wouldn’t forget. While we may find the humor enlightening, we can appreciate the truth she conveyed through those few words.
Every one of us is under construction from conception to death. Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent. At the end of construction, we complete the process in our death.
I couldn’t find the author, but I found this. “As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to a friend: "It's a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians--and I am one of them."
I might argue with this person about the world being so bad and sinful. There are a many people who are good and do good work. Even so, it is good to be reminded that our path, as followers of Christ, is one that is noticeable and makes a difference. It is good to reiterate our goals and aspirations, so that we don’t get so used to looking down, scratching the earth, that we forget that we are intended to soar and fly on the wings of prayer and grace.
It’s good to know that the Savior of the world prays for you and that the prayers are intended to bolster us that we might have the full measure of God’s joy. Not just part, not just enough, but the full measure of it. That joy is not limited to just us here in this room, but for all God’s people.
A man once bought a home with a tree in the backyard. It was winter, and nothing marked this tree as different from any other tree. When spring came, the tree grew leaves and tiny pink buds. "How wonderful," thought the man. "A flower tree! I will enjoy its beauty all summer." But before he had time to enjoy the flowers, the wind began to blow and soon all the petals were strewn in the yard. "What a mess," he thought. "This tree isn't any use after all."
The summer passed, and one day the man noticed the tree was full of green fruit the size of large nuts. He picked one and took a bite. "Bleagh!" he cried and threw it to the ground. "What a horrible taste! This tree is worthless. Its flowers are so fragile the wind blows them away, and its fruit is terrible and bitter. When winter comes, I'm cutting it down.
But the tree took no notice of the man and continued to draw water from the ground and warmth from the sun and in late fall produced crisp red apples. Some of us see other individuals in early blossom stages of life and somehow we think they will be that way forever. Or we see bitterness in their lives, and we're sure they will never bear the better fruit of joy. Could it be that we forget some of the best fruit ripens late?
So let us pray. Holy, holy God, thank you for your reminders - that we are more than our earliest days or our forgetfulness or our own self-indulgences. It really is good to be reminded of your love and grace and mercy, even though we hear of those things each and every week, even though we can forget them so easily as we leave this place of your presence among us. Forgive us when we think we have the world by the tail or when we put so much emphasis on this world - in this moment. Help each of us to sit high on the walls of your intentions, that we are reminded of what you have always seen in us, that we may so inspire others to join the journey. And for all the moments of blessed reminders and memories of you and your love for us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.