Readings John 17:1-11 & Acts 1:6-14 (NRSV)
Introduction – Acts 1:6-14
I mentioned at the start of the service that Thursday was Ascension Day in the Church calendar. And today, being the closest Sunday, is celebrated as Ascension Sunday. That’s why that passage from Acts 1 is one of the lectionary readings for today. The event described there is hugely significant for at least 3 reasons.
- Firstly, because of Jesus’ physical departure from Earth and his return to the Father in Heaven to reign as King. This represents the completion and culmination of the great rescue mission for which he came to Earth – incarnation, life and ministry, sacrificial death, and then the ascension.
- Secondly, it is significant for what Jesus told his disciples – his final words/instructions to them. In effect, this was their commissioning. They were to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world.
- Thirdly, it’s significant for something else Jesus tells them – that the Holy Spirit would come upon them in power. That’s what would empower them to begin their commission. That’s what happened on the Day of Pentecost. We celebrate it next Sunday, the 50th day since Easter Sunday.
You can’t get from Easter to Pentecost without the Ascension. At Easter, Jesus rose physically, bodily, and walked the Earth again. Only after his ascension could he send his Spirit to be with his disciples wherever they might be and wherever they might go in fulfilment of their commission. What a great privilege and blessing we have!
Our other reading, from John’s Gospel, is also a very significant one and it’s the one I want to concentrate on this morning. It’s part of a prayer that Jesus prayed on the night of the Last Supper with his disciples, just before his arrest. It begins: “Father, the hour has come” (v1) – meaning the culmination of his mission.
The whole prayer is long, 26 verses. By far the longest prayer of Jesus recorded in Scripture. Jesus prays for himself (v1-5), then his disciples (v6-19), then all believers (v20-26). The lectionary reading is only the first 11 verses, but this introduces us to the main themes anyway. As we study this prayer, we can see the things that were of utmost importance to him at this crucial time.
- His glorification
“Glory” and “glorify” and related words occur 5 times in the first 5 verses, and elsewhere as well, so this is obviously of major significance. Jesus asks twice that he might be glorified (v1,4). It’s not a selfish prayer as you can see from v1: “Glorify your Son, that your Son might glorify you.”
And in v4, Jesus is just appealing for the glory he had with the Father in the beginning.
Jesus prays this knowing that for him, glorification, being lifted up, will involve being lifted up on a cross. It will involve obedience to all required of him by the Father.
- Protection for his disciples
This is the second specific thing Jesus asks for – initially for the 11 disciples, but later this broadens out to disciples in following generations, including us. He is conscious that he is about to leave this world, but they remain in it.
The world that so opposed him will also oppose them, not just physically but spiritually as well.
V11: “Protect them in your name that you have given me.”
V15: “I ask you to protect them from evil/the evil one”. Echoes here of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.
- Unity of the disciples
Here’s the third specific request – again, for the 11 initially, but broadening out to believers generally, including us.
V11: Protect them “so that they may be one, as we are one”.
Jesus’ concern is that they be protected from disunity and from turning on each other. He wants his disciples to display the kind of oneness and fellowship that he has with the Father.
V22: “…that they may be one as we are one.”
V23: “…that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them.” A missional impact of unity is elaborated here, and by implication and corollary, a missional repercussion of disunity.
I’d like to say a bit more about unity than with the earlier 2 points.
This coming week, between Ascension and Pentecost, is set aside as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. You will have noticed in the e-bulletin that there is an ecumenical ACT service at 3.00pm today to mark that. The aim is to foster, celebrate and demonstrate our oneness in Christ, and to seek forgiveness for disunity.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a world-wide thing, but I think progress has to start at a more personal and local level. It’s a bit like praying and working for world peace. It’s much more effective and authentic when our own house is in order.
Unity at CBC
This weekend the Deacons have distributed by email a report for discussion at our Church Meeting in 2 weeks. It’s entitled “Reducing the Risk of Irresolvable Difference”. It has some important implications for unity within our community.
Attached to it is our current Conflict Resolution Policy, based on David Coffey’s booklet on “Church Membership” in the Baptist Basics series.
It begins: “Conflict is a part of being human and belonging to a community.”
It goes on to give some helpful values to guide the handling of conflict. It lists 18. Let me mention just the first 3 of those values.
- I accept that people are different and will have differences with one another.
- I accept that conflict will be an experience of life and that conflict can be healthy and useful. I hasten to add, if handled correctly.
- I will seek to be Godly in my responses.
Conflict is unfortunately inevitable, even in Churches, because we are all different, with different personalities and opinions; all flawed, with more growth needed.
There are plenty of examples of conflict in Scripture within Churches and between individuals.
- Between Paul and Barnabas for example, resulting in each of them continuing their missionary travels with new partners;
- Between Peter and Paul over Gentile Christians, which was resolved at the Jerusalem Church Council.
The important thing is to acknowledge and deal with the differences, conflict and disunity in positive and Godly ways.
Scott Peck, who wrote the best-seller “The Road Less Travelled”, subsequently wrote “The Different Drum : Community Making and Peace”.
He describes 4 steps to the building of community.
- Pseudocommunity – where people cover up their differences.
- Chaos – when pseudocommunity inevitably begins to collapse and people start to clash.
- Emptiness – which is the emptying of negative ego factors.
- True Community – with empathy, understanding, respect.
We all long for our community to be a True Community, don’t we.
Let me return to Jesus’ prayer as I conclude. As I said, it shows some things that Jesus thought were pretty important. Will you put those on your priority list too – to pray for and work towards?
Firstly, to do everything for the glory of the Lord.
Secondly, to pray for each other, that we might be protected from evil.
Thirdly, unity. Pray for it; work towards it; commit to it. So that we may be one so that the world will know God’s love.
May we have True Community, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
- Robert Deffinbaugh, pastor/teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas, makes the following point. https://bible.org/seriespage/35-high-priestly-prayer-jesus-john-17
One should probably use caution in making too much of the distinctions between verses 6-19 and 20-26, as though the first section was only for the eleven and the remainder exclusively for believers of a later time. In fact our Lord prayed for unity among the eleven (verse 11) as well as for all believers (verses 21-23).
It may be best, then, to understand verse 20 as saying, in effect, “This prayer is not only for the eleven, but for all true believers.” In this case there is little distinction made as to the benefactors of this petition, and simply a change of emphasis in the requests which are made. Verses 6-19 deal more with protection, 20-26 with unification.
- Further reading: Though not included in the above sermon, see http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john17x1.htm for an interesting analysis on the basis of patron and shame concepts.
Call to Worship (based on Psalm 68:3,4)
V3 Let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.
V4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds –
His name is the LORD – be exultant before him.
Opening Prayer (Church of Scotland, adapted)
Lord of all time and space, who was and is and is to come, we worship and adore You
for You alone are worthy of our praise. There is none before you, none above you.
Your glory is ever before us and this morning we are glad to take our place alongside all those
who even now, on earth and in heaven, are raising their voices to exalt You,
their minds to know You and their hearts to love You.
May our worship be a fitting offering – a gift in return to the giver of every good and perfect gift.
In Jesus’ name, we pray; Amen.
Prayer of Confession (From ACT service for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity)
Forgive us, Lord, for past mistakes, mistrust and misdeeds between Christians from different Churches and traditions. ALL Lord, have mercy!
Forgive us, Lord, for remaining in the darkness rather than seeking the path of Light; for you, O Lord, are the only true Light. ALL Lord, have mercy!
Forgive us, Lord, for our lack of faith, and our failure to be people of expectant hope and authentic charity. ALL Lord, have mercy!
Forgive us, Lord, when we have caused pain, hardship and anguish to others.
ALL Lord, have mercy!
Forgive us, Lord, for being indifferent, especially to refugees, asylum seekers, and all those in great need, instead of showing generous hospitality to all.
ALL Lord, have mercy!
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us (Ps 103:8,11-12).
ALL Thanks be to God!
Prayers of Intercession (From US Jesuits, adapted)
Jesus Christ, you travelled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbours from helping one another.
Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.
Jesus Christ, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.
Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.
Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they are meant to serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions that will help prepare for or prevent future outbreaks. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.
Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Jesus Christ, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace.
Sending out/Benediction (From ACT service for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity)
May God the Father, who called us from darkness into light, make us true bearers of God’s light.
May God the Son, who redeemed us by his precious blood, empower us to follow his example in serving others.
May God the Holy Spirit, who is Lord and giver of life, strengthen us to endure the shipwrecks of life and reach the shores of salvation.
May the Almighty and Merciful God, Father, Son and HS, bless and protect us now and forever. Amen.