The Sunday after Ascension
A sermon preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton, on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, 24 May 2020.
Texts: Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68 1-10, 32-25,John 17.1-11
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
When my brother was very young, he had a tendency to pull things to pieces to see how they worked. And not often put them back together again. When he was in his early teens, he acquired a Triumph Scorpion two-seater little car from about the 1930’s, pulled it apart and painstakingly painted all the body work and rebuilt the engine. I painted a scorpion insect on the boot-lid, and it was eventually finished, and it was what could be described as a go-er. Before either he or I had a licence to drive we took it on a trial run to see how it went from West Pennant Hills along the then quiet country road to Windsor and back in the middle of the night. With this project, apart from having a huge amount of fun, we both learnt a lot about cars and restoration projects.
The gospel of John takes the life and work of Jesus apart and puts it together in pieces to help us understand, and we learn a lot about Jesus and about the person and character of Jesus and the Father. This morning’s gospel is from the beginning of chapter 17. The entire chapter of John 17 is a report of Jesus’ prayer . This comes after Jesus teaching his disciples in preparation for his departure, his farewell discourse. Jesus raises his eyes to heaven and as the Son, he prays to the Father later calling him Holy Father.
We know that constantly Jesus had said that “his hour has not yet come”, but now the hour is almost here and Jesus resorts to Prayer.
The time has come for Jesus’ death resurrection and glorification and Jesus has been faithful and obedient throughout his mission on earth and now prays to the Father that he will receive the glory promised – the glory he had before his mission on earth. Jesus is asking the Father to reverse the self-emptying focus of his incarnated life on earth, to restore him to the splendour he enjoyed before the world began. Before Jesus came to earth, he was one with God. At this point when his mission on earth was almost finished, Jesus was asking his Father to restore him to his original place of honour and authority. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension – and Stephen’s dying exclamation recorded in Acts 7: 56 when he exclaimed “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” testifies to Jesus’ return to his exalted position at the right hand of God.
This does not mean that Jesus would leave his earthly body behind, but that his earthly body would be transformed into an eternal glorified body.
Jesus is not only asking for himself, as he already had been given authority over all people since the beginning of time, but he is asking so that he can also glorify the eternal Father and that he can give eternal life to all who have come to believe in him through a personal relationship. For us to know God, to have a personal relationship with him, is to be transformed to a life that we would otherwise never experience. We know God because of the life and teaching of Jesus, because of our belief, trust, faith and prayerful personal relationship with Jesus who through his ministry on earth has brought Glory to God.
Jesus then prays for his disciples to whom he has revealed the character of God, who, in spite of various failings and at times lack of understanding, generally stuck with Jesus believing he did have the words of eternal life and that he was the Holy One of God (John 6.68-69)
From this prayer we learn that the world is a tremendous battleground where the selfish motivations of human nature and those under God’s authority are at loggerheads. Because Christian values of forgiveness, serving others, being in communion with God and with fellow humans, patience, respect, justice, generosity, peace and joy do not change, they are often in conflict with values expressed by materialism in the commercial and so-called secular world.
The disciples know that Jesus is from the Father, they know with deep conviction that Jesus is the Messiah from God. Here Jesus is praying, dependent on God, for his disciples who were with him at the time and we understand that he continues to pray for all who believe in him. We might wonder, “what did Jesus mean’ when he said, “I have been glorified in them” God’s glory is the revelation of his character and presence. The lives of Jesus’ disciples reveal his character, and he is present to the world through them. As Christians we might ask ourselves, “Does our life faithfully reveal Jesus’ character and presence to others?”
He prayed that God would keep his chosen believers safe, to protect them through the power of his name whom Jesus addresses as Holy Father.
Here we are reminded of the awesome transcendence and holiness of God. We know the phrase “What’s in a name” And here Jesus is asking that the Disciples be kept faithful to the truth of Jesus that has been given to them and that they continue in the character of the Holy Father, in unity with the Son.
Jesus asks that the disciples be united in harmony and love as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united. The strongest of all unions and a hint at the Trinitarian nature of God as yet unknown to the Disciples. For us to know, it is the God-like Unity amongst Christians, that is a powerful witness to the reality of God’s love to people who are not aware of what the love of God can really do.
Unity with God and with other Christians in its fullest sense, means working with the Holy Spirit in our lives, and this is a joyful way to live.
We may ask the question, “How do we get eternal life?” Jesus tells us clearly here – by knowing God the Father himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. Eternal life requires us to enter into a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. When we admit our human frailty, our wrong doings, and turn to a more honest way of living, Christ’s love lives in us through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the way we live changes for the better and gives glory to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.