7 Easter Proper A7
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 17:1-11; 17 Sermon
June 5, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
212 "A Hymn Of Glory Let Us Sing" (now playing)
361 "O Jesus King Most Wonderful"
660 "I'm But A Stranger Here, Heaven Is My Home"
THE BASIS FOR UNITY
TEXT (vs. 6, 11b, 17): “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. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
"Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world; red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world."
That's an old Sunday School song that I learned as a young child. A pastor by the name of Clare Herbert Woolston wrote these words sometime in the late 1800's, and set it to the 1864 Civil War tune, known as "Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching" by George Frederick Root. In later years, it appeared with some revisions, one of which was, "Fat and skinny, short and tall, Jesus loves them one and all." And then there's a more recent version, "Every color, every race, they are covered by his grace." Whichever version you prefer, you get the point.
In 1970, singer Ray Stevens used the original first verse of this song, sung by a group of children, to introduce his song called "Everything Is Beautiful." The song became a Gold Record, and earned him a Grammy award for "Best Male Pop Vocal Performance." If you go to You Tube, you can see the video for this song.
Racial prejudice is something that is rather foreign to my way of thinking, probably because of the thought behind the message that Sunday School song proclaims. I learned from a very early age that there aren't any two people on this earth that are alike. Everybody is unique.
Growing up in Emerson, I was sort of isolated from this kind of prejudice. About all I knew about were Germans, Czechs, Swedes, and the Irish who lived within about a 10-mile radius of where I did. The Omaha and Winnebago Indian reservations weren't too far away, and we learned about them and their culture in school. But I wasn't around them all that much.
My first real encounter with prejudice was in Lincoln. We used to visit my aunt and uncle, and in those days they lived on about 23rd and Y streets. Next door to the west of them lived a black family. The father was in the Air Force, and they had two children, a boy and a girl. My cousin and I used to play with them, going from one back yard to the other. They had a swing set, and my cousin had a sand box. And we just had a grand old time.
Then one day we were playing in the front yard. Some older kids came by, and asked, "What are you doing playing with those (and they said the "N" word)?" I had no idea what they were talking about. And the girl told me, "Oh, you just don't pay them no never mind," and she carried on just like nothing had happened. She was obviously used to this kind of treatment. But I was still confused.
When I asked my parents about it, they told me that there were people out there in the world that actually hated other people because their skin was a different color. Of course I was too young to be aware of the racial tensions that were going on in other parts of the country. But it was something I just couldn't understand. It seemed so foolish. If everybody is different and unique, why should the color of a person's skin make a difference?
In our Gospel lesson for today, we have the chapter in John known as Jesus' High Priestly prayer. In this prayer, he is making it a special point to pray for unity amongst his children. So when we consider just how different people are from each other, how can there be any sort of unity at all? What kind of unity is Jesus praying for?
The first thing we need to consider is this concept of Jesus being our High Priest. What is a priest supposed to do anyway?
Let's look at two key Bible passages that explain this. First of all, we look at Hebrews chapter 4 verses 14-16: 14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
And just a bit further on, we read this description of Jesus in Hebrews chapter 7 verses 26-27: 26For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
A priest is somebody who does something, not for himself, but for other people. Jesus came to this earth to be our great High Priest. The Jewish priests of the Old Testament would offer sacrifices on behalf of the people's sins. These sacrifices pointed ahead to Jesus, who would offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice.
In order to carry out this role, Jesus had to be sinless; but yet, he also had to know the sins and temptations that infect every member of the human race. For his sacrifice to work, he had to pay the price for humanity's sins as if he were worst sinner in the world. But since he was sinless, his righteousness then becomes ours through faith. Since he paid the price for our sins, he is able to intercede before God on our behalf. Jesus indeed is the ultimate High Priest, who made the ultimate sacrifice and paid the ultimate price.
In the opening verses of our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus opens this dialogue with God by talking about their relationship. God is the Father, and Jesus is the Son. This is the foundation not only of this prayer, but the whole relationship between God and humanity.
There are two very key places in Scripture where God speaks from heaven about this relationship. At Jesus' Baptism, and at his Transfiguration, God says: "This is my Son, whom I love." God has given Jesus verbal authority in his ministry as the ultimate High Priest for the people.
And then we move from the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, and humanity now enters the picture. The Apostle Paul comes along and clearly shows how God erases all of the lines that serve to separate people. In Galatians chapter 3 verse 28 Paul writes: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." God's law and God's Gospel apply equally to everybody. We are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour irrespective of who we are.
Can you see how ridiculous racial discrimination and prejudice are? These distinctions are meaningless in God's eyes. When we get to heaven, there will be people of all races and languages and nationalities and sexes and ages. It's like that old song says, "red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight," or if you prefer the more modern revision, "Every color, every race, they are covered by his grace."
So these external things are of no merit or value. Who we are isn't the important thing, it's what we believe that counts. That's what Jesus is talking about in his High Priestly prayer, and that's what we need to examine.
Looking at our Gospel lesson for this morning, let's look at the verses describing those things that provide the unity Jesus is praying about. In verse 3 Jesus says: "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."
Unity comes through a saving faith in Jesus Christ. This means that there is no unity between the Christian and Muslim, or the Christian and the Buddhist, or the Christian and the Hindu, or the Christian and the Jew, or the Christian and the Universalist, or the Christian and the Deist, or between the Christian and any other heathen religion. If there isn't a common confession of Jesus Christ as God's only begotten Son, and that the only way to heaven is through faith alone in him as our Saviour, then there isn't even a starting point of unity.
From this point, we can move on to verse 6: "...they have kept your word." Just giving lip service to Jesus isn't enough; there needs to be a unity in doctrine and teaching as well.
Now, if we jump ahead to verse 17, Jesus says: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." A unity in Christ and a unity in the Word of God has to be taken one step further, and that is the importance of saying God's Word in the Bible is absolute truth and without error or contradiction. God means what he says, and we can trust him without any hesitation.
This past week, I had the opportunity to closely examine the statements of faith of other congregations and church bodies. I find it incredible how weak and ambiguous some of these statements are. They'll give a half-hearted attempt at adherence to God's Word, but then stop short of saying that it is without error, just to appear to be "open-minded" and "accepting" of those who may have a differing opinion. Jesus definitely didn't pray for ambiguity and uncertainty in his Church. Nor did Jesus subject the Bible to human reason and intellect.
We also adhere to the Lutheran Confessions, which makes up the entirety of the Book of Concord of 1580, because (and not insofar as) they are a clear confession of Biblical doctrine. There are those who will give lip service to the confessions, however they will pick and choose which of those confessions they like. And even then, they are regarded more as historical documents and not clear expositions of the Bible. Jesus very clearly indicates that God means what he says. God didn't say one thing and mean something else entirely.
If you look at Article II of our congregation's constitution, you will find no ambiguous statements or questionable meanings. Without reservation, we state that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and it is without error. And we also clearly state our subscription to the Book of Concord of 1580 because it is an accurate presentation of Biblical doctrine. In fact, many outside of our congregation have complimented us on how detailed and precise our articles of faith are.
Our constitution also states that our articles of faith are unalterable and unrepealable; which means that they cannot be changed for as long as our congregation exists. This is the unity we have today, and it is the unity that will exist here long after we're all gone. This is the legacy of unity that we have preserved for the generations to come. And what a valuable inheritance that is!
Oh sure, there are those who will say that we are way too exclusive and narrow in this area. We will be criticized for setting the bar too high, and creating a private club. People will call us separatists and self-righteous bigots, with a holier-than-thou attitude. We will be accused of thinking that our way is the only right way, and that everybody who doesn't follow lock-step with us is on the way to hell.
But if we look at what Jesus is telling us in our text for today, and we see what he is praying for, then we can only come to one conclusion. Those who are excluded are being excluded for one reason, and one reason only: they have excluded themselves. They have ignored what Jesus has told them about true unity, and devised their own standards. And when God's ideas conflict with theirs, then God has taken second place in their lives.
"Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world." That includes children the likes of you and me.
Everybody is different too. Everybody is unique. Can you imagine what this world would be like if everybody was the same? I sure can't. It would be a very boring place for sure. I'm glad God didn't create a world full of robots.
But we are united by sin, because sin has infected the whole word. God has said that we all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. Nobody has escaped the curse that sin has placed upon all of humanity.
Thankfully as Christians, we are now united by God's grace. This is the grace that he has given us through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Through nothing more than faith alone in him as our Saviour, we have had our sins forgiven. True unity comes through Jesus, and the love he had for us that took him all the way to the cross. Jesus, our great High Priest offered the ultimate sacrifice for us so that we could be saved.
Therefore in one united voice, we can all say with full assurance: "Heaven is my father land, heaven is my home."