7 Easter Proper B7
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 17:6-19 Sermon
May 17, 2015

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
221 "Hark!  10,000 Harps & Voices"
212 "A Hymn Of Glory Let Us Sing"  
213 "Hail The Day That Sees Him Rise"
341 "Crown Him With Many Crowns"  


TEXT (vs. 14-18):  "I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.   I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.   They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world."

            This morning, I have a newspaper clipping to share with you.  Here goes:  "James Hurley, 17, a Ponca farm youth was charged with first degree murder Monday in the beating death of Julee Armstrong, also 17, a schoolmate at Ponca High School.  Miss Armstrong was found in a car at Ponca late Thursday night and died a short time later in a Sioux City hospital.  An autopsy listed cause of death as choke due to massive contusions to the head and body.  The complaint charged Hurley 'did unlawfully, feloniously, purposely, and of deliberate and premeditated malice, kill one Julee Armstrong by beating her with a bludgeon or gun, and dragging her by car upon a road."

            That's pretty graphic, isn't it?  You may be wondering why you haven't heard about this or why there hasn't been anything on television or in the newspapers.  There was, back when it happened.  It happened on April 21, 1966.

            The clipping I read only gives just the very basic facts.  It goes a lot deeper.  The girl, Julee Armstrong was a very attractive high school student.  She lived right next door to some good friends of ours.  And it left a whole community in complete shock.  Nothing like this had ever happened before.

            She had been dating James Hurley.  He was a jealous, possessive sort of guy.  One thing led to another, and he wound up beating her rather severely and pulling out most of her long blonde hair.  Then he tied her to the back bumper of his car and dragged her for some distance.  Then he picked her up and put her back into his car, which is where she was discovered.  Even though she was clinging to a thread of life and she made it to St. Joseph's Hospital in Sioux City, she didn't make it. 

            So why tell this story?  Why talk about such things when we're looking at Jesus' High Priestly Prayer?  How is all of this going to tie together?

            I was all of eleven years old when this happened.  This was very close to home, only about 15 miles away.  But this was my hard dose of reality.  Never before in my life had I fully realized how evil the world actually is until it happened right out our back door.

            I didn't know what to think.  I really didn't.  Oh sure I knew about various uprisings and wars.  I heard the stories about various battles, especially historical ones.  But those were either long ago or far away.  There were race riots in those years, but that was in Omaha and Atlanta and Alabama. This happened right here at home.  And that is my first lesson in being very wary of other people.

            What if somebody got mad at me?  Would they beat me and tie me to the bumper of their car and drag me to death?  What would it take for somebody to do that to me? 

            The people at church were nice to me.  My teachers in school were nice too.  So were members of my family.  So were my friends.  Oh sure we had the usual scuffles and such with kids my own age, but it wasn't anything that I couldn't handle.  I just wanted to lock myself into my own little world where I would be safe and sound, and not have to deal with all of the stuff the world was trying to throw at me.

            I honestly don't think I'm alone with these feelings.  We would all probably be happier if we could somehow separate ourselves from all of the perversion and craziness and corruption and hatred and hypocrisy of this world.  Maybe we should be like the Amish and eschew all of this modern stuff and live a primitive lifestyle all by ourselves.  We might dream of this, but we all know that it is not very realistic.  And Jesus knows this too.

            If we look at our text for today, Jesus says in verse 15: "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one."  Jesus knows full well how evil the world is; and even though it has happened in different ways down through the ages, the motivating force is still the same.  Evil is still evil, and Satan is still the evil one who unleashes evil upon that which God calls "good." 

            Jesus doesn't advocate that we remove ourselves from society and lock ourselves in some ivory tower.  Right now our place is in this world.  But just because we are living in this world in no way means that we are to embrace the sinful ways of the world.  In fact, we can expect the world to react negatively because we are Christians.

            In our text for today, verse 14 quotes Jesus:  "I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world."  Jesus' disciples would undergo some of the worst strife you can imagine because of their faith.  And we can expect difficulties as well.

            Let's look at the context of this prayer of Jesus.  He prayed this on Maundy Thursday evening, only a short time before he would be tried, betrayed, beaten and tortured, and finally put to death like a criminal. 

            Jesus was praying for his disciples as I mentioned before.  These were the men who would abandon him and forsake him.  They would virtually run away from him to separate themselves as much as possible in order to save their own skins.  Their hopes and joys would be dashed as they would witness Jesus being treated the likes of which nobody should ever have to experience.  I would imagine that they wanted out of all of this, to avoid all of the pain and sorrow.  But Jesus prays, "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one."

            I'm sure you've heard the old adage, “Bad things happen to good people.”  It's true, isn't it?  Evil people always seem to get ahead while good people only seem to get the short end of the stick.  Life just isn’t fair.  Scripture seems to reinforce this fact too.  So if you are faithful and you try to do the God-pleasing thing in your life, then you can consider yourself a marked person.  The "unholy three," the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh will seek to destroy us.  They will work overtime to bring an end to our goodness and peace.  Consequently, this means that as a result of our faithfulness we most certainly will experience hardship and pain and sorrow in our lives.  That's just a fact of life.

            Of course, much of the pain and sorrow we experience is a result of our being children of Adam living in a lost and sinful world.  And this is where the devil does some of his best dirty work.  He blurs the lines between our fallen natural condition and our reality of living a life of faith in a fallen and faith-hating world.

            We can think of so many negative things that happen in our lives.  And it's not just in our lives, but in everybody's life, Christian or not.  But when these things happen to us in our lives, we lash out at God as if he’s not keeping up his end of the bargain; almost like we deserve a free pass from anything uncomfortable or unpleasant. 

            You can almost hear the cries of lament: “Hey God, I'm doing all that you ask.  I give time and money, and I do so many good things, far better than most people who dare to call themselves Christians, and I’m being crushed here!  Why do you let this evil befall me?   I’ve prayed time and time again, ‘deliver me from evil;' and yet the more I pray it, the more bad things happen to me!  What’s the deal?  What’s your problem?  Why have me pray it if you’re not going to do anything about it?!”

            Because we’ve experienced pain and suffering and sorrow in our daily lives, our human nature tells us that evil has befallen us; that we’re no longer in God’s good graces.  Basically, we tend to rest our assurance of faith, not upon our justification in Christ alone, but upon how well things are going for us in life.

            Satan is working hard, isn't he?  Remember it is his goal to destroy our faith.  He wants to lure us away and separate us from the peace and joy and comfort that God offers to us.  And that ultimately leads us down the path of separation from our Saviour.

            Have you ever known people who, when life got tough, they attempt to punish God by staying away from church and separating themselves from the love and support of their family or other Christians?  Maybe they have experienced the death of a loved one.  Maybe they have been through a painful divorce.  Many people will justify their extended absence from church with excuses such as: “going to church only reminds me of the pain I felt at the funeral service.  All I see is the casket."  Or, "going to church only reminds me of sitting in the pew with the person who crushed my spirit."

            Then there are people who desert the fellowship because they have had experienced some sort of friction with somebody else in the church.  They say, "Oh, what if I should run into this person?  I just couldn't handle it."  And then there's the ever popular "one size fits all" excuse, "I need to just stay away until things get better." And the devil rejoices over the separation.

            In the mental health field, we would encounter people who would attempt to "self-medicate" their condition by using their own concoction of alcohol and drugs, thinking they knew better than the professionals.  It's like saying, “You just don’t understand.  I’m sick and in pain.  But I’m going to wait until I get better to go see the doctor." 

            In a spiritual context, people will say "I’m dying of dehydration, but I’m going to stay away from the water of life that Jesus wants to give me until I feel better.  And I’m starving, but I’m going to stay away and nourish myself on junk food before I show up to receive the bread of life.”  It sounds insane, doesn't it?

            Our Father in heaven tries and tries to join us and keep us in his love and grace and peace, and we choose separation.  Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we constantly run away and hide and try to cover and conceal our sins and our hurts, our pains, and our sorrows with fig leaves of our own design.

            Do you see the problem here?  Separation is the whole problem, and we brought it on ourselves!  Because of our fall into sin we brought about separation from God.  And because of our sinfulness, we’re still trying to outrun and hide from the one and only source of forgiveness, life, and peace.  You can almost hear the sorrow in Jesus' voice when he says in Matthew chapter 23, verse 37:  "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"

            Jesus comes to bring us into fellowship with him.  Jesus comes to restore our broken relationship with God.  He comes to give us the joy and peace and comfort that is found only in him.  Jesus comes to bring us forgiveness and restoration that comes only through faith in him as our Saviour from sin.

            The world just seems to keep getting worse by the day.  But don't fret; behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who takes on your sins and my sins and pays the price on Calvary's cross.  He took the punishment and abuse at the hands of sinful men so that through faith alone our eternity in heaven is guaranteed.

            And he comes to us, right where we are.  He speaks to us in his Word.  He gives us the washing of regeneration in the sacrament of Baptism.  He feeds us and nourishes us as we receive his body and blood in the Lord's Supper for the remission of our sins.  We hear the words of absolution and we know that his promise of forgiveness is sure.  Just a couple chapters before our Gospel lesson, in John chapter 14, verse 27 Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."   And what comforting words of hope they are.

            It has been almost 50 years ago that 17 year-old Julee Armstrong was brutally murdered by her boyfriend, James Hurley.  I can't even begin to imagine how the Armstrongs felt as they sat in the front pew of Salem Lutheran Church in Ponca, looking at the closed casket that held the remains of their lovely daughter. This was the place where she was baptized, confirmed, and instructed in the Christian faith.  This is where she faithfully attended worship and Sunday School every week and strengthened her relationship with her Saviour.  This is her Saviour who ended her earthly pain and took her home to the heavenly mansion he had prepared for her, albeit way too soon.

            James Hurley was found guilty of second degree murder, which carries a penalty of 10 years to life.  Because of the controversial good time law in Nebraska, he was released on parole in 1977, 11 years after the murder.  His parole ended in 1982, and now he is in his late 60's and walking around a free man.  Considering the horrendous crime he committed, it hardly seems fair, does it?

            Take heart and be at peace.  Jesus prays for us in the midst of the trials and tribulations of this world.  He doesn’t pray that we will never experience pain and sorrow while living our life of faith in a faith-hating, anti-Christian world.  He doesn’t pray that life will always be a bed of roses.  The various consequences of evil are the very epitome of life in a fallen and sinful world, and everyone experiences them.

            Rather, Christ prays that we meet our trials and tribulations faithfully; that we never seek to separate ourselves from him and the opportunity he gives us to show forth a contented trust in him above all things, no matter what life throws at us.  He prays and intercedes for us so that when we do experience these hurts and pains and sorrows, we will remain grounded in our faith, ever and always trusting in him above all things, cleaving to him and his grace, his mercy, and his peace, which surpasses all human understanding.  Christ prays for you and your faith.  He is your Saviour, and he is with you always, forgiving, restoring, and strengthening you for his service.  And you know that he will one day deliver you from this sinful world into his eternal fellowship in heaven.