7th Sunday of Easter

S.Easter 7.21 “In, not Of” Jn. 17:11-19

So, what do you think this Gospel today is mainly about? Should we ask the vicar? I’m pretty sure I know what he’s going to say: “It’s about death.” He’s been in such a cheerful mood lately. I love it! And he’s not wrong about this, entirely. Death plays a roll here, as it always does in the Gospel which St. Paul said is crucially about this one thing: “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”

But, I’m going to say that, more than death, this Gospel is about JOY: to be specific, it’s mainly about the joy that comes from sharing in Christ’s victory over death, sin, and devil. A joy that is eternal, true, endlessly delightful; but a joy that comes only from sharing in the cross of Jesus that the life of Jesus may be ours also, which comes to us only in Christ Jesus by his Word and Sacraments.

Jesus has been giving a lot of commands the last few weeks, which we’ve been hearing as we’re teaching, eating, and journeying with Jesus (as his disciples) to Golgotha, via the Garden of Gethsemane—so, of course, death has loomed large in Jesus’ last little talks with his disciples. But when he said, a couple weeks ago, that we’re his friends if we do what he commands us, he wasn’t being a bossy kind of friend who has to have everything his way and have everyone do exactly as he says to be happy with us—though some might hear it that way…

But before he urged us to do as he commands us, Jesus says it’s all so that “my JOY may be in you and your joy may be full.” And that is a really good kind of friend to have!—one who is more concerned about your happiness than with his own popularity or power. And, as he says: his commands are not burdensome. To do them is delightful—always a “get-to” never a “have-to”—he’ll love us as much, either way.

It’s like when we were little kids and we’d pretend to be our favorite super hero. Mom never had to tell us: “Now, go out and spend at least an hour pretending to be Batman, Spider-Man, or Jonny Quest.” Nope, we just did that, moved by Saturday morning cartoons and our great joy in them.

It’s the same, even better(!), with Jesus. If only we could be like him!—indifferent to hostility, pain, suffering, poverty! Serene and calm in the face of death. Who wouldn’t love to be able, with his incredible insouciance, lugging our cross down the Via Dolorosa, bleeding and battered from torture at the hands of the government’s security police (without a whimper or giving them a name 🙂 to say, laconically, to the daughters of Jerusalem crying their eyes out: “Don’t cry for me, Argentina; cry for yourselves! Because if they do this in the green wood, what will happen to the dry?” You wink, nod (just the slightest hint of a grin) and on you go, staggering up Golgotha’s hill, every inch a King? This is the way; even the Mandalorian has nothing on Jesus for sheer cool.

I wanna be like that! You wanna be like that! But, hmm… how would I do that? Well, I’d have to know, like Jesus, that death on the cross is nothin’ but a thing; that I will conquer death like an inferior opponent in a tennis match—a little sweat, a scraped knee going for that low ball, some thirst, jeers from a hostile crowd only fueling your fire, but victory assured. See, he’d been telling them that, after three days, looking for all the world thoroughly defeated, he’d get up!—alive, perfected, better than ever, never to die again, full divine power on.

    And we simply, as we are now: weak, mostly unvaccinated, un-divine, doubting, dubious, scared of anything that goes bump in the night—cannot know, like he knew, how the next three days would go. Death looks like an 800 pound gorilla that we have no way to defeat. Because no one else in all human history has ever defeated him! And we’d like to believe Jesus has, but honestly, we weren’t there, we didn’t see what Thomas and the other 12 saw. We believe (sorta!) but need big help with our unbelief!

This is the disciples on the way to Gethsemane, Golgotha, right? This is us, most days, facing new dangers and difficulties with increasingly less oomph, am I right? You know, the vicar is more right than we’ve been giving him credit for: this whole thing really is about death!

This is why Jesus is telling them, “you’ve been baptized into my Name, you’ve received my Word, Body, Blood. Everything I have is given to you in this way. Where I am, you will be, also. You know the way. And you won’t be alone. I am with you always, especially on the cross, to the close of the age and the beginning of the Victory Party! Just hang in there. Do as I say, follow me, and you’ll see that because I’ve got this, you’ve got this too. My JOY is in you; your joy will be full. There’s nothing more pleasing than the look in the eyes of the big, ugly, trash-talking giant who’s been telling you how he’ll crush you, break you, then feed your broken carcass to the wild beasts, as your stone sinks into his forehead and he knows he’s going down. Look for that, revel in that, with me!”

His anger is but a moment; his favor—life.

That’s what Jesus has been talking about with special intensity these last weeks in our Gospel from John on the way to Gethsemane, Golgotha. But today, he’s not talking with them, but to his Father as they listen (a little) and sleep a lot. Just before they drift off, they catch a few words of his prayer: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture may be fulfilled.”

That last bit surely raised an eyebrow: “Wait! One of us gets lost? Whoa! How will that happen? Hold on! Judas! He’s gone. He left early, right before the Last Supper. But he always was a thief, dipping into the common treasury, treating the things of God as trinkets for earthly profit…”

See, Jesus doesn’t force anyone to follow him who doesn’t want to. He never, as mom never did, order us to spend our free time pretending to be our favorite Super-Hero. Heaven is always a get-to, not a have-to. Jesus doesn’t drag anyone into heaven, kicking, screaming, by their hair! While he’ll let Judas go his own sad, cartoon-less, way, that’s Judas’ choice. Even hell has been designed to minimize the torments of the lost…

The problem with Judas is that he, by his own free will, was of the world. To be of the world is, quite simply: to try to use God and his gifts for our own self-chosen human ends. To make God our contractor for some worldly paradise we’ve designed…

Faith keeps us in the world, in the game, but not of the world. That is, we keep our eyes on the prize: the loss of sinful self, the complete transformation through the cross and resurrection into the Image of Jesus, perfectly like him, sharing all his super-powers. The world is a bridge that we cross over. [See what I did there?]

There is no joy like knowing IT’S ours—always, already, in Word and Sacrament—a foretaste of the Feast to come. Truly, it’s yours, here, now; in the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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