Sunday, May 17th, 2015 – Sermon on John 17:6-19

John 17:6-19

6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Let me begin by saying how good it is to be here with all of you. And thank you for your very warm and kind welcome. As we’ve moved in and added another child to our family in the past two weeks, our fridge has been stocked with food and beverages that have made life much easier for our family. Lauren, Elliot, Henry, and I are so delighted to be here with you all.

Well, it’s graduation season. High school. College. Seminary. Today, we honor and recognize and pray over our own high school seniors as they step out into a new phase of life. And with graduations come graduation speeches. The ones I’ve heard have been more disappointing than memorable, but I don’t blame the speakers for that. It’s a hard thing to do – to give one final speech, one last chance to impart words of wisdom and guidance upon a group of people before sending them out.

As I think about graduation speeches, I’ve come to realize that really all I want to hear is for someone to tell me the truth. Tell me the truth about the world that lies ahead.

Few people have done this as well as the late great writer David Foster Wallace. In arguably one of the greatest commencement speeches ever given, David Foster Wallace tells a group of graduating students the truth. But first, he tells them a story. “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What the (heck) is water?”[1]

As Wallace says it, the point of this story is “that sometimes the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see.”[2] Some times we are oblivious to that which is most obvious like fish clueless about the water they are swimming in.

Now here comes the truth. He goes on to tell the student body what so often goes unspoken in graduation speeches. He tells them the truth about the water that all of us are swimming in. That most of our lives end up in the exact same place. That we will spend much of our life sitting in traffic, going to the grocery store, waiting in long lines, being sick of our jobs, and worried about finances. All of us.

Which isn’t the most uplifting graduation speech. “Happy graduation. Welcome to life. It gets kind of old after awhile.”

But this is when Wallace says we all have a choice to make. “Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give (us) time to think, and if (we) don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, (we will) be (angry) and miserable (most of our life). Because (our) default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about (us). About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way.” And then my only goal will be to figure out how to get them out of my way.

So we can think like that, Wallace says. Or we can think differently. We can remember that this is water. And we can remember that all of us are swimming in this water. We can choose to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as (we are), and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than (we) do.

And then, Wallace says, “It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred.”[3]

This world is sacred. If you are willing to see it, Wallace says.

Which isn’t far off from what I think Jesus is trying to say to his disciples in the gospel for today. In fact, in some ways, today’s gospel is kind of like Jesus’ graduation speech for his disciples. It’s Jesus’ one last chance to speak to this group of people, before he sends them out into the world.

Here’s the scene: it is the night before Jesus’ death – Maundy Thursday – and he’s been saying his goodbyes to all of the disciples. And then with everyone still gathered around and listening in, he starts to pray. Now, I don’t know if you actually heard or remember any of what Jesus said, because, as one person I know put it, Jesus in the gospel of John can often sounds like the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon – waaa wa waa waa, wa wa waa wa.

Jesus prays with such high and lofty words, that twist and turn, and curve in on themselves, it’s hard to keep track of what he is trying to say. But if we listen closely, just like the disciples did, we can hear that not only is Jesus praying for them…he’s praying to them. So that they might also hear some final words of guidance before being sent back out into the world. Listen.

9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.

Can you hear it? Jesus is praying to God, but he is also speaking to the disciples. Jesus wants his disciples to hear this final message and it is a message that says, God gave you to me, which makes you a gift from God. And I may no longer be in the world but you are. Not only are you in the world, but I have sent you to be here. And now my works are in your hands. Through this prayer,“Jesus is counting on us to be his presence in the wake of his absence.”[4]

So there you go. How about that for a graduation speech, during this graduation season? Jesus telling his disciples that he is counting on them – on us – to be his presence in this world. And that makes this world – this place –sacred ground. IF we are willing to see it. Why? Because the presence of God is constantly cropping up all around us in the work of ordinary people whom Jesus has sent. And because this is the very place that God has sent you to be. To go and be the hands and feet of Christ in the ordinariness of your own life.

Friends, Jesus is pointing out the water to the disciples. The most obvious thing that we, like those fish, can be so oblivious to – that every place, every moment is sacred, if we are willing to see it.

As preacher Barbara Brown Taylor has said, people are so willing to look all over the place to find God and the sacred. “They will spend hours launching prayers into the heavens. They will travel halfway around the world to visit a monastery in India or to take part in a mission trip to Belize. The last place most people look is right under their feet (in Northfield, MN)…in the everyday activities, accidents, and encounters of their lives. What possible spiritual significance could a trip to the grocery store have?” Barbara Brown Taylor asks.[5]

A lot, David Foster Wallace, says. If we are willing to see it.

I am no longer in the world, but (you) are,” Jesus says. And therefore, what happens here matters. A lot. No matter how ordinary it is.

And Jesus prays that we will remain awake to this reality. That we would know that we are the ones in the world. The world God loves so much. And that in seeing that and knowing that, we would then be the very presence of Jesus in the world.

And here’s the thing: you already are. You already are the presence of Jesus in the world.

You know, when a six year old stops over to visit his 81-year-old friend from church, because she’s been in the hospital, Jesus is present in the world and you see how sacred it can be. When the seasons of life shift, and you find yourself caring for your aging parents, and it’s hard, hard work, because it’s backwards – I mean, they’re supposed to take care of you, right? -but it’s also good work, because how else can you give back to them all the care they’ve given to you? In that moment, Jesus is present and you see how sacred this life can be. When someone lingers after worship to spend an extra moment with a friend having a hard time, Jesus is present and you see how sacred this life can be.

Friends, that’s some of the stories that I’ve heard about and witnessed here at St. John’s in just the past week alone. That’s the water that we are swimming in. And it’s pretty ordinary. But it’s also what sustains us and gives us life. Because without that kind of water all around us, we would just be gasping for air.

It’s late. It’s after supper. And the time has come. And there is no doubt about it. Jesus is praying for his disciples. But he is also praying to them. He wants them to hear what he has to say to God: All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.

Which makes this a very sacred place with all of you in it.

So, to our graduating seniors, wherever you are going is a sacred space filled with God and in need of the love of Christ that you have to offer. To the McCarthy family, know that where you are headed is a sacred space filled with God and in need of the love of Christ that you have to offer. To all of you, wherever this week leads you is a sacred space filled with God and in need of the love of Christ that you have to offer. This is our world, folks. And it is filled with such divine and sacred things that are so ordinary that we can become so oblivious to them. Divine and sacred things that we do. Divine and sacred things that others do – all of which is the work of God in us. And it is everywhere. We’re swimming in it. May we have the eyes to see. Amen.

[1] David Foster Wallace, http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words

[2] Ibid.

[3] David Foster Wallace, http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words

[4] Karoline Lewis, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1996

[5] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, pg. 12.

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