PRELUDE + MEDITATION

Psalm 68:32-35

Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice. Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies. Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

OPENING PRAYER

God, Protector of the widow,
the orphan and the stranger –
in a world where many know despair,
you raised your Son Jesus
to give hope for humanity and renewal to the earth.

Continue to strengthen and unify your Church
in its struggles against the forces of death in the world,
where violence against creation and humanity
obscures the hope of the new life you offer.

This we pray in the name of the Risen Lord,
in the power of His Spirit. Amen

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION

Creating God, stir in us the newness of life, that we may experience what You are doing in the world around us. Help us not to grow stale to the world, dim to Your light, but to reflect Your light and the newness of Your creation in all that we do. Inspire us to live for others, to love our neighbors and seek their well-being. In living for others, we find ourselves living out Your greatest commandment, knowing that You lived for us, so we live for others. Create in us the newness of life, that we might love, live, and share the joy found in You. In the name of Christ, who makes all things new, we pray. Amen.

SCRIPTURE               John 17:1-11

17After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

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. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for 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. 9I 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. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

11And 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.

SERMON

How is your prayer life??  Are you praying more?  Are you praying for the end of this virus?  Are you praying for doctors and nurses?  Are you praying for patience as you deal with family members? Are you praying for comfort as you are alone at home?  As we conclude this Easter season, I think it is good to hear Jesus’ words from John 17: A prayer for his disciples, then and now!  But when we overhear what Jesus says, not just in the part I read today but looking at the whole of the prayer, we do not hear a prayer of despair or revenge. Instead we hear words of love. “They are yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. . . . Watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one. . . . Then the world will know that you have sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.” We also hear Jesus entrusting our future not to us, not to the church, not to the world, not to our government, but only to God. In the words of his prayer, Jesus gives us back to the one from whom we came. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Today, living in the middle of what too often feels like a cruel and terrible world, are you able to hear the hope embedded in Jesus’ prayer?

First of all, Jesus wants us to know how deeply we are loved. He wants us to know that we are as loved by our Triune God as Jesus is loved by the one he calls Father.

And second, because of that tremendous holy love, Jesus is affirming that in the end our future as a people and as people does not wholly depend on what we do or don’t do.

Jesus’ prayer reminds us that the church’s future, the world’s future, our children’s future, is not dependent upon us. Our future rests in God’s hands, not our own. That affirmation is at the heart of Jesus’ prayer for us.  We may want to keep the world at bay.  We may want to hid in our worship space.  We may want to only hangout with people who believe just like us.  We may want to care for our tribe.  We may want to keep the world at arm’s length, but that is not the call for followers of Jesus.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had every reason in the world to keep the world at arm’s length, to keep his religious commitments in the realm of the spirit, totally separated and safe from what was going on in the world around him. Most of his fellow German Christians managed to do that in the 1930s, as the Nazis came to power. As individual liberties began to disappear—freedom of expression, freedom of assembly—as Jews at first were blamed in the official newspapers for everything that was wrong, then tormented, demonized, their property confiscated, their businesses destroyed, finally rounded up and shipped away to concentration camps, German Christians looked the other way.

“It’s not our business. It’s politics. It’s just the way things are in the world. Our concern is religion, matters of the spirit, our souls, our future in heaven, not what is transpiring in the world around us.”

In Germany, Bonhoeffer, a gentle intellectual, a pacifist, concluded that his faith demanded more of him. His faith would not allow him not to see what was happening. You know his story: he joined the Resistance and became part of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler—not in spite of his Christian faith, but because of it.

The plot failed. Bonhoeffer was arrested and executed a few days before the war ended. His Letters and Papers from Prison is a modern Christian classic.

From his prison cell he wrote to a friend that Christianity doesn’t shield us from life but “plunges us into all the dimensions of life.” He went on,

“During the last year or so I have come to appreciate the worldliness of Christianity. . . . I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life. . . . Later I discovered that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to believe” (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 226).

So, if the call is to live a holy life that is completely in this world – how do we handle such a challenge?

We handle living in the world be recognizing that Jesus wants us to know how deeply we are loved. He wants us to know that we are as loved by our Triune God as Jesus is loved by the one he calls Father. And because of that tremendous holy love, Jesus is affirming that in the end our future as a people and as people does not wholly depend on what we do or don’t do. Jesus’ prayer reminds us that the church’s future, the world’s future, our children’s future, is not dependent upon us. Our future rests in God’s hands, not our own. That affirmation is at the heart of Jesus’ prayer for us.  We may want to keep the world at bay, but that is not the call for followers of Jesus.  The call is to be serving in the world and demonstrating that God’s kingdom is here, now.

We will be celebrating the 300th anniversary of this wonderful church on the corner of Broad and Centre beginning in January, and I have been thinking a lot about our history. And I am convinced that we are uniquely strong today because of continued faithfulness of the disciples of Christ who worship here, before us.  There are plenty of churches that have moved locations or just focused upon those who were on our membership role.  This church invites 12 step groups into the building, sponsors Scouting Units, provides resources to the neighborhood through the Women’s Association rummage sale and feeds those in the county through the monthly community dinner.

But the church has created more ways to serve: with Habitat for Humanity, the Presbyterian Church in Placetas, Cuba and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.   Over the years the list continues to grow and the tradition deepens. The doors remain open every day. The city, the world, is here from dusk till dawn – until the pandemic.  Spiritual growth, worship food, clothing, shelter, education—this church is not only in the world, the world is here every day.

And you know, along the way something else happened and continues to happen: joy, just as Jesus promised and asked God on behalf of his followers. Joy and laughter in life in the world, in faith—not providing an escape from the world but a way to engage and serve the world.

It’s personal for each of us: not just our institutional attachments, our belonging to a church that has decided to risk living its institutional life as fully in the world as possible, but at a personal level to think like that and to live like that, to love the world, this world, so deeply and passionately that you can’t get enough of it, to honor and respect and value the gift of your own life by living it as fully as possible, every day of it, every moment of your precious and one and only life. To keep your eyes and ears and hands open to the miracle of every day and your heart vulnerably open to your loved ones, your friends, your neighbors; to live more thoroughly in the here and now, to see and hear and touch and smell the sacred, the holiness of God all around us.

In Assisi, , there is a gorgeous basilica where Francis of Assisi is buried and the amazing frescoes by Giotto—one of the great treasures of the world—depicting Francis’s life. Francis was born into wealth in 1188 and lived a life of comfort and ease until his conversion and his sense of vocation.  Francis of Assisi felt God’s call to live simply, to serve and love unconditionally, and to do it not in the relative security of a monastery, but in the world, radically in the world. That was Francis’s great gift. Giotto’s wonderful frescoes show him being in the world, helping the poor, tending the sick, loving the world and its creatures, once even preaching to the birds.

Francis understood that the holy life, the profoundly joyful life, is life lived thoroughly in the world, invested in the world, given away to the world in the name of his Lord Jesus Christ.

He left a prayer, a thoroughly human, this-worldly prayer, about hatred and love, strife and peace, hurt and forgiveness:

“Lord, make us servants” in the world, this world, this time and place where you call us to be to love and serve and where you promise us joy. Amen.

Commentary provided by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karoline Lewis, Craig Koester, Jamie Clark-Soles, John Buchanan, Shannon J. Kirschner, David Lose and Barbara Brown Taylor

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER

God of grace,
together we turn to you in prayer,
for it is you who unite us:
you are the one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit –
in whom we believe,
you alone empower us for good,
you send us out across the earth
in mission and service in the name of Christ.

We confess before you and all people:
We have been unworthy servants.
We have misused and abused the creation.
We have wounded one another by divisions everywhere.
We have often failed to take decisive action
against environmental destruction, poverty, racism,
caste-ism, war and genocide.
We are not only victims but also perpetrators of violence.

In all this, we have fallen short as disciples of Jesus Christ
who in his incarnation came to save us and teach us how to love.
Forgive us, God, and teach us to forgive one another.

God, in your grace, transform the world. 

God, hear the cries of all creation,
the cries of the waters, the air, the land and all living things;
the cries of all who are exploited, marginalized, abused and victimized,
all who are dispossessed and silenced, their humanity ignored,
all who suffer from any form of disease, from war
and from the crimes of the arrogant
who hide from the truth, distort memory
and deny the possibility of reconciliation.
God, guide all in seats of authority
towards decisions of moral integrity.

God, in your grace, transform the world. 

We give thanks for your blessings and signs of hope
that are already present in the world,
in people of all ages and in those who have gone before us in faith;
in movements to overcome violence in all its forms,
not just for a decade but for always;
in the deep and open dialogues that have begun
both within our own churches and with those of other faiths
in the search for mutual understanding and respect;
in all those working together for justice and peace –
both in exceptional circumstances and every day.
We thank you for the good news of Jesus Christ,
and the assurance of resurrection.

God, in your grace, transform the world. 

By the power and guidance of your Holy Spirit, O God,
may our prayers never be empty words
but an urgent response to your living Word –
in non-violent direct action for positive change,
in bold, clear, specific acts of solidarity,
liberation, healing and compassion,
readily sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Open our hearts to love
and to see that all people are made in your image,
to care for creation and affirm life in all its wondrous diversity.
Transform us in the offering of ourselves
so that we may be your partners in transformation
to strive for the full, visible unity
of the one Church of Jesus Christ,
to become neighbours to all,
as we await with eager longing
the full revelation of your rule
in the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.

God, in your grace, transform the world. 

As we offer these prayers, we do so in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray saying…

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.  Amen.

SENDING WORDS

As people of faith we have gathered for worship.
As people of faith we now return to the world.
Go out to share the story of faith,
the story of life, with the world around you.
We share the faith in word and in deed,
in speech and in action.

As you go out to give a living witness,
as you go out to testify to God’s love active in the world,
go knowing that God goes with you,
sharing the laughter and the hope, the fears and the tears.
Thanks be to God! Amen.