The Seventh Sunday of Easter
The Rev. George Pejakovich
John 17:6-19

IN THE MID EIGHTIES, I WAS ASKED TO DELIVER THE BACCALAUREATE ADDRESS FOR THE GRADUATING SENIORS OF THE AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL IN STUTTGART. THE TIMES WERE SCARY, WITH WEEKLY, SOMETIMES NOT SO PEACEFUL, DEMONSTRATIONS OUTSIDE THE GATES, AND WITH THE BADER–MEINHOF GANG PERFORMING ACTS OF TERROR AGAINST U.S. CITIZENS. TWO OF WHOM MANAGED TO BLOW THEMSELVES UP JUST BEFORE REACHING THE GATE OF EUROPEAN COMMAND. AS WE GATHERED IN THE BEAUTIFUL STIFFTKIRKE IN DOWNTOWN STUTTGART, MY ADVICE TO THOSE ABOUT TO GO OUT INTO THE WORLD ON THEIR OWN WAS THAT OF THE OLD SARGENT ON THE TV SHOW HILL STREET BLUES; “LET’S BE CAREFUL OUT THERE.”

THE WORLD REMAINS A SCARY PLACE WITH ISIS, BOKO HARAM, AL QUADA, AND A HOST OF OTHER TERRORIST GROUPS KILLING CHRISTIANS, JEWS, AND EVEN OTHER MUSLIMS BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITH. IT WAS A FRIGHTENING WORLD FOR THE CHRISTIANS OF THE FIRST CENTURY AS WELL, SINCE THE EMPIRE OF ROME HAD DECIDED THAT CHRISTIANS WERE ATHEISTS BECAUSE THEY WOULD NOT WORSHIP THE EMPEROR. IN THE MIDST OF THE GREAT PERSECUTION, WHEN IT SEEMED AS IF THE ENTIRE WORLD WAS AGAINST THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST, THE WRITER OF THE GOSPEL OF JOHN WROTE DOWN THIS PRAYER OF JESUS WE JUST HEARD. WHILE JESUS MOSTLY PRAYED ALONE AND IN SILENCE, HERE HE PRAYED OUT LOUD BECAUSE HE WANTED HIS DISCIPLES TO KNOW WHAT HE WAS ASKING OF HIS FATHER.

ON THE NIGHT BEFORE HIS COMING DEATH ON THE CROSS, HE PRAYED FOR THOSE THE FATHER GAVE TO HIM TO BE HIS FOLLOWERS. HE KNEW THAT AS THE POWERS OF THIS WORLD HAD REJECTED HIM AND WOULD PUT HIM TO DEATH, SO TOO WOULD THE WORLD REJECT THOSE WHO BELIEVED IN HIM AND FOLLOWED HIM. HE DID NOT ASK HIS FATHER TO REMOVE THEM FROM THE WORLD, BECAUSE HE WAS SENDING THEM INTO THE WORLD JUST AS HE WAS SENT. THEY WOULD BE IN THE WORLD, BUT WOULD NOT BELONG TO THE WORLD, AND SO THEY WOULD BE HATED AND PERSECUTED BY THOSE WHO REJECT GOD AND EMBRASE THE FALSE VALUES OF THE WORLD. THEY WOULD BE IN THE WORLD BUT NOT OF THE WORLD.

I UNDERSTAND THIS QUITE EASILY, SINCE I HAVE LIVED MOST OF MY ADULT LIFE IN THE SOUTH OF THE U.S., BUT I RATHER DOUBT ANYONE WOULD CONSIDER ME A SOUTHERNER; NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH BEING A SOUTHERNER. THE COMMITMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN TO THE RISEN LORD WILL, HOWEVER, PUT HIM OR HER IN DIRECT OPPOSITION TO THE “ME FIRST” VALUES AND ATTITUDES OF THE WORLD. TO FOLLOW THE RISEN CHRIST MEANS TO BE COUNTER – CULTURAL, AND THAT BRINGS PRESSURE TO CONFORM, AND WHEN WE FAIL TO CONFORM IT BRINGS PERSECUTION. THE LORD PRAYED FOR HIS DISCIPLES THAT THEY WOULD BE PROTECTED FROM THE ATTACKS OF THE EVIL ONE, AND HIS FOLLOWERS, JUST AS THE RISEN LORD CONTINUES BY THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT TO PRAY FOR HIS DISCIPLES IN EVERY TIME AND PLACE.

HOW THEN SHOULD THE CHRISTIAN RELATE TO THE WORLD IN WHICH WE LIVE, BUT TO WHICH WE DO NOT BELONG? H. RICHARD NEIBUHR, IN HIS CLASSIC WORK, CHRIST AND CULTURE, WROTE THAT THERE ARE FIVE WAYS THAT CHRISTIANS HAVE HISTORICALLY RELATED TO THE CULTURE OF THE WORLD; CHRIST AGAINST CULTURE, THE CHRIST OF CULTURE, CHRIST ABOVE CULTURE, CHRIST AND CULTURE IN PARADOX, AND CHRIST AS THE TRANSFORMER OF CULTURE. AS THE PERSECUTIONS OF THE FIRST AND SECOND CENTURY WERE LIFTED, AND THE CHURCH EMERGED FROM HIDING, CHRISTIANITY BECAME THE CULTURE OF THE ENTIRE ROMAN WORLD. IT DID NOT TAKE LONG FOR IT TO BECOME AS VENAL AND CORRUPT AS THE PAGAN CULTURE IT REPLACED. YET, THE FOLLOWERS OF THE RISEN LORD DID PLAY A LARGE PART IN THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE CULTURE OF THE WEST, IN THE ENDING OF THE SLAVE TRADE IN ENGLAND AND, AFTER A HORRIFIC CIVIL WAR, IN THIS NATION. HOWEVER, IN A POST – CHRISTIAN WESTERN WORLD, TO INCLUDE AMERICA, IT IS DIFFICULT TO SEE HOW THE FOLLOWERS OF THE RISEN LORD ARE HAVING A TRANSFORMATIONAL EFFECT ON THE CULTURE OF TODAY. HOW, THEN, SHALL WE LIVE?

WE MUST LIVE AS THE DISCIPLES OF THE RISEN LORD IN THE MIDST OF A WORLD THAT DOES NOT KNOW HIM, OR PAYS LIP SERVICE TO HIM AT BEST. WE MUST LIVE BY BEING DIFFERENT. NOT BY HIDING AWAY, OR WEARING DISTINCTIVE CLOTHING, OR SEPARATING OURSELVES FROM THOSE AROUND US, BUT BY LIVING WITH A DIFFERENT SET OF VALUES THAT REFLECT THE LOVE AND GRACE OF GOD RATHER THAN THE GREED AND SELF – CENTEREDNESS OF THE CULTURE. EACH FOLLOWER OF THE RISEN LORD, AND EACH GATHERING OF HIS FOLLOWERS, MUST REFLECT AND EMBODY THE GRACE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS. AS GOD GAVE JESUS FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD, SO TOO DOES GOD GIVE HIS FOLLOWERS FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORLD WHICH HE LOVES. THE OPERATIVE WORD IN THE PRAYER OF JESUS IS GIVE. WE MUST LIVE BY GIVING.

IN A FRIGHTENING WORLD, WHERE SO MUCH SEEMS TO BE WRONG, WE MUST STAND FOR THE RIGHT. IN A WORLD WHERE SO MANY HAVE SO LITTLE, WE MUST GIVE WHAT WE CAN WHEN WE CAN. IN A WORLD THAT DOES NOT KNOW THE RISEN LORD, WE MUST SHOW HIM TO THE WORLD BY OUR WORDS, AND MOST ESPECIALLY, OUR DEEDS.

IN THE RECENT RIOTS IN BALTIMORE, WHAT YOU DID NOT SEE ON THE EVENING NEWS WAS THE MANY CHRISTIANS OF THAT COMMUNITY HANDING OUT COLD WATER TO THE LINES OF POLICE. THERE, CHRIST WAS PRESENT. WHAT YOU DID NOT HEAR ABOUT WAS THE GROUP OF NAVAL ACADEMY MIDSHIPMEN, AND ONE MIDSHIPWOMAN, WHO, WHEN BRICKS SHATTERED THE WINDOWS OF THE SUBWAY SHOP IN WHICH THEY WERE EATING, GOT ALL THE MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN TO THE BACK OF THE STORE. THEY THEN LINKED ARMS AND FACED THE RIOTERS, AND TOOK THE BRICKS AND STONES ON THEIR BODIES TO SHELTER THE OTHERS. WHETHER OR NOT THEY WERE ALL CHRISTIANS, THERE, CHRIST WAS PRESENT.

IN OUR LIFE OF GIVING, EVEN TO THE GIVING OF OUR SELVES, CHRIST IS PRESENT IN THE GIVING, AND THE GRACE OF GOD IS MADE MANIFEST TO THE WORLD. WE ARE NOT OF THE WORLD, BUT WE ARE IN THE WORLD FOR THE WORLD, AND, IF WE LIVE THAT WAY, THEN, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, WE ARE IN CHRIST AND HE IS IN US, AND WE WILL BE SANCTIFIED IN HIS TRUTH. SO “LET’S BE CAREFUL OUT THERE;” CAREFUL TO LIVE AS WE ARE CALLED TO LIVE. AMEN

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