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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Objective Of The Evil One - 05/13/2018

There are so many curious things in our Gospel reading today. We traditionally visit this part of John on this 7th Week of Easter – just before the Festival of Pentecost next week.

Looking ahead for just a moment, this year that Festival of Pentecost is shaping up to be quite the event. In addition to witnessing seven of our sisters and brothers confirm or re-affirm their baptismal identities as they step into the role of full membership and discipleship here at Eden, the calendar also draws our high school graduates into the festival. And, of course, it will all be capped off beautifully by the Annual Fish Fry. It reminds me of the end of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus’ followers were standing around talking about the resurrection, just as we do here when we gather, and then Jesus is there, among them with greetings of peace. While they were still trying to pick their jaws up off the ground, Jesus says to them “Have you anything to eat?” and they gave him a piece of fish. So you see, just like remembering our baptisms on Confirmation Day and blessing one another when we reach milestones in our lives, our Fish Fry has biblical precedent too! Make sure you bring friends.

Anyway, back to our text from today, it is traditional that we read from John 17 on this Sunday. It is the well-loved and comforting few moments in John’s story of Jesus’ last days … it’s the calm before the storm of betrayal and execution. In it we have these beautiful and loving sentiments shown by Jesus. His words and demeanor in the prayer reveal the great depth to which he loves his disciples – on this Mother’s Day weekend, perhaps it is helpful or natural to compare it to the love and selflessness mothers and those who are nurturers often feel for their children and those they nurture.

Like many people, I treasure what this text reveals to us about Jesus because we can know with confidence that the love he speaks for those first twelve, even the one who betrayed him, is meant for us too.

And that actually leads me to one of the curious things about this text … Jesus is praying to God for the disciples …  Jesus is God … God is praying to God. That’s notable, I think. Why would God pray to God? It certainly isn’t necessary.

There are probably a lot of reasons God would do this … all those we can imagine and all those only God can imagine. What comes to mind very plainly for many people, I think, is that this is modeling behavior. Just like Psalm 1 instructs us to “walk,” “stand” and “sit” in the Lord’s Word, in other words, study your bible, Jesus’ actions here shows us that a priority for us too is to stay in conversation with God, in whatever form that takes … the prayers we share here as part of the Body of Christ together, the prayers we share in our private moments, those we lift up in song or speak as blessings and encouragement to others.

And so we are a praying people, as we are taught to be. And it is good for us.

Another interesting thing about Jesus praying to his Godself is the way in which John tells this story. He tells it a little differently than the other gospel writers. In those versions, Jesus goes off on his own and the disciples cannot even stay awake to keep watch for Jesus while he prays. But in John this prayer comes when Jesus finishes teaching the disciples. “I came from the Father and have come into the world again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’ Jesus said to them, “…I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ And then he begins to pray.

“After 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, (John 16:28, 33, 17:1)

Jesus is praying right in front of the disciples in John’s version. He gets done with his final lesson about what he has come to do as the Messiah and then he raises his eyes and maybe even his arms to the heavens and prays for them in their presence. It is God praying to God so that we can clearly understand that what God explicitly intends for us is that we are protected, that God desires for us to be one in our love of God and one another, and that God’s joy in making all this happen for us through Jesus is made known through us.  God’s joy through us.  That all by itself is a life-altering, a world-altering idea to think and pray about.

And that brings me to another curious thing about this prayer Jesus speaks for the benefit of the disciples’ ears – it’s the word “world.” It’s used 18 times (by my count) in this prayer; 13 times in just the portion of the prayer we read today. And when you notice that, you may also notice that there seems to be some contradiction in what God or Jesus feels about or wants for “the world.” Specifically, in this prayer Jesus says, “I have given them your word, and the world had hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (17:14)

I don’t know about you, but on the surface, this statement rubs up uncomfortably against other times we hear about the “world.” Like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Or what Jesus shows us about his feeling about the world when he says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (10:16)

In fact the very next verse where our reading ends today reveals that this love of the world is something God has already spoken into the future too. It tells us that Jesus speaks this prayer not only on behalf of the disciples listening to him right there, but also on behalf of the whole world and all who will come to believe Jesus is the Messiah through their word.

Overwhelmingly Jesus speaks of the world as God’s beloved creation – a creation he is willing to die for, in fact. So when Jesus says the world hated his followers and they did not belong to it, I do not think he means that we are to despise this world or see our Jesus-following selves as apart from the world.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made as part of this creation and we are made to be in it. So I would argue Jesus means something else here and actually Jesus even says that himself … “I am not asking you to take them out of the world,” he continues.

And that brings me to the remaining “curiosity” I’d like to offer up today. The second part of what Jesus says here is: “but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (17:15)

I wrote about “the evil one” in a column recently and so when it popped up in the reading this week, it caught my attention. Here’s what I wrote: “I personally don’t subscribe to the idea of a personified devil with horns and a tail and a will to overcook everything in creation, but I do recognize that evil things happen and, just like I cannot fully comprehend all the ways God is at work in the world, I cannot fully understand the why and how of evil either.”

  And so I found myself curious, what is the objective of this “evil one?” Jesus prays about? Even though I really don’t think it’s possible for us to completely understand evil in this world, I do think we can see that it works its way through the brokenness that also certainly exists in this world. Evil finds its entry, its voice in this world through sin often … those times when we idolize someone or something above God … times when we fail in our covenantal promise to love all neighbors, not just the easy ones … those times even when we are sinned against and in our pain and hurt we seek to retaliate or we begin to believe we are anything less than what God envisioned when each of us was created in our mothers’ wombs.

And sometimes I think evil finds a place to sow doubt and malice in this world through things that are even more out of our control then the actions of those who might sin against us. I’m thinking here of things like disease and death, war and even those big political and ideological issues that divide our nation and sometimes even our assemblies and families.

So in thinking about this “evil one” Jesus names, I believe one way to understand its objective is to recognize that as it works through the brokenness that affects us all, it is trying to convince us that it still retains power over us. Or it attempts to cause us to forget that the last word has already been uttered. It happened, you may remember, at the beginning of John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness (the doubt-full darkness of the evil one) did not overcome it.” (1:1, 4b-5) It’s done, despite what so much of this beloved world of God’s and ours sometimes shows us. Jesus’ prayer proclaims that we continue to be protected from the way evil tries to get between us and God’s love and abundance for us.

So now, after throwing all these curiosities and ides out there, I feel a need to try and wrap this up a little bit. And here’s what I would say to that … As we go from here, looking toward the Festival of Pentecost with our new Easter eyes and ears on the world, we go knowing that although we hear God’s promise and salvation for us directly from Jesus’ mouth and even in our presence, God knows this is a struggle for us. God knows that evil will try its best to shout over or muddy that truth. But we have this protection in Jesus’ prayer – a prayer that has already been answered: Evil is defeated, we are freed to go forth boldly and confidently in any of this world as God’s joyful antidote for those who have not yet heard … Allelua! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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