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I Have Sent Them Into the World
Dr. Baron Mullis
May 17, 2015 - Psalm 1; John 17:6-19

 

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I Have Sent Them Into the World
Psalm 1; John 17:6-19         

Dr. Baron Mullis
Morningside Presbyterian Church
May 17, 2015

 

There are few things that annoy me so much as when someone overstates their suffering or oppression. There are probably few things about which I am so hypocritically guilty. “I’m literally about to drop dead from fatigue.” 

In fact, you’re probably just tired. 

“I’m dying spiritually.” 

No, you’re probably just in a spiritual drought – come back when you’ve lived on top of a column in the wilderness for thirty years. 

A young man I’ve known for many years annoyed me this week by claiming his free-speech was being infringed. He said so on Facebook. 

I’m pretty sure he’s not going to jail for that. He’s inconvenienced, not repressed. 

Those sorts of overstatements of suffering, “I just cannot get a decent latte anymore,” are what one friend jokingly calls, “First world problems.” 

And here’s the thing, whatever they are, they are generally just the updated version of the old line, “It’s hard to get good help anymore.” 

And truth be told, even when I’m guilty of it myself – I was just verklimpt when my favorite Mexican restaurant changed from grilled chicken to roasted chicken – for most of us, there’s no malice, there’s no lack of sensitivity, we’re just wrapped up in what we’re experiencing in the moment. 

Of course, there is a cottage industry of fanning up false indignation for ratings, but that’s a different sermon for a different day. 

Most of the time, for most of us, but not all, the things that challenge us are garden-variety annoyance, not deep suffering. 

But… 

But… 

That is not always true. 

Sometimes for us, genuine suffering comes into play. 

Sometimes the fatigue is the deep tiredness that comes from being, day in and day out, a caregiver for someone who is the deepest, darkest time of their lives, and while we’re not going to drop from it, it feels like lead weights attached to our limbs. 

Sometimes the spiritual drought extends not for a few days or weeks, but for months on end, and we begin to wonder if the faith that sustained us in times past might not be so reliable now. 

For some people, freedom to speak really is limited and procuring a good latte – or anything to eat, for that matter – is as easy as flying to the moon. 

What then? 

And even more than that, sometimes the exercise of discipleship is going to bring one to that moment of real challenge, real suffering, real oppression – Jesus asks for some pretty specific behaviors from his followers, and they aren’t always easy. 

When you think of being Jesus’s disciple, what do you believe that entails? 

While I know there is a shallow version of discipleship that consists of little more than being on a “saved” list, like an eternal version of TSA pre-check, that’s not what I see from this congregation. I know all too well that some among us have to make hard decisions about whether or not we can keep a job we desperately need in spite of being asked to do things we know are wrong. 

I know all too well that some of the most privileged among us are also the most generous in time and money, and it arises out of a genuine call to follow Jesus Christ. 

And I also know all too well that following Jesus can mean that we have to go with Jesus into some dark and difficult places. 

When we consider being sent out into the world, as Jesus’s disciples most certainly are in this passage of John, we have to consider what they are being asked to do and where they are being asked to do it. 

The particulars don’t translate to us – we’re not living under military occupation, we’re not being asked to leave, most of us, our families and homes, though some are. But we are asked to live a way of life that is decidedly against the grain. 

We’re asked to be selfless in a world where Gordon Gecko’s proclamation, “Greed is good,” looks more prophetic than it was intended to be. 

We’re being asked to take covenant commitment seriously in a world where marriage can be controversial, but shallow hook-ups are tabloid news. 

We’re being asked to care enough about people we don’t know, can’t see, will never meet, to commit our own treasure to make life a little better, a little easier. 

And occasionally, it’s going to wear a bit. I don’t think any of us think that generosity, commitment and social consciousness are onerous. But I do think that sometimes the “long obedience in the same direction” might stretch a little long before us. 

What then? What about when faith feels just flat, or when it’s hard to think of the next big thing? What then? What about when life is neither good nor bad, but just, “meh.” 

I have answer for that rhetorical question, and I want to preface it by saying it might not sound like much, but it is. Here’s the answer for those times when you’re just not getting it: 

Jesus prays for you. 

This passage of John where Jesus is sending out his disciples into the world is a long soliloquy by Jesus, and when he sending his disciples into harder circumstances than most of us will face, when he is asking these friends of his to take on the mantle of being his disciples – of being like him, what he does for them is to pray for them. The early church questioned whether Jesus was praying for all of human history or just for his disciples in that particular moment, and opted to leave the conclusion ambiguous.1 But I’m convinced it is the former. 

Here’s why: later on, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, that famous eighth chapter that has shaped so much of reformed theology, we read that Christ prays for us. 

When Jesus sends you out into the world with the expectation that you are going to be Christ-like, he’s praying for you. 

Did you know that? 

And when you reach that point where you can’t pray for yourself anymore, when the words are exhausted, the Spirit prays for you, “with sighs too deep for words.” 

That means prayer that isn’t necessarily head down, hands folded in a pious posture, but active, engaging, sustaining – this is prayer that defines life. 

You know, most of the reward of Christian discipleship is subtle and simple. 

Discipleship is a sustaining way of life. 

Discipleship is a life grounded in the ground of all being. 

Discipleship is a life of meaning, rooted in the truth of Jesus Christ. 

But it isn’t always a thrill a minute. 

Even then, Jesus prays for us. 

When Jesus asks us to be him for the world, he prays for us. 

I have often wondered if the reason Jesus prays for us is because he knows how hard it is to keep energy around something you can’t see, and we can’t see Jesus. 

I love something Jean Vanier wrote about his life in the L’Arche community – he founded the community in 1964 when he invited two men with intellectual disabilities to live in his home and provided care for them. They are a large organization today – here’s their mission: 

• to make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities (or learning disabilities as they are known in the UK), 

• to foster the development of communities that respond to members' changing needs, and 

• to engage with local cultures while working toward a more human society.2 

Working toward a more human society sounds a lot like what Jesus sent his disciples, then and now to do. Let me read you what he said about his lifetime of service: 

“I’m not sure I could say I have ‘dedicated’ my life to others. I’ve been pulled or attracted into something. That’s very different. It’s not a question of making a big choice in my life, but more a feeling of being led or drawn into something which is a mystery. The difference between a mystery and a secret is that once you get closer to the secret, nothing is left; but the more you get close to the mystery, the more it becomes mysterious, a place of wonderment. So my sense over these past forty-two years in  L’Arche is that I have been called into a mystery, which is the discovery of the gospel message, of the kingdom, of how that togetherness with the little, the weak and the fragile can help us build something beautiful together and celebrate life.”3 

The title of the essay where I got that is, Where the Weak and the Strong Dance Together. 

That’s what Jesus is calling us to do. That is what Jesus is praying for. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen. 


1 Gerard Sloyan. John in Interpretation, Mays, Miller, Achtemeier, eds. (JKP, Atlanta 1988) P197  
2 www.larcheusa.com  
3 Jean Vanier, Where the Weak and the Strong Dance Together, in The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World, Abernethy and Bole, eds. (Seven Stories, NY, 2007) pp365-176  

Last Published: May 26, 2015 7:16 PM