“The Gospel Is All About Jesus” May 24, 2020 with Jonathan Booth
“The Gospel Is All About Jesus”
A sermon on John 17 by
Friends from McCabe, Sheridan, and Amity – greetings. It is so good to be “with you”. It is a privilege to preach in the Easter season because much of what we hold dear and foundational to our faith is contained within the Easter narrative. Our lectionary reading gives us just the first eleven verses of John 17, but I would encourage you to read all 26. The whole chapter is precious.
There are parts of God’s holy word that is just such a revelation of intimacy and this chapter is one of those. Here in John 17, the whole chapter is a prayer of Jesus. The prayer makes me want to take off my shoes, to kneel, and wonder at what God teaches us when Father and Son relate to each other. St John allows us to tiptoe into the closing minutes of the last supper and listen to Jesus as he prays to his father. As this intimate prayer ends Jesus goes out to the garden of Gethsemane, to Golgotha, and to a Garden tomb as Easter unfolds.
Normally when I get the opportunity to preach among you it is peppered with some humor and banter but today the overarching emotion that I want you to hear is empathy. I want you to hear that Jesus understands, I want you to hear a timeless message, not the latest news bulletin and I want you to feel the nearness and the love of God.
Let us begin. “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, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
A week or so ago on Mother’s Day my wife’s father, my father in law died. I spoke to my mother in law earlier today and she asked me what I thought heaven was like. I replied I don’t know… I’m not sure. I don’t mean I don’t believe it because I do. I just mean I cannot conceive of what a home for eternity looks like and why a body isn’t necessary. I did say that one of the strongest things I feel is life is but a blip compared to eternity. Then there is the question not only of heaven (oh and by the way, if Jesus says he looked up to heaven then that’s good enough for me I’m happy to live with the premise that heaven is UP!) Next, he says “Father the hour has come”.
Recently I watched again, “The Lord of the Rings.” Destiny is a strong theme in that film. Here was Jesus praying to his father (at least we call it prayer) although actually, we are just eavesdropping on a conversation between God the glorious Father, and God the glorious Son. Gandalf, the grey-haired wizard talks to Frodo Baggins, the hobbit about the ring and the mission to destroy it and says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Jesus was talking to his father about what he had to do … “The hour has come.” The Sermon on the Mount, the healing of the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus all pale compared to the wonder of what Jesus would accomplish on the cross and through the resurrection. Christ, we and Frodo must all decide “what to do with the time that is given us.” Of course, I am not comparing Frodo to Jesus but certainly, in Tolkien’s allegorical tale there are parallels clearly evident.
As the movie moves forward Frodo’s destiny and mission become clearer and clearer. Here we are hours away from Jesus’s arrest, a day away from his death and his destiny and mission could not be clearer. Before, his mission was sometimes veiled in secrecy and parable, now it is wide open for us to see and explicit.
Jesus speaks theological truth to his father when he says “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” – This summarizes the gospel message of John in just one verse. Jesus, God the Son, came to save. Jesus knew his time had come and that he was the savior of the world and would soon return to his father.
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Now, here we come to the second major theme of these verses from St John is knowledge of God. We are meant to know the Father and Jesus has achieved that. In verse 7 Jesus says to his father “Now they know that everything you have given to me is from you; 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.” We are drawn into the intimacy of this encounter between Jesus and his father and here Jesus confirms that we, as followers of him are like him. We have accepted God for who he is through our knowledge of the son.
I want to draw another parallel from “The Fellowship of the Ring”. As the band of hobbits and their guardians’ journey towards Mordor step by step, Frodo learns more and more. More about the ring, more about each other, more about themselves. As we too, journey on the path of salvation towards the heavenly city we learn more about our God, about community and about ourselves. But we must move on to the dominant theme of John 17
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Here we come to the last and to some extent most important theme of John 17. (Don’t get too excited I said last I didn’t say I’m finished) Think about this for a moment if you could pray anything in your last prayer with your disciples what would it be? Let me pause for a brief moment for you to think. [Take a drink of water] (Did you just get up and have a cup of tea?) Well it surprised me, and it might have surprised you too that out of all the things Jesus could have focused on he focused on our unity. Here is what Jesus asks of his father “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Are you stunned “one as we are one”?
My goodness, that is a challenge and a half! And then the chapter ends with this “I made your name known to them, (do you see the continuing theme of knowing God?) and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them”. Wow, Wow Wow! You see Christian unity isn’t a case of us getting along together, being tolerant of differing opinions, no it is a case of letting radical love permeate our souls and express itself in our midst. God wants us to be one yes but to achieve that he wants us to let God’s love flow. Let me make one last reference to the Lord of the Rings and the fellowship that existed between them.
Do you remember the scene when hero, Frodo Baggins sets out for Mordor on his own just before the band is attacked in the woods by the Orcs? Frodo runs down to the river and gets into a canoe but he is hotly chased by Samwise Gamgee. Here is the narrative.
Frodo: Go back, Sam! I’m going to Mordor alone.
Sam: Of course you are. And I’m coming with you!
[Sam wades in the water]
Frodo: You can’t swim! Sam! [Sam sinks below the surface] SAM!
[Sam nearly drowns, but Frodo pulls him up into the raft]
Sam: I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise! “Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee.” And I don’t mean to! I don’t mean to!”
This is just one example of unity in the band of friends, but why I liked this one is that Sam was prepared to die for his friend. Sound familiar? Christianity isn’t a good version of humanity. What is remarkable about it is it is divine in nature and origin. Having God in us is key. We cannot do without the love of God, we cannot know the father without the son, and next week as we look at Pentecost we will know that we cannot live this love life without the power of the Holy Spirit.
My dear friends in McCabe Chapel, Sheridan, and Amity United Methodist churches I greet you in the Lord, pray for you, and your families in this season of trial and tribulation. Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Thank you, Pastor Ken, for the opportunity of sharing. God bless you all.
Jonathan Booth – May 2020