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I am at a military school and have several assignments I need to do, so I'm going to share the sermon I wrote for this coming Sunday. I pray it blesses you.

From 2000-2003, I was youth pastor at a church in Dodge City, KS (yes, THAT Dodge City). I consider it some of the best ministry I ever got to do. It’s not because there were no issues in the church (that’s a different story). No, it’s because of the unity I experienced with all the other churches in the city. Dodge City had about 70,000 people at the time. It was pretty isolated from everything around it. You had to drive nearly an hour to get to the next town of any size. In Dodge, there was only one of each type of church…one Southern Baptist, one American Baptist, one Methodist, one Nazarene, etc. There were 7 churches that were large enough to have youth pastors, and what developed was this intense unity between us. We functioned almost like one giant youth ministry with seven pastors. We did all sorts of things together. We would discuss our theological differences, but in the end we were united in one common goal…to reach teenagers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. None of us cared which church the kids went to, as long as they were going somewhere. I’ve never experienced that anywhere else in my 35 years of ministry.

Today’s passage is a portion of what is commonly called Jesus’ High Priestly prayer. He has just finished giving his final teaching to His disciples and now He prays over them just before He enters the Garden of Gethsemane. I invite you to read all of chapter 17 and hear Jesus’ prayer not just for those with Him, but for you!

John 17:11-19

11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

Departing (11) – Of course, Jesus isn’t really departing, but He will no longer be with them physically. It reminds me of the story of the little girl who was very sad. Her mother said, “Honey, Jesus is always with you.” The little girl said, “I know, but I need someone with skin on.” I think it’s why Jesus told the disciples (and us) to love each other so many times. We are Jesus with skin on to each other. Jesus knows that we will need each other to stand against the struggles of the world.

Protect (11) – How are we protected? By remaining in the vine. How do we remain in the vine? By keeping His commandments. It’s like walking in the rain under an umbrella. Imagine that Marilyn and I are walking together and it’s raining heavily. I have a huge umbrella. It doesn’t keep our feet dry, but it protects both of us from the majority of the rain. This is like God’s umbrella of protection. As long as I stay near the Lord, I will be protected. If we wander from God, we’re going to suffer the full effects of this world. People often complain about why they are suffering. “Where is God?!” He’s right there, inviting you to join Him under the umbrella of His protection. As long as we stay near Him, we are spared the greatest effects of sin and can be sure that when suffering occurs, it’s because there is a bigger plan that God is allowing us to join!

…may be one…(11) – This translation says, “…will be united…”, but I like the way other translations say it. The phrase “may be” in Greek doesn’t imply a future hope of unity. It means that there has always been unity in the body of Christ, and always will be. One thing I often say is, “Unity doesn’t mean unanimity.” We don’t have to agree on every point of doctrine to be unified. One thing I’ve discovered over the last few years is how much discussion there was in the ancient Jewish community over how exactly to live the Torah. It’s why there could be Pharisees AND Sadducees leading Judea together in Jesus’ day, even though there was some significant disagreement over details. They were unified in their pursuit of following the Torah. It’s okay that there are different understandings about how to interpret certain Scriptures. What’s not okay is disharmony. We’ll talk more about this at the end.

“…the one headed for destruction…” (12) – Of course, Jesus is talking about Judas. I often wonder how long Jesus knew that Judas was the betrayer. Did He see him the first time and say, “Oh, there he is.” Regardless, this is just a reminder that Jesus accepted Judas, taught Judas, traveled with Judas, and washed Judas’ feet. I often struggle with people who have betrayed me. Would I treat them like Jesus if I KNEW they were going to betray me? I don’t know.

Filled (13) – The word here means “to fill a container to the brim.” There are so many people who call themselves Christians who live a cheerless, barren existence. Jesus came to give us a life FULL of joy! We’ve already talked about the difference between joy and happiness. “God so loved the world…” meaning the entire universe. Jesus came to restore things to the way they were in Genesis 1-3. Imagine the joy of the existence of Adam and Eve, and the entire creation. That joy is ours…if we abide in the Vine.

“…take them out…” (15) – The world hates us and those who worship the things of this world hate us (14). That includes church people who are worshipping a god of their own making rather than following Jesus. It would be so easy if we chose to follow Jesus and then *poof* we’re in heaven. No, God’s plan is for us to walk this world. There was a time in 2017-2018 when I begged God to let me die. I was so tired of suffering and carrying the weight of my pain and the pain of others. I’m glad God did not answer that prayer because the joy I have now is so great. It’s not that things are perfect…it’s just that God has revealed Himself to me in a deeper way through that suffering and I am getting to serve Him in a greater way.

“…from the evil one.” (15) – Some translations say, “…to keep them out of the power of evil.” How is that possible? Whether we’re talking about general evil, or evil personified, we know that we experience evil. Evil is going to exist in a universe where people have an opportunity to choose. Jesus isn’t asking for an absence of evil, but protection from evil. Here’s the thing: as long as I don’t give up, evil cannot win. As long as I join Jesus in pushing back the borders of darkness and taking ground for the Kingdom of light, evil cannot win. Evil has no power over me because God promises that even the evil done against me will be turned to good…as long as I remain in Him!

“Make them holy…” (17) – Here’s an interesting thing that I just learned writing this sermon: sanctification is a one-time process. This phrase is sometimes translated as “sanctify,” which is an action taken by God. It means to set apart, and that setting apart is done by God. I cannot sanctify myself. God makes us holy by declaring us holy, but I can grow in my experience of holiness throughout my life. I can choose to live a holy life. I can abide!

Truth (17) – The original says, “Sanctify them in Your truth.” We know the truth. That experience of holiness comes in LIVING the truth, not knowing the truth. I watched a movie yesterday called “Cabrini.” It’s a true story about a nun who literally changed the world because of her passionate drive to LIVE the truth. In the process, she had to confront a lot of people who KNEW the truth but wouldn’t live it. We experience being set apart as we DO what Jesus commanded. Just knowing it means nothing.

Sent (18) – The word in Greek is where we get the word “apostle.” It means “one who is sent.” Jesus was sent, and He sent us. We have the same mission…to seek and save those who are lost. Jesus doesn’t expect us all to die on a cross, but He does expect us to sacrifice our lives in service to God’s mission.

Verse 19 – This verse is why it’s important to read the Bible in different translations and study the original language. What Jesus actually says is that He sanctifies Himself so we may be sanctified. Said another way, Jesus is saying, “I have set myself apart so that they may be set apart as well.” The way this is translated is that Jesus is dying on the cross so we can be holy…but it’s the same word. Jesus is not saying He is dying on the cross so we can die on the cross. He says that He is setting Himself apart from the world so that we also can set ourselves apart from the world. This is done through His death and resurrection, but His sacrifice wasn’t the cross. It was done before the world was ever created when He chose to sacrifice Himself by setting aside His rights and privileges to set us free and give us the freedom to do the same…

…which begs the question, “Are you doing that?” We spend so much of this life struggling and fighting for position and power. We argue over our rights and privileges. “I don’t deserve this!” “You owe this to me!” Jesus set Himself apart so we could do the same. No one, especially God, owes me anything. I’ve had to wrestle my emotions of entitlement back into order more often than I can count. This leads me back to the idea of unity.

Much of the disunity in the church today results from our desire for importance and preeminence. “My way is better than your way, so we cannot be friends.” I often remind people that we are on the same team. It’s not perfect theology that proves to the world that we are His followers. It’s how we love each other. Imagine if every congregation in every town joined together in love and support and then served their community together. How would the world be different?

Sadly, I cannot change everyone. I cannot recreate what I had in Dodge City. God knows I’ve tried. I just keep bumping against people protecting their own little kingdoms and their unwillingness to love. However, I’m not responsible for them. I’m only responsible for living in the holiness that Yahweh gave me…and so are you. Make the space around you a small outpost of the Kingdom of Light, and join them with others until the whole world is shining with the love of Christ!


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