Has anybody here ever fell or ran into the sharp edge of a coffee table or a kitchen table? It’s a painful experience and sometimes requires stitches. I’ve done that. That’s why when we have toddlers in the home we try to have as many rounded edges as we can, because the rounded edges hurt too, but they don’t leave the marks like a sharp edge does.
That’s what Jesus is kind of talking about here when he says: “Father you are taking me out of the world. I’m coming to be with you, but I am leaving them to live here. I’m not praying that you take them out of the world, but I’m leaving them here, and I pray that you love them just as I have loved them and cared for them. Send your Holy Spirit to be with them and care for them just as you have cared for me and me for them. When they go through their lives and they land on the sharp edges it will leave a mark, and sometimes they will land on the smooth edges and it won’t be as painful and not leave as much of a mark”.
That’s the way it is. We’re called to live in the world but not of the world. Other scriptures tell us that we are sojourners and pilgrims, just passing through. (1 Peter 2:11) Just as the Israelites were passing though on their journey to the land of Canaan, and just as Jesus traveled on his way to Jerusalem, so we are called to travel as his disciples, to witness, to share the good news, to teach about the principles of the Kingdom of God, as we travel toward our home, the heavenly Jerusalem, a place that scripture refers to as heaven. And, on this journey we are not alone.
I am reminded of what an elderly member of the same health club in Philadelphia that I was a member of explained the way he interpreted this dichotomy of “living in the world, but not being of the world”. He said, “It’s like we put on this loose fitting jacket and why we are here on this earth, the jacket reminds us that we are in the world, but we are not of the world. And, in this world we are being sanctified. Sanctification is a theological expression that Jesus uses in our gospel reading. In his prayer he asks the Father to “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”.
We are sanctified as we read and practice the principles of the kingdom of God as Jesus outlined for us to do, and as we pray together, break bread together, and mature in our relationship in Christ. Another word for sanctification is transformation. Transformation involves change, but transformation means much more than just change. Change happens whether we like it or not. Sanctification happens as we abide in Christ, and as we allow Christ to abide in us, that the rough edges in our lives can be rounded as well.
Theologically “we have been saved, we are being saved and we shall be saved”. It’s a process, a journey of transforming change, taking one day at a time. My joy is the journey, not just the destination. Good things happen. Bad things happen; things that hurt, things we rejoice about, tragedies, and great celebrations. And, we all have them.
I remember as a young kid, of maybe 10 or 12, our family moved to Hotchkiss, Colorado, a small town of about 650 people in the city limits, with maybe a few thousand in the surrounding area. It was primarily a farming community. My father was the pastor of a small church in this community. The place of worship was a beautiful quaint log cabin church that probably could seat 50 to 75 people. And, this is in contrast to the parsonage about two blocks away that was a four story house, a huge place, maybe the biggest or one of the biggest houses in the town. In some Protestant churches clergy residences are called parsonages, just as we refer to them as rectories or vicarages. All of these terms came to us from England. Anyway, this huge brick house dated back to the 1800’s and was once a fort for the United States Calvary, and after that was a funeral home. My brothers and I were convinced that the house was haunted.
I remember this one particular day so vividly, and we all have days in our youth that we remember better than others. This was one of those days. It was during the Christmas season. We lived right off of Main Street, and this was back in the days when little towns still had bustling main streets. This was one of those little towns, with a drug store that had a soda fountain, a barber shop, hardware store, a grocery store and a movie theatre. There was a special lighting of the Christmas tree on the town square, Christmas music blasting from big speakers, and a drawing. I don’t know if I had ever been in a drawing before, but I filled out my name, phone number and address, and then something wonderful happened.
When they read the winner of the $25 jack-pot over the microphone, I was in disbelief, yet there it was, they read my name. I went forward got my $25 dollar check, a round of applause from the crowd, and I ran home to tell my folks. In the early 60’s $25 was a lot for money for adults, let alone a kid. We did not live in a land of luxury. My father was a pastor of a small church and had to work a second job to make ends meet, and my mother was busy raising five children. In my mind I was wealthy, at least for the time being. My mother asked me what I wanted to do with the money, and I told her I wanted to buy Christmas presents for the family, and I did. I had a wonderful Christmas.
You ever had memories like that? You ever go to a family reunion and everybody is telling stories, and sometimes someone tells a story about you and it seems like the more the story is told, it becomes changed over time? The more the stories are told they develop into a folklore legend kind of a thing. But, if they remember the story that way, I guess that’s okay too.
In our lives we have times of joy, times of celebration, times of sorrow, times of sadness, times of gladness, times to cry and times to laugh. Jesus says, “I have called them, not to take them out of this world, but to leave them in this world, and why they are here the Father will send the Holy Spirit to them to assist them in their journey. And on this journey they will be my witnesses, that they will teach, they will preach and be my disciples, and they will be sanctified in the way that they live”. That’s the story.
God loves us, and here’s the kicker from our reading in 1 John: “You have eternal life”. Listen to me. Here is the mystery: “You have eternal life”. I understand this in a surreal way. We are living in the resurrected life, right now; eternity; taste and see that the Lord is good. We are getting bits and pieces, as the Apostle Paul confirms: “We see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12) as we go forward on this journey, and as the sun rises in our heart, we will follow the light to the kingdom of God, heavenly Jerusalem. Now is the time of salvation. Now is the time to open our eyes and realize that each day is special; one day at a time. Just as Jesus walked to Jerusalem, so we will journey to our heavenly Jerusalem.
We journey toward the light!
by the Reverend Dr. David Madsen
Year B Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2015
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
El Cajon, CA