Sent into the World

From John 17:1-11

She feels like the world is closing in on her. There is no way in and no way out. She feels ugly and stupid and pathetic—a failure. She sees no good in herself. She has nothing of value to contribute. And the world, it turns out, is not a safe place after all. Her thoughts run relentless circles around her, sinking her deeper and deeper into despair. How is she supposed to carry on from here? Should she even try? Is there anything that can help?

They had weathered lots of storms—the ups and downs of making a life together. New jobs. Moves. New friends. Career changes. Children. But now, everything starts to add up. Now, they find themselves keeping score. The hurt feelings. The old wounds. Tight money compounds the struggles. Alcohol doesn’t help. And the relationship implodes. No one escapes unscathed. So, what are they supposed to do now? How do they find a way forward?

He was their everything.  He was the one who was going to liberate Israel from the iron fist of Rome! They were inspired by his powerful words and actions. They wanted to follow him everywhere—but the road he went down was politically dangerous; it led to his devastating and brutal death. And for three days, they were orphans.  For three days, they didn’t know what to do with themselves.  Where do we go from here? How do we find a way forward?

But then, on the third day, he rose again.  He rose right up from the dead and for forty days he lived with them again.  For forty days he ate dinner with them and laughed with them again.  For forty days he poured out love on them and blessed them.  And assured them of the coming of the Spirit—to be their constant companion. They had him back for forty days.  Can you even imagine?  

And it helped them remember and envision and embody what they were called to do—how they were called to be—how to keep swimming. . . . even in their uncertainty, struggles, and pain. 
I wonder…  I wonder if that woman—that woman who’s lost both her kids, lost her house, lost her job, lost everything, but she still can’t get sober—I wonder if she feels as if God has left her?
Or that young 19 year-old boy, sent off to war.  That young man who has seen the most terrible things—death, humiliation, intimidation, torture—and now he’s home and can’t quite figure out how to fit inside this world anymore. Every time he closes his eyes, he’s there again, he sees it all again.  And his family doesn’t understand; no one seems to understand.  I wonder if he feels as if God has withdrawn from him?

Or what about us?  When we lose our jobs, when we lose a loved one, when we’re sheltering-in-place with no end in sight, when we’re struggling financially, when we feel lost and alone—do we wonder if God has abandoned us?
Where can we turn? How do we find a way forward? Is there anything that can help?
Many important resources . . . But I truly believe one significant answer is the church—the manifestation of God’s presence on earth—the hands and feet, the hearts and eyes and ears, the words and actions of God. And don’t be fooled by foolish rhetoric. The church has never been closed—during this pandemic or any other time. . . . I am looking at the church right now. And you don’t look closed. You look open and thoughtful and welcoming and generous and bold. You look gracious and loving and compassionate and tender and attentive. And this is who we are called to be—and what we are called to do—during this time and always—as Church: To gather up and comfort the broken-hearted—to wrap up and heal the wounded—to both affirm and challenge one another—and to recognize the Spirit in our midst that binds us together.

This is what Jesus hoped for us. . . . Do you remember? He knew there would be times when we would feel abandoned and forsaken. And so, when he concluded his Farewell Address, recorded in John’s gospel, he prays us! He prays for his disciples—and for all those who would come after them. He prays that we would always trust in his presence—even in his physical absence. He asks God to protect us—to give us the words we need and great joy in this life—and to send us out into the world—to work for unity and justice. These are the words of solace that we are called to remember. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Bread. The Vine. The Door.

Yes, vulnerability is part of life. But even when we feel desperate and alone, God is as close to you as that prayer lifted for you by your prayer partner/advocate—as close as the very breath in your lungs—as close as the lifeblood in your veins. God calls us to be a community of love and blessing, a community of justice and joy, a sacred community for [people. . . .], and a safe and welcoming community for someone who’s never experienced church before—so that each person might authentically sense that they are God’s beloved child with whom God is well pleased!

When Jesus is praying, he knows he has prepared the disciples as best as he could. Now the work is in their (our) hands. . . . And we are called to “follow” Jesus—not only in the sense of listening to him and learning from him. …

We are also called to “follow” Jesus in the sense of succeeding him, of taking up his mantle and carrying on his life and work. We are sent into the world. . . . We are sent into the world to remember, envision, and embody the hope, the justice, the love, the grace, and the joy of Jesus in a broken world.

But we are not sent alone. Jesus promises to bless us with a Comforter. A Helper. An Advocate. The Holy Spirit who will surround us and fill us—call us and guide us—in the ways to provide sacred healing to all who hunger and hurt. We are sent into the world to be agents of God’s goodness and grace.

And so, my friends, if you hear nothing else from me today, hear this: you are God’s beloved. God calls you in and sends you out. And if you ever feel as if God has abandoned you, reach out to this community—your cries are welcome here. And no matter what, you are a blessing.

Let it be so. Amen.