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Monday, November 19, 2012

Light #3: Sent into the World (John 17:13-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 18, 1012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Thanks Be To Thee" (G.F. Handel)
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" (ST. GEORGE'S, WINDSOR)
Song of Praise: "Mighty to Save" (Morgan, Fielding)
Offering of Music: "We Gather Together" (Steurlein/arr. Sanborn)
Hymn of Sending: "Christ for the World We Sing" (ITALIAN HYMN) 
Postlude: "Sing to the Lord of Harvest" (Dutch tune/arr. Sanborn)

"Light #3: Sent into the World"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: John 17:13-21

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

This month we have been talking about why God gathers Christians into the community called the Church.  This has also provided a good opportunity to talk about the spiritual underpinnings of our capital campaign, as we ultimately want to be about God’s business as a church!  We have talked about the spiritual foundation of confessing Jesus as the Christ and the Son of the Living God.  We’ve talked about the core purpose of gathering in worship, and how that worship not only honors God, but fuels us for God’s mission in the world.  And today we are going to look at that mission.

It should not be anything new.  We have been trying to keep before us for many years now that the church is not just gathered, but gathered and sent, gathered and sent.  We have talked about not only maintaining and strengthening the bonds of fellowship and faith within this worshiping community – our LIGHTHOUSE – but also equipping each member to carry the light outside the walls of the church – our SEARCHLIGHT mission.

Today we are going to look at one of the very significant passages in understanding how God wants us, as the Church, to relate to the world around us.  This passage is actually a prayer of Jesus to God the Father.  In this portion of that prayer, Jesus is praying about his followers, both the immediate disciples and all who would come later, including us! 

In the prayer he distinguishes two ways we are NOT to relate to the world, and then the one way we ARE to relate to the world; in each case, paralleling his own relationship to the world that God loves.  So, we will look at that and then try to understand at least part of God’s purpose for us as a church in the world in which we live.

So what did Jesus pray?  Let’s start with the relationship of his followers to the world in which they live, then we’ll conclude with what he prayed for them and what his desire is for the world.

Prepositional Truth (not of, not out of, into)

It may have been a long time since you studied English grammar (or you may be in the middle of it!), but the key to understanding this prayer and our relationship to the world comes through prepositions.  Remember those?  Prepositions are words like “in, about, through, with, and many more.”  They indicate relationship between people or things.  Here they will specifically describe the relationship between Jesus-followers and the world.

It would be good to briefly describe what is meant here by ‘world.’  There are other ways ‘world’ is used in the Bible; but often, as here, ‘world’ refers to the broken and darkened place that human beings live apart from God.  And there has always been a tension between Christians and the world.  Sometimes Christians have withdrawn altogether (from the 1st century Essenes to the present-day Amish); sometimes there is no distinguishing the Christians from the culture (from the New Testament Corinthians to some of what passes for American Christianity); and sometimes there is a balance of retreating into community but going out in and amongst the world (many of the early to present day monastic communities and other Christian groups).  Let’s consider what Jesus said about this relationship in his prayer to the Father.

NOT OF (v. 14, 16)

To be “of the world” is to belong to it, to the culture and to the values.  It is to so identify with the human world around us that we lose our Christian identity and witness.  The church in Corinth that I just mentioned struggled with being too much “of the world” and looking just like the depraved culture around them. 

In his prayer Jesus says that his followers are “not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”  Jesus stood out.  He was light and the world was dark.  He lived out God’s Kingdom here on earth.  And he was opposed, arrested, and eventually killed.  In his prayer he says that the world will hate his followers in the same way.  That’s some of that persecution that Quay preached about a few weeks ago. 

Now think about a real-life social setting, like the high school lunchroom or Friday night out on the town.  There are two obvious solutions if you don’t belong in a group.  One is to retreat and one is to blend in.

One kind of blending in has us so indistinguishable in appearance, morality, beliefs, or practice, that the “salt has lost its flavor” and there is no way to tell the difference between a Christian and one who is not.  Look at the diagram again – which blue bubbles are the Christians?  Would the world know one if they saw one? And then there are the embarrassing cheap ways we substitute to try to make ourselves stand out.

Consider “Jesus coffee” – this is one example of many where we are blending in, with embarrassing results.  You probably can’t read the names of the coffees on there: they are “Raise the Dead, Vanilla from Heaven, Holy Grounds, and Be Still.”  This may actually be a sincere attempt to do outreach to the world, but it has just resulted in a kitschy knock-off of branded coffee.

But there is no talk of blending in here.  We are NOT OF this world.  Becoming indistinguishable from the world around us is not an option for a Christian!  If we belong to Jesus, we become like him, and like him is not of the world or its values.  And that will cut against the grain, against the culture.

Said another way, if you belong to Jesus you won’t belong to this world.  Some days that may feel lonely – “I don’t belong.”  But don’t miss the first part!  You belong to Jesus!  You do have a home and a family and a belonging.  That’s all part of belonging to Jesus and not being of this world.

NOT OUT OF (v. 15)

So there’s option two: retreat!  Get me out of here.  That might be to a place of solitude or it might be with a group of people just like me, but it’s out of here.  In reaction to the sins and evils of the world around them, many groups of Christians through history have retreated into an enclave or sub-culture.  By that I mean a mini-world where they are out there and we are in here. 

And if your goal is to not be part of something, that kind of isolation can be one of the best defenses.  Don’t want to deal with the pressures of dating?  Go to an all-male or all-female school.  Don’t want to deal with the moral slide of society?  Withdraw into a commune and set up your own rules.  Don’t want to deal with the world?  Withdraw into an all-Christian, all-the-time sub-culture.  And so on. 

It’s a circle the wagons strategy. Christians have been taking that approach since the beginning. Heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls?  They are famous and important partly because they are religious history from the time of Jesus, but also because they are the writings of a religious branch of Judaism like the Pharisees, but one that withdrew into their own community apart from the rest of the Jews and especially the rest of the world.  And it’s not just an ancient phenomenon.  The Amish and Mennonites have done something similar in more recent and even current history.  And there is something admirable about it.  It definitely helps to preserve a purity of belief and morality.  But it’s also missing something crucial.

BUT INTO (v. 18)

Jesus did not pray for God to take us out of the world, but to protect us in it.  That’s a huge difference!  Rather than retreat and try to protect ourselves, we are to remain in the world, but seek and depend on God’s spiritual protection.  As you realize that, your eyes are opened to just how consistent that approach is throughout all of biblical history.  God created the world to be a part of it.  Even when humanity sinned and the world “turned dark,” God did not withdraw back into Heaven, but sent His Law, His prophets, and finally His own Son INTO the world.  And when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, God sent the Church out INTO the world with the message about Jesus.

And that’s just what Jesus prays for all who would follow him.  Jesus asked God to SEND us INTO the world as he was sent.  How was he sent?  Good old John 3:16 tells us: “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”   He was sent in love to the world for life instead of death.

And so, Jesus has sent us in love to the world with the message about him for life instead of death.  That’s actually the purpose and goal of all this, there in verse 21: “so that the world may believe…”

So that’s the relationship we are to have with the world.  Not of it; not out of it; but sent to it in love, but not just lovey-dovey let’s all get along, but love expressed through the true word about Jesus, for life instead of death.

Sanctified and Sent (v. 17-18)

There’s one last part I want to focus on.  That is the word “sanctify” in verses 17 and following.  It is a translation of a word from which we also get ‘holy,’ ‘consecrated,’ and ‘saints.’  The basic meaning of all of those is “set apart.”  The bread and juice on the communion table is sanctified or set apart for the special use of communion.  This sanctuary (hear the root of the word ‘sanctify’ in there?) is set apart for worship.

It is natural to think of things being holy, sanctified, consecrated, or set apart as being removed from common usage.  That is true in one way.  But think about it, anything that is truly set apart for God is not hauled off to a museum or put under glass or not used.  It is used for God with people.  The bread and juice of communion are no longer used for preschool snack or lunch, but are set apart FOR USE with you and me at the Lord’s Table.  The sanctuary is not walled off as meeting space, but is dedicated to worship and the proclamation of God’s Word.  Even Jesus, the holiest of the holy that the world has ever seen, did not remain vaulted away in Heaven, but was born into the world in the lowliest of places, to walk and suffer and fully be a part of this world.

The true explanation of how Jesus’ followers are to be sanctified or set apart is right there in verses 17-18.  We are set apart in the truth to be sent into the world.

Don’t you see, then, why that’s the way God designed it?  The difference between life and death in the world is hearing and trusting the Word of Jesus.  If we become completely of the world the message will be lost and if we withdraw completely out of the world the message will be hoarded.  We are sent into the world for the sake of the world, just as Jesus was.

Building Buildings

So, a final word about the third part of our capital campaign.  We want to build a youth and family life center.  It would be easy for it to become a retreat, a hide-out, a place to go and gather and send our kids to get them out of the world.  And it will be a place of fellowship and teaching and training.  But just as there are deeper spiritual purposes to the other parts of our repair and renovation projects, so this one has an underlying spiritual purpose.  We must continue to grow in our understanding and practice of being the church for the world.  It’s especially easy to protect and hoard something new… even sometimes from our messier selves (like teenagers!). But if we build, it will be not only for teaching, training, and fellowship, but to extend hospitality send us out into the world God loves. 

Not of the world; not out of the world; but sent in love into the world God loves with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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