Download or listen to The Seventh Sunday of Easter, “God Talk” (John 17:1-11)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For God’s sake, let’s stop talking about Him as if He’s not in the room. Sometimes we talk about God as if He were not in the room: we talk, discuss, debate, argue. We say things like: I think God would do this; I don’t think God would do that; my God wants me to be happy; my God wants me to live, love, or act this way; I think God is like this. I think…I think…I think. But in the Scriptures, it doesn’t seem to matter too much to God what people think of Him, what they think He should do or will do, what they think He’s like. God simply does what He’s going to do, He promises and speaks His Word, and people either believe Him, trust Him, or they don’t and then they deny Him and hate Him. This continues even into the New Testament, when Jesus is walking around on earth. He gathers followers and disciples, especially when He feeds over 5000 with a few loaves of bread and two fish. They like it that God gives them their daily bread. But when Jesus starts talking specifically, concretely, physically about Himself as the bread that has come down from God for the life of the world, people get a little nervous and start leaving Him. “This is a hard teaching,” they say, “who can hear it?” It gets to the point where Jesus even asks His hand-picked, chosen Twelve: “Will you leave Me, too?” Peter says no, but even if some had said yes, would Jesus have changed what He was teaching? No; because Jesus is Truth, He is the Word of God, He is life. So when He speaks, it is all truth, it is all life.
We often talk about God generically, as if He were somewhere off in the clouds hiding; as if He had left us to ourselves to discover what He’s like. We love to talk about who God is: how God is compassionate, loving, welcoming; how He’s this or that. And it’s very nice for us, because then we can fill in those abstract adjectives with whatever concrete content we want. But that’s the opposite of how the Scriptures operate. The Scriptures begin with how God has acted, what He has done, the specific saving actions He has taken in this world, in this creation. And from there, they speak of His steadfast love, His mercy, His compassion. It is the actions that inform the characteristics, and not the other way around. And now God has spoken in about as concrete a way as He can: in the flesh and blood of a particular Man, Jesus Christ. And it is this Jesus who prays to His Father: “The hour has come for Me to be glorified. Father, glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You.” Glory is simply what rightly belongs to a person. So Romans 12 reminds us to give respect where respect is owed, and honor where honor is owed, even if we don’t like the person ruling us. But what rightly belongs to Jesus? He does pray that the Father will glorify Him with the glory He had before the world began; His glory as the eternal Son with the Father and the Spirit. But He also prays that the Father would glorify Him in this hour, the hour of His suffering, death, and resurrection. And the Father does, as He reveals to the world who He is in this Man hanging on a cross in weakness, humility, and the shame of a sinner. Philip, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. Jesus glorifies the Father who sent Him by accomplishing everything He came to do. He kept the Word of His Father; He kept those with whom the Father had entrusted Him. No one comes to the Son unless the Father draws him. No one comes to the Father through the Son. Those whom the Father gives, the Son receives. Those to whom the Son gives life are children of the Father. The glory that is given to the Son is simply faith. It is simply believing Him as the Word spoken from the mouth of the Father. And to hold to Him is to hold to His Word.
But this is exactly what the devil does not want you to do. Jesus prays that the Father would keep the disciples, and us, in His Name, the Name He gives us at baptism; Jesus prays that as we are kept in that Name, we will all be one, as He and the Father are one. But the devil is constantly working to destroy that unity. He tries to dissolve the flesh of Jesus, so that God and Man are torn apart. So that we have Jesus the Man down here, but God is still somewhere up in heaven, and we have to figure out what God is really like. Sure, Jesus is good, but “God is still speaking.” “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” So we climb up into the heavens and seek God there, and imagine God as He is out there, and speculate what He might be like. And so the flesh and blood of the Man Jesus are torn apart from God. And when that happens, we are dislodged from the physical, concrete way God has spoken, and we float around in the clouds looking for what God is really like. This is what happens in the Book of Judges, when people are going around talking about God all the time, but they don’t talk about Him according to His specific actions, and so all they make is idols. It happens in the book of Job, when Job’s friends talk very confidently about what God is like and what He wants, but it’s Job who, in the end, has to intercede with God on behalf of his friends. If the devil can keep God and Man apart, then He can tear you away from Christ as your only confidence, and your only hope, and your only assurance.
You want to know what it looks like to consider God apart from Christ? Watch the sixth episode of the TV show Fargo. First there is a character, Stavros Milos, who is withering away under the guilt of something he did a long time ago: taking a large amount of money that wasn’t his and building his supermarket empire on it. But now he thinks God is holding him accountable for his theft and lies. Blood comes out of his shower; locusts fill his grocery store. God, he is told, is watching. And a blackmailer calls him up and says he knows about the money and to bring it to him on top of a parking garage. But when the blackmailer doesn’t show up, he drives out of the parking garage and says to the attendant: “I know what God wants me to do.” But we never find out what that is, because he comes across the scene of a car accident where his son has been killed. And we see him looking up at the sky, screaming, “Why?” Why, God, after I did all this to make it right, to fix it, did you take my son? He thinks he is appeasing God, and God goes and kills his son in a freak accident. And in the same episode, a naive character with the last name of Chumph is set up by the killer to distract the cops and be killed when they come into his house and see him with a gun, which was taped to his hands. The chant playing in the background during this scene says, “Kyrie eleison”: “Lord, have mercy.” But even though we’re hoping that at the last second, this guy will be saved and the cops won’t shoot him, the lord of that world does not have mercy. He sits in His heaven and either doesn’t care or is actively against His creation. Who knows? But God does what He will.
Finally, with a god like that, all there is is atheism and hatred of God. Do not go looking for God where you think He might be, speculating about what you think He might want. The only thing that can happen is idolatry and death. For God’s sake, and for your sake, stop talking about Him as if He’s not in the room! Because He is. He has bound Himself to the flesh and blood of Christ so that you can know exactly where He is, and you don’t have to try and figure it out yourself. He has bound you to the flesh and blood of Christ by baptism, and He keeps you as one with Christ by His Word, His Absolution, His Body and Blood hidden behind bread and wine. If we lose these very concrete, physical means by which God delivers the mercy in His Son, we have nothing. We have only a God who might do this or that, might be like this or that, might want this or that from us. He is here, where He speaks, where He has promised to be for you, so that you don’t have to wonder if you have made Him happy. You don’t have to wonder if He might have mercy; He has, and the name of His mercy is Jesus. The revealing of this to you is His glory; and Christ is glorified in you as you trust this specific Word; He is glorified by the witness you bear not to your own subjective thoughts about what God might be like, but to the physical, concrete, precise way that God has spoken: in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus for you and for the whole world.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/31/14