Video of Matins is here. The sermon begins around the 25:50 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you follow along in the Church Year with the life of Jesus, this might be the strangest Sunday in the Church Year. 40 days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven. 50 days after His resurrection, He gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles as He had promised. He said He would ask the Father, who would give the Spirit: another Helper, another Comforter, so they would not be left as orphans in the world. Between those two events there were ten days; ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost; ten days when they were simply waiting, as Jesus had told them to do. Wait in the city—wait in Jerusalem—until you are clothed with power from on high. Wait for the promise of the Father. Wait until the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh, and you will bear witness to Me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the whole world.
We know from the book of Acts that they did two things during those ten days. They chose by lot Matthias to take the place of Judas among the 12. And they devoted themselves to prayer. They devoted themselves to prayer, as they would later devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers. That’s what they did while they waited. They remembered Jesus’ promises, and they asked Him to do what He had promised.
We’ve been waiting a lot longer than ten days to gather together here in this place, but it’s always good, whatever the circumstances, to devote ourselves to prayer. It’s something I have to continually renew in myself: devoting myself to prayer. I have to work at hearing the Word of God, what Jesus commands, what He does, what He gives, what He says, and then praying those words and promises back to Him, so that His words shape my will to His, and conform me to the Image of Christ—the image of the Christ who prays.
And the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the Gospels is here in John 17. The whole thing is a prayer. We know that Jesus often went up on mountains to pray, or out in the wilderness to pray. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. But this is the longest prayer of Jesus that is recorded in the Scriptures. We get to overhear Jesus praying to His Father, as His disciples did.
And one word that appears over and over in John 17—17 times, in fact—is some form of the word “give.” Give, giving, given; to give is near the very heart of God. God gave His Son into this world so that we would not die, but instead have eternal life. That giving of the Son into flesh, into this world, is the revelation of God in the world, so that we don’t have to go groping around, trying to find out who God is, or what He says, or what He does, or whether He is for us. He gives the Son so that there is no doubt. Here in the flesh of Jesus, you can see God. You can know God. You can hear God.
The Father gives the Son into the world, and He gives Jesus all authority in heaven and earth. He gives Jesus authority over all, so that He gives them eternal life. And eternal life is this: to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. Jesus gives eternal life to people by giving them His words. As Peter confesses, Jesus has the words of eternal life. And Jesus gives eternal life as He gives them His flesh and blood to eat and drink. He is the living bread that has come down to give life to the world, and the bread that He gives for the life of the world is His flesh. Eat and drink and have eternal life, and He will raise you up on the last day.
The Father gives the Son to you in the world, and then He gives you to the Son. And Jesus says that all of those whom the Father gives to Him, He will never cast out. What a comforting word for those like the disciples, and like us, who are in the midst of this world, where it often does look like we have been left orphaned. The Father has given you to Jesus out of the world, and it is for you that Jesus prays, that the Father would keep you in the Name. The Father gave that Name to Jesus in His flesh, and Jesus in His flesh gives you that Name: the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, which He puts on you in baptism. You are not of this world anymore, but of the world to come. But you are still in this world, not yet in the world to come. So the Father still keeps you, and He does it by the Spirit, who always speaks those living words of Jesus, which the Father gave to Him.
The Father gives you to Jesus. He gives me to Jesus. It doesn’t seem like a very good gift—me to Jesus, with all my sin, and all my doubt, and all my laziness, and all my apathy. What does Jesus want with me? But Jesus is happy to take us to Himself, to wrap us up with Him in His swaddling cloths, to take us with Him to the cross, to have us buried with Him, and to raise us up when He rises. And then Jesus gives Himself—He who is Life—to you. God is the giver.
Paul says in Acts that Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. It may be more blessed, but we always find receiving easier. We might have a couple second thoughts about receiving gifts, depending on the giver, but we—at least I—have a lot more second thoughts about giving. What if I don’t have enough? What about this, or that? Not God. He gives His Son, and He gives the Spirit, and He gives and gives and gives, totally independent of what we do with His gifts.
And what shall we give to the Lord? The other word that appears a number of times in chapter 17 is “glory.” Jesus prays that the Father would glorify Him, as His hour has come to go to the cross. And in that lifting up on the cross, Jesus glorifies the Father. And Jesus is glorified in us as we give Jesus what is due to Him: to believe, proclaim, and confess the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. God’s glory is to reveal and proclaim Jesus as the Life He gives into this dying world. Our glorifying of God is to believe and confess. What do we have but what we have been given? So we can only give God back what He has first given. That’s the meaning of “confession,” to say the same thing as God. We confess as we pray, and we confess as we bear witness to one another that Jesus is the gift of God in whom we have eternal life.
This is the Jesus who devoted Himself to prayer, and who still devotes Himself to prayer for you, along with the Holy Spirit. And it is this Jesus in whose image you are being shaped and formed into those who devote themselves to prayer. We practice devoting ourselves to prayer as long as we are waiting—not only during this time, but for all the time we have until Jesus is revealed to the whole earth; until we are revealed in the resurrection glory of Jesus; until this whole creation is revealed new. Everything, everything is gift.
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, 5/24/20