Can I Get an “Amen?”
The late Rev. Richard Halverson, former chaplain to the US Senate, I am told, was asked what he thought was the lasting impact he had on that body; he reportedly said it was the effect of the charge and benediction he used, which I have been using lately here:
“Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something he wants to do though you, where you are.”
This concept did not come out of thin air; it is not just a happy-thought to make the day go better for Senators. This concept, that our lives have meaning and purpose, that they are being guided and protected towards a specific goal is exactly what Jesus taught us. The text we read is from the prayer Jesus prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion. It was as if he were saying, in prayer to his heavenly Father, “O God, please help these guys to get it! Help them to figure out what this is all about. Make them realize that what is going on here with you Father, and me, your Son, and them, my disciples, has the power to transform each of them and even to change the world – if they get it!”
This is the message to us today: if we get it; if we, realize what is going on with Jesus and us, and what it means that Jesus, God’s Son, has called us to be his disciples today, it will not only transform our lives, but the world as well.
How will we know whether or not we “get it”? How can we tell if we are on the right track in understanding what Jesus was all about?
We are not fear-based
The first sign that we are getting it is that we are not living our lives in fear. We are not immobilized by anxiety about the future. We do not obsess about how bad things are now and how much worse they will probably get. Fear does not define us. Why not? Because we boldly assert that God is at work in this world, in our lives purposefully, and this means that we are under his protection.
Listen again to what Jesus said:
11Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them….
We reject as theologically unacceptable and incorrect a version of life that is motivated first by fear, as if God had abandoned us or was too weak to vouchsafe our lives or accomplish his plan. If that were the case, what would be the point of faith?
God is God; God is protecting and guarding us every day of our lives. Get that, and it is impossible to be fear-based.
God redeems evil
This is deeply profound, not simple. Asserting God’s protection is not pretending that we will only know good days, never be ill or harmed. This is Memorial Day weekend; the whole reason for this holiday is to take time to remember and give thanks to God for the people who actually died in their service to our country. We do not deny that violence happens, wars, crime, accidents. No; we are not Polly-Anna about faith. What we are asserting is that even in apparently bad circumstances, hard times, and tragedies, that God is constantly at work to redeem evil and bring good from it. This is a profound mystery on one level, and on the other hand, it is the experience of countless people through out history.
This truth, that God redeems evil situations and brings good from them is the essence of the book The Shack which many of you have read. It is also the testimony of the Hungarian Theologian Bela Vassady whose auto-biography I am reading.
It is gripping to read how, during the Second World War he had to move his family around, first trying to escape the Nazi invasion of Hungary, then the shelling by the Allies, and finally the Russian onslaught. They moved from frozen cellar to box car, to abandoned places without heat or running water, narrowly escaped bombs and literally ran to escape being deported to Siberia. Through all of these horrific events, professor Vassady reports the strong sense that he was being guided and protected by God’s strong arm for his purposes – which, as it turned out, included rescuing hundreds of children from peril in Budapest and getting them to a place of safety, against overwhelming odds.
Many of you can attest to the experience of being protected and guided by God during your most difficult times of crisis. You have experienced the loss of loved ones, trauma within your families, health issues, financial issues, all kinds of personal problems, and yet you can bear witness today to the fact that you have known God’s presence and protection in those times.
For a Purpose
We must not and we do not stop here at the moment of reflecting on God’s protection. This is so much bigger than that; this is not merely about us, for our comfort and consolation. Listen as Jesus again speaks of protecting us, and then reveals his purpose, his objective:
11 Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Purpose number one is that we will be unified; one – not just in name, but in fact; unified to the unimaginable degree of unity that exists between God the Father and Jesus himself. All of this protecting is not so that we can get through our own storms or avoid being swamped by the everything the world throws at us. We are unified now, members of Christ’s body, his hands and his feet in this world, working as one person to continue the ministry that Jesus began.
Professor Vassady describes how he worked to organize child welfare teams to provide food and find shelters for the children of Budapest as they fled the fighting there. He worked with the Red Cross volunteers – even though none of them knew where their next meal was going to come from – because God was protecting him and them for a purpose: to accomplish as a group of people who were unified, working together, what none of them could have done alone.
Unity is a fact, not a goal
Most of us here are or have been married. When we said our vows and were pronounced husband and wife, our marriage became a fact, both legal and spiritual. We became one. This is what happens at our baptisms: we become members of the one body of Christ. This is not a goal to be achieved; it is a fact. It is not that we should be one with one another or with Baptists or Methodists: we are one. We are all baptized into one body by the Holy Spirit – and there is only One body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. None of us were baptized “Presbyterian” – we were baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; we are, in fact, One. Now the only remaining question is how to best accomplish the purpose for which God protects us and makes us one.
Sent into the world
This brings us to purpose number two for being protected by God: we, just like Jesus himself, have been sent with a mission. Listen again to Jesus:
18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
Just as we are One to the degree that Jesus is one with the Father, so we are sent to the same degree that Jesus himself was sent. We pay so much attention to the fact that Jesus was sent by God that we often overlook the fact that we too have been sent in exactly the same way. We all know John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…” Jesus was sent by God, out of God’s love for this broken world.
Well, in the very same way, we have been sent into this world by our Lord himself. “I have sent them into the world.” People who are sent have a mission. We are not here only to find ways to make our own lives more comfortable and secure; we have a purpose in being protected and being one: we have been sent; we are all missionaries.
Our mission is just like Jesus’ mission. We are here because God loves this broken world, and here to extend his love and his care to this world. We are placed here on earth in families: these are the first people we are sent to. We are sent to be agents of healing, reconciliation, care and protection of our own families. But every primate on the planet knows this: we do this by instinct. Jesus sends us out to the next circle; we are sent to our community to be Jesus’ representatives. Right here in Gulf Shores, God has a reason for brining us together as a church: we have been sent here as part of God’s purpose – to poor people, to homeless people, to addicted people, to sick people: God has a reason we are here.
This is one of the reasons we are in the process of taking a survey of our congregation. We want to know how you perceive we are doing at accomplishing the purpose for which God sent us here. We are constantly in need of growing, changing, listening to the Spirit through the voice of God’s people so that we can be the best missionaries we are able to be. The world is constantly changing whether for the better or worse, and we too are constantly changing; so our goal is to be constantly re-adjusting so that we can be effective in the mission we were sent here to do.
These are dangerous and scary times. The world is in a huge economic crisis – it has affected all of us here. There is so much violence and terror in the world – and who knows what will happen next? Men and women are still dying and being injured in the process of trying to bring peace and stability to Iraq and Afghanistan. One thing is certain, by Memorial Day next year, there will be more people to remember. There is much evil in the world.
But, we are not orphans in a dark world, alone, without hope. We are not people whose lives are defined by fear. We are people who know that our lives are in God’s hands. He is protecting us for a purpose. He has made us one so that we can be sent out on a mission – the very same mission of Jesus himself: to bring God’s love to this world in practical, meaningful ways.
“Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something he wants to do though you, where you are. Believe that…”