Easter 7 May 17, 2015
Christ has risen! Alleluia! He has risen indeed!
During this season of Easter we have been proclaiming and celebrating the glorious fact that Christ has risen, and because Christ has risen our lives, our community, and our world can be changed by the power of the risen Christ. We can have a life-changing relationship with Christ, “finish the story of the resurrection”
so to speak, and then we can go into the world and work to show His love, changing the world around us with the life-changing love of the risen Christ.
One of the ways the resurrection of Christ can change our lives is that we can be sanctified. That means we can be set apart, that we can have different actions, words, thoughts, and different attitudes than everyone else. We don’t have to act like everyone else, because Christ has risen.
Our scripture passages for today give us 2 pictures of what it means to be sanctified. In our Gospel passage Jesus prays for His disciples to be sanctified. In our passage from Acts the disciples wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit by praying for God to sanctify them and waiting for God to bring the results. And what results they got because they devoted themselves to praying for God to sanctify them!
Take a look at our Gospel passage. Here we have Jesus and the disciples gathered for the last time before He would be crucified. Jesus knew that He would soon die. He knew that He was leaving His disciples behind to carry on His work.
Maybe when He thought about this He was more than just a little concerned about them. He knew that their lives would not be easy. When they followed Jesus’ teachings, people would hate them just as they had hated Him. Of course, not everyone hated Jesus and not everyone would hate His disciples. Many people loved Jesus. They came in great numbers to hear Him. They crowded around Him, hoping for miracles. They brought their children so that He might touch them. They welcomed Him into Jerusalem with palm branches and Hosannas. But some people did hate Jesus. Some of the scribes and Pharisees hated Jesus. They were well-established — powerful. They were used to people catering to them. They were used to people standing aside as they came down the sidewalk and reserving the best seats for them. They were religious men, holy men, but some had come to enjoy too much the perks of their office. They had forgotten that God had called them, not for honor, but for service.
Jesus didn’t honor many of the scribes and Pharisees. He insulted many of them. He exposed their sins. He called them many of them hypocrites. He told them that they were whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but full of dead men’s bones on the inside. It is no wonder that they didn’t like Jesus. It is no wonder that they sought to kill him. Given their power and wealth, it is no wonder that they succeeded.
Jesus knew that these same men and others like them would bring their power and wealth against the disciples, just as they were bringing their power against Him. So what did He do? Jesus prayed for the disciples. First He prayed: “Holy Father, protect them in Your name that You have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” “Protect them!” He prayed! Jesus wasn’t praying that the disciples have an easy life. He wasn’t praying that they become rich and famous. He was praying that God would protect them. “Protect them…so that they may be one.”
We need God’s help, don’t we? We Christians are often our own worst enemies. We have divided ourselves into denominations. We have divided ourselves by theological persuasion — liberal versus conservative .We have divided ourselves by race — someone has observed that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. The devil must be licking his chops! We need to learn to work and play nicely together. We need to learn to respect each other, even in our differences. We need to love one another, which is often difficult. We need to do those things so that we can be effective witnesses for Christ, so that we can draw people to Him. We certainly need help with that, so Jesus prays, “Protect them…so that they may be one.”
Then Jesus prays, “I am not asking You to take them out of the world, but I ask You to protect them from the evil one”. Jesus is saying that Christians “do not belong to the world” but “be “in the world” He doesn’t ask God to take us out of the world, but instead asks God to protect us from the evil one who is at work in the world. When Jesus talks about the world He isn’t talking about planet Earth. When Jesus talks about the world, , He is talking about the forces of evil opposed to God. What are these forces? We don’t have to look far to see them. There are so many all around us.
The church exists as an island in a sea of evil forces, and it’s our job to clean up the sea. I think that you know what I mean, but I’ll give some examples anyway. We live in a world where motion pictures and television are saturated with sex, violence, and coarseness, where the Internet is saturated with pornography and gambling, where our streets and schools are saturated with drugs. It is a world where the forces of evil are always in opposition to God, and Jesus left us here to set the world right. He left us here to be a bit of leaven that would leaven the whole loaf. It is a huge job, and we have a long way to go. So Jesus prayed, “Protect them from the evil one.”
Jesus prayed, “Protect them from the evil one!” We need God’s protection. We also need to use our heads! We need to avoid the things that would drag us down, the things that threaten to destroy us. We need God’s help, but we also need to cooperate with God when he tries to help us.
Jesus then prays: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). This word “sanctify” is interesting. It means “make them holy” or “make them into saints.” Some of you are probably sitting there right now rolling your eyes. “Fat chance!” is what you are thinking. But we serve a mighty God! Everything is possible! Sanctify them, Jesus prays! Make them holy! Make them more like you, God! We need God to make us holy. We need it for our sake, for the sake of our families, for the sake of those with whom we work, for the sake of our community, for the sake of our nation, and for the sake of the world. That is the only way that we can make things better, by first becoming better ourselves, but we cannot become better by ourselves. We need God’s help. “Sanctify them!” Jesus says. Make them holy. Holiness has the power to make things better. Holiness has the power to change people’s lives. Holiness has the power to change the world.
NBA Star A C Green is retired from basketball now, but he was a member of the LA Lakers team when they won three NBA championships. He holds the NBA record for the most consecutive games played (1192). They called him “Iron Man.” Wouldn’t that be great? To play in the NBA, win 3 titles, and to have your teammates call you “Iron Man”! But Green is more than a great basketball player. He is also a great Christian. He is a man who determined to use his fame and fortune to make a difference for Jesus. He determined to use his fame and fortune to help kids, to help his teammates, to help his community, and to make this a better world. Sports heroes are exposed to more temptations than most of us. Green determined to let God make him holy so that he could help others with these temptations. Green didn’t try to do it by himself. He found other Christians who shared his values, and he invited them to hold him accountable.
We can’t become holy people in isolation. We need the help of holy friends. Green has established the A. C. Green Youth Foundation to help y0ung people discover Christian values. He is continuing to do good things through the Christ who strengthens him. I was struck in particular by something that one of Green’s teammates once said about him. One of his team mates one said: “You would think of Green as a goody-two-shoes, but to see his convictions up close, you realize that’s the way you’re supposed to live.”
“Sanctify them!” Jesus prays. Make them holy. Make them part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Help them to make a difference in their families, in their Church, in their community, and in the world.
“Sanctify us!” needs to be our prayer. Make us holy. Help us to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Help us to make a difference in our family, in our Church, in our community , and in the world.
Sanctify them! That was Jesus’ prayer for the disciples and for us! Make them holy! Make them different! Give them different actions, different thoughts, and different words! Sanctify them!
Our passage from Acts 1 is an illustration of how to be sanctified, how to be different, how to have different actions, thoughts, and words! When Jesus went back to heaven, the disciples may not have known what to do next. They may have remembered that Jesus had prayed for them to be sanctified but they may have not felt very sanctified or very different. What did they do? They prayed. They prayed for God to sanctify them. They prayed for God to help them be different in thoughts, words, and actions. Like us today the disciples knew that if they were going to be different from everyone else They were going to have to have help and strength. So they prayed for help. They prayed for strength. And even though our passage from Acts does not include it, I’ll give you a “sneak peak” into what we will see next week. When the disciples prayed to be made different, to be sanctified, God answered – in a powerful way! The Spirit filled them. They were strengthened. They were sanctified. They became strong to carry on Christ’s work in the world.
Sanctify them! Jesus prayed. Sanctify us! The disciples prayed. Sanctify me! AC Green prayed. When they prayed that prayer, the disciples were blessed. They were sanctified and strengthened
so they could live the different lives God called them to live. When AC Green prayed that prayer he was blessed. He was sanctified. He was strengthened, so he could make a difference and live the different life God called him to live. When we pray that prayer we can be blessed, sanctified, and strengthened so we can make a difference and live the different life God calls us to live!
Sanctify us, O God! Sanctify me, O God! Ask God to help you and you can be sure that He will. Like AC Green you may need someone to hold you accountable – if so, find that person. Pray that God will sanctify you. Pray that God will protect you from the devil and the temptations of the world and make you different. Pray that God will make you a part of the solutions instead of the problems so you can make a difference for God in your family, this Church, this community and in the world.
Christ has risen! Alleluia! He has risen indeed! Because of the glorious fact that Christ has risen, our lives, our community, and our world can be changed by the power of the risen Christ. We can have a life-changing relationship with Christ, “finish the story of the resurrection” so to speak, and then we can go into the world and work to show His love, changing the world around us with the life-changing love of the risen Christ. And we can be sanctified! Amen.