Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 13, 2018

John 17:11b-19

Set Apart by the Word in the Name of the Holy Father

I’m not one to coopt a sermon for the sake of a civil holiday but Mother’s Day does fit somewhat with today’s reading from the Gospel according to St. John. So I will make use of the coincidence. God bless you mothers, especially all who mourn as did the mother of our Lord and may His joy be fulfilled in you.

There is something about mothers that enable them to love their children no matter what. There is something that allows them to see past all the trouble that their children may cause that they still call them their little angels. There is something, even, that causes her to love her children despite an evil they may have done and perpetrated against herself. And, in turn, even the most hardened of criminals has a soft spot for his mother. Children may love their fathers and fathers may love their children but the relationship between mothers and children is special. We might say that the relationship between mothers and children is set apart from other relationships and is special, unique, and unlike any other relationship. It might and may very well have something to do with those nine months of intimacy that is neither enjoyed nor suffered by the father. The father might be happy when his wife is pregnant and less happy when he is sent looking for triple chocolate donuts before the sun comes up, but he doesn’t know the joy of bearing a child nor the sufferings of morning sickness that fills the wastebasket just as the Monday staff meeting gets underway.

Jesus doesn’t speak of love in this portion of His prayer in the minutes before His betrayal but He does talk about being set apart, having joy fulfilled, and of suffering. Three things that we recognize in Mother’s Day: being set apart for a special relationship, having one’s joy fulfilled in another, and suffering as a result of these.

Four times Jesus uses a form of the word “holy” in our text today. Once, as He addresses the Father, once as He describes himself, and twice in reference to His disciples. We are used to using this word to describe God, whether Father, Son, or Spirit. We are also used to using to describe the things related to God or His heavenly realm, such as the holy angels, etc. While it certainly speaks to the sinless nature of God, it also describes Him as being apart from or other than His creation which is far from sinless.

Doesn’t it say a lot then, that He would choose to broach this holiness that keeps Him separate from His creation to become like us and thus be set apart to die in our place as the greatest of the unholy? This is how Jesus applies it to Himself in our reading, as He says, “And for their sake, I consecrate myself.” He sets Himself apart that He might take the place of the sinner, even sinners like us!

God has always been holy. He has always been apart from the creation as the uncreated. Yet, in time, God has set apart His Son to redeem the fallen that even they (even we) might be set apart and called holy as the children of God. Do you ever think of yourself as being holy? You should, for it means that you have been set apart from the rest of the world. You have been set apart that you may no longer be associated with sin, no longer under the dominion of the devil, no more the victim of death. You have been sanctified by the Word of God, called to be His very own, set apart for an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.

It was accomplished when this word of truth was applied to you with water in your Holy Baptism. Even that ceremony and ordinance is set apart as something belonging to God as it is labeled holy and sacred. With that washing, you were set apart as one holy to God, beloved by Him, and granted a relationship with Him and a oneness with mother Church. His name was applied to you and you became a place where His name resides as it did in the tabernacle of the Old testament.

The oneness between the Father and the Son is that the divine name of the Father is shared with the Son, His essence and His holiness reside in Jesus. They are one because they share the holy and divine name. And now this name is also given to the disciples and to you as to all that are baptized into this name, thereby drawing all of us into a unity of faith that is expressed in the truth of God’s Word.

All of this happens in your Holy baptism, but it doesn’t stop there. This word of truth is continually applied in preaching and devotion, in Absolution and Eucharist. As you have been set apart, you are guarded and continually sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit who is always active calling and cleansing through the Word.

Being set apart or called to holiness is a great thing as it is something that is applied to us and not something that must be achieved or earned. It is not something that we have to work for or something that we must prove ourselves worthy of receiving. It is pure gift, given that the joy of the giver may be fulfilled in the receiver. Jesus doesn’t begrudgingly come into this world to suffer, but He does so joyfully. It is His joy to suffer humiliation and death on your behalf and this joy finds its fulfillment as you believe and trust all that the Scriptures declare to you. His joy is complete when the sinner repents and receives the gift of salvation and life eternal.

Such holiness or being set apart does not mean that the troubles of this world will fade. It means that the Christian will live as a foreigner in this world. The troubles and difficulties will remain and often times be compounded as the devil assaults the Church and her members because of who they are. We are the aliens in a foreign land without the required paperwork to make us acceptable to its rulers and inhabitants. As we live in this world bearing the name of our God as Christians, it is more like wearing the star of David emblazoned with Juden than wearing the authoritative star of a sheriff. The world does not and will not accept us or the Word of God. It will oppose us as it opposed our Lord. And so, while we are set apart for holiness in the name of Jesus, we are hated by the world and should not be surprised when we are targeted by acts of hate.

But it also means that while we are in the world, we are not of the world. We do not live according to worldly standards but according to the Word of God. We have been set free from the need to satisfy our fleshly and temporal desires and to pursue the things of truth.  Our lives are to be lived as holy, rooted in and flowing from the holy things rather than grounded in the things of earthly wisdom. For this reason it is good that you are here to receive the holy things of God that set you apart and strengthens you in unity for the opposition you face in the world, a world into which you are sent.

As Jesus was sent in to the world by the Father to redeem the world, He sends out His disciples to proclaim the truth of God’s love in Him. This is where the title Apostle comes from. It simple means “one sent.” While we don’t consider ourselves in the same position as that of the Apostles, as we are one in the same truth, we too are sent. We might not be sent to India of China as the original Apostles but we are sent as Christians to live in the world as Christians. It means we help the poor and we stand firm for life and the dignity of all. It means that we do not shrink from the truth in face of opposition from friend, family, or government, not even devil. We diligently teach our children and grandchildren of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And we fully expect and accept the hatred of the world that persecuted our Lord. We suffer gladly as witnesses to this truth that has saved us – even Jesus Christ, who being one with the Father has become one with us that we may be one with one another in His name. Amen.

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