May 16, 2021
Seventh Sunday of Eastertide
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
John 17 selected verses of the priestly prayer (1-3,10-11, 25-26)
“After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Today’s sermon is titled On the Gift of the Knowledge of God. Because I chose this title, I could not turn away from the question “Have I received the gift of the knowledge of God?” That is a terrifying question, “Have I received the gift of the knowledge of God?” Dare I answer “yes”? It seems so much safer to answer “no.”
Recently, I have had the great pleasure of spending time with a newborn baby and I have to admit that when I hold that tiny being in my arms, I can convince myself that I know something of that which we call God. At some point in my life experience, I think it may have been in my late twenties, I theorized that we all come into this world with an infinite knowledge and because of where we are born and who we are born among, we become specialized to cope with our specific circumstances. We learn a language, or two or more if we are fortunate. We adapt to the ways of those around us and so much of what we brought into the world is unavoidably limited by our circumstances. This theory is just that, a theory; I have no proof. It simply makes sense to me; it explains the overwhelming sense of wonder I experience when in the presence of a newborn baby and when in the presence of someone close to death. There are times like these when the knowledge of God seems to already exist deep within. I sense it in the perfection of nature, in the mathematically perfect spiral of a seashell, for instance. I sense it in the deep satisfaction of learning, especially in the instant of grasping new understanding; it can feel holy and sacred.
Our scripture reading for today is a prayer and in this prayer we find the seventh and final insight offered in this seven-week season of Eastertide. The seventh insight is found in the following phrase of the prayer: “…this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God.”
This, Friends, is what our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, aimed to offer us…this gift of knowledge, this gift of the knowledge of God. It was his only possession. Even his life was not his own. I believe that the gift of the knowledge of God is why Jesus was born and why he died and why even death could not hold him.
In the example of his life, his ministry, his death and his resurrection, we are given insight into a very different way of being, a way of being that is aligned with the nature of God while living in the world of humankind. Over the past six weeks the scriptures have offered us some of the most revealing messages from his life. Here are his words that echo still, “Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you. (John 20: 19-28)… Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. I am the good shepherd and you are my sheep. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. (John 10: 11-21)… I am the true vine and you are the branches. Abide in me as I abide in you. (John 15: 1-8)… As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-17).
The love and tender concern in these words nearly break my heart. And then comes this prayer in which Jesus reveals to us that eternal life is knowledge of God. What can this mean? …eternal life is knowledge of God. If a newborn baby could speak, I imagine they could explain it. Those who have died and come back to life return with much to say. Friends, I do not really have any answers for you but my life experience tells me that what we see and experience in this life is not all there is.
When I was 24, my Grandfather died suddenly in my arms from a pulmonary embolism. I will never forget the look of astonishment on his face, like he was witnessing something incredible, something unbelievable. Since then, I have lived convinced that there is much more before and beyond this life. Our Judeo-Christian tradition supports this; eleven times the words “everlasting life” appears in the Second Testament.
I believe Jesus carried this knowledge and he prayed fervently that we would know it, too. It is written right there in the prayer we read today, followed by prayers for protection, prayers for oneness, and concludes with a prayer that “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” How blessed we are!
In closing, I pray that I am open enough to receive such a love as this. I pray that you are, too. Let’s help one another, shall we? Let’s help one another to learn all we can of love, to learn all we can of God, for therein we find eternal life for our souls. Thanks be to God. Amen.