Weekly Seeds: Fulfilled

Sunday, May 12, 2024
Seventh Sunday of Easter | Year B

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
God of Promise, Purpose, and Plan, let it be fulfilled in your name. Help us keep your word. Make us one as you are one. Amen.

Focus Reading:
John 17:6-19
6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you, 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them. 11 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. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one., 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

All readings for this Sunday:
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 • Psalm 1 • 1 John 5:9-13 • John 17:6-19

Focus Questions:
What is fulfillment?
What brings you fulfillment?
What has been fulfilled through the work and ministry of the church?
What remains unfulfilled?
What is your hope for the church and how does it align with God’s vision?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

The hymn, “Somebody Prayed for Me,” is simple, highly repetitious, and joyful. Each verse declares that the singer has been prayed for beginning with an unidentified “somebody” followed by “the people.” In Black Church tradition, choirs and congregations would incorporate other likely prayer warriors such as grandmothers and pastors to the mix. The final official verse proclaims that no less than Jesus themself prayed for me:

My Jesus prayed for me,
had me on his mind,
took the time to pray for me.
I’m so glad he prayed,
I’m so glad he prayed,
I’m so glad he prayed for me.

It’s a climactic moment that demonstrates assurance, trust, and gratitude. The sentiment is also biblically sound as John 17 narrates one of the rare, specific instances of Jesus’ recorded prayers. Unlike the Lord’s prayer recounted in the synoptics, the disciples have not asked Jesus how to pray. That prayer, shared as a model of how to pray, has become the format and universal prayer of the Christian faith. This prayer in John’s account has not received the same widespread adoption as either a template or established prayer to be repeated, internalized, and memorized in private and communal devotion.

What would happen to Christian communities if it did?

Certainly, this prayer holds particular significance for the United Church of Christ. The traditional emblem of the denomination contains the cross triumphant surrounded by the words, “United Church of Christ” and “That they may all be one.” It reminds us of our identity that centers the sovereignty of Christ and proclaims that we are a united and uniting church. Jesus’ prayer is our prayer…for unity in the Body of Christ.

The gospel writer situated this moment at the end of the Farewell Discourse. Jesus prepares his first disciples for his death and post-resurrection departure. The prayer is pastoral and intercessory in nature but also resonates as the basis of a benediction as Jesus notes he is sending them into the world as he has been sent.

John 17 has been called “one of the most majestic moments in the Fourth Gospel” (Brown 1970:744). It is a fitting climax to the Farewell Discourse(s). Brown (1970:587) remarks that the redactor “showed a touch of genius in putting it at the end of the Discourse. Its soaring, lyrical quality provides a perfect climax, whereas almost any other unit that could have been added here might have been flat and anticlimactic”. John 17 is in many respects a summary of the Fourth Gospel from the first chapter through the sixteenth (Cadman 1969:203; Carson 1991:551; Dodd 1995:417; Käsemann 1968:3). “Almost every verse contains echoes” (Dodd 1995:417). The main themes include the mutual glorification of the Father and the Son, the Son’s work of revealing the Father, the identity of Jesus as the sent one, the importance of receiving the words of Jesus, the world’s hate, the love of God, Jesus’ departure to the Father, the gift of eternal life, the mission of the disciples, and mutual indwelling. This chapter “forms a climax” in the Fourth Gospel, following the Farewell Discourse(s) and preceding Jesus’ arrest and passion (Schnackenburg 1987:167).
Chin How Wong

John’s original audience faced their own climatic moment, living in the tension of knowing they have been sent into a world that rejected them as it rejected Jesus. They encountered isolation, accusation, and persecution. Within their community, the fierce compulsion to share the good news of liberation, reconciliation, and salvation in Jesus Christ wrestled with natural desire and instinct toward self-preservation. Persecuted churches often seek refuge in hidden spaces for communal gathering. Having entirely identifiable and readily recognizable church buildings is a privilege of a religion that has been established in a society and poses no threat to those in power. Too often, our soaring sanctuaries and towering cathedrals reflect complacency and complicity with the status quo, which is antithetical to the gospel. Yet, faithful congregations find ways to use power and privilege in service of the call to be church in the world: providing sanctuary to the asylum seeker, declaring the belovedness of the oppressed, embracing and centering vulnerable populations, and liberating those captive to the systems that marginalize, demean, and devalue. This work is counter cultural and requires intention, courage, and commitment. While the inspiration for isolation and retreat from the world may differ between the early church and contemporary faith communities, the impulse remains dangerous and defeating to the ministry of Christ-followers whose misguided attempts to self-protect actually lead to self-defeat.

By definition, the very concept of the sacred establishes a boundary that excludes what is profane. And in human practice, the inveterate tendency of that which considers itself to be sanctified is to protect itself against whatever would defile it. The thematics of “keeping” and “guarding” in verses 11,12, and 15 exemplify this both in Jesus’s own activity and in his prayer for the disciples. But one result is for a “sanctified community” to close in on itself and concern itself only with its own internal sanctity. And the passage now under examination does not stop with verse 17. The thrust of verses 18-19 is to counter that all-too-common tendency of the religious.
J. Gerald Janzen

The impulse toward becoming insular is understandable given the circumstances of the late first century world of the Johannine community. The events of the passion, resurrection, and ascension are a distant memory at best and an incredulous story passed down to an increasingly skeptical community at worst. The anticipated second coming of Christ has not happened, seems less imminent and plausible, and no longer captures the imagination or guides the actions and attitudes of the community desperately holding onto hope. Nearly all of the apostles have met their end following the way of the cross…without any evidence or indication that they have equally shared in the glory of the resurrection…at least, not yet. The gospel holds its promise, yet that promise appears to be unfulfilled.

Glorification/revelation is the theme of Chapter 17. The Son has been authorized by the Father to give eternal life to those who belong to them, namely Jesus’ disciples and later converts (v. 2). Eternal life is to know the Father and the Son (v. 3), i.e. to receive the revelation of the Father’s name/being/character brought by Jesus through his words which are God’s words and through himself, the one who has come from God and was sent by God (vv. 6-8, 18, 21, 23, 25). At the same time that the Father is glorified, the Son is also glorified (v. 1, 4, 5), and just as the Son has been given glory, even so the believers are given glory (v. 22). Thus, this prayer is about glorification of the Father, the
Son, and their people. Schnackenburg (1987:172) thinks that the “participation of believers in Jesus’ glory is the aim of the entire prayer.” Bultmann (1971:68-69) believes that the glorification of his followers is the aim of Jesus’ entire ministry. “The [glory] (of the Revealer) consists in what he is as Revealer for men, and he possesses the [glory] really – as becomes clear towards the end of the Gospel (12.28; 13.31f; 17.1ff) – when that which he himself is has been actualised in the believer” (Bultmann 1971:68-69).
Chin How Wong

The prayer encapsulates the gospel well, including the note about Judas. Even though he was not mentioned by name, his identity is clear. He was “the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.” (v. 12) While many object to the idea that Jesus was sent to die, it’s interesting that I rarely hear the objection that Judas was sent for such an ignominious fate. Perhaps it is easier to accept selfish evil than holy sacrifice. Everything that lives also dies, so in living, Jesus was destined to die. While the nature of his death proved to be horrific, it was entirely predictable given the revolutionary nature of his ministry. His aims were far higher than overthrowing an earthly government, even though that charge formed the basis of his conviction. His goal was nothing less than the hope expressed in this prayer–unity and union in the beloved community. Every step of his life, especially in public, moved with intention toward this end.

The promise included a plan. Most plans for lofty goals require risks and sacrifice. They include contingencies for failures, like disciples who will betray their teacher for a few coins or will deny the relationship for temporary safety. For the whole to be fulfilled, the details must be also. Jesus gives the particular example as a reminder that even the barriers and roadblocks were accounted for in God’s plan to redeem, restore, and renew creation.

So Jesus prays for his disciples, then and now. The inclusion of this particular prayer should not suggest that Jesus did not pray for the whole world, but like the Lord’s Prayer in the synoptics, this prayer has a purpose and meaning that disciples should embrace, adopt, and replicate. The Holy One works in the world through people. Proof of this is that when God enacts their greatest intervention in human history, the Holy One does so by becoming human in order to bring the transformative and salvific action to life. Jesus prays that those who follow him will fulfill their role in the continuing testament. His testimony affirms that Jesus can only face the assignment entrusted to his care through his abiding union with the Father. Through connection to Jesus, the disciples also enjoy this relationship of presence, commitment, and protection. Because of them, the ministry of Jesus continues in the world where disciples live but do not belong. Union with one another provides encouragement and accountability while generating courage, commitment, and a plan that aligns with the Holy One’s plan.

True belonging occurs within the reign of God that by the power of this union transcends and transforms the world through the promise of God’s kindom fulfilled.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
But in a real sense, my friends, this is the persistent story of life. Almost everybody here this morning has started out on some distant trip to reach some distant Spain, to achieve some distant goal, to realize some distant dream, only to discover that life stopped far short of that. We never got an opportunity to walk as free men in the Romes of our lives. We ended up so often confined in a little cell that had been built up around us by the forces of circumstance.11 This is the story of life.

This reveals to us that there is a tragic element in life. We must never overlook it. If the early Christian church didn’t overlook it, we must not overlook it. The early Christians, they were bringing together the books of the Bible, did not leave out of the gospel the event that took place on Calvary Hill. That was a tragic event. It was a dark moment in history. And the universe crucified its most noble character. We must never forget that that stands at the center of the Christian gospel which reveals to us that there is an element of tragedy in life, there is a cross at the center of it. That as we face life and all of its problems, we see this element as tragic. Life is not a great symphony with all of the instruments playing harmoniously together. We will look at it long enough, we will discover that there is a jangling discord in life that has somehow thrown the symphony out of whack. The nagging, prehensile tentacles of evil are always present, taking some of the meaning out of life.

Many people have often looked at this, and they’ve gotten frustrated about it, and they’ve wondered if life had any justice in it. Long years ago the philosopher Schopenhauer looked at it. He said that life is nothing but a tragic comedy played over and over again with slight changes in costume and scenery.12 Long time ago Shakespeare’s Macbeth looked at it. He said that life has no meaning in the final analysis. Why? Because life turns out to be sound and furied in so many instances.13 A good while ago, even in our own nation, Paul Laurence Dunbar looked at it. And all that he could come out with was saying:

A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
And never a laugh that the moans come double;
And that is life!14

We’ve looked at this so often, and we’ve become frustrated, wondering if life has any justice. We look out at the stars; we find ourselves saying that these stars shine from their cold and serene and passionless height, totally indifferent to the joys and sorrows of men. We begin to ask, Is man a plaything of a callous nature, sometimes friendly and sometimes inimical? Is man thrown out as a sort of orphan in the terrifying immensities of space, with nobody to guide him on and nobody concerned about him? These are the questions we ask, and we ask them because there is an element of tragedy in life.

We come back to that point of our text and of our prophet. We come to the point of seeing in life that there are unfulfilled hopes. There are moments when our dreams are not realized. And so we discover in our lives, soon or later, that all pain is never relieved. We discover, soon or later, that all hopes are never realized. We come to the point of seeing that no matter how long we pray for them sometimes, and no matter how long we cry out for a solution to our problems, no matter how much we desire it, we don’t get the answer. The only answer that we get is a fading echo of our desperate cry, of our lonely cry. So we find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying that the cup would be removed from him.15 But he has to drink it with all of its bitterness and all of its pain. We find Paul praying that the thorn would be removed from his flesh, but it is never removed, and he is forced to go all the way to the grave with it.16 And so in this text, we find Paul wanting to go to Spain with a, for a noble purpose, to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to Spain. Paul never gets to Spain. He ends up in Rome, not as a free man but as a man in prison. This is the story of life. In so many instances, it becomes the arena of unrealized dreams and unfulfilled hopes, frustration with no immediate solution in the environment.

Now, the question that I want to try to grapple with you this, with this morning is this: what do you do when you find your dreams unrealized, your hopes unfulfilled, and you see no basic solution in your environment to the problem that you are facing? How do you deal with it?
–The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Unfulfilled Hopes, Sermon Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
For the full sermon, visit: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/unfulfilled-hopes-0.

For Further Reflection
“While you’ll feel compelled to charge forward it’s often a gentle step back that will reveal to you where you and what you truly seek.” ― Rasheed Ogunlaru
“A dreamer will not stop having that dream until it has been fulfilled.” ― J. Wilson
“As much as I would like to know my path, a part of me is telling me that it is better not too know too many details about the end destination or the obstacles on the journey. If I can only see as much as my headlights will show me, I can travel safely through any kind of weather, knowing that there’s life through every sunrise and sunset and when the light is not shining as I’m used to, I can always assure myself that the night sky will show me many fulfilled dreams and hopes portrayed through shining stars, and every now and then reveal me a part of the moon which reflects that everlasting light, whether fully or not, making me aware that the shadow will always have its’ mysterious beauty as well in the process of underlying a part of the truth. So let’s continue like this, with our eyes set out far away in the galaxy, but with our feet firm in the ground from which we have been raised. Only so will we be able to ground ourselves deeply and reach immeasurable heights, like a tree deeply rooted in mother Earth that stretches its’ branches up to the heavens.” ― Virgil Kalyana Mittata Iordache

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.