Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Prayer: "A public office is a public trust"

Once again last evening, I was able to share the Invocation for the Centerville City Council. This was the prayer:
Heavenly Father, a public office is a public trust. That may get lost in the routine rhythms and challenges of meetings and decision-making. But it’s precisely in the midst of the routine, the seemingly ordinary, that the members of this city council are to fulfill the responsibilities of their offices. Even the most routine of decisions in all of our lives can have an enormous impact on others. So, as this city council meets again tonight, give its members Your wisdom. Grant that they will treat the routine duties they discharge tonight for what they are: opportunities to do Your will, to love You and to love their neighbors in practical ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Sharing this prayer on Facebook tonight, I wrote:
Scripture enjoins us to pray for leaders, whether we agree with them or not. The apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor, Timothy, "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1 Timothy 2:1-2) 
This is a remarkable passage in that Paul is telling Timothy that the people of Christ's Church in the first-century Roman Empire were to pray for those in authority, even despots like the Roman Emperors, for the sake of the people they govern. 
This doesn't mean that we need to support leaders' agendas or obey them when and if they are unjust, cruel, or hateful. In fact, Christians have an obligation to not conform to such "leadership," even as we pray for those who wield authority in evil ways. Paul writes in the New Testament book of Romans, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2)
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Holy Trinity: How God Loves

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, yesterday.]

John 8:48-59
Two-thousand years before the birth of Jesus, three strangers appeared beneath the oak trees at a place called Mamre, where a husband and wife and their party were staying. The couple had come from a place in what we know today as Iraq, Ur. Practicing the hospitality that was part of their faith in the God they had come to know and worship, the couple--Abraham and Sarah--welcomed the threesome to their dwelling and fed them a feast. Over the course of their visit, the three made a promise that in one year, Sarah, an old woman, would give birth to the son promised to them by God. They come to realize that they are in the presence of God.

Later, the three strangers engage in a private conversation. “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? [they ask] Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” [Genesis 18:17-19] 

Was God talking to Himself? 

Yes, said Saint Augustine, a 4th century Christian scholar and founder of the Augustinian order of monks of which Martin Luther would be a member four millennia after Abraham and Sarah welcomed the Lord--Yahweh, I AM. In that conversation among the three leaving Abraham, God was talking to Himself, Augustine believed. I agree with Augustine.

If so, it’s not the first time the Bible records God doing that. In Genesis 1:26, we’re told that God spoke to Himself: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...”

These Bible passages give us hints at what Jesus later made explicit in the Great Commission, that there is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s three-in-one nature is part of the mystery of God’s identity and being, but the Trinity--a term never used in the Bible that we use to describe what God has revealed about Himself--is more than just an odd theological concept. God’s triune nature is essential to Who He is, whether we’re ever able to fully understand it or not.

From the oaks at Mamre, fast forward two thousand years to our Gospel lesson. Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. He’s teaching. He’s met opposition. Among the opponents are those who had believed in Him, but are now turned off by the challenge of being His disciples. (That happens a lot.) These people are so upset with Jesus that they accuse Him of having a demon [John 8:48]. (They also accuse Him of being a Samaritan, reflecting their prejudice against folks from Samaria.)

Jesus then ushers them (and us) into the mysterious realm of the Holy Trinity. “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” Jesus is pointing to the Father Who judges sin. Jesus seeks to bring the Father glory, not Himself, just as the Father seeks glory for Jesus, not Himself.

This is the nature of the love that exists within the Trinity: self-giving love that doesn’t seek for itself, self-sufficient love that didn’t need to create the universe or the human race in God’s image, but chooses to do so out of pure, giving love. It was this same love, Jesus said, that brought Him to the world. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son..."

If you really honored God, Jesus tells His fellow Jews, you would see that I am God and you would honor Me too. The crowd is scandalized. “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

This pious crowd is paralyzed with anger at Jesus. Who did He think that He was? They should know the answer to that question by now. They should remember what the three strangers--identified in our English translations of our Bibles as L-O-R-D, all four letters capitalized, translating Yahweh--I AM, the name God, would reveal to be His own to Moses--had said that day by the oaks of Mamre. Yahweh had said: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” [Genesis 18:18]

It was through Jesus that God’s promise to Abraham that Abraham and all people who trust in Yahweh would be made righteous and would become a great eternal nation, the kingdom of God. Through God the Son made flesh, all who turn from sin and believe, are members of God’s new creation

Abraham, Jesus says, had heard this promise and if Abraham had been standing in the temple that day, he would have been filled with joy. But the crowd of skeptics in John 8 aren't thinking as Jesus says Abraham would think at all. Verse 57: “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!

Jesus’ response isn’t grammatical. But it is definitive. Yes, Jesus is saying, I know exactly what Abraham thought. Not only am I older than Abraham, I made Abraham. I gave life to everything that breathes and moves. “Before Abraham was born, Yahweh, I AM!

Now, this is such a stunning claim that if it isn’t true--if Jesus isn’t, as we sing at Christmas, God in flesh appearing, if He isn’t the second person of the triune God, the crowd would be right to be scandalized. As C.S. Lewis’ famous formulation puts it, either Jesus is a liar; a madman, or precisely who He claims to be. As Lewis writes: “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Jesus didn’t intend for the crowd in the temple to see Him as a great teacher or a magnetic leader who might give them what they wanted. Jesus wanted them (and us) to see is that He is the loving God of the universe in human flesh, Who bears our sin and death on the cross and is raised by the Father to bring the death of sin and death to all who trust in Him. 

It’s to help the people who are rejecting Him in our lesson to see Who He is that Jesus provokes a confrontation with them. It’s why He provokes a confrontation with us in every burning word of Scripture

Is Jesus God in the flesh? 

Is He the incarnation of the God that Abraham saw back at the oaks of Mamre? 

If He is, then why would any of us mess around with living lives of unrepentant sin, that break faith with our Creator and our Redeemer, that dehumanize us, that fail to love God or neighbor? Why would we insist on our right to take His name in vain? Why would we justify adultery, in mind or body? Why would we make excuses for murder, physically or through the poison of gossip? Why would we want to take ourselves and our own desires more seriously than we do the will of the One Who made us and brought salvation to us on the cross? Why do we often choose to worry rather than trust in Him? It was for these sins and more that Jesus died for you and me and seeks to set us free, covering them over with His forgiving grace, and putting us at liberty to live as human beings are meant to live.

On hearing Jesus’ claim to be God, verse 59 says: “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

As I reflect on this passage, I wonder, did the crowd want to stone Jesus because they thought He was dishonoring-- blaspheming-- 

God? Or did they want to stone Him because they knew that He was God enfleshed and saw their chance to take advantage of His weakness, His voluntary acceptance of the limits of humanity

And it’s here that we see the practical implications of this strange doctrine of the Trinity. It was out of love that God the Father sent God the Son. It was this same love that caused the Father to bring Jesus back to life. Not love for Himself, but from love for the Son and love for us that the Father raised the Son to new life and through Him, raises all who trust in Jesus to new life. 

Without God’s triune nature then, we could not know that "God is love." Without God's triune nature, we could not be saved

Nor could we know or believe in this God, because it’s God the Holy Spirit, the comforter sent in love by God to call us to faith, who makes it possible for us to believe and to have life in Jesus’ name.

If you remember nothing else about the Trinity, remember this: It’s from the love that God has known within Himself--the love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have for each other--that He loves you and makes you His own through Christ. 

The Trinity is how God loves. It's also how He loves us. Three times over, He loves us, and we are eternally the richer for it! Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Saturday, June 15, 2019


"...all our righteous acts are like filthy rags..." (Isaiah 64:6)

We can never be good enough to merit God's forgiveness and favor and life. These are all gifts He offers to all willing to believe in His Son, Jesus. 

It is an Air Force craft, after all

Donald Trump doesn't like the "baby blue" that's part of the exterior color scheme of the presidential airplane.

Hmm. I always took it to be "sky blue," as in the center of the United States Air Force logo.

That seems appropriate for an aircraft designated as Air Force One.

Historian Michael Beschloss shares this regarding the font President Kennedy chose for the fuselage of the plane.

Ohtani and Bauers Hit for the Cycle on Two Consecutive Days

I used to think that hitting for the cycle--hitting a single, double, triple, and home run in one game--was a meaningless stat. I suppose that it is in the grand scheme of things.

But to accomplish it, you have to possess power and speed as well as be a generally disciplined hitter.

On June 13, pitcher/hitter phenom Shohei Ohtani hit for the cycle for the Los Angeles Angels, becoming the first Japanese-born major leaguer to accomplish the feat.

Jake Bauers matched the accomplishment for Cleveland yesterday, doing so in probably more dramatic fashion by hitting a homer to complete the cycle. Ohtani began his hitting barrage with a home run. (To me, in some ways, a triple is a harder hit to make. But that's an academic discussion for baseball nerds, I suppose.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

When the Holy Spirit Shows Up

[This message was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, this past Sunday.]

Acts 2:1-21
Pentecost was a festival of the Jewish calendar long before the Pentecost Day we Christians commemorate today. Pentecost was a harvest festival, marking one of the two harvests that happened in Israel every year. 

But Pentecost was more than just an agricultural celebration. It happened fifty days after Passover

Passover, you know, celebrates how God delivered His people from the angel of death and from their slavery in Egypt after they smeared the blood of an unblemished lamb on the doorframes of their dwellings. Fifty days later on Pentecost, God came down to His people at Mount Sinai to give them His law, the Ten Commandments.

Our Christian celebration of Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter, remembering the day when Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, rose from the dead. Ten days prior to the events described in our second lesson for today, Acts 2:1-21, the resurrected Jesus ascended to heaven. 

Even before that, as we see in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus promised that He would come to His Church again. Like God descended from heaven to give His Law to His ancient people, the Jews, Jesus would descend again to those who belong to Him. Jesus, God the Son, would send God the Holy Spirit. “[T]he Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you,” Jesus promised.” (John 14:26) Pentecost is the fulfillment of that promise.

Our lesson from Acts, too long for us to go through in detail together this morning, is divisible into three sections. 

The first section, verses 1 to 4 tells us that the Holy Spirit came to the first disciples

It happened when “they [the disciples] were all together in one place,” Acts 2:1 says. What were they doing at the time? Acts 1:14 gives us the answer: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” 

There is nothing more important for the growth of our faith, the mission of the Church, or the usefulness of the Church to the world than helpless prayer

In fact, if our praying isn’t helpless, we aren’t praying. Without a clear understanding that we can do nothing without Jesus (John 15:5), we’re not praying, we’re just talking. You can be sure that as the 120 disciples of the early Church, a smaller number than gathers at Living Water each Sunday morning, prayed together on that Pentecost, they were feeling helpless. Jesus had risen from the dead, confirming that He was God the Son Who conquers sin and death for those who call out to Him as Lord. But He had also given them a huge job: “...[Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) The disciples were to go into the same world that had rejected and crucified Jesus and say that He had risen from the dead and that all who turn from sin and trust in Him have life with God that never ends. 

“Wait a minute,” the apostles might have thought on hearing Jesus' commission. “We have a bad track record for perseverance in the face of opposition. How are losers like us going to be Your witnesses?” 

But Jesus had told them that they would fulfill His mission for them after He sent His Holy Spirit

And so, helpless, not knowing anything about the Holy Spirit, they gathered together to pray. 

They trusted in Jesus’ promise, “...where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) 

They prayed for God to come to them in some way, much as many of you have been praying in regard to Reach Forward in recent months. 

This is when the Spirit came to them. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:4) The Holy Spirit has been empowering the Church’s witness for Christ ever since

We saw the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of the Church’s witness for Christ this past week, as dozens of you and other members of North American Lutheran Church congregations brought help, love, and prayer in Jesus’ name to those affected by the Dayton tornadoes.

The second section of our lesson from Acts shows the varied reactions people have when the Word about Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, comes to people

Acts 2 recounts three reactions. 

The first was a positive one. This reaction is exemplified first in the praying disciples themselves. Despite their previous fears, they were emboldened to go into the streets and share Jesus with others. Later in Acts 2, we’re told that some three-thousand people also reacted positively to the disciples’ message of new life through faith in Jesus and came to believe in Him. 

The second reaction was from people who were bewildered and amazed (Acts 2:6-7). Like people trying to figure out how a special effect was accomplished in a movie, this group, drawn from around the Mediterranean Basin, pays little attention to the message the Spirit spread through those first disciples, instead wondering how the disciples were speaking in their own languages. 

Their bewilderment is matched by some people at Aldi when our Living Water young people help them load their groceries in their car or give them a quarter for a shopping cart. “Why are you doing this?” they sometimes ask. “Because God loves you,” our kids say. In a dog-eat-dog world in which there’s always a catch, people are bewildered when the free gift of new life through Christ is made known and accessible to them. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit! 

A third group had a different reaction on the first Pentecost: They wrote the whole thing off as craziness. “They have had too much wine,” they said (Acts 2:13). 

Last week, a friend re-posted on Facebook something I wrote about people who commend a perverted understanding of Christian faith. A friend of hers commented that all Christian faith is perverted. When I tried to explain how Christ has forgiven me and worked at transforming my life over the past four decades, the commenter wrote to say that she was sorry that I had been brainwashed and that Jesus hadn’t died for my sins. My prayer is that God will use me to gradually open her to Christ. But even when our witness is empowered by the Holy Spirit, the good news of Jesus will, at least at first, be written off by some who find it too good to be true.

In the third section of our lesson from Acts, Peter, who denied knowing Jesus three times after Jesus was arrested, stands up and tells the throng in Jerusalem the gospel, the good news, that every human being needs

Quoting the Old Testament prophet Joel, Peter says: “...everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21) 

We don’t have to do anything. 

We don’t have to jump through religious hoops or have it together or know the secret handshake. 

When the Holy Spirit prompts us to call on the name of the Lord Jesus to be our God and Savior and only hope, we know that we are saved

And so are those who come to believe in Jesus as we share this good news with them! The Holy Spirit is the One Who makes all of this possible.

“But, Pastor Mark,” some will say, “how can I receive the Holy Spirit?” If you’ve been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit and believe in Jesus, you already have the Holy Spirit. He’s the one who enables you to believe, however imperfectly, and to confess, however haltingly, that Jesus is Lord. He’s the One Who empowers you when you feel defeated by life or sin to trust that no matter what, the crucified and risen Jesus can still be trusted to give you life, forgiveness, and eternity.

Others will say, “Pastor, I feel guilty. I’ve never had an experience of the Holy Spirit like the disciples did on the first Pentecost.” Someone has pointed out that no two miracles of Jesus were precisely the same. It’s a mark of God’s infinite creativity and of the individual relationships Jesus desires with each of us, that while faith in Christ and growth in that faith are always sparked by encountering Jesus in the Word and in the sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion), God can come to people in many ways. 

On the first Pentecost, God’s Spirit came to His people on the rush of a loud and mighty wind and came to still others in the proclamation of ordinary Galileeans, filled with the Spirit, speaking good news to the Jerusalem crowds. 

God came to the Old Testament prophet Elijah not in a wind, or an earthquake, or a fire, but in a whisper

The apostle Paul teaches us that if we can believe in Jesus as our Lord, the Holy Spirit has come to us. “I want you to know,” he says, “that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

If you call out to the God revealed in Jesus, you can trust that the Holy Spirit is living in you. 

You can trust too, that the Holy Spirit can use you to bring the good news of Jesus to others. As a Christian, you’re among God’s Pentecost people! Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


This is an impressive grand slam, but an even more impressive fan catch!

Monday, June 03, 2019

The Way

[This message was shared earlier today during the funeral of Norma, a member of the congregation I serve as pastor.]

John 14:1-6
JD, Tom, Dan, Ed, Susan, and family, God’s blessings of peace, comfort, and hope be with each of you today and always.

When Susan texted me last Tuesday night to say that Norma had passed away, a passage of Scripture crossed my mind, Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” I thought of how the lives and the deaths of all of God’s people are important to God. 

And later, as we prayed and spent time together in Norma’s room at Bethany, another passage struck me, this one from the apostle Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Norma could say the same thing.

Over the past nearly six years, I have gotten to know something of Norma: her love for her family, her essential sweetness, her orneriness, and her laugh. Her personality shone through in many ways to the end. I enjoyed visiting with her and JD, first in their home, later at Bethany. 

Over the past few days, the family has given me a more detailed picture of Norma. They’ve told me how, as JD put it, “she jumped into motherhood” and later, jumped into grandmotherhood, buying a grandma shirt as soon as she knew a grandchild was on the way. How she was an accomplished seamstress, making both Barbie clothes and later a prom dress for her daughter. How she participated in the needlework ministry at Epiphany. How she loved to travel. 

I also learned how much she loved you, JD, telling Susan after her diagnosis, “You need to take care of your dad.” I observed, JD, how well you took care of Norma, displaying an unflappable love that was an inspiration. 

I have also learned how this entire family is knitted together in a love that allows for a lot of humor and gentle ribbing, sure signs of a strong family. 

And, in Norma, and the rest of the family, I have seen a faith in Jesus that cherishes every opportunity to hear God’s Word and to receive Christ’s body and blood. 

You should know that you are in the prayers of our congregation and in mine as well.

There are some people who labor under the false impression that Christians shouldn’t grieve. In fact, there’s a sense in which it’s probable that Christians grieve more deeply than other people. When the passionate, empathetic love of God given to us in Jesus enters our lives, it opens our hearts to more deeply love other people, including our family members. 

When Jesus visited the gravesite of His friend Lazarus, we’re told that He wept. Whether His tears were from grief for Lazarus or grief for Lazarus’ family and local friends, or some of both, when we consider that Jesus, God the Son, could feel sadness, it should show us that the grief of losing loved ones is both deeply human and deeply divine. 

But it is true that, as Paul writes in another place in the New Testament, followers of Jesus are enabled to “not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Believers in Jesus do have hope and it’s of this that I want to remind you this morning. Jesus talks about this in the verses from John we read just a moment ago, John 14:1-6.

In this passage, Jesus is speaking with His followers, His disciples, shortly before His arrest. The disciples have a sense of foreboding. They’re sure that the powers of religion and state will array against Jesus. 

They were right to feel this way. In fact, even though Jesus had warned them that in Jerusalem, He would be tortured and executed, then rise from the dead, that His purpose for being on the earth would only be fulfilled if He did these things, the disciples never seemed to fully understand what He was saying! They were always trying to find a way out for Jesus. He insisted that the way of the cross was the only way He could bear the sins of the world and destroy the power of sin and death over the lives of those who dare to trust in Him.

Into the sadness and grief of His disciples Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” 

This is an incredible promise! Jesus has prepared a place in God’s house for all who believe in Him.

He goes on to say, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” 

True to form, the one we call doubting Thomas, who Jesus, when you look at the Greek in which the New Testament was written, actually described as unbelieving Thomas, says He has no idea the way that Jesus is going and asks how they could possibly know about it.

Jesus makes things clear when He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In the days to come, I hope that your grief will be lightened not only by the happy memories of a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, family member, and friend. And not only by the comfort of knowing Norma is now strong and whole and living in the presence of the Lord Jesus. But also by this: That Jesus is your way to life with God, comfort from God, hope from God today; your way to the place that Jesus has prepared for you as you entrust your lives to Him. 

The place Jesus has prepared for you is one in which you too will live in His presence and where one day, you will be reunited with that child of God whose life we remember today. 

You will once more be with Norma. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Jesus Prays for His Church

[This message was shared earlier today with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

John 17:20-26
This morning’s gospel lesson, John 17:20-26, is part of what’s often called Jesus’ high priestly prayer. In it, just before His crucifixion and resurrection, God the Son pours His heart out to God the Father. Our lesson for today contains what may be the most remarkable part of the prayer. Here's why: Jesus prays for us, for you and me. He prays for those who have received with faith the Word about God so loving the world that He gave His only Son that all who believe in Him will have life with God. In today’s lesson, Jesus asks the Father for three things for us, His Church.

The first thing that Jesus prays is that His Church will be united. Take a look at the lesson beginning at verse 20. Jesus prays: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Jesus prays that His Church will reflect the unity that the Father and the Son have. Jesus says that when His Church is united, it proves to the world that Jesus comes from God the Father and that the Father loves His Church with the same love He bears for Jesus.

This petition of Jesus’ prayer has often been misconstrued both inside and outside of Christ’s Church. 

Within the Church, it has been used by some as an excuse to enforce institutional uniformity among church members and pastors, often in support of false teaching and evil ends

For example, the Medieval Church had a system of church indulgences by which believers were told they needed to buy or work their way out of damnation. When Martin Luther challenged this as being unbiblical, pointing out that the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by anything we do, he was accused of breaking the unity of the Church. 

And nearly five-hundred years later, Lutheran Christians who could not accept overthrowing God’s Word as the ultimate authority over the Church’s life, were accused of breaking the unity of the Church. 

But if our unity is rooted in anything other than the God we meet in Jesus and in His Word, the Bible, we don’t have unity or even the Church, only a collection of people who may or may not like each other. Unity apart from Jesus and His Word is not what Jesus is praying for here.

Outside the Church, Jesus prayer for unity is often used as an excuse for not being part of the Church at all

“All those denominations and all those arguments among Christians in churches,” some people say. “I don’t need it.” 

Actually, we do need the Church. The Church is the body of Christ, the family of God, the only entity charged by Jesus with proclaiming the good news of new life through faith in Jesus--the gospel--to the world. No Church: no Christians. No Church; no salvation. No Church; no eternal life. The Church alone carries the Word into the world. 

And nowhere in Scripture are we told that church members don’t or won’t or shouldn't argue. Imagine someone saying of a married couple, “So and so had an argument last week. They must not really be married.” People who care about each other do sometimes argue. And as I've said before, if two people agree on everything, at least one of them is irrelevant...or dead. 

In your anger do not sin,” Ephesians 4:26 tells us. Anger and disagreement are not sins. They only become sins when we use our disagreements to dehumanize others.

Jesus’ prayer continues in verse 24 of our lesson: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Jesus prays that you and I will be with Him so that we can see the glory He has had since before the universe came into being.

Back in Old Testament times, when God’s ancient people, the Israelites, were given God’s Law, they refused to come into God’s presence. They were afraid of God’s glory, His rightness, His perfect innocence. The people of God were sure that God’s holiness would break out and destroy them if they came near to Him. Jesus is the bridge Who allows sinners to see and come into the presence of the glory of God. “No one has ever seen God,” John writes early in his gospel, “but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:18) When we see Jesus, in His Word, in the sacraments, in the worship and fellowship of the Church, we see the glory of God. That’s a privilege Christ grants to His Church!

Jesus next prays for us in verses 25 and 26: “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” Here, Jesus asks that as He continues to reveal Himself and the Father to His people, that the love of God would fill us.

This love of God isn’t like the counterfeit stuff the world calls love. 

A friend of mine caused his parents no end of grief in his teenage years. He got involved in alcohol and drugs. His parents, godly people, tried everything. Nothing changed, except that he got worse. One night, he ODed and was taken to a hospital ER. When he came to, he looked up to see a family friend, a doctor and also a believer standing over him. “Joe,” the man said, “your parents have asked me to bring you into my home. I’m going to do that. But you will have to do everything I tell you to do. You will have to do counseling. You will have to work. And you will have to stay clean. Otherwise, neither your parents nor anyone else you know who cares about you can do anything to help you.” 

To some those words may seem harsh. But they were words of love, love from God. They were matched by actions, commitment, and sacrifice by the doctor who took my friend in. Joe got clean, came to believe in Jesus, and for more than thirty years now, has been a faithful pastor. Jesus prays that God’s tough, committed love for them will be seen in us so that others too can believe in Jesus and have life with God!

Earlier, I mentioned two misuses of the first petition of this section of Jesus’ high priestly prayer. But there’s a big misuse to which the whole prayer gets subjected. Well-meaning Christians look at it and think, “I’ve got to work at being united with other believers. I’ve got to work at being in Jesus so that I can see His glory. I’ve to work at being filled with Jesus’ love.” 

If you come away from worship today thinking that Jesus’ words are a work plan or a set of homework assignments for Christians wanting to be better people, it will only prove that you haven’t been paying attention

Our lesson doesn’t present a plan for personal improvement. Our lesson lets us listen in on Jesus’ pray for us

Jesus is praying that He will be seen in those who seek to follow Him.

Our call is to daily turn to Him in humility at the baptismal font, at the Communion table, and in His Word. As we turn to Jesus, it’s Jesus Who  goes to work, not us

He covers us in His grace and gives us faith in Him. 

He forgives our sins, gives us awe at His glory, fills us with His love and with Himself. 

God the Father has been answering this prayer from Jesus for believers for more than two-thousand years now. He’s answering it even now in you. 

You can trust in that. 

You can trust in Jesus. 


[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]