Presence of Christ

My family really likes to rank things. After family vacations we spent time ranking the top 3 meals, the best day of the trip or the 3 most interesting things we saw. This also eventually evolved into ranking family members. Who was the most annoying family member at the moment? Or the least helpful? We would often tease one another that someone was working being #1 most annoying or least helpful 1family member. It was something of a game. (Also my family is here this morning, so I encourage you to find them after church and tease them about this ranking habit.) Even though I sometimes resisted the ranking game, I will admit that this interest in ranking has stuck with me.

In my New Testament class, our professor asked us which Gospel we preferred after we finished studying all the Gospels. I wasn’t sure exactly which Gospel was #1, but I was definitely sure which Gospel was #4. That would be John. I realize that Gospel ranking seems like something Jesus would not be too keen on, but I can’t help it. Something about the style of John’s Gospel immediately confuses me. It always since to start with the this is in that, and that is really this, with some bread of life and a shepherd thrown in.

But I was surprised to find that this week’s reading from John actually spoke to me. It took me awhile to take it apart and understand it, but it was worth the effort. I soon realized that this was a prayer to God from Jesus. A quick consultation of a commentary confirmed this for me. And it’s such a beautiful prayer. You can sense the relationship between Jesus and His Father in the prayer. His has absolute confidence in Him and his ability to make things happen. It’s also bittersweet because Jesus says this prayer because he knows that he is leaving the world and his earthly ministry behind. He prays for His disciples that their work may reflect the one they serve. He prays for those who will come to believe through His disciples. He prays that all believers in Christ may be a part of God the way He is a part of God.

The final piece of this passage is the most powerful for me. Jesus prays "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." For me this translates to, “God you have loved me so well, please let those I have served know that the love I gave them comes from you.” And this spoke to me so strongly because I have spent some time this week reflecting on the time I had with our beloved parishioner Nancy Posey before she died last week. I went to visit her in a hospice center along with Tom Hargrove and her dog. It was a special moment, one of those moments you don’t forget easily. Nancy could barely speak or drink any water. But she wanted us there, and she wanted communion and she wanted to be anointed with oil. She also just wanted to look at us and smile and hold hands. As I was driving home, I thought about what a heavy responsibility it is to try to be the presence of Christ to someone as they are dying. I prayed that Nancy felt Christ’s love and protection through our presence in the room with her. In fact, I have kept praying this. How could anyone be good enough to be the presence of Christ to someone else? But to read in John’s Gospel that Jesus prayed the kind of same prayer was a big comfort. Jesus too prayed that God’s love be felt through his own love.  

It has since occurred to me that this might be the true prayer of Christianity. Shouldn’t we be always be praying that our life and actions reflect the love of Christ to others? Shouldn’t we pray that what we do will bring others to believe in God?

I see this desire to reflect Christ in human action in our reading from Acts this morning too. Paul and Silas know that the jailer would be killed if all his prisoners escaped during his watch. So when the earthquake hits and all the doors of the prison open, they remain there with the other prisoners. When the jailer sees that the doors are wide open, he is about to kill himself since he has failed in his duty. But when he sees that the prisoners are all there and that he is saved, he immediately knows that these are not ordinary prisoners. In fact, the jailer falls down before Pail and Silas and asks how he can be saved since he knows that men who acted so generously will know the way to salvation. So the jailer and his family become Christians because of the generous actions of Paul and Silas. Paul and Silas were able to be the presence of Christ to this jailer and he came to believe in Jesus through them.

This strikes me as a direct answer to Jesus’ prayer in our reading from John. Jesus prayed that his disciples would share the love He had given them with others. He prayed that this love would draw others to belief in God. And we see this in this story from Acts. And we see it from moments in our lives. I am sure that if we think about it we can all remember a moment when we showed the love of Christ to another. And this moment doesn’t need to be as dramatic as the moment I shared earlier with Nancy it could be something very mundane. Perhaps your life is full of these moments and you never realized it before. Because sometimes a revelation can come from a Gospel reading, even if it is from the 4th best Gospel. Amen.