7th Sunday of Easter
Texts: John 17:1-11;
Acts 1:6-14; 1 Pet 4
Chances are that you’ve seen the TV show ER at least once in its fourteen years. It holds the record for Emmy nominations with 117. Ellen and I and the older boys were regular watchers for the first nine or ten years. I forget that a star such as George Clooney launched his movie career with that show. It’s as so many of the original characters left that I gradually quit watching.
In fact, I bring it up because I know that the frequency of my watching began to decrease dramatically six years ago this month when one of its original characters, Dr. Mark Green, said goodbye. You might remember, if you were a fan, that he died of brain cancer and so his leaving was particularly said. He had a fairly recent second wife, by whom he had a baby daughter. It was no doubt very difficult to leave them and to say goodbye. Yet it was perhaps even tougher to say goodbye to his teenage daughter by his first wife. For Rachel was already a teenager in distress, flirting with drug use and other dangerous behaviors. He wondered if he could say anything to her that might leave a lasting impression for the good. ‘I’m struggling,’ he said to her, ‘to find some last words to say to you, the very best that a Dad could leave with his daughter.’ Finally, he simply said to her, “Be generous.”
What do you think? Are those good last words from a father to a daughter? I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. “Be generous” doesn’t sound like much, but I think that it is more profound than we realize. “Be generous” just may be the best advice we can give one another.
Another candidate for best last words might be the commandment that we’ve heard in recent weeks in our Gospel Lessons from John, the commandment that Jesus did in fact give his disciples on his last night with them: “love one another,” he said, “as I have loved you.” Love, of course, can mean so many things to us. We sometimes even use the word when we mean lust, not love. So Jesus gives us a big hint about what he means: Love as I have loved you. Well, how has he loved us? By giving his very life for us!
But do you see? That brings us back to “Be generous.” Because that’s how Jesus loved us: he gave his very life for us. Giving one’s life is about as generous as one can get, don’t you think? “Be generous” is a good description, perhaps the best description, of exactly how we are to love one another. The true meaning of love is to live a life of giving ourselves away to one another. Love is living a generous life.
Dr. Mark Green on ER gave his last words to his daughter, “Be generous.” Simple but profound. In the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17, we hear the last words of Jesus to his disciples. They aren’t quite so simple as “Be generous,” but those two words might be their best summary. We heard the opening of this discourse on Maundy Thursday as we read from John 13: the story of the last supper, Jesus modeling servanthood by washing his disciples’ feet, and the giving of the commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us. The last couple weeks we heard from chapter 14: Jesus’ promises to us that he prepares a place in God’s abiding for each of us, and that in the meantime he sends us an Advocate to help us live as his disciples.
This morning we hear from the last of the last words, chapter 17, the closing of Jesus’ final discourse. And these last of the last words are a prayer. Jesus raises his eyes to heaven and begins to pray. But notice the one word out of these last words that Jesus uses the most. If you take a look at the version in your bulletins this morning and count how many times the word give, gave, or given occurs, you’ll find that it’s eleven times in eleven verses. Would you say that that’s a theme?! And what would that theme be? In two words, I would say, “Be generous.” Generosity is a life of giving. Here, God the Father gives Jesus authority and a people to share it with. The Father gives Jesus eternal life and a Word, which Jesus turns around and gives to us. The life of the Trinity is a life of self-giving which overflows in abundance to us and to the Creation. We are the fruits of God’s generosity, a graciousness of love and life that spills outward from the Trinity and is given to us. We, then, are also called to live such lives. We are to love one another as Jesus loves us. How does Jesus love us? By generously giving his life for us. So what are we called to do? Be generous. We, too, are called to live lives of freely giving to one another.
So what happened? There’s two amazing clues in this text. The first comes at the very end. Jesus prays that his followers may be one as he and the Father in the Spirit are one. Do you see? Oneness, harmony, is the result of being generous. The life of self-giving in the Trinity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a oneness despite the fact that there’s three. That’s the mystery of the Trinity, that Three are One, but it’s a mystery tied together by a loving generosity.
Now, this is the truly amazing thing: Jesus prays that we can be One in the same way as the Trinity! When we find ourselves following Jesus’ commandment to love one another with the same self-giving generosity as he loved us, then we will find ourselves as one, too. We will find ourselves living together in a peace heretofore unknown in this world.
How have we done? Not so good, I’m afraid. How do we know? Because we aren’t one yet. As the church of Christ, we haven’t even been able to live as one. We are fractured and splintered into many pieces. And that doesn’t even begin to address all the other ways in which the people of this earth remain splintered, Christians among them. We are divided along racial lines, ethnic lines, economic lines, national lines, religious lines — you name them. We are not one as Jesus and the Father are one. We see a splintered world where instead of being one, we do things like this past week: observe on Thursday this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, the remembrance of six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. We’re still trying to get our heads and hearts around that one.
And while we do so, we’ve begun to realize that the history of genocide goes back much further than 1940’s Germany. In fact, we’ve begun to look more closely at our own history in this country of slaughtering its native peoples. Christopher Columbus came to this country with the good intentions of bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ. But when natives were slow to latch on, he used that as an excuse for beginning the slaughter of what he assumed to be pagans. Even the conservative estimates add up to well over six million. Columbus’ Good News in Jesus Christ, which is supposed to be the Good News of becoming one new humanity in the loving self-giving of following his ways, became the Bad News of Christians following the ways of Satan, the ways of murder. The native peoples of this land did end up being the one to follow Jesus: as victims of unjust murder. Did you know that the Hebrew word translated as Holocaust is the same word they used for ritual blood sacrifice? In the self-giving love of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are forgiven such that we can begin to realize the true horror of our human ways: namely, that we have turned the self-giving love of God, the kind of love we see in the cross, and we have turned it into its exact opposite, the giving of someone else into death.
Which makes verse 5 of our Gospel Lesson even more amazing: “So now, Father,” Jesus prays, “glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” Glory? Jesus is about to give himself over to our ways of Holocaust, and that’s glory? Yes! Because the same self-giving love of the cross is that same power of life that gave this world life in the first place. So that even though we have turned God’s self-giving love into its opposite, the giving of others in order to save ourselves, God’s power of life cannot be defeated. Our terrible power of Holocaust through the cross of Jesus becomes the glory of God revealing the unvanquishable power of God’s life on Easter. We are forgiven, so that we may finally learn to follow Jesus into the way of self-giving.
And so the rhythm of creation and redemption continues in this meal we share. We probably come again here this morning in need of forgiveness for moments of falling out of that call to self-giving love. Yet Jesus is here once again as the one who gave himself over to our Holocaust so that he might forgive us and help restore us to the ways of creation, the ways of self-giving love. “This is my body given for you,” he says, so that we might leave here as his body in this world to give ourselves away this week. And we’ll return again next week to be forgiven once again and to be filled up with that endless power of life, that eternal life, to give ourselves away again. We are filled up and sent out with these power words: Be Generous! Amen
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, May 4, 2008