March 30th, 2014

A Pulpit Exchange with Maiden Chapel Baptist Church – Maiden, NC

John 17:20-26

March 30, 2014

A black and white funeral

Is there anyone at Maiden Chapel Baptist Church today who is rejoicing because the Lord Jesus Christ knows your name?

Is there a soul in this room who’s glad trouble don’t last alway?

Is there somebody here who knows when death comes creepin’ in your room it will be Jesus callin’ your name?

Can I hear from someone who’s glad you got your religion in time?

We are here together today, brothers and sisters in Christ, because of someone who got her religion in time.  Her name was Lynn Price, and she died last year – July 16, 2013, at the age of 44 – far too young.  She had battled cancer for about three years.  Lynn never did like her cancer, but because she knew Jesus she came to peace: “Not my will, but yours be done.”  Lynn is directly responsible for the connection between Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory and Maiden Chapel Baptist Church.  Her friend Hope invited her here, and a group of friends called Xquisite would often worship here together – or sometimes at Corinth.  Some of those friends are here, are so are Lynn’s parents, Raymond and Joyce, her sister, Tammy, and Tammy’s children Grace and Caleb.

I met Pastor Vincent Ross at Lynn’s funeral service.  Lynn told me a couple of weeks before she died that she didn’t want a white funeral.  She didn’t want a black funeral.  She wanted a black and white funeral.  Pastor Ross and I shared the leadership of the service.  It was the first time I had met Pastor Ross, but we quickly sensed a bond in Christ.  What a man of God you have as your shepherd – Bible-based, worship-centered, and purpose-driven! From the first time I met him, I knew we shared a kindred spirit.  One of the great blessings of Lynn’s death is meeting Vincent Ross.

This is my first visit to Maiden Chapel Baptist Church and all God is doing here.  Now I know why Lynn loved you as much as Corinth.  (She may have loved you more!)

Pastor Ross told me he has been preaching at Maiden Chapel on God’s power and how we can understand and use the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives.  That reminds me of the song our sister Lynn Price asked us to play in her service – Kirk Franklin’s “I Smile.” Even in her darkest days, Lynn wanted everybody to know the power of the hope that only God can give.  The song starts out rather drearily –

Today’s a new day, and there is no sunshine.
Nothing but clouds, and it’s dark in my heart
and it feels like a cold night.

Do you have days like that?  But quickly the song changes its tone.

I almost gave up, but a power that I can’t explain,
fell from heaven like a shower.

Does anybody at Maiden Chapel Baptist Church know what this song is talking about?  The Holy Spirit’s power that no one can explain…

…turns dark days into sunshine,

… turns clouds into blue skies,

… turns cold nights into the warmth of God’s sunlight, and

… turns the despair of devilish defeat into promises of power through prayer?

I smile today, but not because of anything I have done or can do.  It’s because Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, died for me and rose again.  He knows me, he loves me, I am his child, and he will never, ever let me go.  Turn to your neighbor and give them a big Jesus smile!  Say, “Neighbor, trouble don’t last alway.  Neighbor, Jesus knows your name.  Neighbor, Jesus is praying for you.”  The Apostle Paul asks in Romans 8, “Who will condemn us?  Christ Jesus died and was raised to life. He is sitting at the right hand of God interceding for us.  Who can separate us from his love?”

Thank you

Most of us already know that Jesus is praying for us right now.  But few Christians are aware that when he was on the earth, Jesus had us in his prayers.  He was thinking about you and praying for you.  He was praying for Corinth Reformed Church and for Maiden Chapel Baptist Church.  We know that from John 17:20-26 where we learn “What Matters Most to Jesus.”

As we turn there, I do want to pause and say “Thank you.”  Thank you to Pastor Ross and Lady Ross for their kind invitation and for ministering today at Corinth.  Thank you to Corinth’s Chancel Choir and Dr. Peter Corneliussen for their ministry of music here today.  Thank you to my colleague, Rev. Lori Blocker, who is here with the choir.  And most of all, thank you to the First Lady of Corinth, my wife of almost 36 years, Linda Thompson.  She’s not only my partner in life, but she directs the adult ministries program at Corinth.  Like your pastor, she is Bible-based and purpose-driven.  What a blessing she is in every way!

Thank you to Pastor Ford and the deacons for making us feel so at home today.  I love that it’s Senior Sunday.  I fit right in.  When Pastor Ross and I discussed a date for this pulpit exchange and I suggested March 30, I believe he might have said something like, “You would be the right man for that Sunday because our older people are leading the service.”

I used to like hanging around seniors because they were humble and wise as they shared their experiences of life.  Now I like hanging around older people because I can keep up.  I like hanging around older people because I am one.  I saw a friend a couple of weeks ago whom I hadn’t seen for a few years and he said, “You look so distinguished.”  I asked him what he meant and he said something about my gray hair.  I decided “distinguished” is just a synonym for “old.”

For senior Sunday, I would like to share a story with you my mother sent me not long ago.  A man went to his doctor and asked, “How do you decide when I am ready for a nursing home?”

“Well,” said the doctor, “Let me take you here in the bathroom where we have a simple test.  If you answer correctly, you are not ready for the nursing home.  See this bathtub here that is full of water?  I’m going to give you a teaspoon, a tea cup, and a bucket and let you choose the most efficient way to empty this bathtub.”

The patient answered, “The bucket is larger than the spoon or the cup, so the most efficient way to empty the bathtub is to use the bucket.”

“No,” said the doctor, pulling out his chart.  “The most efficient way to empty the bathtub is to pull the plug.  Would you like a bed next to the window?”

Those jokes aren’t as funny as they used to be.  We just laid my father to rest last November, and I realize the next generation is me!  I’m over the hill and picking up speed on the way down.  Soon one mornin’ death come creepin’ in my room.  I am so glad the Great Somebody sitting at the right hand of the Father knows my name.

Until he calls my name, the source of all my power is Jesus!  And seniors know better than anyone that trouble don’t last always.  Seniors who have loved Jesus all their lives know he will never leave you or forsake you.  Seniors have the experience and wisdom to know that we find our power through prayer.  In prayer we are holy, humble, and hungry.  In prayer we let go and let God.  In prayer we learn to trust.

What I love about John 17 is that I can pull back the curtain of Jesus’ prayer closet and listen in. I’m on holy ground. I learn how to pray by listening to Jesus.

In John 17, we have a record of Jesus’ final prayer in front of his disciples.  He will pray again, later that night, but it will be a lonely prayer in the Garden: “Father, if it is your will, let this cup of suffering pass from me.”  He will pray again on the cross, several times:  “Father, forgive them.”  “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

But this is a prayer that his eleven disciples all hear him pray in the Upper Room, the same room where he has washed their feet, where he has said to them, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” where he promised not to leave them without comfort but to send the Holy Spirit, where he said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world!”  At the end of the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus lifts his head toward heaven and he prays.  Oh, how he prays!

We know what matters most to Jesus as he prays in that Upper Room.  We find out when we read this prayer that what matters most to Jesus is you and me.  He begins the prayer praying for himself in verses 1-5.  Then he prays for his disciples in verses 6-19.  But he ends this final prayer before his disciples by saying he is not only praying for those men in that room.  He says, “I pray also for all who will ever believe in me” (20). Two thousand years ago, before Jesus ever left this earth, he prayed for Maiden Chapel Baptist Church and Corinth Reformed Church.  He prayed for you and me.

Look up and say, “Thank you, Jesus…for praying for me.”

So what does he pray when he prays for “all who will ever believe in me”?  That matters, doesn’t it?  Don’t you think our lives would be filled with God’s power if we prayed like Jesus prays, if what was on his heart is on our hearts?

I see three prayers in John 17:20-26 that show us what matters most to Jesus.

That the Father may be glorified

What matters most to Jesus is that the Father is glorified.   In verse 24, Jesus prays,

“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.

This entire prayer in John 17 is consumed with the glory of God.  Jesus begins in verse 1, “Father, the hour has come.  Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”  In verse 5 he adds, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”  There’s no competition here between Jesus and the Father.  When we glorify the Father we glorify the Son.  When we glorify the Son we glorify the Father.  What matters most to Jesus is that the Father may be glorified.

Jesus is the only person in all of history who, as he came closer to death, knew from personal experience what lay on the other side.  Our sister Lynn Price had some moments of struggle as she came to the end.  My own father, who had served the Lord all his life as a missionary, had some anxious moments in his soul as he inched toward death.  I think it’s natural even for believers to have some anxiety about the other side of the veil because we’ve never been there.

But Jesus had come from the Father and was returning to the Father.  He had seen the glories of heaven – cherubim and seraphim calling out to one another around the rainbow-encircled Throne, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.  The whole earth is full of his glory.”  Jesus had seen the flashes of lightning and had heard the peals of thunder.  Jesus knew firsthand the glory of God that human eyes have never beheld.

God graciously gives us glimpses of his glory on earth. The Bible speaks of the glory of God in every light that shines, in temples built by human hands, in nature’s beauty, in answered prayer, in the song the angels sing at the birth of Jesus, in the Gospel that frees us from the power of sin and death.

When I see the sun rise over the vast blue ocean, I see the glory of God.  When I stare into the sky on a dark summer night and see so many stars that it looks like a milky way, I see the glory of God. When snow covers the winter ground with a pure blanket, I see the glory of God.   When daffodils burst through winter’s hardened soil, I see the glory of God.  When I cradle a newborn baby in my arms, I see the glory of God.  When I hold the face of my wife or my child in my hands and look into their eyes, I see the glory of God.  When choirs sing the praises of God, I see the glory of God.  When sinners repent and are born again, I see the glory of God.  We are witness of God’s glory all around us, even in this life.

But no one – no human except Jesus – has ever seen the fullness of God’s glory before birth.  And it wasn’t just what he saw.  Jesus knew the glory of God because he knew God.  There is a love between the heavenly Father and his One and only Son that exists through all eternity.  In verse 21, Jesus says to his Father, “You are in me and I am in you.”  In verse 25, Jesus prays, “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you.”

I asked my men’s Bible study the other day what words stand out in this passage because they are repeated.  One of the guys – Jim Samson, who’s here today – noted that the word “in” appears 11 times in John 17.  But the personal pronouns occur 55 times.  I..you..we…they…us…them.  For Jesus the glory of heaven is not gold and mansions and angels.  The glory of heaven for Jesus, what he misses the most and what he’s returning to, is “I in you and you in me.”  Perfect knowledge, perfect love, perfect intimacy in the Holy Trinity – this is the glory of God Jesus shared with his Father before the world began.

Jesus knows that there is a glory that belongs only to the unseen world beyond, the life he shared with the Father throughout eternity past and the life we will share with him and with the Father in heaven forever.  When he prayed for you in that Upper Room, he prayed that you would see and share his glory.  He prayed that you would live your life for that glory, not for glory here on earth.  Glory on earth is fleeting at best.  Glory on earth is mixed with trouble.

But trouble don’t last alway!  There’s a glory that’s coming, and you will share it as a believer in Jesus Christ.  He can’t wait until he calls your name and he can open up the pearly gates and let you walk down the streets of gold.  But that will not be your greatest joy.  When he says, “Come on in, little brother, enter, my dear sister,” you will experience the glory of being in the Father and the Father in you.  You will be home at last!”

In that day when he calls our name and we see with our eyes the glory of God, when we hear those heavenly choirs sing, we’ll wonder why we ever complained, why we worried, why we ever counted our troubles instead of our blessings.  The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

So here is Jesus, on the night before he dies.  When he’s praying for you, Jesus has his mind on the glory of God.  But it’s not just the glory to come in heaven, Jesus knows there is glory on earth.  There are ways that we can increase God’s visible glory all around us.  We can have a part in letting the world see his glory.

How?  That’s in a second petition Jesus includes in his prayer.

That the world may believe

There is a second prayer in this passage that shows us what matters most to Jesus.

“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 I 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.” (25-26)

 What matters to Jesus is that the world will know how much they are loved, that the world will believe in him.  Jesus knows that this is the only way for the world to share the glory of God.  He has perfect intimacy with the Father, but he doesn’t want to keep that just for himself.  He won’t hide his light under a bushel.  He won’t say, “I got my religion in time – the rest of you can go to hell.”  No, he wants the world to believe, to share his glory.

We see only a little of his glory here on earth.  If we want to see all of his glory, it will only be when death comes knocking at our door, when we hear him calling on our name.  That’s when we will see Jesus.  John says we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.  Dear Sister Joyce Price, your precious Lynn is right now enjoying the glory of God because she put her faith in Jesus.  She’s up there hanging out with my Dad watching and smiling.

What matters most to Jesus is that the world may believe, that people all across this planet would know God loves them, would know God sent Jesus to save them, would come home with him to share the glory of God.

I told you that my own Father died last November.  He fell at home in August and broke his hip, and never bounced back.  He died just before Thanksgiving at age 88.  Pastor Ross shared with me yesterday that his own father is beginning that final journey.  My heart goes out to him.  But there are worse things than having a Dad in heaven looking down with joy and pride in his preacher son.

Dad was a remarkable man.  He was born in India to missionary parents, born in India on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.  Dad longed to return there following his service in the Navy in World War II and his college education.  Right after the war, India split into two countries, and my parents went to the new country of Pakistan.  This is where I grew up until I was eleven and we returned to the U.S.

Just a week or so after Dad died last November, I visited him at the nursing home.  We took his wheelchair out to a gazebo and sat by the pond.  I am not sure he knew how close he was to the end of his life, but as his “preacher son” I knew I would have a significant part in his funeral service.  I asked Dad how he wanted to be remembered.  He said one word: “missions.”  About a year earlier, long before he broke his hip, I had asked him to tell me stories about his early life in India.  Tears filled his eyes and he said, “Every time I think about being born on Gandhi’s birthday, I remember how many have yet to hear the Gospel.”

Friends, I think my Dad was reflecting Jesus’ heart in John 17.  Jesus knows better than anyone else how many people have yet to hear.  Jesus knows, two thousand years ago, how the world population will grow to 7 billion people by the year 2014, and he wants every one of them to hear the Gospel, to have a chance to share his glory.

Jesus has his heart on that atheist in China who’s never heard the name of Jesus.  He loves that little orphan boy in Kenya who lies in a gutter, stricken with HIV, because nobody cares.  He yearns to show his grace to that fist-pumping, angry Muslim teenager who thinks he will go straight to heaven by blowing himself up on a crowded street.  His heart grieves for the relatives of that Malaysian airliner, especially for those who have no hope of meeting again in eternity.  He cares for your neighbor who has not heard the life-changing message of his love.  He looks with compassion on that angry teenager in Hickory, that sincere doubter in Newton, that desperate mother in Maiden, that absent father in Conover, that shamed politician in Charlotte, that drug addict in Lincolnton.  When he sees their sins, he’s not angry – all of God’s wrath was poured out on the cross.  His heart is full of compassion and love.  He wants to forgive, to embrace, to bring them home.

He wants them to share the glory of God.  He wants them to know that God loved the world so much he sent his only Son.  He weeps like my Dad wept when he remembers how many have yet to hear the Gospel.  What matters most to Jesus is that the world will believe in him.  But how will they believe?

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 includes one more petition that shows us what really matters to him, and it is the surprising message of John 17.

That the church may be one

Let’s read again what Jesus prays.  Remember, his ultimate goal is that the Father will be glorified and that we will share God’s glory.  That will happen if the world believes in Jesus. So the question is, what will cause the world to believe?

I skipped past verses 20-23 in my first two points of the sermon, but I want to go back there now to emphasize how the world will believe –

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.

Every church knows Jesus wants the world to believe.  But most of us have forgotten what Jesus tells us is our most effective strategy for the world to believe.  They will believe, he says, when we are one.  When the children of the Father live in complete unity, the world will find our message believable.  Earlier that night, Jesus had said to his disciples, “All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35).

For two thousand years, the church has been trying to find ways to reach the world.  We’ve written tracts, sent out missionaries, fed the poor, held revivals, taught classes in evangelism, preached sermons, published books, broadcast on radio and television, marched for causes, started new denominations, created web sites, founded orphanages and hospitals, built great buildings, met in homes, studied the Bible, held prayer meetings, formulated our doctrine, debated the heretics, stood up for morality, condemned sinners, preached in the streets, changed our music, organized committees – what haven’t we tried to get the world to believe in our Jesus?

I’m not arguing against any of that or saying we shouldn’t have done it.  All I’m saying is that we need to give greater attention to what Jesus said:  “They will know you are my disciples if you love one another,” and to what Jesus prayed in the urgency of those final hours before the cross: “Father, bring them to complete unity so that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them.”

Why is that unity important?  Because when we are joined together in complete unity, we let the world see the glory of God.  Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.  We are one.  And when we are in you and you are in us, when there is harmony, that’s something the world can’t duplicate.”  A dog-eat-dog, I’m-in-it-for-me, I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong world doesn’t understand a community where there is no Jew or Gentile, no male or female, no slave or free, no black or white – just people who love each other.

One of my favorite sentences on your church web site is this one:  “In April 2008, the Maiden Rosenwald Community Development Corporation Board of Directors formed to begin the work of developing a community based organization whose goal is to educate and empower the community through the power of unity.”

What power unity has!  Yesterday when I was typing this particular part of my sermon, I received an e-mail from one of the more well-known unbelievers in our community. He and I have had both private and public conversations about homosexuality.  I do remember that he told me one time that one of the reasons he finds the Christian message so hard to believe is that here in the Bible belt there are churches on every corner, a witness to the fact that we can’t even get along with each other.  So why should anyone else believe what we say?  We must learn to live as one.

What does that unity look like?  I’m not sure I know all what it means.  I don’t think it means that we all disband our denominations and throw away our labels and become one great big universal church.  That’s been tried as well, and it didn’t work.  Unity is not about labels or organizations or mergers.  Unity is about relationship – I and you and us and them – not competing but cooperating, not as fighters but as friends, not warring but worshiping.

We are working on the power of unity in Hickory through a new effort that will launch this Easter called “Hickory Church Connection.”  It is an effort to connect all the churches in Hickory through a web site that displays the visible unity of the body of Christ.  We will attempt to list all the churches in Hickory – including this church because of your Mountain View location  We will create and publicize events that bring Christians together for prayer, for worship, for service, for evangelism.

I don’t know if we need more black and white churches or not.  I do know we need more black-and-white souls.  I do know we need more Baptist-and-Reformed worship services.  I do know we need more conservative-and-liberal conversations.  I do know we need more rich-and-poor hands joined together in service.  I do know we need more young-and-old voices raised together in witness to the glory of God.

Let the Republicans and Democrats in Raleigh and Washington show the world how to fight and clamor and criticize.  But in the church of Jesus Christ, let us show the world the glory of God as listen to each other and care for one another and shatter the stereotypes and the walls and the agendas that have kept us apart.

The problem is not just labels and denominations and segregated worship services – although that’s part of the problem.  It’s also what happens within our churches – among Christians.  The problem erupts when members of the same congregation exhibit criticism and pride and greed and bitterness and gossip and selfishness and judgmentalism and competition and divorce and cliques and church hopping.  When we distance ourselves from each other and divide the body of Christ, we show the world that we don’t know any better than they do how to lay aside the self and love as we have been loved.  We think we can take Jesus’ body part and put a toe over there and finger over here and an eye over there and somehow get Jesus’ work done better.

We have to find more ways to work together, worship together, serve together, be together.  When we come to complete unity, the world see its best evidence that we belong to Christ, will have reason to believe that Jesus still changes lives.  Lynn Price taught that to me.  Lynn Price modeled that for me.

What matters most to Jesus is what he prays about as he leaves that Upper Room – that the church may be one, so that the world may believe, so that the Father will be glorified.  Why would anything ever matter more to us than what matters most to Jesus?

Soon one more morning death will come creeping in my room.  Jesus will be calling my name.  The most important thing on that day is to know that I stand before him only by grace through the blood of Christ.  The second most important thing at that moment is that he can say to me, “Well done.  What mattered to you in life is what matters most to me.”

Turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor, don’t ever let anything matter more than what matters most to Jesus.”  Amen.

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