John 17:6-9, 1 John 5:9-13
On school holidays back in the day, the T.V. used to play Abbott and Costello movies. Abbott was the straight man and Costello
the funny one. They were great and while most episodes are only a vague memory these days, one I remember one clearly (reasonably).
They are both on foot in a sand dune swept desert. They are worn and thirsty and on their last legs and in the sweltering heat they keep seeing these mirages of water in the distance that they trek towards but never arrive at and so are ready to pack it in. But then Abbott sees one more in the distance and follows it and low and behold it is an oasis like you see in the Middle East. Eventually Costello catches up and sees Abbott on his back in the water, refreshed and gargling out water like a fountain surrounded by palm trees in a picture straight from like in a children’s pictorial bible. Abbott is in paradise found and loving it but when Costello arrives he says stop hurting yourself you’re only imagining it and so while Abbott splashes around, Costello just sits alongside on a rock waiting for his friend to come to his senses.
It’s very funny and I assume not meant as a comment on society, yet in pondering this week’s message it did make me reflect of the Christian life. Still looking for paradise or having found it, still confused and trying to work it all. Sought of like being told how to ride a bike but having no idea what a bike actually looks like and sometimes while living in the kingdom of God it does feel like we’re stuck in the desert thirsty and beaten.
A feeling not just reserved for us of when we read of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil for forty days. Not a feeling, but a reality that Jesus suffered and the blessed reality for us that He wasn’t beaten. Sustained by prayer and the Word of His Father Jesus persevered and won a battle we could not and in today’s Gospel we see Him again drawing strength from the Father through prayer and Word, only this time His prayer is for us as we hear Him praying for the disciples. The twelve closet and most beloved friends of Jesus that He prays to the Father for. His “prayer that God the Father not take them out of the world but that he protect them from the evil one.” (As)” For they are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (So) sanctify them by the truth; your Word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
A few years ago I was asked to visit a lady on her death bed. She had been severely ill and bed bound for a significant time and while hard to understand, I understood. She told me that as an early teenager that she had died on the operating table and visited heaven. Then surrounded by weeping family and soon to be shocked family and most certainly doctor, awoke back in earth. This side of heaven I cannot make sense of those things and she must have known of what people’s reactions would have been because apart from those present around that operating table and her later born son, she mentioned that I was the only one she had told. I don’t understand such stuff but I did see the outcome of hers as here on her deathbed in pain, not only was she prepared to leave this earth, she anticipated with great joy to feel and reside in that place that she experienced all those years ago and so at her request, we prayed that the Lord’s will be that she depart this world and so it was, and at her funeral and hearing in the eulogy of some of the hard times she experienced yet with a seemingly joyous and free spirited heart, it did seem that those desert moments seen through of what she knew were not dry and barren but covered in carpets of wild flowers brought to life from the winter rains.
Most of us won’t have an experience like that lady but undoubtedly to an extent we will have our desert moments like our Lord and saviour.
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]”
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Our desert or wilderness moments may not be as clear or understandable as that placed before Jesus, yet they will be there cloaked in some form or another and as with Jesus, the answer to our accuser and ourselves cannot be of what may seem but of the truth as told to us in the Holy Word of God.
During the week I watched a movie about General Patton. The American general feared by the Germans in world war 11 and the General who was instrumental in regaining Europe and the General who in the movie was described by his enemy as “a man who prays on his knees but stands swearing like a trouper.”
Unfortunately that description is sometimes a little close to home but it does make a statement that we can learn from amidst our own warfare of will. A statement that wether in seeming defeat or at a loss to situation or thought, we too pray on our knees not to rise feebly, but rise to standing assured not in ourselves but in the Word of God. To still harbour some fears but override them in not logically putting two and two together, but by hearing the Word of God as seen in His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ and placed into our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit.
Martin Luther after once doubting the authenticity and right of the book of revelations in the New Testament would later through hardship and persecution come to say that in those moments it had become like an old friend that travelled with him, assuring and comforting him of the blessed heavenly oasis that awaits.
We too at the worst of it may know of that feeling, and if not, at the very least it will be our sure Hope of when we face our earthly death.
Scripture tells us “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven. A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.”
Our time is now and after we kneel in prayer we arise in the knowledge of the Word of God that “our, your Sins are forgiven”, and forgiven we hear in the background the promise fulfilled in the book of Revelations of where together as one, we alongside all those of the past, present and future stand together before the throne of God rejoicing with all the heavenly angels and beings of what has come to be.
Our time is now and in the season we reside, in the Word of God we rise to our feet and see not our wilderness of loss, doubt and despair. But rise to our feet and see our world the same yet transformed and see amongst the dry creek beds and sparse deserts His Word come to life. See His Word come to life in our lives and bring water to the creeks and flowers to the desert.
In the Word of God in this world do we rise, and though those of the world may not see our creeks flow or our landscapes bloom, we can for we know that though we have been left in this world, Christ the Son of God prays to His Father on our behalf asking that we be made Holy and sanctified in the truth. A request fulfilled in you as you be in the world, but not of it. Fulfilled in us who though poor in spirit and weak in strength, see the Holiness of Christ and trust in His Words for ourselves. Fulfilled in us who though wether bowed down be it in earthly shame or pride, rise up restored in His forgiveness. And fulfilled in us who see as those of the world, yet understand as those of Christ that yes, though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death , hurt and suffering, we need not fear nor reside in earthly doubt or anxiety, but see Him with us and in prayer alongside the author of Psalm 119 ask for His steadfast love come to you and His salvation according to His promise.
To hear the words of 1St John for yourselves “that you may know that whoever believes in the name of the Son of God has eternal life.”
And to rise up with the Psalmist and know, that according to thy Word do you have the answer to any that reproach you, for in the Word do you trust. Amen.