Pr. Jaynan Clark
14 May 2012
In a few days there will be multitude of pastors preaching on the appointed John 17 text for Sunday. Some have called it Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. They need to call it that for obvious reasons as “high” and “priestly” are of great importance in their faith journeys. So be it. This text, this prayer, has seen more misuse and abuse than most in the last 20 years. It was this text that was used and abused as a weapon against those of us who opposed the ecumenical agreements of the 90’s among Lutherans and other mainline denominations. Again hurled at us as vote after vote affirmed the sinner and denied the Savior; aligned followers with the world and abandoned the Word. Unity and peace were the calling card but unity trumping truth, the truth of the Word, was the result.
During and since those days there have been those involved in “reform” but not all engaged in “reform” were “reforming” as much as “repositioning.” One can observe and suspect over time what is behind words and mantras and agendas but it is the passage of time and the erecting of institutions and the choosing of roads to travel that reveals plenty. For some of us, the misuse of and even abuse of this prayer of Jesus was a battle line because of the confusion of the revealed and earthly organized institution with the hidden church of God. Knowing that even the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the true church founded on the confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” not upon Peter who uttered it---then refuted it, was comforting. However, the frustration of equating the oneness of the Father and the Son with institutional unity, consensus, majority votes and manufactured, mandated peace still makes me sick.
And so it is, we again have this text before us and it will be used to force many to conform to that which is of the world, to tolerate the intolerable and accept the unacceptable all for the sake of getting along at all costs—as if that is obedience to Christ Himself. The reality is that a handful or a bit more of religious leaders who play the same role as those in Jesus’ time still cannot hear the “woe to you” directed at their “repositioning” and “holiness.” In order to grow the numbers and the members and keep the money flowing they will appeal to being accommodating and even “nice.” They will manipulate and guilt the hearers with admonitions calling for unity and peace. Those who consider disagreeing will be pulled aside to be rebuked and silenced or passively attacked and dismissed. All for the sake of “church” and visible unity and peace that is somehow to be revealed when everybody gets in step and goes along to get along under the present leadership. Change the acronym in front of the gathering, adapt the constitutions, and most importantly put yourself in charge but the game doesn’t change and neither do the tactics or the end results. We organize clubs and institutions that serve themselves and “church” at the expense of their Savior, the Word of God and His true, hidden church.
As it is now, so it has been throughout history one tower building gathering at a time. First build it up then occupy the places of power and authority and silence the opposition. Luther put it all this way:
“For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth." (2 Corinthians 13:8). This is so great a good that no human heart can grasp it (therefore it necessitates such a great and hard fight). It must not be treated lightly, as the world maintains and many people who do not understand, saying we should not fight so hard about an article and thus trample on Christian love; rather, although we err on one small point, if we agree on everything else, we should give in and overlook the difference in order to preserve brotherly and Christian unity and fellowship.
No, my dear man, do not recommend to me peace and unity when thereby God’s Word is lost, for then eternal life and everything else would be lost. In this matter there can be no yielding or giving way, no, not for love of you or any other person, but everything must yield to the Word, whether it be friend or foe. The Word was given unto us for eternal life and not to further outward peace and unity. The Word and doctrine will create Christian unity or fellowship. Where they reign all else will follow. Where they are not no concord will ever abide. Therefore do not talk to me about love and friendship, if that means breaking with the Word, or the faith, for the Gospel does not say love brings eternal life, God’s grace and all heavenly treasures, but the Word.“ Sermons from the year 1531 W.A. 34. II. 387
As it was, it is and ever shall be... sinners will be sinners living for themselves and building their empires, placing themselves in positions of power, usurping authority and then calling it the church and service---even discipleship. Satan will be Satan whispering in our ears about our importance, progress, success and faithfulness when we focus on ourselves as independent adults not dependent children of God---“eyes for me and ears for evil.” God will be God declaring “I am who I am” and denying us our own godhead. And Jesus will be Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the One Lord of His church, hidden and revealed. Unable to be dismissed or removed by any vote.
Others can play church all they want across the denominational lines, continuing to be all about organizations, institutions and religion while ignoring the simple calling to deliver Jesus to one lost sinner at a time. Let it not be so among us. Let us continue gathering as the simple, horizontal, for good order “First Century Church for the Twenty First Century and beyond” that we are in LCMC and dismiss all talk of deficiency regarding our lack of historic, necessary hierarchies and just continue honoring Jesus’ prayer knowing that we don’t understand what peace is or what unity is except that it is a gift given to us beyond ourselves. Jesus’ peace and unity are purely a gift given like our confession of faith; the more we try to make it or organize it or build or legislate it the more it evades us and we are left restless and divided.
How can we make for the things of peace and unite all the wills of your people here on earth in the name of church? We can’t. We aren’t called to do so. We don’t understand the peace of Jesus Christ if we equate it with the absence of conflict---we are the world that does not understand. We don’t recognize the unity of the Father and the Son if we look for it to be realized in our structures and meetings and encounters. Uniformity is not unity. And our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Jesus’ alone---who is peace and unity as much as He is truth.
Luther had it right then. May God now continue to raise up the road kill from the many years of religious bickering and institutional battles and let His will, His Way, His Word be enough, finally---now and forever.
Let us pray together: Lord save us from ourselves for yourself. For you are the eternally Crucified One, put to death at the hands of not just the pagans and the dictators but primarily by the religious leaders and so called believers who love their roles, their rites and their religion more than they do you. You are our scarred and contrary Savior who won’t capitulate, won’t accommodate, won’t conform to any molds and remains ever so shameful in your ways of salvation. Sharp as a two edged sword. Dividing sinew, bone and marrow. Cut us apart, divide us up, kill us and our sinner selves and raise us up united in you alone and at peace. In your name we pray. Amen.