May 15, 2022/John 17:6-19
Have you noticed the new trend on Facebook? People are posting pictures – lots and lots of pictures. But these aren’t the kinds of pictures we see during the rest of the year. No, these pictures are unique to this season of the year, this late-May-to-early-June period of time during which thousands of people mark the end of what has been for many of them an all-consuming, full-time occupation for some period of years. These pictures show young people and older people, women and men, wearing long robes in various colors, some also wearing mortarboards, all wearing smiles – no, make that grins – huge grins that reflect their utter joy at reaching this milestone: graduation!
High school, technical school, college, graduate studies, seminary – whatever the level of achievement, the joy is the same. Unbridled joy. Overwhelming joy. And maybe relief, relief that all of the reading, all of the studying, all of the paper writing, is now – successfully! – behind them. I can relate!
But after the celebration, after the parties and dinners and presents and cards, there comes the inevitable question, the question that everyone asks when they talk to a graduate. “What’s next?”
But graduates aren’t the only people asking, what’s next. Many of us, with that last graduation a fading memory and years flying by at warp speed, also wonder, what’s next? What am I supposed to be doing now, in this place, in this time?
Jesus’ disciples probably were wondering the same thing. What’s next? They had followed him as he roamed the region around Galilee and Judea. They had witnessed his miracles and his healings. They heard him say that he would soon be leaving them. What’s next, Jesus? What do we do next?
In our passage from the Gospel of John this morning, we “listen in” as Jesus prays to God his father. Jesus prays for his disciples, and in this prayer he reveals his intention for these disciples. Jesus emphasizes that the disciples are called, set apart, and sent into the world.
Jesus called these disciples personally – he walked among them, inviting them to join him on an adventure that they had no way of understanding in advance. “You did not choose me but I chose you,” Jesus tells them. Jesus chose them. Jesus chose us. We acknowledge God’s claim on our lives with the waters of baptism, and when we baptize children, we witness to the truth that God’s love claims us even before we are able to respond in faith. When your pastor took you in his arms or stood with you and placed the water of baptism on you, he proclaimed you to be a child of God. You have been called as a child of God.
Sometimes we don’t feel very much like children of God, though. The world rushes at us, our to-do lists grow ever longer, and God gets placed on a high shelf, only to be taken down and dusted off on Sundays – or maybe just at Christmas and Easter. Jesus knew the world would be a tough place for the disciples – and for us, so hard, in fact, that he told the disciples that the world would hate them. Hate them because they followed Jesus, hate them because they believed in Jesus, hate them because they had been called. So Jesus asks God to protect them and set them apart.
Jesus prays for God to take care of the disciples in the same way that God has cared for him. Part of that care includes being set apart from the world – being in the world but not of the world. There is no escaping the world in which we live, after all. There is no escaping the world’s pettiness, its wickedness, its sorrow. But this is the same world, after all, to which God sent his Son, the same world that God loved enough to save. So Jesus prays for God to set the disciples apart from the world, to make them holy, so that they will be equipped to carry out their mission in his name. When we are set apart, we are strengthened through God’s holiness in order to work for the completion of God’s kingdom on earth.
And that brings us to Jesus’ final point. Just as God sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends his disciples – sends us – into the world. Jesus reminds us that the pattern of his own life was not escape from the world, but engagement with the world, with all of its distorted powers and pressures. Jesus did not run from the sorrows of this world – he walked alongside the mournful and wept with them. Jesus did not hide from the sick and neglected of this world – he comforted and healed them. Jesus did not ignore the people on the margins of society – he sat at table with them and listened to them. And he calls his disciples to do the same.
It isn’t easy, being sent into this world. This world can be a lonely place. Serving God can isolate us from the popular, exclude us from the powerful, remove us from the contemporary.
Being sent into this world places us in a line of disciples that stretches back to Abram. Called by God to go, called to leave everything he had ever known or loved, Abram simply … went. Abram went, knowing that he went with the blessing of the God of all ages. Abram went, knowing that what God demanded, God also would fulfill. Abram … went.
You’re ready, whether you realize it or not. You’re ready – called and claimed as a child of God. You’re ready, no matter how old or young you are; God uses people of all ages. A little boy provided bread and fish for five thousand. A young woman anointed Jesus with costly perfume. At age fifty-two, I went to seminary. And at the age of seventy-five, Abram followed God’s instructions and went where God led. Whether you graduate this spring, or you graduated fifty years ago, you’re ready.
You’re set – set apart in God’s holiness to serve in a broken world. Protected and secure, you’ve been set apart to work for God’s kingdom here on earth. You’re set.
All that is left, is for you to go. Go where God leads you. Go knowing you are accompanied by the living God. Go, energized by the truth of God’s word, sent into the world that we all might have a more abundant life here and now.
 Carmelo Alvarez, Feasting on the Word, Year B/2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 546.
 Thomas H. Troeger, Feasting on the Word, Year B/2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 549.