Early Christianity suffered grievous persecution in the first three centuries. In Israel they never found any traction. Until Christianity was adopted as official state religion of the Roman Empire by Emperor Theodosius in 380 CE, it had suffered barbaric persecution under the Romans.
Jesus understood what lay ahead for those who would follow him, just as he knew what lay ahead for himself later that same evening. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus spent the last hours before his arrest in prayer, with his disciples in attendance.
Some high schools or colleges have a Baccalaureate worship service before graduation. The worship service is concluded with a benedictory prayer. This prayer is usually both a summary of their education and a charge to the graduates.
This prayer of Jesus seems to have some of those same traits. He mentions aspects of their education and the prayer as a whole is charge to his disciples and a request for God’s blessings upon them;
- [God] I glorified you on earth by completing down to the last detail what you assigned me to do.
- I spelled out your character in detail to the men and women you gave me.
- I gave them; and they took it, and were
convinced that I came from you.
After this prayer he walked down to the Kidron Valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem and entered the Garden of Gethsemane where he was arrested. His time with his disciples was up. It was now up to them to put into practice all they had been taught.
We have all learned that education is essential if you are to master anything. Someone needs to show us the way.
In the intensive care unit of a hospital in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, a patient would regularly die in the same bed every Friday regardless of the patient’s medical condition.
It cost quite a few lives before someone figured out that the staff person who cleaned that room on Fridays simply unplugged some of the medical equipment so she could plug in her vacuum cleaner. If she forgot to plug it back in afterwards the results were tragic.
A lack of training leaves us making mistakes, and some of these have dire repercussions.
Our choice to follow Jesus grants us the title, Disciple of Christ. Those first disciples learned from Jesus himself. Their training was essential. So, what about our education? We do not have Jesus to sit and teach us. How do we prepare for our discipleship roles?
First and foremost, God holy spirit of love flows through us and in us. Jesus promised not to leave the disciples behind as abandoned orphans. He promised that God’s Spirit would abide with them and guide them.
Secondly, we have the words of the prophets. From the ancient stories of Adam and Eve to the book of Revelations, we have a written record of God’s journey with the people. To neglect the Bible is to be like a pilot neglecting his or her training manual. Sadly, many Christians have all but abandoned the Bible.
We not only have the witness of the prophets and teachers of the ancient world. We also have modern day prophets whom we may not call prophets any longer, but whose teachings are there for us to explore and learn from.
Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and a few generations ago, Albert Schweitzer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. There is an endless line of people who left as their legacy, the wisdom of their lives lived in relationship with God.
Even contemporary artists and poets are there to educate us and call us to awareness as witnessed in the words of the song by Simon and Garfunkel;
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence
The church as a faith community is yet another source of education. We learn from one another when we take the time to listen to each other’s stories. In a world of rushing from point A to point B we run the risk of rushing right by those who can teach us something about our task as disciples of Jesus.
If we listen carefully we might even hear the voices of the young prophets who are rising up among us. A petite young girl named Greta Thunberg is warning us about our broken relationship with Creation. She is awakening the conscience of the world and she has something to say to the world.
In the United Church of Christ we have adopted a slogan some years ago that said; God is still speaking. The question is; are we still listening and learning?
In this prayer that Jesus prays, he leaves us with no uncertainty as to what our task at hand is, namely, to glorify God.
May our journey together enrich and inspire us as we seek to glorify God by being the disciples God already knows we can be. Amen.