TITLE: Loving Turkeys SCRIPTURE: John 17:20-26
The title of this sermon, "Loving Turkeys," sounds as if it might be a Thanksgiving sermon, but it is not. It isn't November yet, and I don't expect to see turkey on our table anytime soon.
We use the word, "turkey," to talk about more than a large bird. You will hear people say, "He is a real turkey!" What does that mean? It is usually pretty negative. It can mean, "He is a loser." It can mean, "I just don't like him."
In today's scripture reading, Jesus is praying for his disciples. He knows that he is headed for disaster in Jerusalem, because he has been stepping on too many toes. He knows that, soon, he will be leaving behind his little band of disciples.
But he has come to love this little group. They have shared meals and ministry together, just as we have in our church. Jesus has learned to care very deeply for each of them. He is worried about what will happen to them. In one of the most touching prayers in the Bible, he asks God to keep them safe.
The scene is rather like that of a parent sending a child away from home. It is pretty scary. The child –– now a young adult –– is ready to stretch his or her wings, and that is good. But the parent knows the dangers out there too, and is relinquishing the ability to protect the child. The parent thanks God for the child, and prays for his or her safety.
In some cases, the parent should be glad to get rid of the child. Some children are a real pain. But the departure of a troublesome child can be more difficult than the departure of a well-behaved child, because the parent has less confidence that the troublesome child will be all right.
The prospect of leaving his disciples behind must have been especially difficult for Jesus, because they were such a bunch of turkeys. Just think about them for a moment:
–– Think of Peter, big and impetuous. Peter always put his mouth –– or his fists –– into action first, and then thought about it later. In Gethsemane, Peter would cut off the ear of one of the men who had come to arrest Jesus. Jesus would have to calm him down so that the soldiers could take him prisoner. Then, after Jesus was arrested, Peter would deny Jesus three times. What a turkey!
–– Or think of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. As Jesus was facing the cross, all they could think about was grabbing a place of honor. What turkeys!
–– And, of course, there was Judas, who sold out for a handful of silver. He was a turkey if there ever was one!
This bunch certainly had their failings, didn't they! These men, just ordinary people with no education, were going to assume responsibility for spreading the word about Jesus. They were fishermen, not preachers, but they would have to learn to preach. You would have thought that Jesus could have done better. What a bunch of turkeys!
But, despite all that, Jesus loved them. As he prepared to leave them, he prayed for them. He pleaded for them. Listen to his prayer. He prayed:
"And now I am no longer in the world,
but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.
Holy Father, protect them…
While I was with them, I protected them…
I guarded them, and not one of them was lost
except the one destined to be lost…
But now I am coming to you.
I am not asking you to take them out of the world,
but I ask you to protect them from the evil one."
Can't you hear Jesus' pain as he contemplates the dangers that the disciples will face? Can't you hear the pleading tone of his prayer? What a beautiful prayer for such a bunch of turkeys!
Note that, in his prayer, Jesus did not ask for better disciples. He didn't ask for replacements. He could have done so. Perhaps he should have done so. With this bunch, it was always two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes it was one step forward and two steps back.
But Jesus loved them, just as we love our children, and it caused him great pain to leave them. Part of his pain was being separated from them. The rest of his pain was his concern about them when he could no longer be there to protect them. He prayed:
"While I was with them, I protected them…
But now I am coming to you."
Isn't that just like the prayer a father or mother would pray for a child who was leaving home? "While he was at home, I protected him. Now I can't protect him any longer. God, Please Help him! Please guide him! Please protect him! Please save him! I can't do it anymore. Please help!"
There is a lesson for us here. We have to put up with a few turkeys in our church too! Just like Jesus did! Just like every church does!
It would be interesting to poll the membership to determine who the turkeys are. Some people drive me crazy, and other people drive you crazy. A complete list of all the turkeys in this church would include most of us. I am sure that I would be on someone's list –– maybe lots of lists.
Deciding who the turkeys are is slippery. Very often, the person who seems like a turkey today turns out to be a hero tomorrow. The turkeys shift, day by day, but there are always a couple of them around. But there are some people who always drive us crazy.
If we have to put up with these people, we need to learn how to cope with them. Jesus teaches us. He leads by example. How did Jesus handle the turkeys in his life? He didn't ask for replacements. He didn't complain. He loved them. He prayed for them. He taught them.
Jesus prayed not only for his little band of disciples. He prayed for us too. He prayed:
"I ask not only on behalf of these,
but also on behalf of those who will believe in me
through their word."
"Those who will believe in me" That's us, isn't it! As Jesus prepared for his death –– as he prepared to leave this world, Jesus prayed for us. What did he pray? He prayed:
"that they might all be one….
so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
You see, Jesus had a purpose in praying that we might all be one. His prayer reveals that purpose. Jesus prayed that we might all be one "so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
We Christians have a mission. Our mission is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our mission is to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Our mission is to go to those who are lost and to bring them to the Christ who can save. How can we do that unless we work together in unity? In unity, there is strength.
In the early days of World War II, Germany battered England unmercifully. The English teetered near defeat as German planes dropped tons of bombs on London. The people of London urged the Queen Mother to send her children to safety in Canada. The Queen Mother responded by saying,
"The children cannot go unless I go ––
and I will not go without the king ––
and the king will not go!"
Is it any wonder that England held on? Is it any wonder that they survived? Is it any wonder that they won? That terrible war welded the English together so strongly that it helped them to keep going in spite of the terrors of war.
Christians have become strong in much the same way. In the early history of the church, Christians worshipped secretly in the catacombs and died publicly in the Coliseum. Of those terrible days, the Christian Tertullian said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." When Romans persecuted Christians, they succeeded only in welding Christians together so strongly that the Christians kept going in spite of the terrors of persecution.
But nobody is persecuting the Christians in (this town). The Christians in (this town) are doing well. We are eating well, living in nice homes, and enjoying ourselves. Our prosperity puts us in great danger. When we have no natural enemies, we are tempted to fight each other. Christians in Rome faced the lions bravely, but they could not imagine how Christians would fight each other over the color of a carpet.
The real trick for Christians has never been how to survive adversity but has always been how to survive prosperity. And so Jesus prays for the Christians in (this town) that we might all be one. He wants us to be one so that the world might believe in him and be saved.
How can we ever achieve this unity? Can we do it by pretending always to agree with each other? Can we do it by pretending not to see the differences between us?
The great preacher, E. Stanley Jones, made this observation:
"Talk about what you believe
and you have disunity.
Talk about Who you believe in
and you have unity."
Jesus put it this way. He said:
"Love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you might be children of your Father in heaven."
That is the answer. We might not always be able to agree with each other. We might not even be able to like each other. But we can always pray for each other. And, when we pray for each other, God will work his miracle so that we can love each other –– so that we might all be one.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be one in love for each other, so that we might make convincing witnesses to the Christ who loves us.