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Please Hold

May 21, 2023 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: John 17:1–11

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 21, 2023

John 17:1-11

 “Please Hold”

How many times have you called a merchant or vendor to set up an appointment, question a charge on your bill, or talk with customer service, and you get stuck in this endless loop of menu options? You know, “Press 1 if you are an existing customer,” “Press 2 if this is a new request,” “Press 3 if have a scheduled service appointment.” What happens when none of the menu options are what you need? What’s it like when you get kicked out, have to call back and start all over again? And when you finally break through and get to where you really need to be, what we usually here is this: “Please hold for the next available operator. Your estimated wait time is…” It can be very frustrating, as well as time-consuming, to go through all of this. “Please hold” are words that we really don’t like to hear. In these closing days of the Easter season, following Jesus’ ascension into heaven which was observed this past Thursday, and before the coming celebration of the Holy Spirit which is next Sunday on Pentecost, I wonder if those first disciples felt like they were on hold – just waiting. In our own lives, when we feel like we are on hold – just waiting – the crucified, risen and ascended Savior assures us that our waiting is not in vain. Under his power, it is not wasted time, but serves a higher purpose and a greater good. “Please Hold” becomes the theme for preaching today. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus is praying for his disciples. That is what today’s Gospel lesson is all about in this portion of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, as John 17 is often called. Prior to his betrayal, suffering and death, Jesus prays this prayer that is unique to John’s Gospel. Here, Jesus prays for his church, his followers, then and now, as he acknowledges that he will be going to the Father. Jesus prays that we, his followers, may all be one, just as he is one with the Father. But the best news of what we hear today is this: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). In the midst of life’s challenges, when we feel like we are on hold, just waiting for things to move forward, Jesus’ words remind us that eternal life begins now – this side of heaven. This side of heaven, we are immeasurably blessed to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ the Son of God who was sent from the Father. Because of this, we have eternal life now. This is one of those now-but-not-yet kind of things. We do have this gift now by faith in Jesus who died for our sins and rose from the dead for our salvation, but we do not yet have this gift in its full and final form. Here and now, we possess this gift, but only in part. For now, we remain in the world, and so we are called to “please hold” until the gift of eternal life for which Jesus shed his blood and gave his life on the cross is received in all its glory.

In today’s Epistle lesson (Acts 1:12-26), the apostles chosen by Jesus – actually, now eleven, not twelve –  were on hold. They were following Jesus’ instructions; they were doing what he had told them to do. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus instructed them to stay in Jerusalem and “wait for the promise of the Father… you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5). To be sure, they were waiting, but they were also praying with a larger group of disciples that included the women, as well as Jesus’ mother and brothers. And as they were waiting and praying, they discerned that another person needed to be appointed to the apostolic role that Judas had abandoned. We might wonder why they didn’t wait until the coming of the Holy Spirit to make this decision? Led by Peter, they came together before Pentecost to pray for the Lord to reveal the one whom He had chosen. It’s interesting what Peter says about this: that it must be someone who was part of those who accompanied them during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Even more interesting is that Peter says this individual “must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:22). That was the Gospel need: to proclaim by word and deed that Jesus is risen from the dead; that he lives and reigns to all eternity. That is still our calling today as Jesus’ followers today: to be witnesses to his resurrection. After praying for God to guide them, the voters meeting determined that this person was Matthias. This is the first and last time that we hear of him in the New Testament. Tradition holds that Matthias was one of those seventy-two disciples sent out by Jesus (Luke 10:1ff.), and that he carried out his ministry not only in Judea, but further afield in what is now Turkey, and died as a martyr sometime later in the first century (Saint Matthias | Apostle & Bible | Britannica). Far from being on hold, those early disciples were all about continuing the mission of Jesus, even as they waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In a similar way, even as we wait for the coming of Jesus, whom the angels said that he would return in the same way those first disciples saw him go (Acts 1:11), we’re not on hold, either. Until Jesus comes again, we have work to do in this corner of God’s kingdom to join Jesus on his mission in our daily lives, sharing his life and love with people everywhere.

Dr. Dale Meyer is the president emeritus of my alma mater, Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I subscribe to his email devotion called “The Meyer Minute.” This past week, he wrote the following: “When we Christians look to the future only by looking to the general resurrection at the end of time, we mute the promise of the Ascension that justice is coming. Jesus Christ ‘ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed). N.T. Wright [English New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop]: ‘The picture of Jesus as the coming judge is the central feature of another absolutely vital and nonnegotiable Christian belief: that there will indeed be a judgment in which the creator God will set the world right once and for all…. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment’” (Surprised by Hope, 117, as found in “The Meyer Minute” for May 17, 2023).

As we wait for that great and final day when our risen and ascended Savior shall come again to make all things new, thanks be to God that we are never told to “please hold” when we come before the Lord in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. Our great High Priest, Jesus, is interceding for us at the right hand of God (Romans 8:34). This sermon closes with those words that conclude today’s Epistle lesson – words of encouragement and hope: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11). Amen.


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