“Given and Sent”

Text: John 17: 6-19, Easter 7b

Did you know that YOU are a GIFT from God?!

Jesus says this over and over and over again in one way or another throughout the 17th chapter of the gospel of John. In fact, the verb “to give” occurs 17 times in this chapter, more than anywhere else in the entire New Testament!

The entire chapter is a prayer, Jesus’ prayer to the Father for us. This is not a prayer like in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is not begging God to “take this cup away” but rather announces with resolve “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you…” Instead of praying for himself and the unpleasant mission that awaits him the next day, Jesus spends the entire 17th chapter of John praying deeply for US!

Jesus prayed for his disciples who would carry on his mission after his death, and he prayed for us, who would hear and come to faith through their witness.

What’s clear through this prayer is that God is the giver and the sender. God gave Jesus the Word to share with his disciples, the Word which shared with them the truth and which drew them into lives of faith. Jesus still shares that Word with us today through worship, music, and scripture study.  This Word is still drawing us into relationship with the One who so loved the world that he gave his only Son to us as pure gift so that we would come to receive eternal life.

Tomorrow is Youth Sunday, where over 45 children from our elementary, middle, and high school youth groups will lead worship and share Christ’s Word with the assembly. Our youth theme this year has been “Dive in” as in “Dive into the Bible” and we’ve focused on a different scripture verse each week. A primary focus has been on the meaningfulness of God’s Word in our lives, the Word as a gift from God rather than “the rules” from God. One of our 8th graders, Elizabeth, wrote the following to share in worship tomorrow and I thought you might like to hear this too. She writes: I hear people all the time saying open up your bibles, it will help you! But really, how does it help us as a congregation and as individuals? To get us teens motivated, several times throughout the year our youth director, Sally, has presented us with this picture: Say you are driving on a road but there is a blizzard occurring at the same time. You cannot see the lines on the road, so in essence you have no idea where you are going. Like the lines on the road, scripture helps guide us through life with security. Scripture helps you find direction in life so you know where you are headed. It also acts as a friend when you are feeling lonely or coping with a death of a loved one. Studying it helps us find peace within so we can live a happy life. Find time in your day to open up your Bible. Use this gift that God has given us, become motivated, and find guidance through life.

God is the giver and the sender….  God gave the disciples the Word, and God plucked the disciples up out of the world and gave them to Jesus to share in his mission. The disciples, and by extension, we, are a gift from the Father to the Son for the sake of the world.

God is the giver and the sender, and so as God sent Jesus into the world, Jesus sends us, his disciples, into the world to share God’s love and God’s Word. Jesus prays for God’s protection over us as we carry on his mission saying, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one… As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

Through our mission, Jesus makes of us gifts for the world, signs of God’s love and grace.

At St. James, we take seriously Jesus’ call to live as gifts for the world –both locally and globally. We teach this core tenant of the Christian life even to our very youngest children and marvel at the surprisingly extravagant ways God is at work in the world through our ministries. Tomorrow, they will highlight various passages of scripture that they’ve learned over the course of the year and focus specifically on Jesus’ call to feed the hungry and care for the poor as found in Matthew chapter 25 which has been their theme verse for the year.

They will share their own experience of sharing God’s gifts with the world over the last year and highlight a few of the incredible ways Jesus has sent them to shine forth God’s amazing grace in practical ways into the hurting, lonely, hungry parts of this community and world.   I’d like to read you now a few of their reflections:

They write: Mother Theresa said, “ At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in….” We live in an affluent country and yet there are hungry all around us. We started to learn how mnay children are hungry [in our town] when we joined in  forming and supporting Ruth’s Harvest. We are one year into this ministry and are already sending backpacks filled with food [every weekend] to more than 120 hungry children at James Gettys and Lincoln Elementary schools. When we read Matthew 25 and it says “I was hungry,” do we respond with “get a job” or do we look into the eyes of the hungry and see Christ? We’re called to serve, called to meet the needs of the poor.

This summer, we have 13 youth headed to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio in June to repair homes of low income folks. They will paint houses and repair roofs, fix porches, and build wheel chair ramps. We have 17 youth headed to Detroit, Michigan in July to witness o God’s love in a troubled, but rebuilding city. There will be around 30,000 of us, 700 just from our synod, working at 580 worksites.

Another youth reflects on our Advent project:  Our Advent project was to collect money to build a well in Tanzania through Marion Medical Mission. Each shallow well costs $400 to build. We hoped to build one, maybe two wells. The children in the youth groups decorated envelopes asking for donations for this project. We collected $4000, enough to build ten wells! All ten wells are located in Tanzania and provide clean drinking water to a total of 1220 people. Before the wells, the girls were sent to collect water and did not attend school. Having a well in town allows all the children to attend school. Having a well in town reduces illness caused by contaminated water. Having a well in town frees the people to plant gardens, develop small businesses, and to break the cycle of poverty. Receiving a well reminds the people that their lives matter. That God and God’s people care. Matthew 25 says “I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.” What a privilege it was to serve God by building 10 wells in Tanzania!

God is the giver and the sender and St. James has certainly experienced God’s grace this year and shared that grace with the community and the world through various ministries, and particularly this weekend we lift up the ways in which God has been at work through our youth ministry.

We tried to build 1 well, and God gave us what we needed to build 10! God works through us in surprising and extravagant ways!

Seven hundred people from around our synod, including (for the first time) our Bishop, are travelling to Detroit this summer for the National Youth Gathering to transform a broken city through Christ’s love into a community that embodies the hope of the resurrection. God gives to us in abundance and sends us out to places we never would have dreamed of visiting to share in Christ’s mission that all people would experience God’s life-changing love for the whole world. How do you feel called to live as God’s gift for the world? Amen.

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