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17th May 2015 - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Easter 7 2015 - Sunday after Ascension
Acts 1. 15-17, 21 - end
John 17. 6-19

I don't know whether you imagine that as a Vicar I am constantly called upon to fight spiritual warfare against the forces of evil? The reality is rather more prosaic. Thankfully I am seldom asked to get directly involved with the supernatural - but that makes the occasions when I do seem all the more remarkable.

And right on cue - last night as I was beginning to prepare these thoughts for you after a particularly busy Saturday.... A training morning in Brownhills, followed by a big wedding here - the phone rang and there on the other end was a young man clearly being bothered by thoughts of the supernatural... he felt himself to be under direct attack from demons and had a long and predictably rambling story to tell me. Eventually I managed to establish that he was calling from Worcester - how he got my number I will never know, but I suspect he dialled 01902 in mistake for 01905 and just happened to get a Vicar.... I think he thought he was calling a local synagogue! Well, in case you are interested in what happened - I clearly could do little at this distance other than pray for him ... but I have I hope, put him in touch with someone in his own area who may be able to help him spiritually or get him the psychiatric help that I fear he may need. But I confess that part of what I felt last night was "why me?!" - but that too shows you the power of evil to destroy. Because a better question might be "Why not me?" - or any person of faith? Maybe that young man was guided to call my number because I might be able to get him the sort of help he so badly needed.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:15)
Jesus never prayed that his disciples would form an exclusive gated community of the godly. He never prayed that they would cut themselves off from the world for fear of being contaminated by it. He never prayed that they would shut themselves away from the social complexities and demands of expressing faith out in the community. Neither did he pray for or promise them that their lives would be easy, straightforward or trouble free. Jesus prayed for none of these things.

Instead Jesus' prayer focussed on evil as a tangible reality from which his disciples needed to be protected.

This was not an off the cuff whim or something new in the direction he had set for his disciples' mission and ministry. Somehow this prayer gets to the heart of the matter for Jesus. As he prepares his friends for discipleship by themselves, without him being physically alongside, upfront and in the lead, it is clear that Jesus knows they are going to need the same level of protection from the forces of evil intent that he has given them up to now. And he takes this very seriously indeed.

Of all the prayers he could have spoken, this is the one he actually offered up to God.
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
And then he sends them into the world to transform it through the power of God's love.

During his ministry Jesus confronted the same set of issues concerning the power of
evil within individuals, networks and groups to diminish and despoil others that we recognise today. God empowered him to meet these head on and through the image and notion of God's Grassroots Kingdom of Love, to overcome them, to subvert them and to neutralise their insidious and damaging effects. Within the frail and vulnerable heart of damaged humanity Jesus brought a stronger spiritual beat and a reinvigorated social pulse. At every turn he thwarted the relational pathways of evil and malign wickedness and undermined them.

Through his teaching and practice of love Jesus enabled people to look at themselves and others differently. He converted the deathly selfish individual expression of 'I-me' into the open-hearted social generosity of 'we-us'. In God's economy of grace - in God's kingdom - no one is to be used, written off or regarded as of lesser worth by anyone else. Jesus gifted dignity and self-worth to those who had none and confronted the abusers, manipulators and dark-hearted purveyors of misery with the consequences of their actions. To the inwardly damaged he offered healing and to their victims he brought hope for a brighter future.

And in this we are all a work in progress.

And we need his prayer as much as did those first disciples. Because the reality of evil behaviour is all too apparent and it remains a clear and present danger. The news headlines are full of its consequences.

It is worth remembering that Jesus did not spare his friends the task of bringing light to bear in a world beset by darkness such as this, for that was their very purpose. He sent them out challenge and transform it.

And that is a task which took, and which still takes much prayer.