Easter 7 2015 - Sunday after Ascension
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
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
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
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
And that is a task which took,
and which still takes much prayer.