- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Harry F. Biles at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Laurel, Md.

A while back I heard a story from a Sunday school teacher about one little fellow's answer to an assignment: Write a letter to God.
He wrote, "Dear, God. Last Sunday we had a lot of fun in church. I sure wish you could have been there."
Well, God, first of all, is here. He promised us that, and if not fun, Jesus asked that His "joy may be complete" in us.
This joy is one of the "gifts of glory" we read of today in Jesus' last prayer, the night before His capture, conviction and death [John 17:6-19]. If you were told this would be your last day on earth, and God would grant you anything for which you prayed, what would your prayer be? For help, forgiveness, eternal life? Or for your family? Jesus prayed not for Himself, but for us… .
St. John's Gospel says this is the moment of glory for Jesus, and He prays for gifts of glory for us. The first gift is that we are God's. Not little "gods," but we belong to God. Jesus prayed to his Father, "they were yours, and you gave them to Me." You see, God claimed us through the waters of baptism, as we will see with little Troy Sidwell later in our service. We belong to God. What an awesome gift that is.
A second gift of Jesus' prayer is that we are guarded. The Gospel says, "Holy Father, protect them in your name … I guarded them, and not one of them was lost." Jesus prays that our relationship with the Father might be protected.
But a lot of us are like Peter's wife and I'm speaking not of St. Peter, but "Peter, Peter pumpkin eater." You remember him. "He had a wife and couldn't keep her. He put her in a pumpkin shell and there he kept her very well."
Peter's wife apparently didn't want to be kept. Some people, including Christians, are afraid God is going to put us into some kind of shell, where we won't be able to move about, won't be able to live freely, can't do what we want to do. We won't even have joy. But that's not what Jesus said. He protects us in God's name so we can have a close relationship with God and ultimately eternal life.
In His prayer, Jesus asks that we be "protected from the evil one." You may remember one recent Sunday morning when I did not show up. It was a week after surgery, and I went to Laurel Hospital experiencing significant pain. My doctor came in and he said, "You have the devil's grip."
Oh my God! The devil had the grip on me. "Give me some medicine!"
So he did, and I escaped. We can get ourselves into plenty of trouble even when we are being kept from the evil one. Think of what trouble we would be in if Jesus hadn't prayed this, and hadn't kept us from evil.
So we are guarded, and we are growing. The word Jesus uses in Verse 17 is, "sanctify them in the truth." The word sanctify is a growing word. It talks about us being on the journey of maturing. Sanctify and "holy" are concepts that have the same root word, and that root means "to be set apart." To be separated. To be different. Some times that doesn't feel good, to be different.
Once in middle school my son's friend came by the house. His friends had found out his dad was a pastor. They had an image of me walking around in black robes with my hands out front praying. So when the poor boy saw me outside, running a 100-pound air hammer, he almost dropped.
We are called to be different, to be holy, to be sanctified on this journey of maturity. Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified in the truth. So we participate in this journey by reading God's word, gathering in worship, praying and so forth. Or, we can prevent that maturing by turning away. And we know that after it sets in, our faith topples, our relationship to God grows weaker. Jesus prays that it becomes stronger. He is praying for you, the we might have the gifts of glory, that we are God's, that we are guarded, that we are growing.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Bud Calvert at Fairfax Baptist Temple in Fairfax, Va.

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