Check Your Passport

You don’t have to go through passport control to come inside our church, but maybe you should.


7th Sunday of Easter (Year B) – May 17, 2015 – John 17:6-19, Acts 1:15-17,21-26

St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Check Your Passport” – Pastor Evan Davis

One of the last things Jesus does on the last night of his life is to pray for us. He prays for his disciples, who became the apostles, and for us who have come to believe through their witness. Jesus prays for us.

Last Thursday was the day the Church calls Ascension of Our Lord – when we stop to think that Jesus stayed with us for a while after he rose from the dead. He came and walked among his disciples and had lunch with them, and talked with them. Then he ascended into heaven and was exalted as the God, the Son of the Father, that he is. The Son returns to the Father from whom he came. It hasn’t happened yet as Jesus prays this prayer, but he knows it’s coming. Here’s the hard part for us: Jesus goes up (there are these wonderful paintings of the Ascension with a foot dangling down from the top of the canvas)…we stay here. It’s like a tag team in a wrestling match…Jesus tags out, we tag in. We’re in the ring – the ring that Jesus calls, “the world.”

The world” is a mixed bag. It is the world that rejects Jesus and his message of love. It’s the world that responds to the audacity of Jesus’ love with the cross. Before we get too self-righteous, we have to remember that we too are fully part of this “world,” and that we would have crucified the Lord of life along with the rest of them.

But, you see, this is also the world God so loves that he sent his only Son not to condemn the world but to save it. God’s all in on this world. It’s the world God didn’t run away from but ran right down into – that’s why Christ isn’t taking us out of the world, but dropping us back in. Our faith isn’t about escape. Not about running away to a holy heaven, it’s about being Ambassadors for Christ here in the thick of things. Loving like Jesus, loving without boundaries, without fear, without restrictions, no matter what the powers that be say, is risky business. It’s cross shaped business. Loving like Jesus – that is, loving both the police and the Freddie Grays of this world at the same time, loving Democrats and Republicans all together, loving the Israelis and the Palestinians, loving even Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the people he killed, learning to love the people we sometimes wish we could hate, the people everybody wants us to hate…this is risky, cross-shaped business. So Jesus prays for us.

Knowing full well what he’s asking for, Jesus prays, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world.” He wants us to stay here and keep doing what he was doing. He wants us to stay here and love the Tsarnaevs of the world, and that’s a tough love for sure, until they become friends.

This isn’t something the fallen world encourages us to do. So in his prayer, Jesus makes clear that we belong to him and to his Father. We belong to them, not to the world. And because you and I are loved so deeply by the Father and the Son through their Spirit, Jesus adds two other prayers: Protect them in this dangerous world; And sanctify them, that is, make them holy, set them apart, because they got their work cut out for them.

We’ve got a lot of loving left to do, so we better get ready. The disciples knew this – they said, “now that Judas is gone, we’d better replace him, because we’re gonna be here a while.” So they asked the Spirit and the Spirit gave them Matthias. They were diggin’ in for the long haul of being the Body of Christ on earth….the long haul of being, to use the apostle Paul’s words, Ambassadors for Christ.

There’s a reason that’s our Virginia Synod motto, because we don’t belong to this world. We’re in this world, but we don’t belong to it. We’re Ambassadors on foreign soil, representing another kingdom and another king.

Nine months after I became a Lutheran, I got on a plane with a bunch of Lutherans and ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to Zambia, to go visit one of our own who was working there as the director of an orphanage. We’re a global church, people! When we got off that plane, my passport was stamped, and we didn’t even have to pay off the customs guys! We quickly got in the Land Rovers waiting for us and drove the 20 or so miles from the airport on a road with potholes the size of my car and, at long last, arrived at the orphanage. We were staying a huge white house that had at one point been the home and workshop of a doctor, now the guest house for Americans on mission trips. We walked inside that house, got settled, and the first local Zambian man we got to really meet, Alexander, came up to us and smiled and said, “welcome in the name of Jesus.” When Alexander, my brother in Christ, said that I knew that though I had traveled almost 9,000 miles to get there, I had arrived home.

My passport said on the cover, United States of America. And when I arrived in Zambia, immigration and customs officials took my visa fees and duly noted that I had arrived in the Republic of Zambia. When I got to Alexander’s community, to the land he knew so well he could show us around blindfolded, it was as if the words on our passports no longer meant a thing. This [passport] is supposed to define my identity, my nationality, my privileges, my loyalty. I’m deeply proud and thankful to be an American citizen, and I’m sure he’s proud to be Zambian. But Alexander and I both are marked with a greater identity – we’re both baptized followers of Jesus. Men in uniforms might stamp our passports, but he and I both have been stamped with the cross of Christ – it’s there, marking us forever. Maybe we should both have “kingdom of God” passports! We’re in this world that God so loves, and our purpose is to love this world too, but we belong to God – that’s our ultimate identity and loyalty.

There in that orphanage with children whose parents had been killed by AIDS and malaria and so many other things, we were on God’s sovereign territory. Likewise, this church here is Christ’s consulate on Pleasant Valley Road. Maybe we should be checking passports at the door! [Just so you know, this is a metaphor, American laws do still apply here, so don’t try anything :)] But here our identity comes from this water, from this table, from this Word. All are truly welcome. From this place, we’re sent into the world not only with each other’s prayers, but with the prayers of Jesus.

We’re sent, in the words of our own purpose statement, to share the love and teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s what Ambassadors for Christ do. So like the apostles made sure they included Matthias and his gifts as the Spirit called, so we must listen to the Spirit, and we are. A small group of us had a Spirit-filled conversation yesterday about our future and about those people the Spirit might be sending to us. People who will change us in ways only God knows. We talked about all the ways we’re going to get ready to be able to share the love and teachings of Jesus Christ not just today or tomorrow but five years from now….thirty years from now. We don’t have time anymore to play church, it’s time to be the Church, here in this world, as Ambassadors of the world yet to come. Amen.