This past Sunday, I was the supply preacher at Webster Groves Baptist Church, MO (suburban St. Louis). I preached on John 17:9-20. My grandmother and cousin came, and the church welcomed us all warmly—and even greeted me on their sign! (This was a first for me, so naturally I was excited.)
Here are some things I learned and some points about the text and the Ascension that I found interesting:
- Not many people speak about the ascension. I remember listening to a sermon by Danielle Shroyer, who made this point. (Unfortunately, I cannot find the link to that sermon!) The challenge then is why the Ascension is important theologically and in our faith.
- The giving of the word is interesting. The Gospel writer uses “logos” for the singular forms of “word” in the text. The plural form of “words” in the prayer is a different Greek word. I wonder if the giving of the word is Jesus giving of himself.
- Eugene Rogers sees this prayer in John as a prayer of humility. Using Julian of Norwich’s concept of homely courtesy, he claims that Jesus’ prayer and Ascension gives room for the Spirit to act. Jesus’ ascension becomes an act of love. He would say that this is not a move that would affirm Joachim of Fiore’s notion of the epochs (Father is one age, Son is another, Spirit is another); rather, this move affirms that the Spirit and the Son work together. The Pentecost does not happen without the Ascension.
- This means, that through the Spirit, we are to do what Jesus would do.
- It is hard to preach on this prayer and not go 10 different ways—this text is rich. I probably included too much, and also left a lot out!
Resources used in formulating this sermon:
Batchelor, Mary, compiler. The Doubleday Prayer Collection. New York: Bantam Doulbeday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1996. I’ve used this prayer collection quite a bit, from devotionals to teaching, as it contains prayers from a variety of the great cloud of witnesses around the world.
Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. The Feasting on the Word series is a commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary. It contains theological, pastoral, exegetical, and homiletical reflections for each of the Scriptures.
Julian of Norwich. Showings. Edited by James Walsh and Edmund Colledge. New York: Paulist Press, 1978. This is from the series Classics of Western Spirituality, which includes critical introductions and notes on translation. If you are interested in Christian mysticism, this would be the series to check out. (Julian’s one of my favorite theologians, by the way.)
Rogers, Eugene F. After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology from Resources Outside the Modern West. London: SCM, 2006. He wants to affirm that the Spirit and the Son always work together; thus, he explores the Spirit’s role in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, Ascension, and the Pentecost in conversation with Eastern and Western theologians.
You can access the audio of the sermon here. It begins around 29 minutes.
I’ll be preaching there again on May 31st—Trinity Sunday!
Why is the Ascension important for our faith? What happens when we overlook the Ascension?