Next Man Up / Seventh Sunday of Easter

Sunday, June 2, 2019
Rev. Donald P. Beaumont

John 17:20-26

The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me.

If you knew that the prayers you offered up today would be your last, what would you pray for? I would think and hope that your focus would be on your truest priorities and most heartfelt desires. That’s what Jesus did. Our Bible passage today is about the last major prayer Jesus prayed before His arrest and crucifixion.

He had just spent three years in intense ministry with His disciples. Thousands of people had heard His message and seen His miracles. By His upcoming death, He would save humanity from the power of sin and open the door of eternal life. What else could there be on Jesus’ to-do list?

This may surprise you. His prayer was for us. Listen as He begins His final prayer: My prayer is not for them alone [speaking of His disciples]. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message. Do you hear that? He’s praying first of all for His disciples, and then He’s praying, for those who will believe in [Him] through their message. That’s us! Jesus’ final prayer was for His disciples and for us. Why would Jesus pray for us?

I'm sure one reason is that there’s more work to be done to satisfy Jesus’ agenda, and you and I are an integral part of that undertaking. 

Football coaches have a saying: “Next man up.” It’s the same term that’s used in the military. It means if one combatant goes down, someone else is to step up and take their place. In football it means that every player should be ready and willing to step up in order to get the collective job done, which often allows teams to continue to win even after major setbacks like injuries to star athletes. No matter what, the work goes on. Christ’s work, the bringing of the Kingdom of God upon earth, depends in part on our readiness to do our part. That’s true of being part of a team. It’s also true in terms of individual acts of discipleship.

Jesus shared the love and message of God with thousands of people while He walked this earth. But He left plenty of work for you and me to do. Our prayers and our availability will decide how much impact we will have for the Kingdom of God. Why was Christ’s last prayer for His disciples and for us? Obviously, it was because there’s more work to be done and we all have a part of that undertaking. 

This is to say that you and I have been assigned the work of the Savior, and God will give us what we need to succeed in His service.  You and I; we, have been appointed to carry on the work of the Messiah. The Deliverer. God in the flesh. And God will give us what we need to be successful.

What is it you feel called to because of your faith in Jesus Christ? You say, I don’t know any calling I am qualified for. Here’s what you need to understand: God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called. In Jesus’ final prayer, He says in effect to God, if the believers just stay in relationship with Me like I stay in relationship with You, You will enable them to do My work. We don’t need to rely on our own talents, strength or intellect to do God’s will. It’s God’s power working in us that allows us to have an impact on the world.

Isn’t that great? “Let’s go do that together.” God wants us to do His work with joy. He knows that we yearn for a greater purpose and calling than just taking care of our own needs. We’re not idiots. We were created for more noble and heroic work, work that has an eternal impact. And God is ready to equip us for that work. God leans over and says to us, “Let’s go do that together.” Why is this Jesus’ final prayer for us? Because there’s still work to be done, and because He wants to enable us to do our part.

But there’s one thing more we need to see: Jesus’ final prayer is a reminder that we’re supposed to work together to complete the mission to which He has called us. This last prayer of our Lord is sometimes called the Unity Prayer. Jesus knew that a unified effort multiplies our individual efforts far beyond what we could accomplish on our own.

In the last decade, that amazing company Google has spent millions of dollars on Project Aristotle, a project whose aim is to create the perfect team. What mix of personal character traits or habits, Google set out to determine, leads to the most productive, most unified team?

Project Aristotle involved measuring nearly every aspect of Google employees’ lives. The company’s executives interviewed hundreds of employees over several years and analyzed all sorts of data on the productivity and innovation of almost every team in the company.

All this in-depth research yielded one result. Listen up those of you in business or education or sports or any endeavor that requires teamwork. This is research by one of America’s great companies. What they discovered was this: The best teams have members who are sensitive to one another’s needs and who listen to one another. That’s the conclusion of this study. Education, skill sets, charisma, none of those things matter in creating successful teams. What matters most, according to this Google task force, is creating an atmosphere of “psychological safety” where members are respected and listened to and able to contribute their best work.

Stop and think about this for a moment. Jesus had the power to heal the sick, cast out demons, calm storms, multiply food to feed thousands. He had the power to come back from the dead. After His resurrection, He was going to grant all power and authority to His followers. And yet, the greatest power Jesus desired for His followers was unity. Why? Because our unity is proof to the world that Jesus is who He says He is. Isn’t that interesting, especially with the division that’s happening in this great country, including in many churches?

Listen to what Jesus says in verses 22 and 23 of this passage: I have given them the glory you gave Me--the glorious unity of being one, as We are--I in them and You in Me, all being perfected into one--so that the world will know You sent Me and will understand that you love them as much as You love Me. Not our preaching, or our miracle-working or our building breath-taking cathedrals, nothing is as important as our unity in Christ. Our unity will prove to the whole world that Jesus is the Son of God, and that God loves us.

There’s more work to do to spread the message of Jesus around the world. “Thus far the Master spoke and taught us, yet He died, and His disciples took on the task of finishing His work. We, are His followers, today are essential to His plan for the world just as Christ’s first disciples were. Our unity multiplies our efforts far beyond what we could accomplish on our own. What’s God calling each of us to do for the sake of spreading His message? And how can we join together with other believers around the world to accomplish it? That’s the task that awaits the twenty-first century church. Are you ready to be the next man or next woman or next young person up?