About the Author: Sunday Sermons from Sell Chapel are written by Rev. Preston Van Deursen, Director of Pastoral Care at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown.

About the Author: Sunday Sermons from Sell Chapel are written by Rev. Preston Van Deursen, Director of Pastoral Care at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown.

A visiting preacher in a small town in Kentucky was concerned when he began the first night of a revival meeting and noticed all of the men were wearing or carrying guns. Although rattled, he did the best he could with his sermon.

When finished, his anxieties heightened as several of the men approached the pulpit with their guns drawn. In panic, he turned to the chairman of the deacons, sitting next to him. The deacon calmed his fears: “Don’t you worry,” he said. “They ain’t coming after you. They’re looking for the cuss who invited you to preach.”

Well, sometimes the pastor needs a place to hide after a sermon. But, at least I hope none of you are carrying guns to church this morning.

There was a tragic, but ironic story in the newspapers a few years ago. A man in Glendale, CA, named Robert Shovestall, 37 years of age, accidentally shot himself. What makes the story ironic is that it was while he was explaining gun safety to his wife that he shot himself. He thought the .45 caliber pistol was unloaded when he placed it under his chin and pulled the trigger. The victim’s wife told police that he was attempting to demonstrate to her that guns were safe after she complained about him having accumulated 70 guns in all.

Seventy guns seems like to me a little overkill, no pun intended. But this can be a scary world. I don’t know where you turn for protection from the dangers of this world whether to your faith, or to your martial arts skills or to your silver tongue or even to a weapon.

In today’s lesson, the writer of the Gospel of John captures the closing days of Jesus’ life and ministry here on earth. In this chapter, Jesus prays for himself and for his disciples. Basically he prays for three things for his disciples. He prays for their protection, their preservation and their perseverance.

Let’s begin with Christ’s prayer for his disciples’ protection.

After Christ’s resurrection and ascension, his disciples lived in a world in which it was dangerous to be one of his followers. You and I are so fortunate. We face no such persecution. We may be ridiculed for our faith. People might call us naïve. But that is hardly persecution. It always amuses me when some Christians in our land complain about being persecuted for their faith. We remember the question a few months ago of the people murdered by terrorists after being asked if they were Christian or not and the question for us what would our response have been. The truth is in our land, Christians are more apt to persecute than be persecuted.

In fact a survey was done about Christians and the church to young people asking them to name the first things that came to their minds when they heard the term and the top 8 things were negative with number one being judgmental.

Jesus knew that, when he was no longer with them, the hostility which fell on him was going to fall on his disciples. And it did. Almost without exception they were imprisoned, tortured and slain in terrible ways.
All but one were martyred…died for their faith

But note this. When Jesus prays for their protection, he doesn’t pray for their safety. The last thing he wanted them to do was to go around armed to the teeth. When we pray for protection, we pray that nothing painful or harmful will happen to us. Jesus knew better than that. He knew that we live in a world of pain. Some pain is unavoidable. Christ’s disciples would experience pain because of their devotion to him. There was no way to avoid that. So rather than pray that they will avoid pain, he prays for their UNITY. Now, why would he pray that?

There is strength in unity. When you have friends and family and fellow church members to whom you can turn in times of trouble you can bear almost any pain, any turmoil in your life. The church at its best provides that kind of support, that kind of one-ness.

That wonderful preacher Barbara Brown Taylor gives us a picture of a church where unity provides comfort and security. She writes, “Like the brain-damaged young man who shows up one Sunday and asks to become a member of the church. As carefully as he tries to hide it, it is clear that he is out of everything out of food, out of money, out of family to take him in.” How does her church respond to that young man’s needs? She describes it like this: “No one makes a big fuss. Very quietly, someone takes him grocery shopping while someone else finds him a room. Someone else finds out what happened to his disability check while someone else makes an appointment to get his teeth fixed. And do you know what? Years later he is still there, in the front pew on the right, surrounded by his family, the church.”

But Taylor isn’t finished: “Or like the woman with a recurrent cancer who is told she has six months to live. The church gathers around her and her husband laying hands on them, bringing them casseroles, cleaning their house. Someone comes up with the idea of giving the woman a foot massage and painting her toenails red, which does more for her spirits than any visit from the pastor.

[This woman with terminal cancer] gives her jewelry away, she lets her driver’s license expire, she starts writing poetry again. She prepares to die, but instead, she gets better.

“On Christmas Eve she is back in church for the first time in months, with her oxygen tank slung over her shoulder and a clear plastic tube running under her nose. After the first hymn, she makes her way to the lectern to read the lesson from Isaiah, Her tank hisses every five seconds. Every candle in the place glitters in her eyes. ‘Strengthen the weak hands;’ she reads, bending her body toward the words, ‘and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.’ When she sits down, the congregation knows they have not just heard the word of the Lord, They have seen it in action . . .”

Do you see the healing in such unity? Do you see the security?

Parker Palmer, in his book A Hidden Wholeness reminds us that “the journey we are on is too tough to be made solo, the path is too deeply hidden to be traveled without company, and the destination is too daunting to be achieved alone.” He reminds us that all of us need places where we can be safe enough and courageous enough to face our brokenness and discover our wholeness. He calls them “circles of trust.” He says, “We need more and more circles from which we can return to the world less divided and more connected to our own souls.”

This is the protection that the church has always provided for threatened souls—the knowledge that we are not alone. The knowledge that people are praying in our behalf. It is the protection of a loving community. It is a circle of people who will pray for us and stand by us. It is a safe place where people accept us even though they know we are flawed and maybe even we don’t have tie on. At least, that is what the church ought to be. My prayer always is that we are that kind of church. Jesus certainly prays for us to be. Jesus prayed for our protection. He prayed that we would always have that kind of unity.

And then he prays for our preservation. That is, he prayed that none of us will be lost from the fellowship of believers. He prayed that none of us would ever slip away from our faith in God. I love the way the Psalmist put it: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways. In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone” (91:11-12). Christ prayed for his disciples’ preservation.

someone once described a special conversation she had with her granddaughter. This was at a critical time in her life. She was scheduled to have an operation in several days.

As she was having her daily devotions she was joined by her granddaughter, two year old Shanice. After reading her Bible and praying, Kathleen began reading some information about the anesthesia she would receive prior to surgery. The more she read, the more she realized how nervous she was about the operation.

Shanice was standing nearby. Suddenly Shanice looked at her grandmother and said, “Grandmom, show me the angels.”

“Angels?” Kathleen asked puzzled.

Then Shanice pointed to a photo of three figures clothed in white on the cover of the brochure Kathleen had been reading. “No, Honey,” Kathleen said, “That’s a doctor, a nurse, and a patient.”

“Yes, Grandmom,” Shanice replied, “angels.”

Her granddaughter’s simple misunderstanding proved to be a powerful reminder to Kathleen that God would indeed give His angels charge over her. She decided right then and there she would not waste another moment worrying about the operation. Peace flooded over her as she thanked God for the loving care she knew God would provide during her stay in the hospital through His “angels.”

We are surrounded by a company of angels. Jesus himself holds us in the palm of his hand. He will not let us go. He will preserve our soul says the Psalmist in another place (121:7-8). He will preserve us to the very end. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus took care of the flock entrusted him. He allowed none to be lost

Shepherds know that sheep are prone to stray. Good shepherds leave those sheep that are safe in the fold and goes in search of the one that has gone astray. He doesn’t let it perish. He will always be there for us, no matter how far we may stray. Christ prays for our protection. He prays for our preservation. Finally, he prays for our perseverence. He prays that we will be steadfast in the faith.

You can see why he prayed for those early believers’ perseverance… Because of to witness to Christ and his resurrection, we would not have the faith we have today. And this would be an entirely different world.

It is impossible to overstate the difference that the coming of Christ made in the world. Look at the barbaric behavior in so much of the non-Christian world today and imagine what our world might be like without the influence of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us compassion and understanding and acceptance. He taught us mercy and forgiveness. He taught us to love our neighbor as he first loved us.

We respect people of all faiths, but it is horribly naïve to say that all faiths and all philosophies are the same. No other faith, for example, teaches people to love their enemies. Think what a difference it would make in the world today if all nations, including our own, adopted that creed.

We would not have the Gospel today if those early believers had not persevered. But here’s what we desperately need to see. THE FUTURE OF THE FAITH TODAY DEPENDS ON US JUST AS SURELY AS IT DEPENDED ON THEM. Indeed the future of the world may very well depend on us.

Maybe our problem is that we don’t understand what it is that Christ calls upon all of us to do where we are. Maybe we lack the conviction and/or the motivation to witness for the Lord today. Perhaps our perception is deficient and we are unable to comprehend how the Word speaks to the life of today’s world, or if we see how we ought to witness to others in the name of Christ, perhaps we are afraid to do so. Perhaps those who dare to speak up and articulate the good news of the gospel in a world filled with all sorts of injustice, hatred, and the constant threat of a holocaust do so because they know that the Lord God is with them. “Holy Father, keep them in thy name,” prayed our Lord, and God does just that when people entrust their lives to him.


Our task to infiltrate our pagan culture as agents of the Kingdom. We are to be “sacred saboteurs” armed only with the Gospel and Holy Scripture. Jesus said, “I have sent them into the world.” Our Methodist mandates from our founder John Wesley: “Reform the continent scriptural holiness across the land.” We are to build a new social order based on the principles of Christ.

Jack Eckerd, founder of the Eckerd Drug Chain, became a Christian in 1983 he decreed that all or his stores would get rid graphic magazines like Playboy and Penthouse. He then e directors of other retail stores and urged them to do With the help of a little pressure from the National or Children and Families, many of these stores got rid ash, stores like Revco, Rite Aid, and 7-11. Christians pray and work for a time when God’s kingdom will on earth as it is in heaven. This is what St. Peter wrote, “We wait for new heavens and a new earth where righteousness is at home.”

Remember, Christians, we are not supposed to fit in too well. Jesus warned, “Beware when all men speak well of you.” Our task is not to conform to a secular society, but to allow ourselves and our culture to be transformed by the Christ living in us.

Several days ago the name and face of Kathie Lee Gifford came during prayer time. Of course, she is the co-star on the Kathie Lee” TV talk show. I almost never get a chance hat program, but I have kept up with her through the as been a hard year for Kathie Lee, primarily because of problems that I understand are not her fault. Lee is constantly attacked in the media, and I can think of only one reason. She is one of the very few high-profile stars who dares to stand on moral and spiritual principles. When you dare to climb to a higher level, lots of folks down below will take shots at you. Kathie Lee is paying a heavy price. But, praise be to God, she is not backing down. We Christians who share and spiritual commitments should rally our prayers and best wishes behind her.