Monday, May 29, 2017

Sermon: The Guardian of the Galaxy

"The Guardian of the Galaxy"
John 17: 1-11; 1 Peter 5: 6-11
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 28, 2017

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
- John 17: 1-11

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
- 1 Peter 5: 6-11

On the red carpet his name is Chris Pratt. But on the Hollywood movie screen his character name is Peter Jason Quill. Now Quill has two signatures; (1) a Sony Walkman that plays the best music from the 70’s and 80’s and (2) an awesome superhero helmet.

With some smooth dance moves and one touch of a button at his temple, a black helmet with red lenses suddenly covers his face and brown hair. The helmet transforms Quill into the superhero Star-Lord. In the movie this Marvel comic superhero is randomly joined by a band of misfits who have incredible outer-space adventures. They come together as Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Guardians unite to fight great cosmic battles to protect planets from being annihilated. They work together to keep power from getting into the abusive hands of evil forces. And they defend the weak with a deep conviction of never leaving anyone behind.

The Guardians also become quite a community of support to each other. The second volume of the Marvel movie series came out this month where Peter Quill faces one of the greatest struggles of his life. He confronts his childhood past on Earth and his growing into adulthood in outer-space. And yet Quill’s superhero colleagues, the Guardians, stand by his side to guard and watch over him in such a powerful way that there was not a dry eye in that movie theater when the credits rolled.

John’s Gospel recalls Jesus’ preparation to leave this world for he was about to complete God’s mission on Earth (John 17:4). In doing so Jesus does something powerful for his rag tag followers and all those God has given into his care; he prays for them. Jesus recognizes the hardships all will face and yet his words are to bring assurance and peace:

“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11).

When I hear that word “protect” I immediately think of an invisible barrier that prevents hardship or danger at all costs. But Jesus does not pray for this. He does not pray for God to take his followers to a safer part of the galaxy where there is zero gravity, and no trials or hardships.

Many Bible translations read that first verb as “protect them or keep them safe.” But the Greek is more descriptive than that: Holy Father – guard, watch over them.

Jesus prays that God will guard his followers in such a way that God’s power will cause them to persevere and stand firm. The truth of the matter is that we cannot persevere or stand firm alone in this adventure of faith. Jesus knew that the depths of God’s character have an ultimate purpose of uniting us together in the strength of God’ steadfast love.

It is nothing less than God’s steadfast love that unites our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer into the most powerful force that faith can know. Jesus tells us that God is the ultimate Guardian of the Galaxy and beyond.

It is the Creator’s character of grace that not only created the universe but also searches out the brokenness of creation and humanity to bring good from evil and suffering (Ephesians 1:9; Romans 8:18). It is God’s work in Jesus Christ that we have courage because our Redeemer has conquered the world (John 16:33). It is by God’s covenant pledge to righteousness, justice, and peace that our Sustainer leads us in the greatest commandment to love God and to love neighbors, the needy, and the vulnerable as ourselves (John 14:15-17, 26-27).

God’s power unites us together to guard us in acts of perseverance. God empowers us to rise up and know the full glory of God’s strength.

For months the spirit rock outside of Indian Land High School has been painted with the words, “No one fights alone.” They have been inspiring words for seventeen year old Natalie Moore. Natalie graduated Friday from Indian Land High School with more than a diploma.

On top of all the academic challenges that high school brings, Natalie has been enduring the biggest struggles of her life. Natalie’s father (Captain Ben Moore) suddenly passed away in August 2013, three weeks before her freshmen year of high school began. As the second semester of her senior year began in January she was diagnosed with cancer; Stage 2 Hodgkins lymphoma.[1]

Natalie’s name is familiar to many of us because we have been praying for her this semester. Through these incredibly hard adversities, Natalie has felt the “support of her mother, family, friends, church, and community. “[2]

One of her close friends is our own Savannah Bean, who gave me permission to share a part of their story. Savannah has been friends with Natalie since fifth grade. She remembers the day Natalie shared the news of her diagnosis. Natalie told Savannah she knew this cancer would be hard on herself, hard on her family, and hard on her friends.

Savannah sat in silence with Natalie. They hugged and they shared their tears. But Christ gave Savannah some assuring words for such a time as this: “Natalie, you don’t have to fight this alone. We are all by your side.”

As days, weeks, and months have passed solidarity, assurance, and love have united through friends like Savannah and of course family to help Natalie in practical ways. Support has meant helping Natalie with homework, reminding her to just be herself, and finding Natalie a medical cooling cap to prevent hair loss from chemotherapy. Cancer has pushed Natalie to grow up so fast. But she has been focused on the normal things of teenage life like hanging out with friends, and going to the military ball and prom with her boyfriend.[3]

While Natalie has missed some of her last semester, she has felt God’s presence and she knows God is watching over her. Natalie is persevering in God’s strength with all the support that surrounds her; what an inspiring young lady! She is now setting her sights on college and her future. Natalie has good days and bad days, but faith in God keeps her in a hope-filled mindset because no one fights alone.

Peter’s first epistle says, “Cast all your anxiety on God, because he cares for you. Like a roaring lion your adversary prowls around looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering” (1 Peter 5: 7-9).

No matter our age, we all face hard things that certainly feel like a galactic battle in our hearts; that bully, the doctor’s report, financial crises, the empty nest when our teenagers take flight. Some of life’s scary parts are not so close to home. Nevertheless hardhsips threaten us to the point of considering an escape plan to find refuge on another planet where no violence, terror, and schisms exist.

What holds us together is this gift of faith. I sure wish faith came with a superhero power to prevent trials and hardships. However faith does not prevent suffering but faith certainly guards our hearts giving us the courage to persevere. Faith reminds us that we do not fight alone. Faith guides us through to the other side where God’s blessings of salvation lift us up.

God is THE Guardian of our faith, of heaven and earth, of the galaxies and beyond. God is the Guardian of all grace who has called you and me to his eternal glory in Christ. We come to know God’s glory – the truest sense of God’s character – as Christ prays boldly for us.

Did you hear that? Christ prays boldly for us. Christ prays for the Guardian to hold us in his eternal care. Our Guardian searches us and knows us and is acquainted with all our ways. His presence is continually with us for there is no where we can flee from God’s presence – even if we go to the depths of Sheol or to the farthest limits of the sea or even go all the way out to the planet Xandar! (Psalm 139: 1-3,7-9).

Through the power of God’s steadfast and unstoppable love, Christ and Holy Spirit join our hearts to God and to one another. We are created to know our Guardian with our heart and mind through the gift of relationships. This is what Christ has prayed for.

It is through these relationships of care that we see God at work in our greatest joys and deepest sorrows. God is at work to restore, support, strengthen, and stabilize us. God’s word enters our lives and then goes out to the farthest limits beyond our comprehension. God’s word will not return empty. It shall accomplish God’s purposes yesterday, today, and always (Isaiah 55:11).

No matter what you are going through today – whether you are celebrating your greatest joy or you find yourself in the pit, do not ever forget that we have THE Guardian of the Galaxy on our side. God’s got the whole world in his hands!

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced

[1] Ashley Lowrimore, “Cancer Diagnosis No Roadblock for Grad,” The Lancaster News (SC), Graduation 2017 Insert, page 6, May 24, 2017.
[2] Ashley Lowrimore
[3] Photograph of Natale Moore from The Lancaster News.

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