Sanctified by Truth
John 17:6-19

On Friday morning at Good Shepherd our staff devotion included an illustration using three dish washing sponges.  One was clean and moist and ready for use.  One was dry and stiff and the third was dirty, as well as being stiff and dry.  They were used to describe what we are like when we are not immersed in the Word.  When we’re not filled with the living water of God through his Word we become dry and less able to do the work that God has called us to do.

It got me thinking about the Gospel text for today, and what it means to be sanctified by truth.  To be sanctified literally means to be set apart for sacred use or made holy.  Probably the most common misconception with the term sanctification is that we have any input into how sanctified or holy we are.  As Martin Luther described it we are never more holy than at our baptism.  Try as we might throughout our lives to live holy lives and follow God’s commands we there is no graduated scale to true holiness.

We are born like the dried up and dirty sponge, sinful and unclean, then we are baptised we are washed clean, pure, wet behind the ears, but clean and right in the eyes of God through the water and God’s word spoken over us using the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Throughout our lives we feel as though we are moving from dried up and dirty to clean and moist, but the truth is, in God’s eyes we are saints, sanctified, holy, through the work and actions of his Son Jesus.

Yes in the eyes of each other and in accordance with the standards of the world we can be more or less holy, the sinner in us takes over and we live lives that are less than pure.  People are quick to point out where they think we have fallen short, we’re labelled hypocrite or reminded of our sinful ways.  I think I mentioned last week that I’ve added a bible reference onto the handle of my hockey stick as a reminder not to repay evil with evil and to do right in the eyes of everyone, its Romans 12:17.  This isn’t so that I look better in the eyes of God, but so that through my own sin I don’t cause another to stumble as they incorrectly interpret the Christian journey as one that requires perfection.

I’m sure you’ve all felt at some point in your lives as though the eyes of the world are upon you.  You may have even felt burdened by the guilt of perceived judgement of others on you for sins of omission or commission, things you’ve done or things you should have done.  These aren’t God’s judgement on you; they are things of human flesh.  They may be a bit of a hangover from the Pietist movement of last century, where the actions and opinions of Christians were projected out into the world and that living a perfect life was to be a Christian.

Unfortunately by our own doing we quite simply can’t be more holy or sanctified.  Jesus was praying for the disciples, the twelve closest and most beloved friends of Jesus, and his prayer for them was this, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

If these most trusted ones needed Jesus prayers for them, we most certainly do too.  They couldn’t do it on their own and neither can we.  We need the truth, and as Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”  It is Jesus who is the truth, and he is asking the Father to sanctify or make holy the disciples through the truth.  Only Jesus could manage that, not you or me or any other normal human being, only the Word who became flesh and lived among us.

As he declared to the Father he was about to make us holy because of his most holy act of sacrificing himself for the guilt of our sins.  In doing so he made us truly holy.  Before that time salvation solely rested on the ability of humans to follow the commandments that God had given to Moses, but Jesus was about to create a new covenant, a new commandment to love one another as he loves us.  In our baptism we became children of God, children of the new covenant, we were washed clean, our dirty dried up sponge became clean and moist, filled with the living water by Jesus.

As we try and try again by ourselves to live holy lives we feel more and more dried up and inadequate, we become brittle and even more helpless.  Luther often encouraged all who were there to listen that they should daily return to their baptism, arise each day washed anew.  This is the best way to combat our human nature and its desire to live out holiness to win salvation.  When we daily remember our baptism and that it wasn’t us that did the work of making us holy but Jesus Christ, it takes the pressure off, it helps us return to God rather than turning to ourselves.

Imagine daily dipping your sponge into the waters of your baptism and soaking up the life giving holiness all over again.  It never went anywhere but we did.  We wandered away from it while looking for it and we had it all along!
Remember too that Jesus ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf to the Father.  Not only did he pray for the disciples before he went to suffer and die, but he continues to pray for them and for each and every one of us.  That we will be sanctified, we will be and remain holy through him, the way and the truth and the life, and that we will come to the Father, forgiven, redeemed, holy and blameless.

 Lord sanctify us in truth, your word is truth.