Jim Zazzera, Faith Presbyterian Church
The first day I was able to enter CentralHigh School, what I felt inside was terrible, wrenching, awful fear. On the car radio I could hear that there was a mob. I knew that the sounds that came from the crowd were very angry. So we entered the side of the building, very, very fast. Even as we entered there were people running after us, people tripping other people. Once we got into the school; it was very dark; it was like a deep dark castle. And my eyesight had to adjust to the fact that there were people all around me. We were met by school officials and very quickly dispersed our separate ways. There has never been in my life any stark terror or any fear akin to that.
I’d only been in the school a couple of hours and by that time it was apparent that the mob was just overrunning the school. Policemen were throwing down their badges and the mob was getting past the wooden sawhorses because the police would no longer fight their own in order to protect us. So we were all called into the principal’s office, and there was great fear that we would not get out of the building. We were trapped. And I thought, Okay, so I’m going to die here, in school. And I remember thinking back to what I’d been told, to understand the realities of where you are and pray. Even the adults, the school officials, were panicked, feeling like there was no protection. A couple of kids, the black kids, that were with me were crying…we were taken to the basement of this place. And we were put into two cars, grayish blue Fords. And the man instructed the drivers, he said, “Once you start driving, do not stop.” And he told us to put our heads down. This guy revved up his engine and he came up out of the bowels of this building, and as he came up, I could just see hands reaching across this car; I could hear the yelling, I could see guns, and he was told not to stop…And he did just that…people tried to stop him and he didn’t stop. He dropped me off at home. And I remember saying, “Thank you for the ride,” and I should’ve said, “Thank you for my life.”
Melba Patillo knew what it was for the world to hate her. In 1957 she was one of the Little Rock Nine—9 black high school students who faced down an angry mob, a resistant governor, and a prevailing climate of racism—to be the first young people to integrate the beautiful, imposing, whites only Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Melba knew what it was for the world to hate her.
In today’s passage, Jesus speaks of the experience of hate as well. If you remember last week in this same gospel, Pastor Jeff shared with us that Jesus took great pains to let his disciples know that they were invited to live in and experience Jesus’ love. Yet, in today’s reading, the very next thing Jesus offers is the warning that the world would hate them. He lets them know that resting in God’s love doesn’t automatically keep them away from harm, but in fact, leads them into the jaws of danger. Jesus tells them, “I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” Jesus wants to remind his followers that they will experience what we often call “persecution.”
This is not the only place in the gospels where Jesus reminds his followers about persecution to come. In Matthew Chapter 10 he says: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves… they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me,…and you will be hated by all because of my name.” Later in the same gospel Jesus says: “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.” Then at the end of the Beatitudes, in the heart of his “Sermon on the Mount,” we hear Jesus conclude with these words: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” According to Jesus, somehow persecution is part of what it means to follow him. (Kind of makes you want to reconsider this church thing, doesn’t it?) Apparently, following Jesus means to be at odds with the world. Being connected with Jesus means to be hated—at least by someone. Maybe, like the Little Rock Nine, we too are called to walk through the center of an angry mob.
The world will hate you. We tend to think of hate as an emotion, and so it is. But what Jesus means here is more than that. Just as love (for Jesus) is not simply an attitude, but shows itself in compassionate action, so hate shows itself in doing harm to others.
In fact, Jesus seems to be implying that hate goes beyond even that. Hate, for him, is grounded in a rejection of God and God’s Messiah. In verse 21 Jesus says, “But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” It is almost as if this hatred is synonymous with not acknowledging the God that is being revealed to them in Jesus. What is clear is this, the hatred spoken of here is not just some ill feelings of one group toward another. But according to Jesus, this hatred shows up in cruel and even murderous acts and is grounded in a rejection of all that Jesus has shown to be true.
The world will hate you. The word “world” here is not the globe, or the created order, as if we are somehow we are at odds with what God has made. The “world” is s not even a way about talking about the people of the world. Remember John 3:16, “for God so loved the world…” “World” here is more accurately translated as the ways that our societies and nations stand in opposition to God’s ways. The “world” as Jesus speaks about it here are the values, systems, and structures of his day (and by implications our day)that are not of God, and not mindful of what God reveals in Jesus.
Certain things may come to mind for you in our time. Does the Messiah who commanded us to “love our enemies” really condone the use of killer drones OR poison gas? Does the One who encourages the little children to “come to him” ever overlook the abuse, neglect, and poverty of children in our day? Does the Savior who was betrayed and denied by his closest friends, look without judgment on the corporate lies and personal betrayals of our world? And does the Servant who came to show us the way, rest easy in the fact that so many of us do not seek God’s way? I am sure you can add to this list. In this passage in the Gospel of John the “world” represents everything that stands against God and God’s ways.
More specifically, in Jesus time, the “world” is represented the religious authorities of Israel—particularly the Jewish authorities. You see—Jesus is speaking particularly to his own religious family—Judaism. When Jesus speaks of being thrown out of synagogues he is referring to his own brothers and sisters in faith doing this to his followers. When he mentions, “those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God,” he could easily be prefiguring Paul the Apostle himself, who as a Pharisee, the most observant of Jews, was known to has shared in the deathly stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr after Jesus.
Undoubtedly, Christians have faced persecution from the beginning and face it to this day. Probably the most recent example of this is the fate of Christians in Egypt. The Christian faith has a long history in Egypt, and today is represented not only in its oldest form there, the Coptic Orthodox Church, but by Protestants and Catholics as well. A Washington Post article from last week details some of the tragedy there:
The Arab revolutions have brought hardships as well as opportunities to religious and ethnic minorities across the region, and Egypt’s large Christian community has suffered some of the severest blows. Following a bloody crackdown by the military-backed government against followers of the Muslim Brotherhood last week, scores of Christian churches, schools and private homes were attacked across the country. Many were burned, and Christian groups reported that at least six people were killed.
Throughout history, Christians, especially when they are in the minority, have known this kind of opposition. And we are called to care for, to support, to call for justice for these peoples. Yet to do so without hate.
But we are also called to remember that throughout history, Christians have also found themselves in the majority. In far too many of the centuries since then, Constantine’s legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313 A.D. Christians themselves have been persecutors. Even the founders of our own faith traditions have been complicit in this. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the leadership of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition and Crusades have all been party to prejudice against and persecution of those who stood against their particular views. (Including, ironically, the Jewish people, their own religious forbears.)
So it is important, even when we are in the majority, but especially when we are in places of power to understand Jesus’ warnings here. Notice that he says, “The world will hate you.” But he never calls his disciples to hate the world or hate its people. The guidance Jesus offers is not to stand belligerently against culture. Instead, what Jesus calls us to is to belong to him. To be aware of his presence. To live as he teaches.
Then, just as he did in early verses, Jesus here again reminds us of the presence of the Spirit. “The Spirit of truth will testify on my behalf.”  The word he uses here for the Spirit can be translated as the Advocate, the True Friend, the Helper, the Encourager, even the Attorney!
Jesus teaches his followers a little bit more about the work of the Spirit. Previously he taught them that the Spirit would be a companion, to be with the disciples “forever,” after Jesus is gone And also as a teacher, who will “remind” the disciples of Jesus’ own words and teachings Pastor Rick did a wonderful job of reminding us of the work of the Spirit in his sermon a few weeks ago. Here, the Advocate, the Paraclete, the Spirit is characterized in a new way. The Spirit is described as a legal “witness”
The Spirit testifies on Jesus’ behalf. The Spirit underlines the truth of Jesus’ claims, actions, and presence. The Spirit empowers his followers, the ones who have been “with him since the beginning,” in their witness and testimony. Another way of saying it is this—the Spirit presents Jesus’ case to the world. And it is this case, this testimony, that often gets the world so riled up!
So what is the testimony? What is the case? Listen to Jesus words here—they are harsh words:
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.
Jesus reveals the truth about our lives. Our brokenness and sin. Our loves and our hates. What we treasure and what we reject. Jesus very life forces us to confront ourselves honestly. Jesus very being calls us to transformation. But though we hear it and see it, we often reject it. Thought the Spirit gives testimony, though the Spirit shows us who Jesus is and tell us what he is about, we do everything in our power to deny the truth of that testimony. The writer of the gospel reminds us, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” That light is Jesus.
And the passage continues, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” That world, including all of us, cannot always bear the light that Jesus sheds on our lives. The world, including us, does not always receive the testimony that the Spirit/Advocate offers.
The world may hate and persecute us, because we follow the one who taught us how to live in the light. We may hate and persecute others, because we have not always been willing to allow the light to shine in us. But the Spirit never relents. The Advocate, the Friend, the Helper, the Attorney—never stops making Jesus case in our lives: not so that we will simply take on the label “Christian,” not so that we will stand over against others in a triumphal, judgmental stance, but that we might find our lives truly transformed by God’s presence.
In late September of 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. sent a telegram to the Little Rock Nine and their advisors. In part, it reads:
Urge the people of Little Rock to adhere rigorously to a way of non-violence at this time. I know this is difficult advice at a time when you are being terrorized, stoned, and threatened by ruthless mobs. But non-violence is the only way to a lasting solution of the problem.
You must meet physical force with soul force. You have no alternative but to continue the struggle for integrated schools, but do it with a thorough commitment to Christian principles. If the white mobs of Little Rock choose to be un-Christian and disgracefully barbaric in their acts, you must continue to be Christian and dignified in yours…Keep struggling with this faith and the tragic midnight of anarchy and mob rule which encompasses your city at this time will be transformed into the glowing daybreak of freedom and justice.
Meet physical force with soul force. Soul force. Perhaps that is another way of talking about the work of the Spirit. May this Spirit testify in our hearts, and may we testify to the world, about the love and power and grace that all people can know because of Jesus. The world may hate us. But, by the power and direction of the Spirit, we will only love.
Next Step Questions
Do you ever feel like you have been hated? Why was that? How did you react?
Read John 15:28 – 16:4 again. (Maybe even try it in a different version.) Is there something that really stands out to you? Challenges you? Comforts you? Troubles you?
According to the sermon, what did John (the writer of the gospel) mean by “the world?” What in the world’s “systems & values” do you think denies Jesus and his teachings?
Why does the world hate Jesus followers? How is that demonstrated? How does Jesus call for his people to act in return?
Was it is about Jesus that causes people to respond negatively? Has that (ever) been true for you?
Do you think persecution is part of what it means to follow Jesus? Why or why not? Have you ever experienced persecution because of your life as a Christian?
When (in history or the present time) have Christians been persecutors themselves? Does Jesus ever call for this? Why does it happen?
According to Jesus here, what is the role of the Advocate (the Holy Spirit) in our lives? Have you experienced the Spirit acting in this way?
What does it mean to testify? To whom are Jesus followers asked to testify? Why is that important?
Where are the places in the world today where followers of Christ are facing difficulties, opposition, or persecution? Consider praying for these brothers and sisters.
 Voices of Freedom, Harry Hampton & Steve Fayer, pp. 45-46
 John 15:19, NRSV.
 Matthew 10:16-22 (excerpts), NRSV.
 Matthew 24:9, NRSV.
 Matthew 5:10-12, NRSV.
 John 15:21, NRSV.
 John 3:16, NRSV.
 John 16:2, NRSV.
 John 16:2, NRSV.
 Acts 7:54-59.
 If you want to think more about what this looks like you could do worse than review the Beatitudes.
 John 15:26, NRSV.
 Dale Bruner, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 905.
 John 14:16-18.
 John 14:26.
 John 15:23-24, NRSV.
 John 1:9, NRSV.
 John 1:10-11, NRSV.