Week of Sunday May 16
Bible: John 17:20-26
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, 2since you have given him authority over all people,* to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6 ‘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. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for 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. 9I 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. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And 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. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that* you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost,* so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.* 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.* 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,* so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
Jesus: Christ for everyone.
Sometimes I need to write a sermon for me, before I can write it for the congregation. After I deal with my concerns, I can usually work out what needs to be said. I’m not sure where I’m going yet, this week!
One day my tribal grandfather, and the other old men down at the farm decided that it was time to educate me. Or maybe it was just too hot to work! I was sat in the shade and lectured on the white explorers who first came to the Pitjantjatjara lands, swaying with thirst on their camels. They were mocked for their lack of bush savvy. “If it had not been for us, they would have died of thirst,” They shook their heads over Lassetter, holed up in his cave, shooting at them when they tried to help, and eventually dying. I met a whole new history of my country as they told me stories of old, and the way things were. It was a completely different way of seeing the world.
Sometimes community meetings showed me this world too. It was not simply my truly pathetic language skills- “For goodness sake, speak English!” someone once snapped at me- but a different world. Long discussions over things about which I had not the least idea, taught that me some people’s world can be so different that it may as well be another place! By now, I could not say they were wrong, for I had learned enough to realise that in many ways I was the ignorant one.
This” other world” is sometimes how I experience the Gospel of John, especially in the farewell discourses, and perhaps even more in chapter 17. Mark is as fresh as yesterday. Two thousand years, multiple translations, and different cultures do not hide the call to commitment to a radically different way of being human. But John is like one of those long meetings on the lawn at Ernabella. I hear the words, but don’t know what’s being said. “How can I ever preach anything meaningful about this?!”
This world wide gap occurs not just between us and parts of the bible, but between us and us! In the church there is what I’ll call the Classic, or Traditional, understanding of the faith, and a Developing Tradition. These two places where people live out their faith see the same events with different eyes.
We have been taught to understand that different world views are either right or wrong; ours being right, of course. But in many cases they are simply just completely different. To say right or wrong is itself wrong; it does not reflect the complexity of the situation. Let me give an example of how our upbringing and age radically affect what we see.
Years ago, my very intelligent university educated mother, was being introduced to computer games by our six year old. I discerned that not all was well; his impatience with her was becoming louder. I stood behind them as he tried to explain to her how to move the little hero of the game through the lurid colours of the monster’s belly- sort of a Jonah in the computer age. It became clear that she could not see the hero! This very smart woman’s world simply could not see what was happening on the screen!
And riding to work one morning, I was glad to see a motorist stop at a cross roads, lean forward, and carefully look in both directions. He then sat back ... and pulled out in front of me. My front tire kissed his passenger door as I skidded to a halt, and I almost kissed his wife through her window! He was deeply shocked. He had looked at right me, and not seen me.
He looked at me and did not see me. Scholars think that we see what our worldview expects us to see, which often does not include motor bikes; therefore we don’t see the bike. They call it perceptual blindness.
You are probably aware of what sometimes happens at an intersection when there is a near miss like this. Sometimes, after everyone has begun to breathe again, a lot of shouting happens. Sometimes the driver who is at fault... obviously, utterly, and clearly in the wrong, blames it all on the other driver. “I didn’t see you, so it’s your fault,” they scream, even if that's not what they say.
“I don’t see what you see about Jesus, so it’s all your fault,” people scream in church, just as shocked and frightened.
Sometimes we can arrive at scientifically objective conclusions. Once the motorcyclist bangs against our door, and we look into his helmet, we can usually see him and conclude he is real. But in church, we are only not dealing with motorbikes, or physics or chemistry. We are not dealing only with the how of the world. We are dealing with the WHY.
We are talking about things that go beyond science... things like purpose, hope, compassion and love. We can’t scientifically prove these things. We can only debate them so far. After that the only proof these things have is in the living.
So perhaps I could emulate my friend, who would sometimes say, gently, to his students, “Surely you can’t be serious?!” about some of their views. What mattered most to him was not their understanding of the world, but how they lived in it. Did they live with compassion and acceptance, or were they judgemental, damning, cruel, or greedy? These are the things that matter. These are the things which really test how much of reality we see.
You know that I keep saying that Jesus was about compassion. Compassion is what makes Jesus a Christ for all people. It is what takes him from being a forgotten historical figure to being a Messiah.
So, we have classic Christians in this congregation. It works. It makes sense for you. Great I want to affirm you. You will not run out of things to be challenged about by Christ! … But do you live with compassion?
We also have people in this congregation for whom the developing Christian world view makes more sense. The classic position no longer addresses their understanding of the world. Welcome to a long challenge! You too, will not run out of things with which Christ will challenge you. And do you live with compassion?
So for all of us, and all the people in between, what can Jesus say?
John 17 is a part of what they call the Farewell Discourse. Jesus knows he is going to be killed, and he is saying goodbye, and preparing his disciples for the future when he will not be with them. Essentially he is telling us how to live, because he is gone from us, too.
It begins with that language about glorifying. Basically this is saying:
God, show me as I really am- that’s what glorify means- show me as I really am, so I can show you as you really are.
Why does he ask that? It’s because Eternal Life is to know the only true God. (17:3) Eternal Life doesn’t mean "live forever"; it means to be in a completely different consciousness which knows the only true God. Or we could say it means to be in a completely different consciousness, and to see reality as it really is. To see beyond TV and more toys. So Jesus says, “Father, please show me as I really am, so people can see who You really are, because that is eternal life.”
Then in verses 10-19 he asks “Keep them safe from the evil one.” He does not ask for us to be free of troubles or suffering. We cannot be free of these. We are part of the world, and we are in the world, as he says. But we, the disciples, are not ultimately of this world. Keep them safe from the evil one: whatever happens or befalls us, we will not be separated from God; from the ultimate reality.
And I’m not just asking for these disciples, he says in verse 20, ‘but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word...” This prayer is not just for the disciples, it is for us.
And he prays in verse 13 that they (ie, we) may have Jesus’ joy made complete in us.
Then we have a classic Gospel of John statement in verse 25ff: ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
I’m concentrating on one part of it: so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them. It means that we are not loved by God just so we can be full of joy and relax on our laurels. This love also has a purpose. We are called to be like Christ. The love with which God loved him is to be shown in us- towards each other and other people. We are to love and care for others. We are not to seek to maintain our own privilege. We are to live out the faith by living like Jesus did. In fact, many would say that this kind of living, living with compassion, which is living for others, is what brings us into the joy of Christ. It is the way into the joy of Christ.
There’s an old story of the woman who told the Bishop she was having difficulty with the hard parts of the Bible. He asked her what she did with her chicken bones.
“I put them on the side of my plate and eat the meat,” she said.
“Well, leave the hard bits to one side and get into the meat you do understand,” he said.
We’ve got some chicken bones here this morning. Some folk find the traditional way of looking at being church sticks in their gullet. Some folk find chapters like John 17 almost too bony to eat. Others are wondering what all the fuss is about, and find their companions in the pews are getting stuck in their teeth.
We’re trying to work out how to live together and make decisions about our future. There’s some bony stuff to discuss there, too, in the meeting after church. We can’t ignore it.
But the meat is plain to us all. Live Love. Live Compassion. This shows Jesus to others, and it shows Jesus to us.
Will we concentrate on the meat?
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
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