Week of Sunday June 5 - Easter 7
Gospel: John 17:1-11
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.
The lectionary selection finishes here, but the prayer continues:
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.’
Let’s begin with two things about John 17.
John 17 is not a bottle of nice light Rosé wine which we consume for lunch. It is not to be read at a sitting. John 17 is Glenmorangie, which is to be nursed and savoured in small sips while we think about things at the end of the day. John 17 is deep and complex, rich and layered. We will only sip a little, today.
John 17 is also not an impromptu prayer at the end of tea before the disciples and Jesus go out to the Kidron Valley (cf Chapter 18). That’s just the surface appearance. It is planned and carefully written. It is a theological manifesto.
When you wrote about a person in Jesus’ time, the done thing was to include a farewell speech, a kind of last will and testament, which summed up the essence of their teaching. You might remember Moses’ farewell speech that starts in Deuteronomy chapter 29.
This is what John 17 is. It’s the final summing up of Jesus’ teaching.
What this means is that John 17 is not the direct words of Jesus spoken to the 12 disciples. It’s the words that John understands would summarise Jesus’ whole message to John’s church, at a time much closer to 100CE, than to the time of Jesus’ death. John emphasises this in verse 20 where Jesus says, “‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word...”
It is clear that there is suffering and pain in John’s time. The prayer asks that they may be one. It says the world will hate them. It says they are not of the world. (14,16, 21)
In suffering it is natural to wish that Jesus would come back and take us all out of the mess. John’s people were wishing for this. They remembered the old expectations that Jesus would soon return. But in the prayer Jesus says, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (15) The message is... that life is to be lived here. Jesus came, he said, that we might have life and have it more abundantly (10:10), but that abundant life is to be lived here... Here!
In the TV series called Life a man in prison is befriended by a long term prisoner, who will be there for many years, if not his whole life. The man asks his new friend a question about missing so much of life by being in gaol. The friend says, “But this is life.”
Life, abundant life, life in all its fullness— is here. It is here in the mess where we now are. And here, where we now are, Jesus prays for our protection from the evil one. He loves us.
The implications of the prayer go deeper.
At the beginning of the chapter there is religious sounding language that we are inclined to tune out. It’s the sort of language I remember as a kid. It came between the opening hymn and the children’s’ talk. The minister would pray words like “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,” and we kids would start swinging our legs waiting for another interesting bit to happen.
But this Father... glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, is not just empty words, and meaningless flattery of God. It’s worth investigating.
God’s glory, if we use some very technical theological jargon, is “the bit of God" that we can see. The ancient folk said, “To look on the face of God is to die.” God is too much, so much beyond our comprehension, that a direct meeting with God would blow us away.
In Exodus 33 Moses said to God
‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ 19And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord” ... ‘But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’
The muted glory of God may pass by us, but this is all we can stand.
Let’s read the story of Elijah. You will remember that Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, who were the favourites of Queen Jezebel, and the prophets were all been killed.
(1 Kings 19) Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life... he went ... for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there....
While he was in the cave God said... (I’m skipping bits; you can read it all at home.)
‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
God was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire which came after. God was in a sound of sheer silence, like falling ash. Even then, Elijah needed to cover his face. That's glory... when the presence of God is shown to us.
So when Jesus says "glorify your Son" it means “Let people see me for who I am. If you let me be seen for who I am, then people will see you for who you are. They will see God. They will know God.”
His prayer could have been something like "Let us be known. Pass by the people as they hide in the cave on the mountain. Pass by the people when they are in fear of their lives from tyrants like Jezebel, and feel abandoned, and are ready to give up.”
But let’s understand why Jesus does not say what I’ve said. Understand that when he uses the word glory it means he is talking about very God; the essence of God; the reality of God; God who is so holy that the ancient folk would not say his name, let alone say “Oh my God!” when Master Chef announces who must leave the kitchen.
God is life changing holiness that threatens all the shallow comforts of our present life.
Why did Jesus come? To give us life, life in all its fullness.
as it is said here, in verse 2, to give eternal life. "...you have given him authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom you have given him..."
Life in all its fullness... is eternal life.
And then Jesus said, in verse 3, "This is eternal life: that people may know you, the one true God, and that people may know Jesus Christ whom you sent."
We’ve often been taught that eternal life is life that never ends. It certainly sounds like that; what else would “eternal” be? But as one of my lecturers who had MS said, “Why would I want an eternity of this life?” He's right. I haven't got multiple sclerosis, but even so, I still don’t want an eternity of my life! I want more... and better.
More and better... is a different quality of life. It is to know God. It is for God to be glorified; that is for God to be shown to us.
To know God is to have a different quality of life. It means that despite illness, age, injustice and persecution, life has encountered the Ultimate. It means that in our life here— in this life— we are already on our way towards being fully human. We are already friends with God.
Jesus has come to show us and point us towards all this.
Life is here. Keep the commandment; love one another, and we will know God.
Let me finish with a personal witness.
I've felt overwhelmed by the evil of world lately. I’ve been reading about the Holocaust, and watching the wars. The civilian death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan is several thousand times the death toll of our Australian troops— perhaps many thousand times....
Evil is close to home, too. One of my friends carried out a simple, innocent act of love, a good neighbourly act of service; agape, and is now accused of a great evil. The most charitable thing I can say about the person making the accusations is that they are sick and deluded. The result of their actions is a tragedy, even evil. “I ask you to protect them from the evil one,” Jesus prayed. It is still a prayer for today.
I look at the world, and I think of my friend, too, and I alternate between rage and despair. I wonder about this sermon. Am I just writing words to comfort my own anger about my friend’s impossible predicament, and my powerlessness to help? Is “knowing God” and “eternal life” all just words? Are they a pathetic "whistling in the dark” as we stand alone, feeling hated by the world... isolated... and without a prayer?
I remember my own struggle. It was different from that of my friend. But it was life threatening, all the same. l remember that in the hopelessness there remained a spark, a tiny conviction, a still small voice which held me alive and kept me from being swept away. It said I was loved; that I counted; that life was good.
This life here is Life, and I love it. I have seen God; a small glory has passed by me.
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