Looking in to the Warrumbungles from the southwest, 2011

Everything is Holy Now

Week of Sunday May 17 - Easter 7
Gospel: John 17:6-19

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.’ 

I tell myself that our nation has been built upon violence and injustice from the beginning. We were a penal colony of the Empire, the invader's gaol. I tell myself that Australia has not suddenly gone bad. We simply have a leadership who seem to be without shame and who use our already present greed as a key political strategy. Despite them there remain "7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal." (1 Kings 19:18) Neither are we much different from any other country.

It's not working. I feel alienated from my country. I despair for it. I find it hard not to hate the world.

Seeking to follow the way of Jesus means to practise awareness of our difference from the world. David Lohse says "This world is captive to a spirit alien to God's spirit. It is animated by a sense of scarcity instead of abundance, fear instead of courage, and selfishness instead of sacrificial love."

He is correct. We are still too much the animals of the evolutionary forces which have shaped us, and far too little the human beings who transcend brute evolutionary instinct for survival at all costs.

Lohse lays out Jesus' humanity, which demonstrates transcendence beyond survival at all costs.

Jesus -- the one who came to bring abundant life, does not run away in the face of danger, and lays down his life for the sheep – [Jesus] offers an alternative spirit and reality. This is the reason the world (kosmos -- John's word of choice for the spirit and power that is hostile to God's good intention to love and redeem all) hates Jesus and will hate those who follow him.

I repeat: To be a disciple is to practise this difference. It is to become more human, and it is to invite the world to hate us, no matter which religious or philosophical discipline we follow in our practising. No wonder in writing Chapter 17 that John believed that Jesus would pray for his disciples, and for us!  (John 17:20)

Practising difference, and its consequent unpopularity and alienation, inevitably presents us with two temptations.

There is a temptation to present a small target to the world. Peter Lockhart says

It is easy to water down the message of our faith and turn it into a model for social work without holding onto the fundamental truth that our actions are a sign and witness to God’s love for the world and the future promise for all peoples. Maybe it is because we don’t want to be viewed as Bible bashers or crazy people that we so often hide our faith. Maybe it’s because we simply want to be liked.

I think the choice to be a small target is a surrender of our holiness. The word holiness has aspects of wholeness (hale) and difference about it. We are holy: we are called and set apart in John's understanding.  "They were yours, and you gave them to me…" (17:6) (Here and here, for etymology of holy)  

Holiness is to be lived in 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. 

The danger of the world is that we lose holiness; we cease to be different.

Being kept from the devil and being kept holy are two sides of the one coin. Holiness is christologically and theologically defined. To lose holiness is to lose touch with the Son and the Father. Jesus attends to his own holiness (17:19) and is concerned about that of his disciples (17:12,15-17,19). In John’s frame of reference, the issue is remaining one with the Son and the Father. It could seem like a very closed and exclusive system if we forget that underlying it all is an image of God as love which is reaching out to all. Losing touch with love is losing touch with holiness.  (Bill Loader)

The other temptation is to withdraw from the world in some way to protect our holiness. Bill Loader's treatment of Judas— "the one destined to be lost"— provides an insight into this.

John shows no knowledge of the virtuous image of Judas portrayed in the second century Gospel of Judas. The latter is more likely to be a product of the kind of movement with which John's community later had to struggle. In it Jesus imparts true knowledge, which reflects a second century system of thought according to which flesh and blood humanity is the product of a depraved deity and salvation is escape from embodiedness into heavenly realms… the people who fall for the gnostic ploy in this instance fail to realise that their heroes were, in fact, promulgating a life-denying escapist spirituality which in some parts of Christianity we have only just put to rest.

In blunt terms, withdrawal from the world contradicts Genesis 1:31 where "31God saw everything that he (sic) had made, and indeed, it was very good." 

Indeed, withdrawal from the world is a contradiction of holiness. Withdrawal says the world, and the people around us in the world, are "too far gone" to be saved. It says that since Jesus did not ask for us to be taken out of the world (John 17:15) we will attend to that ourselves…

    ignoring the fact that he very deliberately leaves us in the world, for here it is that our joy will be made full,

    and ignoring the fact that he means us to be seen in the world: "34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-5)

In whatever form withdrawal comes, whether it is a full blown gnosticism, or an over-the-top pietism, it ends up being a loss of holiness rather than a preservation of holiness. This is because holiness is a worldly category; that is, it can only happen in the world. It is a sign to the world. Holiness is love; it lays down its life for its friends. That only needs to be done in the world. In "heaven" where all is fulfilled and complete, there is no need for holiness, everything is simply whole.

So if I withdraw from the world, what does it say?

Am I a coward, afraid to pay the cost of holiness?
Or perhaps, more gentle with myself, could I say I am burned out, too tired, too despairing to keep living holiness in the faith that it is a living of truth?
Or is my withdrawal hubris, rather than holiness? Those who claim holiness and set themselves apart are notorious for their abuse. And the more authoritarian their imposition of the unity for which Christ prayed (17:11) the worse the abuses.  Sooner or later their fine piety proves to be naked pride and the seeking of power.

Life, and the facing of my despair for our country and our world, all comes down to holiness:  God saw everything God had made and indeed it was very good. The creation teems with life. There is abundance, not scarcity.

The problem with Abbott, Hockey and Pyne, is that they do not see holiness. They see scarcity. They fear scarcity, and lack courage. And so their world is selfish. Ruled by their fear they can do no better than the old animal instincts to survive at all costs. And injustice and scarcity flow as such politicians destroy holiness, and back away from God's calling them to humanity. They become, in John's terms, the world. They— their seeing of scarcity and their fear of it— creates it.

I can say all that, because that is too often me. It's just that Tony Abbott is better at it, and so he is further up the pile than I am. I have two choices— only two. Either I start to climb the pile, or I start to practise holiness.

Pete Mayer has song called Everything is Holy Now.

When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

He has been captured by that enchantment with reality which we Christians call relationship with God. He has understood that God goes beyond church, and beyond church language. Everything is holy now, and always has been— God saw everything God had made, and it was very good. The problem with Tony Abbott's religion is that he did not bring it with him outside of seminary. He does not see that everything is holy, and everyone, even those of whom he is afraid.

If everything is holy, even if it has closed its eyes to its beginnings and aligned itself with the story of the world, then what do we fear? If we could see that everything is holy, would not that be a perfection of love?— perfect love casts out fear.(1 John 4)  Is that not what Jesus somehow lived out— an overriding of his fear in an act of holiness, an act of love?

I find only one answer to my despair and alienation. And that is to be enchanted, not to say but to experience that everything is holy now. But I can't learn that in a book. I can only practise that. The practise of "everything is holy now" is the practise of the very difference which the world hates. It is to hallow all the creation and all the people.

How can I do that in a world of despair and alienation? And exhaustion? How can I do that when I am so often a part of the problem and, as we say in our confessions at church, "and sometimes I don't care."

Maybe Pete Mayer should write a song about how

Everything is holy now
and love leaks ev'rywhere…

As some of us talked about being a part of the problem, and being so tired that "sometimes we don't even care" I wondered if since everything is holy now— there are no divisions between sacred and not sacred— if maybe love might be able to leak between the bits of our world. I wondered if even though in one place we cannot bring ourselves to move— to care enough to change— we can at least begin somewhere else. I wonder if that might be enough practising of holiness for it to slowly leak into the arts of our lives where we are alienated and exhausted to the point of not caring anymore.

I noticed that at the end of the study one of my tired, tired friends tidied up all the chairs and put them back against the wall. And my heart rejoices for

Everything is holy now
and love leaks ev'rywhere…

Andrew Prior
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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