7th Sunday Of Easter
Homily for 5.20.12
John 17:11b-19 (see below)
Today's Lectionary Gospel reading takes us into the very heart of Jesus, as we see him locked intently is the High-Priestly, intercessory prayer for his disciples. But, in context, it is important that we remember this: What here really is the LORD's Prayer (the "our Father" being the model prayer) comes on the heels of the "upper room discourses," which actually ended on a very somber note:
“'I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’ His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’" (Jn.16:28-33)Notice, on Jesus' heart hangs the heavy burden regarding the sure and certain persecution coming after his death, which he fears will scatter the flock. Question: Would they be able to withstand the onslaught of hate, or would they succumb? You see, Jesus knows the world will hate them, just as it hated him, and so, for the sake of the disciples who will face this very real danger without him, what does the Good Shepherd, the Pastor Jesus do? He prays for them, in front of them, so they can hear his heart.
KEEP THEM IN YOUR NAME
Jesus prays, "Holy Father, keep them in your name..." Keep them as they are now, keep them as my followers. Keep them from being uprooted from your Name, your word, your joy, and a clear dedication to the project of what you are doing.
Jesus sees the danger, even if his followers do not as yet, and the danger is both immediate and fierce. The world, which is no friend of grace, will without hesitation attempt to drag this young movement back into selfishness and dissension. The world, not as in GOD's good world now marred, but as in the world's system of greed, self-indulgence, inter-personal conflict and division would like nothing better than to destroy the fledgling movement that Jesus started, the movement which calls the world's values and ways into question and finds it wanting.
Is this a real danger? Could (can) the Jesus-movement be thwarted? Obviously, yes, else why pray this prayer? I mean, is Jesus' prayer merely an exercise for mock and show? Hardly. The world-system is real and relentless, and because it must exercise implacable control, being as it is under the influence of, shall we name it, "the evil one,” it must allow no rivals.
"I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one."No. This danger is real, but to take them (and us) out of the world as a way of protection would defeat the very purpose for which Jesus came in his passion and his life-giving resurrection -- which is nothing less than the reclamation project of GOD's good world, of which his followers have a vital part. In fact, therefore, he does not pray for us to be taken out of the world because it is by our Spirit induced actions of self-giving love and reconciliation that the work of Christ opens before the world system as its stunning alternative.
But, of course, the danger of lapsing into the world's system is still present today, for us. And so, like her leader, the new community or the new humanity, which is the church, must face head-on the danger of succumbing to the world’s system -- that of attempting to do new creation by the old ways -- what must be called true worldliness.
This idea of the church lapsing into worldliness reminded me of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey’s famous quote. He is here speaking about Britain and the Church of England, but we could easily apply this to all Western, Christian expressions:
"Britain has an 'allergy to religion' and regards Christianity as unnecessary and outdated. Christian evangelists faced an uphill task in an 'affluent, self-assured First World', which thought that it did not need God...The Church is one generation away from extinction...Our generation is being called to hand on our faith to the generations of the Third Millennium. It will require all our vigour, all our energy, all our faith and enthusiasm... We are a society oppressed not by lack, but by surfeit, not by strife, but by ease." (go here)That is, the church in the West, which actually is to be in daily conflict with the world's system ("take up your cross daily and follow me"), has tragically been seduced by it. Said differently, we in the West are culturally captive to the very system about which Jesus here warns us and prayed for us to stand against! Somehow, we have bought into this dead and dying way of being in the world -- believing the lie of scarcity instead of the reality of GOD’s good abundance, which means we fail to share with those in need and instead hoard resources for ourselves. (see Walter Brueggemann)
Instead, Jesus the LORD calls us to a path of faith which is expressed in sacrificial giving, and which also includes our personal resources as the bedrock of the Kingdom enterprise. (more on this at the end)
BE SANCTIFIED IN THE TRUTH OF THE WORD
Clearly, this task of standing against the world system is as basic to the disciples calling as it is arduous. Jesus knew only too well that the problem is not only in the world’s system but within his disciples as well, for the world is still in them, and so he prays: "Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth."
That is, set them apart within your word. Allow them to dedicate themselves to what they have heard and seen in me, the living word of truth. You, Father, guard them now and help them carefully observe our words and my works just as they did when I was with them.
What we are witnessing here within the prayer of Jesus is nothing short of the pastoral task, his deep concern for the welfare of the flock rising to the surface. To be sure, the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep, but once that is done, what then?
What will happen to them after he is gone?
Jesus’ strategy is to rely upon his Father. In this intercessory prayer for them Jesus relies on the Good and Wise and Loving Heavenly Father for their (our) daily conversion and protection from the world. We know from the extended context that Jesus is asking the Father to continue the work he himself had began, and to do so through the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen Christ.
Jesus asks that the Spirit to exercise leadership and protection. Said differently, the Father, through the Spirit, is being asked to moment-by-moment remind the discipleship community of the truth of his words and the works as a way to sanctify them, and to continually call them back to the Jesus-way of being in the world.
And how will we know if the followers of the Jesus-way are being sanctified, set apart and dedicated in the truth of Jesus works and words?
Three things will set them apart. Jesus prays:
UNITY OF THE COMMUNITY
"they may be one just as we are one"
JOY IN THE CHRIST
"they may share my joy completely"
MISSION TO THE WATCHING WORLD
"As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world."
UNITY OF THE COMMUNITY
"that they may be one just as we are one."
Here we see the ultimate testimony of the community, that as the new humanity we would overcome the hateful division that daily suppresses true humanity from flourishing in the world.
Think about the hate and violence that daily springs out of the division of humanity within communities. To face this we must never forget that GOD's movement toward the world is to designed to powerfully reclaim what has been broken by sin, both individual acts of power and structural evil. That is, what divides humanity, cuts it down, deflowers its joy and goodness -- that which is so obviously present in this broken world -- GOD moves against through the LORD Jesus Christ, and through new community who displays the alternative way of being through the systematic proclamation of the King Jesus Gospel. ( go here and here)
And part of this proclamation, the most important part really, is the sustained overcoming of those world-system barriers that divide humans -- gender, race, socio-economic, religious and the like. Certainly, the movement of GOD in Christ toward the brokenness of the entire world will allow nothing less than the discipleship community's full unity that behaves beyond the barriers. Nothing else proves the reality of who Jesus is:
"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that 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. (John 17:20-21)
JOY IN THE CHRIST
Notice also, Jesus prays: “But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely.”
Here we see the ultimate mindset of the community. Here we see that in the very midst of the challenge of worldliness and the pain of a world at war with itself, the discipleship community will live its life with the joy that being part of the Kingdom enterprise brings.
What is not in view is some sort of sugary life view that chooses not to see the brokenness of the world. No, Jesus-believers must see the world for what it is, coarse and grieving. But they see something else as well. They see that GOD in the Christ is reconciling the world back to friendliness, and that they are part of that reconciliation though self-giving love, and this inclusion in GOD’s good work gives life purpose and meaning and true joy.
MISSION TO THE WATCHING WORLD
Finally, Jesus prays: "As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world."
Clearly, the discipleship community has been given the task to continue the works of Jesus as part of GOD’s reclamation project of the world (e.g. see 1 Corinthians 15). And, as I outlined last week this calling must include:
- absorbing the pain of a broken world in, self-giving and loving friendship
- displaying to the watching world the wise, loving rule of the Sovereign King Jesus
- proclaiming with our lives that the rule of the new King is nothing like those of current empires, be they religious or not
This is the discipleship’s missional calling to the watching world.
Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
"Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,
and I guarded them, and none of them was lost
except the son of destruction,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth."