Readings from Scripture (CEB) John 17:6-19
6 “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 This is because I gave them the words that you gave me, and they received them. They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 “I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. 10 Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. 11 I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one. 12 When I was with them, I watched over them in your name, the name you gave to me, and I kept them safe. None of them were lost, except the one who was destined for destruction, so that scripture would be fulfilled. 13 Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they can share completely in my joy. 14 I gave your word to them and the world hated them, because they don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. 15 I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. 17 Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.
I was online this week when I came across this story (and I’ve taken the person’s name and picture off just in case):
I mourned when my first reaction was to cynically doubt the story. But as I sat with my cynicism and despair this week, something changed the more I thought about it. I yearned for this story to be true. And then I thought about the people in my life, the people I know from church, and thought about the ways that over the last year how people have tried to offer some comfort, to not be sorry for the real sadness and depression that has gripped us, and those valiantly showing up and doing their best while they are living through absolute hell – the story became true. Because I know people like this.
And when Jesus prays this prayer over the anxious church in this 17th Chapter in John, I know people like that too. He’s praying for you and I, all people of faith together, standing in the midst of very divisive times. For whether we’re the disciples, fearful of Jesus’ impending death, or John’s community experiencing persecution and death, or even today, where death hangs in the air – these words become true in their hearing.
Let’s imagine ourselves as Jesus’ disciples, feeling the world closing in on him, and us. We dropped our nets long ago to follow him, and we were called away from the security of what we knew into this unknown, mysterious presence and world of God where loaves were multiplied, people were healed, and all were loved – and the whispers on the air indicate things are about to change. Jesus, in his prayer to his beloved disciples, promises that his love will protect us. While he is leaving us, his teachings about God remind us that we will never be alone. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter and the Protector (which we’ll talk about much more next week) but the presence of the Holy Spirit will be our hope in Jesus’ absence. We must still use the wisdom God gave us – to protect ourselves with collected knowledge and live out our faith through the most devastating moment of our lives. Jesus’ love protects us, and it becomes true because I know people whose actions demonstrate that love is stronger than death.
Let’s imagine ourselves as John’s community, displaced from our lives – our families’ lives – cut off from all we know because we believe Jesus to be the Messiah. We chose to follow the invitation of the one who called us, ‘come and see.’ And we saw, the crucifixion of one who came singing love…and died singing love… and was raised still with love on his lips. It gifted this new church with Pentecost fire and tongues – gifting the ability to unify people and draw all us together. That same love appealed to Saul to see the light of his divisive ways. Unity was…and still is threatening. When we pick the side of justice and come together, everything is possible. And others know it. And so to scare and separate and scatter our converts, our friends in faith, leaders were publically executed. Threats far more serious than padlocked churches were enacted – and real persecution persisted – so much that our Western culture privilege couldn’t even comprehend the plight of the Karen in Myanmar or the Uyghurs in China. People of ‘the Way,’ people of Jesus, found our way to move underground: secret worship, communal sharing of meals, a subversive hope growing just beneath the surface until the springtime of fruition. Jesus, in his prayer to us, the beloved yet faithful fledgling church, promises unity is possible. Even when we’re separate. Even when we’re hiding away.Even when old hurts drive us apart. Unity is Jesus’ hope, regardless of beliefs and religion, and it becomes a reality because I know people that practice this radical, inclusive, Christ-like love.
Let’s imagine this prayer as written for Jesus’ community of faithful people in this time and place (hopefully this one is easier to imagine than the previous two). Jesus is praying for you and I. Protective love and all-encompassing unity enable us to experience the holiness of self and Christ and others, and yet, taken too far it breaks our heart to see the ‘holier than thou’ attitude adopted by Christians who have misread this text to think that this prayer gives them permission to ignore pandemics and common sense alike. That they are in the world but not of it. With things getting better, and people getting vaccinated, even the anti-vaxxers are considering wearing masks to protect themselves from all us vaccinated folk…we have proof! There is a God! Yet we look to the so-called ‘holiest’ of lands and see the most unholy behaviours from both sides, as the world chooses sides in an unwinnable war. As we watch and hear of the horrors in this smouldering conflict in Israel – as Palestinians prepared to complete their Ramadan fast, as Israelis celebrated Jerusalem day, injustice upon injustice spiraled as powerful acts of destruction has killed over 100 people thus far, demolished homes, and destroyed lives. Generations before have endured this conflict, and it is sickening to see those of the next generation learning the ways of war ready to continue this conflict when it’s their turn. Even in hopelessness, Jesus prays, for Christ-like love protects us for the hope of unity. Jesus, in his prayer to us, promises holy hope for those experiencing the pain of the world. And may we never sacrifice the gift of our hope for a better world. Jesus calls us towards the cross, for in the midst of this deeply divisive time we are made to dwell in this world and all its conflicts. Not long after Jesus would utter these words, the one called Son of God, would be killed by beloved children of God. We are drawn into the suffering of the world, made holy to shine as a light of hope to those despairing. We must ensure that justice prevails for all people. Looking through the eyes of Christ, we cannot help but feel compassion and empathy for all.
We live in a connected world… connected by the generations gone past and those present. Particularly as people of faith, we choose to participate in this world and enter into the abyss of suffering, valiantly showing up and doing [our] best while [we] are living through absolute hell. But we are not alone. For Jesus is praying for us, promising that love and protection, ensuring unity and holiness might lead us together.
 Hymn – He Came Singing Love – VU 359 – music and words Colin Gibson