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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon, Sunday, May 17, Seventh Sunday in Easter

John 17: 6-19

In the wisdom of the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary, this Sunday, the Sunday after the Ascension and the Sunday before Pentecost, our gospel lesson is Jesus’ prayer for our unity with him, with God, and with each other—his last great hope for us.

John 17 is called the ‘high priestly prayer’ of Jesus. It occurs after the last supper and presumably in the garden when Jesus goes off to pray before he is arrested. I don’t imagine John was hiding in the bushes writing this down as Jesus prayed, but it speaks even more to the desire of the gospel writer to try to communicate what Jesus must have expressed emphatically to his followers….that must have crept out in prayer and conversation with them. The nature of the prayer is really a teaching of his longing for us to be one, and more, that we really, truly are one if we just had the eyes to see.

In the first part of the passage we begin to see what unfolds as the nature of the teaching in this prayer: that in keeping God’s name and ‘Word’, we will be kept in the essential unity of all things.

Jesus says he made known God’s name, and they (his followers) have kept God’s ‘word’. As I have spoken of before, to know God’s name, the holy name, was more than just a word—‘God’, or Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim, Jehovah—it was to understand God’s essence. To name something or someone was to speak of its essence. The holiness of God was so powerful and beyond comprehension to the Hebrews, that they were forbidden from saying the name of God—that would be to presume you could capture God’s essence. So when Jesus says here that he has made God’s name known to them, he’s not saying that he taught the disciples the name of God---they knew that, he is saying he has revealed the true essence of God to them. 

Similarly, when he says they have kept God’s word, he is not saying that they memorized some words, but that they have internalized the Logos. Do you remember the “logos”—the word in Greek that is mostly translated in English as “word”. John began his gospel with “In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God and the logos was with God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men . . . and the logos became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

In this, John was beginning to articulate the eternal truth about the Christ, the unity with God, and ultimately the unity of all things. As in the offertory sentence: “All things come of thee, O God, and of thine own have we given thee.” (1 Chronicles 29:14b)

This is contrasted a bit in the following verses when Jesus says he has given them the ‘words’ that God had given to him---the teachings, if you will, and they believed the words/teachings and ‘received’ the essential understanding of the unity and relationship of God and Jesus. And then he prays for their protections and says this odd thing: “ I have been glorified in them.” Jesus says that this wayward, half brain-dead, motley little crew has glorified him! How is it that when they had failed on so many occasions to actually ‘receive the words’ or understand the ‘Word/Logos’ that he can say he has been glorified by them?

My only earthly corollary is the love that a parent has for a child or a teacher has for his/her students. That even in the child’s fumbling efforts, a wise parent sees growth and potential and the beautiful ‘becomingness’ of  the child, and in that beauty the parent feels they are blessed and ‘glorified’. But, on a more theological level, I also believe that Jesus was talking about something intrinsic in the nature of being children of the light and living in the light. As they (we) get better and better at living in the name and logos of God, then light is revealed from us and flows into the eternal light of God.

To me, it is not some static thing where God is somewhere and we are somewhere else and we are striving to get there. To me it is a matter of ‘becoming' . . . it is a matter of using the ‘words’, the teachings, as sacramental if you will—the thing that points to the greater thing—the ‘Logos’/Word that is the ineffable truth of the light of God that holds all things together, revealing the unity of all life.

Jesus here prays for us to be held in this truth, because, as he says, we do not belong to this world. Our ultimate reality is in the unity of God. We are in this world for a time, but ultimately we return to the Logos, who was before all time and beyond all time. My weird little image for this is that underneath our skin we are just beings of light, and that while we are given this skin and lots of things in life seem to want to coat our skin and cover up the light, our challenge is to continually work to remove those bits to let the light out, and remind ourselves that we are part and parcel of this light that holds all things together. 

You may ask, what difference does this life make then, if we are just light and will return to the light, why bother . . . just get me through this awful existence until I can have my pie in the sky, by and by. But that is not the teaching, the words, of Jesus. He became flesh and dwelt among us—yes, this life and how we live it, matters. Moreover, when we live in the depth of the “Word”, in the knowledge of the unity of all things, then the joy that Jesus talked about is ours. Even when ‘happiness’ alludes us, we still have an abiding sense of joy. And when the day comes that we shed this earthly skin, as it came for Kris yesterday, we will be rejoined to the kingdom of light, and we will know most perfectly the truth and heart of this prayer of Jesus.