[Jesus continued his prayer]: “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. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I 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. Father, 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.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I 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.”
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend, and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
This is one of the passages where I have to put my finger to the page and follow along as I read or I find it is so easy to get mixed up. In seminary, we were taught we ought not do that. We were to know the passage well enough to read it all without doing that. I think my professors thought it was disrespectful to the scriptures. I can do that most of the time, but not this one. It is too important a text. It is so important we read it, and get its message. So to me, it is worth doing whatever it takes to read this text well. You see, this is an extraordinary text. Jesus is praying for us.
Jesus is PRAYING for US!
Specifically Jesus said:
I ask not only on behalf of these, (the disciples who were with him in his life and ministry, which he had just finished praying that they would know his joy) but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.
Did you hear that in there the first time I read it?
Jesus prays for the ones who would believe because the disciples did not remain silent after the shock of the resurrection wore off. They told their story and wrote the gospels and because they traveled around, the way of love that Jesus taught spread far and wide. Now they didn’t do it alone of course. The Holy Spirit was with them and guided them. Then there was Paul, who after his vision on the road to Damascus became the greatest evangelist. That helped, for sure. But they shared their faith. And because they did that, more people believed. And because each generation taught the next and because the saints of God preserved the faith and because someone told you and me, we believe. We are sitting here today because of all of them. Because someone shared their faith with the founders of this congregation, we are here, the Gethsemane family, worshipping today. Just take in the awe of that for a moment.
Think for a moment of the people who shared their faith with you. Thank God for them. Thank God for them all.
But back to Jesus’ prayer. What, specifically, did Jesus pray for? Yes, that we would all be one.
But WHY would Jesus want us to all be one? So that every believer would be the same? Oh, I don’t think so. Take one look at us, here in this chapel this morning. Even as similar as we are, there is amazing diversity among us. We are tall and short, fat and thin, light and dark, blond and brunette, brown eyed and blue eyed, singers and listeners, extroverts and introverts, engineers and artists, logical minded and fuzzy thinkers… need I go on?
Or think of the body. We have all these useful body parts… ears and eyes and mouth and nose. We have fingers and toes. We have opposable thumbs. Genius. We have knees and hips. We have hearts and lungs and brains. We have blood and muscles and bones. It all works together in this miracle of life. It all works together to make us who we are.
Or take one look out the window. How many varieties of trees are just here in this one small canyon behind our property? Or how many colors of green there are? How many creatures? Birds, and bugs and other crawly things. God loves diversity. Uniformity doesn’t seem to be God’s way. Unity, on the other hand, is when all that diversity works together. We are a stronger congregation because we are not all the same. Our bodies function well with all these various parts. There is a whole balanced ecosystem out there. That seems to be more God’s style.
So Jesus didn’t pray for us to all be one so we would be the same, was it so we would all be one big happy family? Well, even in families there is a fair bit of diversity. My siblings and I do resemble each other, but we are all quite different as well. But a big happy Christian family might be nice, given the divided state of the church today… so many people who call themselves Christians fighting with their brothers and sisters in their own denomination about who God accepts. So many people who call themselves Christians are filled with hate for the other who doesn’t look like them. So many people who call themselves Christians who judge and condemn, exclude and criticize. I am not making any assumptions about the state of their soul or the quality of their faith, but I am saying that I do wonder if they have really read the New Testament. So much of what has taken place in the church doesn’t seem to fit with what Jesus taught.
Listen to it again: 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, NRSV)
But even that doesn’t tell the whole of it yet. Jesus is giving us our mission here, should we choose to accept it. Jesus goes on: The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I 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. (John 17:22-23, NRSV)
Jesus prayed that we would all be one SO THE WORLD WOULD LISTEN TO JESUS’ MESSAGE, REPEATED THROUGH US, AND KNOW GOD’S LOVE.
So that you will know deep in your soul that God loves you just the same as God loved Jesus.
You need to know that in the depth of your soul because you need to know it so deeply and completely that nothing that happens in this life can knock it out of you. It needs to be so much a part of you that you can tell others about it and they can see it in you. You have it before you can share it. You cannot give what you do not have.
Now I know this is a rather ephemeral thing, this prayer that God would be in us and we would be in Christ so that the world would know God’s love. There is no way I could explain it to the preschool kids this week. So I got this rope. I cut it into three pieces. One represents God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, all of God. The next one represents our communion, the church; the community of the faithful, our family and friends. The third one is the world. It is marked “Me” because, you know, it was made for preschoolers, and they are the center of their universe! But it is one of the magnificent mysteries of all this. We are part of the World that needs to hear of God’s love, AND we are part of the Church that needs to tell of it!
Now, I need someone to hold the end for me. (Braid the three ropes together, then hold them up, holding both ends, pulling on it to show its strength.) We know that a braid… a cord of three strands… is stronger than one alone. With God giving form to our lives, our whole lives, not just our church life, we are strong. And God’s love is strong in us.
(Then let go of the ends, holding it just in the middle and shake it a little.) And yet, if we aren’t careful, it won’t take long and this will all unravel. Life roughs us up and shakes us apart. So there is more to this “One” than just being braided together.
(Pull the ties from my pocket.) I have two ties. One is marked The Word. It is the scriptures and the experience of the living God. The other is marked Love and is more than just the feeling of warmth, but this Love is a verb. It is the loving service. It is the way we take care of each other.
We have to secure the experience of our relationship with God, even braided together, with The Word on one end. (Tie it up with The Word cord.) We need to be immersed in the Word. We do well to know it so well we can take the stories and find ourselves in them. We can deepen our relationship with God in knowing them and seeing God in us in them. And we also have to secure our experience of Church with love, serving one another, treating each other with compassion and mercy. Living a life of service keeps all of this—our relationship with God and with others in the world God made— secure. Practice makes perfect. Practicing a life of service for the good of the other purifies us of judgement and fills us with compassion.
Because you see, this braid, this weaving together of God and our community and out selves; it is strong. It is strong enough to bear all these things we prayed for during Lent. (Walk over to the branch with the origami butterflies made from the papers we wrote on during Lent. Pluck off the butterflies and attach them to the rope braid.) All these things that we prayed to God for help with, all these things we dedicated ourselves to let go of, all these things we yearned to cultivate; all of them are part of who we are and all of them can be borne by the braid BECAUSE it is braided together. When we are one with God, forgiveness can happen. Grace can happen. Hope can happen.
These butterflies, made by the 4 and 5 year olds in the preschool, because even the least of these are part of the whole, incorporate all the things we would cultivate and let go of… everything is braided in. There is nothing that is not part of the journey. It all belongs in a life of faith. We might wish some of it away, but that would be a mistake. There is nothing that God cannot redeem. (Holding up the braid with the butterflies attached.) There is no hurt that God cannot heal. In God’s world, it all belongs. It is all part of the whole. Each bit is a step in the journey.
We pray that God’s world will be this world. May it come quickly. And may we all be one.
(silence for reflection)
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are 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.