Yr A ~ Easter 7 ~ John 17:1-11, 20-23
We’re going to explore three big and seemingly unrelated themes from John 17 this morning: eternal life, the world, and oneness. But let’s start with quiz time!
(I bet you didn’t know 17:3!) Many Christians know John 3:16 and treasure its promise of eternal life.
And how do you get eternal life according to 3:16? – by “believing in” Jesus.
And what does believing in Jesus mean?
And what is eternal life? (is that a little hard to answer?)
So why do we memorize that verse?
Instead, we should all memorize John 17:3! It’s awesome! Here it is:
“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
17:3 lays it out as plain as day. It says Jesus has been given authority to give eternal life to people. And what is eternal life? – knowing God and the Christ! Eternal life is knowing God. And how do we do that?
Well, you can’t know something that you aren’t aware of, so how about we start with sensing and savouring God’s Presence! Seems to me if we do that, if we practice God’s Presence (as Brother Larry says!), then we will surely come to know God. So that means that sensing and savouring God’s Presence IS eternal life!!!
Why isn’t this verse all over signs at football games???
Sadly, for far too long we’ve made Christianity about how to get into heaven. I’m sure you’ve heard it preached a million times: “You have to believe in Ja-eez-us so you can qualify for eternal life when you die!”
Friends, this is flat out wrong! It’s not me saying it’s wrong – it’s Jesus in John 17:3.
Jesus says “This is eternal life – that we may know God.” The word know here in Greek is ginṓskō which means to come to know, to learn, to realize – it means the kind of knowing that comes through first-hand personal experience. It means to intimately know. It’s the same knowing that we talk about marriage partners having. You’ve heard the phrase “they knew each other in the biblical sense.” That’s ginosko.
It’s not information about the bible.
It’s not understanding theology.
It’s not knowing ‘about’ God.
It’s knowing God personally and intimately.
Knowing God, in the biblical sense (!), is eternal life.
Eternal life isn’t a prize at the end; it’s a gift for now.
So, here’s the big question: Do you know God?
Do you have eternal life?
How’d you get this eternal life?
And now the really hard question: if you have it, have you helped anyone else get it, or have you just kept it for yourself?
I really emphasize that eternal life is all about right here, right now. So when verses like John 17:11 come up it takes some explaining. Jesus talks about being “no longer in the world.”Then in verses 14 and 16 he talks about it more: “They (the disciples) do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”
If eternal life is here and now why does Jesus seem to be talking about us not being here?
To get at that we have to figure out what “the world” means. Historically, we’ve taken it to mean the material world as opposed to the spiritual realm. I think we get that from misreading the apostle Paul.
Paul frequently uses the terms “flesh” and “spirit” as opposites. But scholars and theologians are now convinced that we’ve been reading Paul incorrectly. We’ve tended to hear it as ‘flesh bad, spirit good’ – ‘things of the world bad, things of religion good.’ The world isn’t bad. Your flesh, your body, isn’t evil. That’s not what Paul meant, and that’s not what Jesus is saying in John’s gospel.
What they’re both talking about is your philosophy, your way of engaging life, your lens for living. None of us can escape living in the world. None of us can escape belonging to the world, especially if you take environmentalism and ecology seriously. We are decidedly and biologically of the world. Genesis names the first human “adam” which literally means “of the soil.”
In spiritual and philosophical terms Jesus is urging us not to abandon our connection to the world but rather not to be “worldly.” What does worldly suggest to you? – materialism, narcissism, wastefulness, vanity, greediness, self-importance, short-sightedness – dog-eat-dog ambition, capitalism run amok, conspicuous consumption. That’s “the world” we’d do well not to belong to! But even with all that it’s not about your behaviours; it’s about your mindset.
Jesus says in v.11, “I am no longer in the world.” He was sitting there right in front of them at the Last Supper so he was clearly still in the world, but spiritually, philosophically, he’s saying that his lens for living was not “in the world” – was not “worldly.” And we can have that lens too!
So it’s not that the world or the flesh is bad necessarily, it’s that living with worldly or fleshly things as your primary concern, as your raison d’être, is bad. Instead Jesus offers living life through a spiritual lens – and even more importantly he tells us that the spiritual lens is the one that’s really real and the worldly one is actually the illusion.
Then he starts into some circular sounding stuff, but if you stay with him it makes sense. He prays in v.11, “that they (meaning the disciples, meaning us!) may be one, as we (meaning Jesus and God) are one.”
And then in verses 20-23 it gets really crazy:
“I ask not only on behalf of these (disciples), 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.”
As Jerry Lee Lewis might say: There’s a whole lotta’ oneness goin’ on!
So, what does “being one” mean? How can all of us who are so different be one? And to go further, verse 23 actually says that we “may become completely one!” Completely! The Greek strictly means “brought to completion or perfection in unity.”
[S] Our United Church Crest declares these words in Latin – ut omnes unum sint – that all may be one. Are we? In what ways? And who’s the “we” here? The crest says “that ALL may be one.” Really? All? Let’s test that.
Are we one in this room this morning?
Are we one in this church?
Are we one in this presbytery? This conference?
|Are we one as The United Church of Canada?
Are we one with the Anglicans? Lutherans? Pentecostals? Baptists?
We’re certainly not one in theology, or ecclesiology (how we do church).
What does being one mean? Think about the language of a wedding ceremony. Often we use the language of two people becoming one. Does that mean these two partners agree on everything? Are you of one mind with your partner? About everything? About anything?
I think there is only one thing we can be one in – Christ. Even if our theology, or interpretation, or whatever is wildly different we can be one in Christ. How? Because oneness isn’t based on what you think it’s based on who you know. Who do you know?
Jesus prayed, “As you, God, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… (May they) be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”
Nothing about theology, it’s just about relationship. Oneness comes in knowing God and Christ. In math they call it a common denominator. Whatever else might spin out from here, whatever strange ideas we might get and bizarre interpretations we might develop that divide us as we strive to argue other people into our line of thinking, whatever we might do to muck it all up, at the core, at the centre, at the heart of it is the first-hand experience of intimately knowing God.
In that, and probably only in that, we are one.
What we do with that knowing may divide us, but the foundation of knowing God, of sensing and savouring God’s Sacred Presence, is what unites us across this church, across denominations, and across the world’s religions.
One last thing today. What are we supposed to do with all this oneness that we’re plugging into? What is it that Jesus expects from us? We need to look at the “so that…” in verse 23. We become empowered by our oneness in Christ and in God “so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
So that – the world (or more likely “the worldly”) – may KNOW – ginosko, have first-hand personal experience of the Holy Mystery we call God. We are one SO THAT the worldly might learn to sense and savour God’s Presence and enjoy an abundant, overflowing with blessing, grounded, peace-filled, harmonious, eternal life that starts here and now.
If we are one, completely one, in one another, in Christ, in God, in Spirit, then we are no longer worldly, and we’re called to share our deep knowing with others – so that all may be one – so that all may know God – so that all may have eternal life – now.
Are you one?