160508 – Is-ness, In-ness, Us-ness

Yr C ~ Easter 7 ~ John 17:20-26

It’s a pretty tall order, even for Jesus. That they may all be one. Who are they? We are. All of us. Everyone! Jesus begins today’s scripture reading by praying for his disciples and followers but then his prayer extends out far beyond the insiders and includes everyone who those insiders will ever encounter and interact with. That’s everyone. And Jesus’ prayer is that everyone be one.Is-ness-in-us-trinity

Are we? Even in here, in this sanctuary, in this church, are we one?
How about this Presbytery? Are we one in the United Church of Canada?
How about beyond our denomination? Are we one with those of other expressions of Christianity? Or beyond?

What does this “oneness” thing mean? What is Jesus praying for?

Well, it isn’t uniformity, or even agreement. It’s not that we all have to believe the same way about the same things. It’s ok for some people to be Leafs fans and others to be…wrong. We don’t have to all think the same way, but to be one we all do have to resonate with the same Spirit.

Jesus isn’t praying for lock-step, orthodox, theological conformity. He’s praying for a deep relationship. Unfortunately, in his effort to describe the depth of the interconnectedness of that relationship, he kind of seems like he’s talking in circles if you read him too quickly. So let’s read him slowly!

John 17:21b As you, Father (or Mother, or whatever language helps you), 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.

Try to draw a picture of what Jesus is saying here. As God is in Jesus, and Jesus is in God [interlock finger circles], may “they” (which means all of us and more) also be in us – meaning Jesus and God.
How do we get in that circle? Kinda like this [interlock fingers with palms up and touch thumbs].

Look at it. It’s a relationship. It’s messy. It’s complicated. But it’s all interconnected in profoundly wonderful ways.

How would you describe it? – enfolded, blanketed, intertwined, together, connected. How about “one”? That all may be one. God in Jesus, Jesus in God, we in them, they in us. One.

Why? Why is this a good thing?
Is it just to make us feel better about ourselves and our place in this world? Well, it surely is that because that is a fabulous thing – but it’s much, much more than just for us feeling great.

God in Jesus, Jesus in God, we in them, they in us SO THAT the world may know about this relationship too. As you know, I love the “so thats” in scripture. How would this “so that” work? How does our interconnectedness with God and Jesus and one another help the world know that they could experience this relationship too?

Jesus explains further…

v.22 The glory that you (God) have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Hey, we’re getting glory! Cool! God has given Jesus glory and in turn Jesus has given it to us. Excellent!

Um, what’s glory?
Sometimes the word connotes extravagant praise, or radiant beaming.
Some people use glory as a synonym for heaven.
Sometimes it means adulation for heroic deeds.
Not clear yet. Let’s go to the Greek.

Glory in Greek is doxa where we get our words doxology and orthodox from. Doxa literally means something which evokes good opinion and has inherent, intrinsic worth.
In colloquial terms, it’s very much like giving a thumbs up! I really like that. While I’m not so sure that Jesus or God would ever give me glory I can easily embrace the idea that Jesus is giving me a thumbs up.

BuddyChrist1“Thumbs up big guy! You’re doing ok. Keep it up. I like you. You’re alright.”

v.22 The thumbs up that God has given Jesus he has given us, so that we may be one, as God and Jesus are one.

That’s really interesting! Apparently a thumbs up is the gateway to a relationship. Seems logical to me.
If I give you a thumbs up, if I acknowledge and affirm your inherent, intrinsic worth, I’m valuing you as a person and opening the way for us to be in relationship.
Turn right now and give a few people a thumbs up!
You are giving glory to one another!
The glory (the thumbs up) that you (God) have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.

v.23 I in them and you in me, [why?] that they may become completely one, [for what purpose?] so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

The purpose behind all this interconnected, me in you and you in me and us in them and them in us stuff is so that the world can catch a glimpse of how wonderful it is to be enfolded in the love of God, and to show them that they can have that too.

The language Jesus is using is remarkably relational. What do relationships feel like? – Warm, safe, inclusive, empowering, synergistic, nurturing.

Jesus says our relationship with him is intimately intertwined and interconnected.
I in them and you, God, in me.
Jesus in us, God in Jesus, so where’s God? In us!

Do you know what it’s like? It’s like DNA. On one level we have the interconnectedness of families who share human DNA. But Jesus is expanding that idea and trying to get us to understand that we also share spiritual DNA! We are of one Spirit, one body, one love. We may not always agree on everything, but we are, fundamentally, at our core, one. It’s in our spiritual DNA.
Here’s why all this matters.

If I went out into this neighbourhood and asked people what they thought religion was all about what do you think they’d answer? Probably something about rules and requirements, about believing in certain things. In other words, they’d probably think we’re all about “what you know.”

But if you read this scripture passage – heck, if you actually deeply read just about anything about Jesus in the bible – you’ll discover that Jesus didn’t give a rip about what people knew. He was all about WHO you know. He was all about relationship.

As you, God, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…but only if they say the right things? Ridiculous!

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!
It’s not about having the “right” answers or opinions it’s about striving for right relationships – mutuality, vulnerability, support, openness, love.

But we can’t escape the fact that there is a “what you know” wing in the Christian church and it is very loud and powerful. I’d say it’s stronger and more powerful than the “who you know” movement. Why do you think that is?

Probably because the “what you know” approach to faith like keeping the rules, memorizing the right verses, and policing bathrooms is a lot easier than being vulnerable, building relationships, and letting go of old ways. Checking off the boxes to get your ticket to heaven doesn’t actually require much of you. It’s horrifying to me that you can be considered a good Christian in some circles while your life and actions are the polar opposite of being Christlike.

This is a profoundly important thing for us to wrestle with. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say our future as a Church depends on it.
We are one in Christ, one in relationship, for a reason – and that reason is to love one another and love the world – to demonstrate our love in such a manner that others will be drawn to God’s love and can become empowered and inspired by it too. That could change the world!

But before we can change the world I think we need to change the popular narrative of what people think Christianity is all about. We have to do more than just show kindness and love – we also have to be ready to paint a different picture of religion for people, like Jesus did. There are numerous ways to do this – but today I’m going to give you three new weird words: Is-ness, In-ness, and Us-ness! (I love making up words!)

I’d name two reasons why it’s really hard to talk about God. One is that the Holy Mystery we call God is so beyond our ability to put into language that every time we try to say something it just raises more issues. Words are simply inadequate – so we make up new ones!

And the other is that the word “God” has considerable baggage for many people – to the point that the word can actually be unhelpful or harmful. One strategy is to jettison the word. I prefer to redeem it – to uncouple the word from its simplistic or negative connotations – and to educate people that there are richer, deeper, more nuanced ways to understand God than they may have encountered before.

So…With Paul Tillich I say that God is personal, but not “a person.” When I say God I do not mean a human-like old man who lives on a cloud and rewards good people and punishes bad ones. Instead, I mean something very much like Marcus Borg does. He says, “The word ‘God’ is the most common Western name for ‘what is,’ for ‘ultimate reality,’ for ‘the ground of being,’ for ‘Being itself,’ for ‘is-ness.” [from The Heart of Christianity]

Is-ness. God IS.

I know that’s kind of abstract but anything much more than that becomes gibberish.
We can use all kinds of poetic language that talks about God’s arms holding us, God’s eyes seeing us, God’s heart loving us – but that doesn’t mean God has an actual arm, eye, or heart.
And God is not He, and not She, and certainly not It.
That metaphoric, relational language helps us comprehend the incomprehensible.
God is. God is is-ness.

And once you have that paradigm shift from big-guy-in-the-sky to is-ness everything changes.
How does one relate to this is-ness? My answer would be in-ness!

Stay with me here!

If God is is-ness then is-ness cannot be limited to being here or there.
Is-ness just is.
Is-ness is everywhere and always.
Is-ness is here but also far beyond here.

Let’s talk terminology.
Theism says that God is out there.
Atheism says God is nowhere, that is-ness isn’t.
Pantheism says that God is the same as right here, and that’s all.
But a new word emerged a couple hundred years ago to describe a very ancient concept that says God is BOTH out there AND right here, simultaneously.

That word is panentheism. It breaks down as all-in-God.
Sound familiar? Isn’t that exactly what Jesus is saying here in John 17?

As you, God, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.

All in God. And the key part of that is the middle – IN.
Everything that is is IN God who is all-encompassing and permeating.
So, God is not equivalent to the space-time-universe but Present in it and at the same time More than it.
And we are IN God.
The state of our existence is in-ness.
The character of our reality is in-ness.
We live, move, and have our being IN God.
The entire meaning of life is relational!

Are you still with me?

What is religion or church really about? Is-ness and in-ness. And there’s one more: us-ness.

It doesn’t stop with God and Jesus and you and me. It’s about all of us. That all may be one. That all may understand and experience is-ness and in-ness.
As you, God, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.

In US. Jesus is inviting us into oneness with him and God.
Jesus is giving us a thumbs up to show us that we are welcome, and dare I say it worthy, of in-ness with is-ness.

As you, God, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.

We are in there, if we allow ourselves to be.
Us-ness isn’t just about church people or humans, it’s more than that. Us-ness is about all of us in union with Ultimate Reality, with Divinity, with Holy Mystery, with God.

Is-ness. In-ness. Us-ness. Is. In. Us.

I’m not pretending that this solves anything. It’s as confusing as all get out!
But it’s a warm and wonderful mystery that offers light and hope and power and love.
It’s a completely different paradigm from the “what you know” approach.
It’s relational. That’s Faith.

Is-ness, in-ness, us-ness. Let those words work on you for a while.

For me, it changes everything.

Amen.