Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + 7th Sunday of Easter + May 13, 2018
Reading: John 17:6-19
When I was a teenager, I loved to read this part of the Gospel of John. The passage we just heard comes from a 26-verse-long prayer that Jesus prayed just before he was betrayed, arrested, and dragged before Pilate. In that final hour of freedom, Jesus prayed for his disciples; and not just for the disciples gathered around him in that moment, but for all his disciples, down through the ages. Jesus was praying for us, too. Our reading for today ends with verse 19, but in verse 20 Jesus went on praying: “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…so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-21a, 23b). That’s what I loved to read when I was a teenager, and I loved to imagine Jesus praying this prayer for me, over my life and my faith and my community.
Of course, this prayer can also be pretty confusing — especially if you’re just hearing/reading it once, rather quickly, in the middle of a worship service. I felt, mostly, overwhelmed by all those repetitive phrases and explanations: “those whom you gave me…you gave them to me…everything you have given me…I have given them…all mine are yours, and yours are mine…” We might call that beautiful, theological praying…or those of us who feel uncomfortable praying aloud in public might think, Oh, good, even Jesus just kind of rambled his way along sometimes, too.
But whether you find yourself lost in the beauty of this prayer for us or just kind of lost — there are two main points that I hope came across to you. The first is Jesus’s intimate and everlasting connection to God the Creator; the second point is that Jesus wants us to be part of that relationship between the Creator and the Savior and to mirror their connection in our own relationships. Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
The Gospel of John really emphasizes Jesus’s connection to God, Jesus’s one-ness with God. You probably remember that John starts off with that point: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John makes that point over and over again in a way that no other Gospel does. And here, in some of Jesus’s last words among his disciples, Jesus says again and again that all he is doing, all he is, is from God, is with God, is in God, is God. His followers were given to him by God; his work on earth was the will of God; and he was going back to God. Especially when we remember that in this same Maundy Thursday scene Jesus promised to send the Spirit, Jesus’s prayer points us toward the idea of the Holy Trinity: a God that is, somehow, both one and three.
Jesus prayed for us — for the community of disciples — to be one in the way that God is one. God is diversity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and God is unity (one God). Jesus prayed for us to be different and yet to be one, together; to be separate and also realize our connectedness. Jesus said this is how we will show the world that we are in relationship with the Three-in-One-One-in-Three God.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and contemplative teacher, believes that this call for us to be one as God as one is the most important goal of life. He wrote:
The goal of the spiritual journey is to discover and move toward connectedness and relationship on ever new levels, while also honoring diversity. We may begin by making connections with family and friends, with nature and animals, and then grow into deeper connectedness with those outside our immediate circle, especially people of races, religions, economic classes, gender, and sexual orientation that are different from our own. Finally, we can and will experience this full connectedness as union with God. For some it starts the other way around: they experience union with God — and then find it easy to unite with everything else.
This vision of a whole world that is one as God is one is an ideal most of us can get behind, imagining life inside of a Coca-Cola commercial or the “It’s a Small World” ride. But we all know from experience that living together in community can be hard. Getting along together is work. Working through life with just one person — a spouse or a roommate — can seem like too much sometimes. Add in more people, and it can get more difficult to keep relationships in harmony: we’ve probably all been through group projects or work situations or other groups where things just got bad. We live in a fallen world, and sometimes relationships get broken.
And when we try to bring that ideal of community up to social level? Well…we can look far back in history or nearby to today’s newspaper to see a million ways that hasn’t worked.
Human habits like selfishness, greed, fear, and laziness just keep manifesting themselves in all sorts of ways: racism, sexism, and all those other isms, war, unjust laws, political gridlock, prejudice…It’s like the world makes it impossible to realize Jesus’s vision of a holy community.
And yet when Jesus prayed this prayer, he reminded his disciples that we do not belong to the world, just as Jesus did not belong to the world (John 17:14). We are in this world, but we have been claimed and called by another world, into another way of being, into the Kingdom of God.
As we baptized Ivan this morning, we recognized together not only the promises God has made to Ivan, but also the claim that God has made on his life. God said to Ivan, You are my child. You no longer belong to this world; you are part of my Kingdom now. God called Ivan away from “the powers of this world that rebel against God…and the ways of sin that draw [us] from God” and into God’s way of being. (To quote our Evangelical Lutheran Worship’s service of Holy Baptism.)
Ivan’s baptism was an opportunity for us to remember that God has made that same claim on us and our community. We are called away from all that works against God, and we are called into God’s way of doing things; we are called into God’s Kingdom; we are called to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit as the Triune God strives to make us one as God is one.
We’ve admitted that this is hard — this being one as God is one — and that sometimes it seems impossible, at least in this world; but we have also heard that we are called to that vision of holy community, even here in this world, and heard the good news that Jesus himself prayed for God’s help in our relationships.
So, with God’s help and alongside these other disciples, where can you work — or keep working — in your relationships to better mirror the life of God, Three-in-One and One-in-Three? How can you live in our community, in our society, in our world in a way that follows the lead of the Trinity? Where might God be leading you into “deeper connectedness”?
At home, at work, in our public lives, we are constantly being called to live in ways that honor others in their diversity, their different experiences, their different loves, their different sufferings, and that honors our own identities — and that also show how connected we are, that God sees us as one, that God prays for us to be one.
By the way we try to live like the Trinity, when we try to love as God loves, everyone will know that we belong to God, and that God is love (1 John 4:7-12).
 Richard Rohr, “The Beloved Community,” Daily Meditations, 8 May 2018, The Center for Action and Contemplation website. Available online: https://cac.org/the-beloved-community-2018-05-08/ Accessed 10 May 2018.