Jesus leaves his disciples with, leaves us with, this. . . a reminder that “it is in living out God’s love for the world that we have oneness with God, that we have oneness with each other.” This oneness is not uniformity. It is unity.
May 21, 2023
Made Your Name Known
John 17: 1-11
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
When Jesus finished saying these things, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that the Son can glorify you. You gave him authority over everyone so that he could give eternal life to everyone you gave him. This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent. I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I shared with you before the world was created.
“I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. This is because I gave them the words that you gave me, and they received them. They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.
“I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you. Holy Father, watch over them in your name, the name you gave me, that they will be one just as we are one.
Made Your Name Known John 17:1-11
This week, we conclude our conversation with Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. For the last few weeks, we have talked about the significance of this particular moment not only for Jesus but for the disciples as well. Jesus knows that soon he will be leaving them. He will be leaving them with unanswered questions. He will be leaving them with no game plan beyond if you love me, feed my sheep. At this particular moment, Jesus is preparing the disciples for the time when he will not physically be with them day in and day out. And what I love about this particular moment is that Jesus could have done just about anything. He could have given the disciples the secrets to the universe. He could have given them the “correct” way to be the Church. But instead of any of that, in this particular moment, when Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time when he will not physically be with them day in and day out, Jesus leaves them with prayer. Jesus prays for himself. Jesus prays for his disciples. Jesus asks for God’s comfort. Jesus asks for God’s guidance. Jesus asks for God to make them one….of the the same mind, of the same mission, of the same vision. In this prayer, Jesus is not asking for uniformity. What he is asking for is unity. Jesus is asking for the disciples to be grounded in the hope which springs from the vision of God’s Beloved Community coming to fruition here on Earth just as it is in heaven. Jesus is asking for community. He is asking for their relationships with each other, their relationships with God to be strengthened because Jesus knows…Jesus knows that the world will tell a different narrative which will try to divide and separate the disciples. Jesus knows that when the uneasiness of the unknowing starts creeping in, blame is so easy to hand out. Jesus is asking for the ties which bind the disciples together to be strengthened because Jesus knows how quickly they will scatter at the first sign of things not going the way they have always been.
Think about that for a minute…the beauty and simplicity of that moment especially knowing what lies ahead for the disciples. Jesus could have done anything. He could have given his disciples anything in that moment. And what he does for them is pray for them. In this prayer, Jesus reminds God of God’s promises to him. Jesus reminds God to watch over the disciples because they will be the very ones sharing the Gospel message to the ends of the earth. In this beautiful, simple, transforming moment there are no catch phrases. There are no fancy marketing campaigns. Just a prayer for the oneness of the disciples. Just a prayer for the disciples’ connection to God and to each other to be strengthened so that the world will know God’s love through them as the Body of Christ here on Earth.
Or let me say it this way…As many of you may know, the elders and I, along with a few other leaders of this community of faith met on Monday night to listen to a conversation hosted by Lexington Theological Seminary about the Church after the Pandemic. The title of the session was …what is essential, a post pandemic reflection of congregational leadership. I won’t go into all the details but I will tell you my first reaction to seeing that title was Great! Someone has figured it all out. We will listen to the session. We will get our road map for how to deal with all the transitions and changes which are happening within the wider Church and within our community of faith as well.
Well, that’s what I thought would happen. Instead we got a conversation…a conversation about transitions, a conversation about being in what the speaker called a neutral zone. The idea being that, “there is not just an ending, followed by a new beginning, that instead, in between endings and beginning, there is a transition period. It is called the neutral zone. Between an ending and a beginning, there is this neutral period that is experienced with ambiguous feelings, of both anxiety and excitement, of resistance and anticipation, and frustration and also creativity and innovation.”
Now my first thought when hearing about the neutral zone was not this again. We have been here before. We have heard all this before. I was mad. I was frustrated. I was perturbed that someone was telling me, telling us that it was okay to sit with the ambiguity of the moment. Forget that…I wanted answers. I wanted a game plan. I wanted the quick and easy fix. And instead I was being offered, we were being offered, we were being challenged to be still, to listen…to…. wait for it….to pray.
Because in the words of someone way smarter than me…this time of transition, for the disciples back then and the disciples here and now is the most faithful place we can be in at this particular moment….In this neutral zone, in this sacred space of waiting, of imagining, we are being invited to stand, to listen, to simply be. Just like the disciples in our text, when they found themselves in a time without Jesus being physically present with them day in and day out, we as disciples some 2000 years later, are being invited to enter into the “purest place of faith, when we can realize and accept that any control we ever thought we had, was always mostly an illusion, and a simple reliance on God and responding to God’s grace, is all we ever had or ever will have.” Let me say that again, for the people in the back…in this moment when the uneasiness of the unknowing is starting to creep in, in this moment when things are not going the way they have always been and we find ourselves saying…Well, we’ve never done it that way before…in this moment, just like the disciples in our text, we are being invited to stop, to listen, to enter into “purest place of faith, when we can realize and accept that any control we ever thought we had, was always mostly an illusion, and a simple reliance on God and responding to God’s grace, is all we ever had or ever will have.
Because you see, once again, on Monday night, I was reminded that 99% of our faith story is about people wandering, people wondering, people trying to figure things out on their own and failing miserably while the other 1% of our faith story is about when people finally paused and listend to God. Time after time, our faith story tells us to be still and listen. Our faith story tells us that God is in the process. Time and after time, our faith story tells us that it is about us praying, it is about us listening, it is about us being grounded in the vision of God’s Beloved Community coming to fruition here on Earth for all of God’s people
Because here’s what Jesus reminded the disciples through his prayer, here is what Jesus is reminding us of again today is that 100 % of our faith story is about “living out God’s love for the world in such a way that we have oneness with God, that we have oneness with each other.” Again, this oneness is not uniformity. It is unity. Through his prayer, Jesus is reminding the disciples, he is reminding us some 2000 years later, that 100% of our faith story is grounded in the understanding that we need each other not only to survive but to thrive.
I feel like I have been saying the next few words over and over for the last few weeks but they still remain true today…I am not going to pretend that I have all the answers to the questions which we are asking as a community of faith. But what I do know is this…Jesus left us with everything we need to be in this time of transition and change. Jesus equipped us with everything we need to be in this time of ambiguity. Because he left us with, he equipped us with the most important things…open hearts and minds ready to pray to our God for wisdom and guidance. And I can’t think of a better time to start using the gifts which jesus gave to us as his disciples. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, May 21, 2023 – Made Your Name Known John 17:1-11.