FROM THERE TO HERE, the season of EASTER 2013
Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2013
– May They Be One, That the World May Believe (John 17:20-26)
The church must be one for the sake of the world. That in essence is the prayer of Jesus in John 17.
This prayer is the climax of the Farewell Discourses of Jesus and it reiterates the major themes of the Discourses in the previous three chapters. In his prayer Jesus makes two petitions, one for himself (vv 1-5), and one for his followers (vv 6-26).
In the final part of the prayer, there is a transition in verse 20 from the first disciples of Jesus to future followers who would believe in him through the word of the first disciples. Our focus will be on this last part of the prayer, verses 20-26, which is the lectionary text for today.
John 17:20-26 Glory, Unity, and Mission
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,
21 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.
22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,
23 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.
24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, maybe with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.
26 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.”
There is heavy emphasis on “glory” and “glorify” throughout the Gospel of John and most definitely in this prayer of Jesus in chapter 17. The opening line of the prayer, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,” sets the stage for the entire prayer. Lest there be a misunderstanding, the glory that Jesus asks for himself and for his disciples is far from what we might call vainglory or pride. As pointed out in earlier lessons, the cross is part of the glory of Jesus and of God, as unthinkable as that might be.
In this last part of the prayer, Jesus speaks of the glory that God has given him and that he in turn is giving his followers. This is a glory that is shared – the glory of God, the glory of Jesus, and the glory of the church.
What exactly is the glory of the church? Unfortunately, the church in earlier centuries has interpreted its glory as that of wealth, social recognition, and political power. Particularly after the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early years of the fourth century, the church felt that the glory that Jesus bequeathed to the church was finally being realized. That is far from what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of the glory that he had given his followers. So also in our day, let’s make sure that we don’t misinterpret the nature of the glory of Jesus and of his church.
Specifically, the glory that Jesus has given his disciples is the glory of their oneness. “The glory that you have given me I have given them,” Jesus says, “so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.” This unity is not merely institutional, organizational, or even doctrinal. It is specifically a unity that is patterned after the unity between the Father and the Son – “as we are one.” The church could be a single institution and a unified organization and still fail to live out the kind of oneness that exists between the Father and the Son.
When the Gospel of John was being composed, probably in the last decade of the first century, the community of Christians associated with this Gospel was already experiencing inner turmoil and division, as attested in the Johannine Epistles (First, Second, and Third John). Here are a couple of examples from these letters that show evidence of schism among these Christians:
They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us (1 John 2:19).
I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church (3 John 1:9-10).
|When the words of John 17 were being penned, there was no doubt a painful awareness of disunity in the Johannine community. So when we read the words of this prayer, let us read them with a spirit of contrition and humility because we as Christians have often failed to demonstrate a God-like unity and love toward one another in the church. This sort of oneness leaves plenty of room for differences of perspectives. To use a well-known saying, the call of Christ to us is to unity, not necessarily to uniformity.
By keeping this in mind we would be better equipped to understand the nature of glory that Jesus is giving to his followers. The glory of the church is all about its being one in Christ as Christ is in God.
According to this prayer, it is only as the church demonstrates a God-like unity that the world will believe in Jesus as the One whom God sent. Jesus specifically says that he is not praying for the world but for his disciples (v9). As we have already noted in previous sessions, this Gospel does not idealize or romanticize the world. There is darkness, blindness, inhospitality and hostility toward Jesus and his followers. Yet in this prayer the word “world” comes up eighteen times! The world is not dismissed in some sort of gnostic sectarianism. Even though Jesus is not praying for the world but for his church, the world is very much present in the prayer. In one part of the prayer Jesus makes this specific petition when he says,
And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one… I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world (vv 11-16).
It is precisely for the sake of the world that Jesus is praying for his church. He is praying that the church may demonstrate and live out its oneness so that the world may believe. Granted, the world is not idealized in John, but then neither is the church. The church needs the intercessory prayer of Jesus. But for John, the church is not optional or dispensable.
The purpose of the glory of church unity is ultimately for the sake of its mission, which is to continue the incarnation of Christ in the world. The mission of Jesus in the world has no other recourse other than a group of followers who demonstrate to the world what it means to live in loving oneness with another and with the Father and the Son.
This brings us to the point made in verse 24. Jesus prays, “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” We often take this to mean that Jesus was praying for his disciples to be with him in heaven to see his heavenly glory. While that may be part of the picture, it is not the entirety of what Jesus seems to be saying. If we take seriously the thrust of this prayer, particularly the heavy stress on the disciples continuing to be in the world, and the glory of their unity to be demonstrated in the world, we may be justified in saying that Jesus was praying that his followers may have the eyes to see, right here in the world, the glory of Jesus given to him by the Father whose love for the Son is before the foundation of the world. Only through such a vision can the church be equipped to carry out its mission in the world.
The petition in the next two verses (25-26) confirms the interpretation of verse 24 given above. In these final verses of the chapter, Jesus is not done talking about the world and the contrast between the world and the disciples. The world does not know the Father, but the disciples do because Jesus has made the Father’s name known to them. They know that the Father has sent the Son. Jesus will continue to make God’s name and God’s love for the Son known to his followers. Why? So that through them the world may come to believe that God so loved the world that he gave his Son.
Commentators have puzzled over the fact that the prayer in John 17 speaks of the Father and the Son but makes no mention of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, there is nothing in the prayer that would conflict with what the previous Farewell Discourses have said about the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we could even go so far as to say that the continuing mission of the church in the world that Jesus prays for is made possible by the empowering work of the Holy Spirit in the church and for the sake of the world.
Discussion Questions: for you, your group, or your class
1. When we affirm our loyalty to our own denomination and to our particular theological heritage, do we jeopardize the unity of the church universal?
2. Reflect on the last verse and refrain of an older gospel song, “A Glorious Church” (#672 in our hymnal), which goes like this: “Wave the banner; shout His praises, For our victory is nigh! We shall join our conqu’ring Savior; We shall reign with Him on high! ‘Tis a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle, Washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Are there sentiments in this song that are incongruent with what John 17 says about the glory of the church?
3. How should we respond to someone who says, “I love Jesus but I can’t stand the church because it’s full of hypocrites”?
RESURRECTION PRACTICES: for you, your group or your class
This week’s emphasis is on ECCLESIOLOGY, the study and theology of the Church. Below you will see “practices of participation.” The Body of Christ, the Church, is called and designed to announce and embody the victory of the Resurrection and the present reality of the Kingdom. How can we do it? Here are a few simple ideas. Choose one (or more if you like) to practice this week.
1. Plant trees and flowers - have Sunday School classes or small groups adopt an area to beautify as a testimony to the present reality of the Kingdom.
Go to a concert. Enjoy it. Just because. Here
is a link to upcoming area concerts.
3. Invite someone you don’t know well over for dinner.
4. Take food to a neighbor in need of a simple reminder of the vitality of the Resurrection. Kingdom of abundance vs. Kingdom of Scarcity
5. Participate in physical exercise - yoga, running, biking or rowing. Exercise as a group if at all possible.
6. Participate in spiritual disciplines. Remember, God is more than an object. Be sensitive to all the ways you (and I) reduce God to an object, valuable only “when I need something.”
Keep the Sabbath as a family, group, or individual. Here
is a link to a great article on Sabbath theology.
Read Richard Beck’s book, Unclean: Meditations on purity, hospitality, and mortality
is the Amazon link. Discuss!
9. Meet people from another faith tradition for dinner. The folks from Fairview Baptist have been dear friends for years!
10. Practice forgiveness at some level in your life -forgive something/someone that is currently un-forgiven in your life.
Learn Spanish as an act of hospitality and reconciliation. Here
is a free, online resource to get you started.
12. Undertake intergenerational practices: eating together, adopt a grandparent/adopt a family
13. Make time to get together with the people of God, and enjoy the company!
14. Fill up the food box pantry and volunteer to help the Friday distribution of food. Contact Tamara at 405-843-9588 to coordinate.