The other Lord's Prayer. An unpreached sermon for Easter 7B, 12 May 2024

 The Other Lord’s Prayer. Unpreached Ramble for Easter 7B, 12 May 2024

John 17:6-19

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

Now that I’m an impoverished pensioner, we can’t afford to go out to eat as often as we used to. Which, this Sunday, isn’t a bad thing because it’s Mothers Day and everywhere will be booked out. Well, not really Mothers Day of course, Mothers Day or Mothering Sunday is the Third Sunday in Lent 😇 But the popularly observed day fits the gospel passage quite well because Jesus is praying to his Father. John consistently uses “Father” language for God, especially in John 17, so it is good to be mindful that this terminology is used to indicate a close, familial relationship and not as a gendered identity. Indeed, in Jewish thought, although the God of Israel, Yahweh, and other “God/Lord” nouns, are usually rendered in a masculine case, Father/Mother is interchangeable in attribute. Wisdom, for example, an analogue for the Holy Spirit, is feminine. And Jesus himself uses the image of a mother hen in Matthew 23, addressing Jerusalem representing all of Israel, “I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under wings …” That image of God as mother hiding children under her wings is pervasive through the Psalms: 17.8, 36.7, 57.1, 61.4, 63.7. Ps 91.4 mixes its gender metaphors:
He will cover you with his feathers,

and under his wings you will find refuge. 

On this Sunday, too, here in the southern hemisphere we’re a third of the way through The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Which is even more relevant to the passage than is Mothers Day. And often seems so illusory and unobtainable. 

Verse 11, Jesus prays “that they may be one as we” - the Father and Son - “are one.” In my lifetime, that imperative was given most force by Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Ut unum sint, ‘that they may be one’. So what is it, in our fractured Christendom, which makes us One? The question, which contains its answer within it, should be Who is it who makes us One? First, the prayer is Jesus’. It is sometimes referred to as his High Priestly Prayer. But John doesn’t routinely portray Jesus in a priestly rôle. None of the gospel writers do explicitly. Matthew, writing for a Jewish audience, might be expected to but it would be difficult to make out a High Priestly identification with Jesus from that gospel. Mark is more concerned with dropping veiled hints about Jesus’ Messiahship. Perhaps Luke 24 which has Jesus raising his hands to bless the people in a priestly gesture comes close. And of all the gospel writers, Luke is the only one with a tenuous association as the writer to Hebrews - now there’s a High Priestly epistle! - but no serious NT scholar entertains that for a second. The prayer really comes across as John’s version of the Lord’s Prayer with the address to the “Holy Father” and his “name” (verse 11) and the request for protection from the evil one (verse 15). It runs from verses 1-26. Verses 1-5 focus on Jesus’ glorification. Verses 6-19 focus on Jesus’ concerns for the disciples. Verses 20-26 close with Jesus’ request for his disciples’ unity and mutual love. Immediately following the prayer, Jesus and the disciples go across the Kedron Valley to the garden where Judas will betray him.

Here are some motifs which are common to all Christians, whatever our denominational differences:

The World: Ah, a theme from my childhood. Pretty well anything which wasn’t 7 days a week church, anything fun in fact, was “Worldly”. However (and this would have escaped the minds of those childhood minders), the relationship of Jesus and his disciples to the world is complicated in John. The disciples were chosen from the world (verse 6), are in the world (verse 11), are hated by the world (verse 14), and are not of the world (verses 14, 16). Jesus prays that the disciples be protected from the “evil one” who is at work in the world, but not that they be taken out of the world (verse 15). Ultimately, just as the Father sent Jesus into the world, so too Jesus sends the disciples into the world to continue his mission.

And we all, whatever our ecclesial background, are Given: The word (δίδωμι, dídōmi) occurs nine times in this passage. It is acknowledged that the Father gave the disciples to Jesus (verses 6, 9). Everything (verse 7), including the words (verse 8) and the “word” (verse 14) that the Father gave Jesus, Jesus has given to the disciples. The “name” that the Father gave Jesus is the name which protects the disciples (verses 11-12).

Word: Jesus is the Word (logos) in John, and so there is a double entendre when Jesus talks about how the Father has given his disciples the “word” (verse 14) and that this word which they have kept is the truth (verses 6, 17). The Logos, Jesus as Word, is common to all mainstream churches.

Truth: This section of the prayer is framed by “truth,” a repeated and significant theme in John which also has a double entendre. (See also John 1:14, 17; 8:32; 18:37-38.) In John 17:8, Jesus affirms that the disciples know the truth of his origin from the Father. In verses 17-18, Jesus asks that they be sanctified in the truth which is also confirmed as God’s word. All this comes together to confirm what Jesus, the Word, had previously said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Sadly, what should be a key unifier, has become a shibboleth for every weirdo cult.

A good Methodist theme, but it applies to all the Called, that is all of us. We are Sanctified. The concept is the climax of this part of the prayer (verses 17-19). The word used, ἁγιάζω, hagiazo, is the same word in the Lord’s Prayer traditionally rendered as “hallowed.” So consider that the way in which God’s name is to be regarded as sacred is also what Jesus prays for his disciples. And Jesus’ statement in John 10:34-36 where his own sanctification is what qualifies him to be God’s Son. Similarly, our sanctification is the basis for our claim to be children of God. This sanctity is not just an abstract reality or the grounds for claiming a godly status. It is described as being “in the truth” which is equated with the “word” as noted above, and here is where things get interesting.

First, this sanctification has a purpose which is given in verse 18: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” That is, sanctification is not a way of being made pure and holy by being set apart. It is intended as the way for disciples to be sent forth to share the Truth and the Word. It is not a way of being taken out of the world but being sent into it.

Second, verse 19 points to how the sanctification occurs by connecting our sanctification with Jesus’. What does it mean for Jesus to sanctify himself? It refers to his action of laying down his life on the cross and taking it up again in his resurrection. So what does it mean for us be sanctified in Truth? We can return to Jesus’ own words earlier in this discourse at the last meal in John 15:11-13: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” So our sanctification comes freely to us at a cost to God in Christ, but it is not cheap grace. It also comes in the experience of losing our own lives.

The passage functions on two levels: the prayer Jesus shared with his disciples around 30 CE and the ongoing relevance of that prayer for Jesus’ disciples later in the first century when the text was written and shared in the Johannine community. That perspective becomes explicit in verses 20-23 where Jesus refers to those who will come to believe based on the original disciples’ testimony, which also serves to make John transparent and applicable to Jesus’ disciples today. For the first disciples and for us, sanctification in the Truth and Word is both a matter of what God does for us in Christ and what we experience in being sent into the world as messengers of that Word and disciples who love one another, even to the point of laying down our lives.

Let's revel in the assurance that Jesus, all those years ago, was praying for us, for all of us who have believed because of the Word that came down from the disciples across the generations and now has been shared with, and entrusted to, us. A Gospel to gossip.


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