Faith In Real Life Blog: “Healthy Church Life”
6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you, 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them. 11 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. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 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. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who 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, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Our theme this week is ‘Healthy Church Life’ and the text is the 17th chapter of John. It is a dense chapter that our FIRL group struggled with. It is part pastoral prayer, part a goodbye and good wishes and part theological treatise. When and if those concepts get sorted, we will look at the implications for a healthy church life.
We got almost immediately snagged on verses 6- 9: “ “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word…..I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me..,” Jesus seems to be saying that his care is only for the believing Christians of this world. The rest of the world is out of luck. But this is too narrow a reading. This is a prayer for the people he loved to prepare them for his departure. Jesus has warned them of the coming days. He will suffer and die. They will have to go on without him. Any person who has loved someone who is dying knows this painful predicament. Praying for dying (or those that love that person), however, does not necessarily exclude praying for the living.
A wider view of Jesus’ life makes it very clear that his care extended to ‘non believers’. There was no such thing as a ‘Christian’ before Jesus. By definition, his ministry was devoted to non-believers. In this prayer, Jesus was speaking to his very small group of followers. He knew what lay ahead for him and he knew it would be difficult for them. If they continued to follow him, they would have to deal with the same forces that were about to kill him. It was literally dangerous for them to be a Christian. That is still true in some parts of the world but it is a real stretch to say it is true in this country today. We can point to the Taliban and to Alqueda. They indeed wish to make the world Islam but they are no different than our own Christian Nationalist who wish to make the world their version of Christian. Both are exclusionary, self righteous groups who measure belief by their particular brand of loyalty oath. That is the very thinking Jesus stood against and is what eventually killed him.
The parallel in Jesus’ day was his opposition to a narrow interpretation of Judaism that ranked people by varying purity and obedience standards. Acceptance and belonging depended upon compliance. It is one of the most common features of the ‘world.’. It is far more common to use differences as ways to separate people and view them as better than or worse than. Even when we know such thinking is divisive and toxic, there are few of us who do not believe our political views are not ‘better than’. In our current political climate, it is hard to find middle ground. It is more important to keep your base threatened and angry. Of course it is always easier to see how ‘they’ do it than how ‘we’ do it.
When Jesus stood for care and regard outside of the conventional beliefs, he was offering an alternative to the ‘world’s’ way of assigning value and worth. All people are valuable. We are even directed to ‘love our enemies’. But as good and kind as that might sound, it is also disturbing in real life. If I favor women’s rights, how do I include someone who is protecting innocent babies? Our world, our church and our ordinary real lives are splintered by factions and differing opinions. We spend far more time trying to prove we are ‘right’ (or simply avoiding people who think differently) than we do trying to learn from those who differ from us. People get angry when their ‘rightness’ is challenged. Jesus knew that. Martin Luther King knew that. Paradoxically, holding on to the value of people who are normally excluded can get you killed.
This was the ‘world’ that Jesus was talking about. His teaching, his kingdom was for such a world. It was not from the world. This has huge implications for a ‘healthy’ church. It requires us to be clear about what we stand for and who we follow. It requires the cultivation of intentional practices that demonstrate care and regard. It requires that we quiet our fears and resist falling back into our far more natural and worldly ways. It requires that we live our lives in the promise that we are already loved—no matter how the world might view us. Again, this is much easier said than done. Most of us need to please. We are likely to accommodate. We want acceptance, assurance and validation. These responses become the measure of our worth.
The early disciples were headed for tough times. They could realistically expect exclusion. (Jesus warns them they will be thrown out of the synagogues.) Our sense of inclusion and belonging is not so dramatically threatened but it is threatened nonetheless. In ordinary relationships it is very difficult to be transparent and vulnerable. We do not want to be judged or rejected. How can we stand fast, much less be proactively accepting, when we can be quite confident the things we fear will almost certainly happen. But that is what it means to follow Jesus. Fortunately, we are simply called to this direction—to this other worldly way of living.
Living in such a world requires us to find new ways to engage. A healthy church helps with that. It keeps us pointed toward mindfulness and regard—whether or not we agree with each other. It reminds us that coercion and retaliation are ordinary ‘worldly’ reactions but only evoke more of the same. Jesus makes the radical claim that unity with the Father means trusting Him—even on a cross. That is far different from the many stories of Holy vengeance throughout the Bible. Those are worldly attempts to make God in our image. That is not how Jesus lived.
Real life is another story. As usual, I can understand the principle but living it is another problem. There are still people in my life, I do not want to be in the same room with. And that may be the best I can do. Fortunately, living a life of caring is about the direction of that life more than any particular accomplishment. A healthy church provides support, direction and a clear eyed view of the difficulties. That is what Jesus offered his disciples—yesterday and today.
Before the ‘foundation of the world’, this other worldly way of thinking and loving existed. It is a way of reconciliation and peace. It is a way of mindfulness and regard. It is a way of care and inclusion that stands in sharp contrast to the ways of the world that are self righteous, divisive and ultimately toxic. It is the way of love. And we can get better at it.
Let it be so.