John 17:1–11 (NRSV)
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
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.
Last week I wanted us to consider who a Christian truly was. I mentioned that each of us have a slightly different definition because each of us have different perspectives. The common definition is that a Christian is a follower of the one called Christ. Today I have a similar question to consider, why? Why does it matter if we follow Christ? There are countless good people throughout the world that do not practice any form of Christian faith, and there are countless more that have a different faith or no faith at all. People can be good according to the definitions of our society with or without Christ. So why take that extra step of faith?
I have pondered this question countless times throughout my life. Why believe? There were times in my while facing a crossroad of life that I could have made decisions and gone very different directions which would have led me to drastically different destinations. Every day of my life I am faced with decisions and choices, some seem insignificant while others could change the course of my life and lifestyle. Each of these decisions that we make in one sense or another could be reformulated into a question of spirituality. Will I follow Jesus, will I believe?
As I press snooze for the tenth time, am I following the teachings of Christ? When I interact with people at work am I following Jesus? When I make purchases, am I following my Teacher? When I speak to my children or my spouse am I speaking in a manner that is reflecting my faith in the Messiah? Every decision we make has an imbedded question of faith, because if we call ourselves a follower of Christ we become representatives of His Name? Which comes back to the question why should we believe?
In today’s passage, we find Jesus again with his disciples. This is still during that last meal they shared in the upper room just prior to Jesus’ arrest in the garden. Jesus had just given what scholars call the farewell discourse, and now he has finished what he must say and he begins to speak not to the disciples but to God the Father. “The hour has come,” Jesus says, “glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.”
Imagine what would be going through the minds of the disciples at this moment. They had just listened to some of the heaviest theological statements from Jesus, words that discussed what it means to be a disciple and all of which were shrouded within a very ominous concept that Jesus would not be with them much longer. If you do not know exactly how they might feel I encourage you to read chapters 14-17 of John directly after eating your next holiday meal. Imagine that your stomach is full your eyes are heavy and you are listening to a teacher speak about concepts that you understand but cannot fully grasp. I know the feeling because I had geometry right after lunch in High School, I lived for a year in a state of almost knowing geometry and to be honest I can explain it best if I am half asleep even today.
Jesus has just taught some heavy and heady ideas then He looks up to heaven and begins to speak this prayer. It is almost as if he forgot that his disciples were in the room with him, and he is totally focused on an entirely different entity. And he begins with words that confuse you even more. “The hour has come, glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Imagine all the ideas that you might have about Jesus, about the Messiah, and listen again, “The hour has come, glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Things are about to get interesting.
Then Jesus goes on to say, “since you have given him authority over all people.” The disciples are getting excited now. They were confused, but now they wonder if Jesus saying that the war is about to start. As Jesus prays I imagine that the disciples are beginning to rise from their cushions, preparing to leave and to fight. The hour has come for glory, and Jesus has been given all authority.
But as Jesus continues to pray they probably sink down again. “since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Confusion again enters the hearts of the disciples.
Each of the disciples had an idea of surrounding the Messiah. Some thought of him as being a military leader, some a priest, some a king and as they thought about his role they each had ideas as to how these were going to be played out in the world around them. Jesus says that the whole purpose of his existence, the glory that he came to fulfill was to give eternal life. We love this concept, to face life without the threat of death. If we were honest with ourselves many of us probably originally enticed to first consider faith with the carrot of eternal life.
But what is eternal life? According to Jesus eternal life is knowing God. But it is more than knowledge of God, it is the experience of God, knowing and discerning the ever-present presence of the personality that gives life.
So often we live compartmentalized lives. We have work and family, football and baseball, or sacred and secular areas. These compartmentalized areas have clear borders, clear separation and space between. We wear red in the fall and winter and blue in the spring and summer, we listen to worship music on Sunday and Howard Stern the rest of the week (well we probably don’t). But this compartmentalization can also leave us fractured. We have areas of life where we worship and honor God, and then there are areas we might consider have little connection to God. The sacred and the secular. Fractured lives are divided and where there is division how can we live life to the full or abundance? This fractured lifestyle is not life but death. Jesus came to give life, life to the full.
Eternal life is a lifestyle where there is no division. Everything is sacred. Eternal life is a lifestyle where every aspect; work and family, football and baseball, as well as our faith are all fully engaged with and in tune with God. Because eternal life is living a life where we experience the presence of God in all things. Do we live that way? Let me rephrase that question a bit because if we have faith we do live that way, we cannot help living that way, but are we aware?
The phrase, “they may know,” is a phrase linked to the process of observation. To know in this sense is to observe through our senses but it is also linked to putting things into practice. The concept is like gaining a new skill or becoming a master of a skill. If we want to become a proficient violinist we would spend hours practicing and experimenting with our instrument. We would interact with the strings and bow learning how to manipulate the sounds they create so that we could make music. At first, the sound is far from music and those around us cringe as they hear the screeches. But as time goes on we begin to hear a melody, and as we know the instrument we might be asked to sit in a chair of a symphony. To know is to discipline ourselves. To know God is to train ourselves to observe the Spirit of God moving and working in our lives here today and experience the pleasure God intended for humanity to have in that relationship.
The problem is we are not always aware. This week I have been trying to become more aware. I have personally found that I have been neglecting my relationship with God, as I have done this I have relied more on my own strength and as a result I have become more exhausted. So, I practice. I intentionally focus on the relationship. I discipline myself to know God by taking on the lifestyle that Jesus taught us as he walked with the disciple. I make it my custom, as Christ did, to worship. I withdraw to pray in isolated places. And I serve where I can. As I do this I become more aware of God’s voice. I hear his voice in the birds’ song. I see his image in the customers I serve. And as I practice more, as I devote more of my awareness to Him, I begin to know him experientially.
This is the very thing that George Fox found as he sought for God to meet the condition of his heart. He found that if we seek to know God, God will reveal more of himself to us. Of course, George call it Experimentally instead of experientially but both mean the same. The early Friends encouraged each other to live life as a sacrament, to make every aspect of life fully devoted to God. To cook and eat worshipfully, to work as if serving God, to speak truth in all we say, to honor God in every action and to wait for his direction before we act. The early Friends sought to live in the eternal life that Jesus spoke of.
Why should we have faith? If we can be good without God what is the point? You see so often we see life with God as simply rules to live by, laws to keep and if we do that we are golden. There is not much difference between that kind of faith and the lives of countless other, the only difference is you might spend two hours a week sitting in a Meeting House while others sleep in. Why have faith? Why should we be a follower of Christ? It is so we can know God. It is so we can experience the joy that God experiences as He looks at creation. It is so we can join God in his place now and forever more. We should have faith not so we can be good, but so we can live, and live together with mankind and with God. Joined together as unique individuals joined together as one, working together to form something greater. Why believe?