The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C
May 12, 2013
20“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I 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. 24Father, 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.
25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I 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.”
Grace to you and Peace, from God our Father and our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ.
The Language We Use
I was asked to preach at a memorial service at the First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto last Friday. It’s always an interesting experience preaching in a different location, in a different style service – especially a service I am not leading. And – like every funeral – to a crowd that may or may not have any connection to the faith.
It’s also interesting the responses you get. One guy thanked me for the message and as he groped for the right adjective, said it was a nice … “ecumenical” sermon. I think what he meant was that I used language and images that weren’t the familiar church talk. That I had used a language for my message that everyone could relate to, and from which they could all profit, whether they considered themselves Christians or not.
You know that I have tried to shift our language as a congregation. Narthex is a perfectly good word, but it is a church word. You don’t talk about the narthex of any other kind of building. And if you didn’t grow up in a church, you may not know what a narthex is. So I have tried to get us to talk about the “entryway.”
You can’t call the youth group Luther League, because no one who didn’t grow up in the Lutheran church before 1970 would know what you were talking about. And those of you from that same time who grew up in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod would have called it Walther League.
Doctors do this to us and it drives us crazy. They use words that all the other doctors know, but we don’t. I have never heard anyone use the word pulmonary except in the hospital or at the doctor’s office. I appreciate the precision of technical words. But we are not doing technical research. The local church is not a research facility but a community health center. We need to speak a language that people speak, otherwise the unspoken message is “This is our church and our place. You are welcome to come, but this is our church and our place.”
Next Sunday is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter, the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus. And what does the Holy Spirit do? It empowers those who followed Jesus to proclaim the praise of God in the native language of every person gathered there from all over the world. We have fun with that image of many languages at the beginning of the service at our service that day, but it has a very serious point: we are here for the world, not ourselves.
A Community of Shared Honor: The High Priestly Prayer
Each year on this seventh Sunday of Easter we read from the 17th chapter of John. Every year on this last Sunday before Pentecost we listen to what is called the “high priestly prayer.” Jesus, after the last supper, and after his last discourses – those discourses starting with “Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me,” through his promise of the Spirit and his use of the image of the vine, “I am the vine you are the branches,” “Abide in me as I abide in you” – those discourses end with this great and wonderful prayer for his followers, for the church, for us.
At the heart of this prayer is the request that we may be one as he and the father are one. What Jesus has in mind is that we would be a community of shared honor. That’s what the word “glory” is doing in this prayer. The prayer begins with the call for God to glorify Jesus so that Jesus can glorify God. It declares that Jesus has already glorified God on earth by bringing to completion the work God gave him to do. And, in our portion today, it says that the glory God gave Jesus he has given to his followers so that we might be one as Jesus and the Father are one.
This word glory tells us we are talking about honor. Honor is the highest value in the ancient world. Honor is publicly acknowledged worth. It is your value in the eyes of the community. But the thing to remember about honor is that is a group value. This is why we have all that attention to genealogies in the bible. My value is known by the family to which I belong.
So a Harvard degree or a Yale degree means that you have more value, more weight, more than if you went to the University of Arkansas. We don’t ask whether you were a C student at Yale or an A student at Arkansas. (I’m not picking on Arkansas – I don’t really know anything about Arkansas – I’m just hoping to pick a school that no one here attended!) Some schools have a reputation as party schools. Other schools have a reputation for certain academic fields. Michigan pretends to be an Ivy League school. And it mocks Michigan State as an ag campus. Whatever school you went to, you share in the perceived honor status of that school.
You as an individual share in the perceived honor of your group. To be one, therefore, is to participate in and protect the honor of your group.
Shared Honor and the Body of Christ
The Jesus group is a strange creature. In the eyes of the world their leader was shamed in the worst possible way by his arrest, torture and crucifixion. Such a group should have no honor. And certainly no one would leave the honor of his natural family to be joined to the honor of such a group.
But Jesus was raised from the dead. His dishonor was turned into a supreme honor. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the father. There is no higher honor. Jesus and the father are one in honor. The world may not recognize it, but you are sons and daughters of the king of the universe.
To be one means that you would not do anything to tear down the family honor. To be united with one another means that you will do nothing to bring shame on the name of Christ – and so bring shame on one another.
The publicly acknowledged values associated with honor at the time of Jesus are “strength, courage, daring, valor, generosity and wisdom.” The things that indicate a lack of honor are “Weakness, cowardice, and lack of generosity.” (107) To these Jesus adds all those values that are discussed in the Sermon on the Mount for example (which starts with “blessed are the poor in Spirit,” blessed are the peacemakers – that word blessed means “how honorable”) as well as those values that are repeatedly named in the letters of the New Testament.
When we betray Christ we betray the church. We lower the value of the church in the eyes of the world. So the priest that violates a child discredits Jesus in the eyes of the world. The group that says God hates members of the gay community discredits Christ in the eyes of others. The congregation that fights betrays Jesus and discredits Christ to others. Hate speech of any kind, prejudice and bigotry, selfishness and narrow-mindedness – all these rip at the fabric of the church and thus at Christ, bringing shame on the body. They divide us.
In contrast the fruit of the Spirit is solidarity: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
When Jesus prays that we would be one, he is praying that we would embody all the honor of being a beloved people of God, sisters and brothers of the Messiah who governs the universe – and that we would live our lives in such a way as to protect the honor of the family and of God: courage, generosity, kindness, openness, compassion, humility, service.
Those Yet to Come
Our lectionary divides up this great prayer into three pieces and we read one piece every year. This year we get the piece where Jesus prays not only for his followers, but for all those who will put their trust in him because of our testimony. It looks forward to the mission of his followers and prays that not only the disciples Jesus has already gathered will be one, but that they will be one with all those yet to come. Jesus is praying that all the newcomers will be fully part of this community of shared honor.
This is why we can’t use the word narthex anymore. “It’s not enough to say you are welcome but it’s our church.”
A family in the congregation attended a first communion service at another congregation recently and they told me that they got there early and went up, chose an empty pew, sitting down on the left side near the center aisle. They were the only ones in the pew when they sat down and they were there for several minutes when the lady in front of them turned around and tapped one of them on the knee and pointed to the far right end of the pew where there was a woman with what was described to me as “as a nasty look on her face,” aggressively motioning with her hand that they needed to get out. “You’ll have to move,” she said, “This is our pew.”
That’s not a community of shared honor. It disgraces Jesus. It shames the church. Why would you be a follower of Jesus if that’s what his followers are like? She brings down the perceived value of the whole community – and she brings down the perceived value of Jesus and God.
Jesus prays that we would be one. He doesn’t mean that we would have a close intimate feeling among ourselves. He means that we would see that his honor and our honor and the honor shown to one another are all interwoven.
It doesn’t just mean that we want to look good as a church. It means we want to be worthy of Christ. To be worthy of the divine name that has been placed upon us. We have been born into the most honorable family in the universe. We want to uphold that honor.
If I do not feel generous, I need to commit to learn generosity for the sake of Christ. If I am not welcoming to outsiders, I need to commit to learn hospitality for the sake of Christ. At the very least I have to avoid acts of inhospitality. I have to be eager to give up my pew for another. I have to be eager to share a bulletin. I have to be eager to listen, eager to forgive, eager to speak kindly and to do justice.
What Jesus is Praying For
I went to Starbucks on Friday. Mom was down in Fresno visiting with my sister Kathy but she wanted to come to this funeral on Friday. So Kathy agreed to drive mom to Gilroy and I drove down to Gilroy to pick her up. We met up at a Starbucks there. I’m mostly a tea drinker now, so I don’t go to Starbucks very often, but I decided to get a tea while I was there.
One of the reasons I don’t really care for Starbucks is because they don’t list the kinds of tea they have available, and they are never on display anywhere where I could possibly see them. So I have to get the person to tell me the names of all these teas and what they are like – which they never want to do. And I don’t know the silly names of the sizes of their cups. And it seems like there’s an intentional snobbery about those who don’t know the system. So it takes some psychological energy for me to try to buy tea there – just like it takes a lot of psychological energy for most non-churched people to dare to enter the sanctuary. (Think about this word. This is supposed to be a sanctuary, but most non-churched people don’t think of it as a safe place but a place where they are likely to feel unwelcome and stupid because they don’t know the system.)
So I’m at Starbucks, gearing myself up for what should be a simple task of getting tea. And I don’t know if it was because I was wearing my collar, or maybe that I was with my mother or maybe that they just weren’t all that busy – but this time the guy was really nice. And when he asked me what size and I had to ask what were my choices he said “Small, medium or large: 8, 12 or 16 ounces.”
He didn’t use the word narthex. He didn’t use the word Walther League or Luther Hall or LALC. He used words I knew. He was kind. He was friendly. And I would go back there. All by himself, he lifted the honor not just of his Starbucks but all Starbucks.
That is what Jesus is praying for.