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³After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, µFather, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 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.´ Since the beginning of Chapter 13 here in John¶s Gospel, Jesus has been sharing with the disciples what scholars call his Farewell Discourse. This discourse is meant to ensure that the disciples don¶t think that this is the end. Jesus wants them to know that even though he¶ll be crucified, he will live on, and even more, they¶ll not be left alone. God will give them the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. With chapter 17, Jesus begins what¶s known as his high priestly prayer, a prayer that asks God to grant Jesus¶ hopes for his disciples. Essentially, Jesus acts here as a high priest, making intercession to God on humanity¶s behalf. While the image isn¶t exact, the title highlights Jesus¶ offering to God the concerns of a community faced with remaining in the world after his departure.1 ³While shaped here as his prayer, Jesus meant for his disciples ± and arguably for us two millennia later ± to overhear his petitions. Hours from the crucifixion, Jesus focuses precisely on what matters most from his entire ministry. This desire to communicate one last time what is at the center of one¶s life and hopes is an enduring human experience. A colleague in ministry tells the story of a young mother dying of cancer in a hospital who finds purpose and energy from the opportunity to construct a videotaped message for her preschool daughters, so that when they¶re older they can listen to what she most hopes will guide their lives. It¶s very important to her to make sure her daughters receive her motherly care and love, even though she won¶t be alive to speak to them in person.´2 ³What¶s central among Jesus¶ concerns? What would you say was the most important thing that Jesus wanted his disciples, which includes us living 2000 years later, what would you say Jesus wants us to remember? I believe that for Jesus, the culmination of his work is that we know God through his life and ministry. Jesus¶ final hopes aren¶t a celebration of himself, but the recognition that his life and ministry are windows into God¶s love and saving purposes. So Jesus prays that people will come to know God through him. µKnowing¶ describes a powerful, active, confessional, and intimately relational claim on our lives. Knowing God is an experience that draws believers into a new reality in which the new order that will be shaped eternally by God¶s vision for love and justice and service can also be realized in relationships and communities now. Knowing God will be evident in our obedience
Adams, Richard Manly Jr. ³John 17:1-11: Exegetical Perspective,´ Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary ± Year A, Volume 2, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, general editors, Westminister John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2010, p. 539. Ramsay, Nancy J., ³John 17:1-11: Pastoral Perspective,´ Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary ± Year A, Volume 2, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, general editors, Westminister John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2010, p. 538.
to love, the singular commandment of this Gospel.´3 Love God. Love others. Love self. This sounds familiar, I suspect, the same message you¶ve heard over and over in church throughout your life. ³Love God and love one another because God is love´ is preached everywhere by everyone. Yet this message that God is love doesn¶t always seem to be well understood. I read a book this last week by Rev. Rob Bell entitled, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.4 As you can perhaps tell from the title, the book is about who he believes gets into heaven and who goes to hell. Bell makes the case in the book, that because God is love, God doesn¶t want anyone to go to hell, and if God doesn¶t want anyone to go to hell how can mere humans win that fight against God? Many, of course, argue that this is a universalist theology and universalism has been denied by Christians from the beginning of the Christian church. Only those who accept Jesus Christ will go to heaven. While Bell agrees in theory with this, he broadens that kind of statement rather than making it exclusive. I found myself pretty much in agreement with Bell¶s argument because Bell¶s argument is based upon the love of God. I share this with you because I believe we Christians too often preach about a God of love, but we don¶t necessarily believe God is love± which is Jesus¶ central message to us. If we¶re to be one with Christ, one with God, if we¶re to love God, it¶s important for us to know the God whom we¶re seeking to love. This is how Bell puts it: Bell writes, ³This story Jesus tells about the man with two sons (what we call the story of the Prodigal Son), has everything to do with our story (our lives). Millions of people in our world were told that God so loved the world, that God sent his Son to save the world, and that if they accept and believe in Jesus, then they¶ll be able to have a relationship with God. [Just what Jesus is saying here in John¶s Gospel.] Bell writes, ³Beautiful.´ Then he goes on, ³But there¶s more. Millions have been taught that if they don¶t believe, if they don¶t accept in the right way, that is, the way the person telling them the gospel does, and they were hit by a car and died later that same day, God would have no choice but to punish them forever, in conscious torment in hell. God would, in essence, become fundamentally a different being to them in that moment of death, a different being to them forever. A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony. If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately. If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand
Ramsay, p. 538, 540. Bell, Robert H. Jr., Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, HarperOne, New York, 2011.
questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good. Loving one moment, vicious the next. Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye. Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die? That kind of God,´ Bell suggests, ³is simply devastating. Psychologically crushing. We can¶t bear it. No one can.´ Bell then says, ³And that is the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Christians: they don¶t love God. They can¶t, because the God they¶ve been presented with and taught about can¶t be loved. That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.´ ³Sometimes the reason people have a problem accepting µthe gospel¶ is that they sense that the God lurking behind Jesus isn¶t safe, loving, or good. It doesn¶t make sense, it can¶t be reconciled, and so they say no. They don¶t want anything to do with Jesus, because they don¶t want anything to do with God.´5 Don¶t misunderstand. I¶m not saying that we aren¶t free to accept or reject God because we are. We can say ³no´ to God if we so desire. But I believe that God doesn¶t give up just because a person says no today, because God loves us more than we can know or understand. ³God is love, and love is a relationship. This relationship is one of joy, and it can¶t be contained. . . Jesus invites us into [relationship with God], the one at the center of the universe. He insists that he¶s one with God, that we can be one with him, and that life is a generous abundant reality.´6 This is what gathering at the Lord¶s Table is all about ± remembering that we¶re one in Christ Jesus, remembering that God loves us so much that nothing we can do can separate us from the love of God. Paul writes: ³For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.´7 We gather here, we¶re invited here, to eat and drink of these symbols of how much God loves us ± and not just us but everyone. The more we love one another, the more God is glorified, the more God is praised, the more God is honored. May we glorify God by loving one another.
5. 6. 7.
Bell, pp. 171-179. Bell, p. 178. Romans 8:38-39.
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