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.
Sometimes things that are most obvious are overlooked. We have recently seen the new, modernized TV version of the Sherlock Holmes stories, set in contemporary London. Sherlock, of course, uses a cell phone and a laptop computer.
In one episode, he has to try to find proof that a painting purporting to be a newly discovered Vermeer is actually a fake. He just knows it is a fake, but how can he prove it? He gets up close, studies details, brush strokes, texture, coloring; no good; it’s perfect.
Finally he steps back: Yes, he’s got it. The painting is a landscape at night. In the sky are the beautifully luminescent stars of the so called Van Buren Supernova. But that supernova was not observed before nineteenth century, so Vermeer could not have painted it in the 1640’s. Sometimes things that are most obvious are easily overlooked.
I think the same thing is true for us when we think about our faith. Sometimes we overlook the obvious. The text we read from John’s gospel helps us because it digs deeply into fundamental elements of our faith, crucial for our lives today. Let us look at the text.
The Upper Room Setting
First the setting: in this season of Easter we have been watching the scene taking place in the upper room where Jesus and his disciples have just eaten the last supper. Da Vinci’s
painting of the Last Supper has all of them on the same side of a European-style table – as much of an anachronism as the supernova in the fake Vermeer, but never mind.
The disciples may or may not fully expect what is going to happen the next few hours when Jesus is arrested, but Jesus knows that the end is near. Like Moses did at the end of his life, Jesus delivers his final message to his followers, and like Moses’ it ends with a prayer. That prayer is what we read today.
The first most obvious but often overlooked fact is the way Jesus feels about God. We only read part of Jesus’ prayer, but if we had read it all, we would have heard Jesus call God “Father” six times. The level of intimacy he felt was amazing. And yet he never lost sight of God’s God-ness, even though he was Father. In our text Jesus calls him “holy Father”.
This is exactly the way we refer to God, as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us, the Lord’s prayer. “Our Father in heaven, Holy is your name.” But the problem with saying it so often is that we lose sight of how significant that way of thinking about God is. The Holy God whose essence is awesome, holy, divinity is also Father.
Human fathers range from wonderful to horrible examples of what fatherhood means. Whether it is better to look at, or to look away from the example of a father that your father is or was varies with each person, but we all have a mental image of “the perfect father.” God is the perfect father: loving us unconditionally, teaching us how to live, protecting us, and holding us to high standards.
Some of us here have gone through some painful experiences recently. If that has been true for you, then know this: God is there for you like the perfect Father that he is. Go to Him. Let him embrace you as his child. He loves you more than you can possibly know.
A Dangerous World Out There
The next most obvious but easily overlooked fact that we see in Jesus’ prayer is that he is worried for his disciples. Well, OK, “worried” is probably not the best word, but it’s close. Repeatedly Jesus acknowledges how dangerous the world is that he is going to be leaving his disciples in. Listen to his concern again as he prays:
11 And now…I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,…. 12 While I was with them, I protected
them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, …14… the world has hated them because they 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.
When do you need body armor? When you are being shot at. When do you need protection and guarding that Jesus prays for? When you are in danger. Yes, the world is a dangerous place. Evil is real. Evil is destructive of everything Jesus is about. And evil is a threat to his disciples – all of us.
Evil and our Failure at Square One
How much danger are we in? How significant is the threat of evil? All we need to do is to again, look at what is hiding in plain sight; at something that is totally obvious and frequently overlooked. It is the answer to this question: what is the number one, most fundamental, basic, first-grade step in living the life Jesus taught us to live? Forgiving people.
Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” How successful are most Christians at forgiving? How successful am I at forgiving people in my debt who owe me – an apology?
How about people who owe me restitution for what they have done? What about people who owe me what can never be repaid because the damage has been done, and the past cannot be undone? Can I forgive? Can I accomplish the first, most basic, beginner virtue of a Christian: forgiveness?
So, we have to admit that the world of evil is real; it often thwarts us at the most primary, fundamental level.
Us and the World
What Jesus said about us is true: at a deep level we do not belong to the world. The world’s dominant ideology is about vengeance, retaliation, and making sure that “what goes around, comes around.” The world is about finding out who is to blame, or at least finding a scapegoat to take it out on.
The Jesus way that Jesus taught us to live begins with the prayer “forgive us… as we have been forgiven” ends with the prayer “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” Christianity is cross-shaped. This is basic to Christianity. The fact that we so often observe the opposite shows how seductive evil is.
Protected in, not safely out of the world
The last obvious but easily overlooked fact we have time to look at (there are many more!) is the way Jesus describes our role.
11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in 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.”
Even though this is a dangerous world with the threat of evil at every turn, Jesus prays for us, not to be sequestered safely somewhere out of the world, but to be protected in the world. Why? Because we have a hugely significant role to play in this world.
What we know
We have received his words, as Jesus repeatedly reminds us as he prays. We are the ones who know the truth. We are the ones who know that God is not an angry, vengeful smite-happy sociopath; he is our Heavenly Father.
We are the ones who know that the Kingdom of God has broken into this world. We are the ones who have been taught the secret of the power of forgiveness. The world is in desperate need of people who know how to put the these true words into concrete action.
The most obvious fact is that Jesus put us here for a reason; we are here to be his representatives, his means of getting God’s will done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
We are the ones who know that an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth only gets you an eye-less, tooth-less world of endless hostility. We are here to model a new quality of life that turns the other cheek, goes the second mile, gives the shirt off our backs when a coat has been requested. Jesus has us here for a purpose.
The God thing
The last most obvious fact that we must never overlook is that all of this is a God-thing. In the text we read, Jesus is not giving a pep talk to inspire his little band of followers; he is praying. Only God, Almighty can accomplish any of this.
Only God can break through our defenses and show us his loving Fatherly face.
Only God can protect us from the evil that undermines our commitment to be forgivers as we have been forgiven.
Only God can empower our mission of mercy to this vengeful world.
God is Father. Evil is dangerous. God has a purpose for us in this world. All of this is obvious. All of it is easily obscured by its very familiarity. All of it is crucial. Jesus is praying for us. May he get what he asks for!