Pray for One Another — Saturday Sermon from the Sidelines

John 17:6-19; 7 Easter B 2021

Friends, I need to recuperate spiritually a bit and spend more time in the garden. So here’s a message from another time and place that might be helpful.

Last week we heard Jesus’ command to love one another as Jesus loves us. Our gospel is part of a prayer Jesus prays for his disciples and all who trust in him. We could say that Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

Do you wonder what Jesus is up to right now, sitting at the right hand of the Father? He is praying for you. For example, In Romans eight, verse thirty-four, Paul says, “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” Like the disciples, we are on the front lines in the battle against sin, death and the devil. So we need Jesus’ prayers to sustain us in the fight.

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Jesus prays in this prayer, not only for his disciples but also for “all those who believed in their account.” That’s us. We are included in Jesus’ prayer. What does it feel like to know that all those years ago Jesus was praying for you?

I hope you hear Jesus praying for you today. Jesus was praying for us all those years ago and continues to care for us, support us, and love and value us today. Where do you need to be one, to be more whole, to have more peace in your life? Take a moment and imagine Jesus is praying just for you today.

Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

We have some interesting ideas about prayer. A five year old told his daddy he wanted a baby brother. The boy offered to help make this happen. Dad paused for a moment and then replied, “I’ll tell you what. If you pray every day for two months for a baby brother, I guarantee that God will give you one!”

The prospective older brother prayed every night for a whole month. Then he had some doubts. You just don’t pray for two months, he thought to himself, and then—whammo–a new baby brother. So he stopped praying.

After another month, mom went to the hospital. When she came back home, Johnny’s parents called him into the bedroom. There was a little bundle lying right next to his mother. His dad pulled back the blanket and there was — not one baby brother, but two!! His mother had twins!

Dad said, “Now aren’t you glad you prayed?” The boy looked up at his dad and said, “Yes, but aren’t you glad I quit when I did?”

Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

We don’t do it for one another. I don’t do it often enough. We say, “I’ll pray for you.” But we hardly ever just sit down and do it. That may be hard for many of us. We may wonder if we know how to pray.

A family was having guests to dinner. At the table, the mother turned to her six-year-old daughter and says, “Dear, would you like to say the blessing?” “I wouldn’t know what to say,” replies the little girl. “Just say what you hear Mommy say, sweetie.”

Her daughter takes a deep breath, bows her head, and solemnly says, “Dear Lord, why in blazes did I invite all these people to dinner?” That may not have been the best prayer training the little girl could have received.

How can we pray for one another? When in doubt, imitate Jesus. Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

Jesus prays for what the disciples need. They are afraid he is abandoning them. So he prays for what they need—protection, confidence and courage. When you pray for someone else, focus on that person. Listen closely for what that person needs. Ask for that need in simple words and sentences. Let God take care of the results.

Even with some tips and tricks tucked away in our brains, this still may be hard to do face to face. There are other ways to let people know you are praying for them. And it’s important that the people you pray for hear the words you say.

There were these two boys who lived with their Grandma. They were about to go to bed but before they slept they prayed. The older son started to pray. He prayed about the day he had and about everything he had done. The younger son then started to pray, he prayed much louder than his elder brother, he prayed for bikes and toys, and when he finished the older brother asked him “Why are you praying so loud? God is not deaf” and the younger son responded and said “Yea but Grandma is”

Just imagine how much reassurance the disciples received when they heard Jesus’ words. It’s important to ask God for the needs of others. It’s also helpful for the others to hear us as we pray.

Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

Sometimes we are far away from someone who needs our prayers. Perhaps this week you might send someone a note or a card telling them you are praying for them. You might write out the prayer that you are praying for them. You might ask what else you can include in your prayers.

Sometimes our prayers can be more visible than audible. I was so grateful that one of our members made and brought a quilt to send to another member who had broken a bone. That quilt carried the prayers of many here and was a source of healing and strength.

Even though we regard social media sometimes as a tool of Satan, I also find it another way to share prayers with others. Sometimes I do it in a real time chat with someone. Sometimes I message or email my prayers. I’m often surprised by how helpful those prayers can be.

Jesus wants us to pray for one another as Jesus prays for us.

Text Study for John 17:6-19 (Pt. 4); 7 Easter B 2021

4. And Sanctified in Truth

If glorification means making visible God’s presence in the world, then Jesus prays that the disciples will be set apart for this continuing mission in the world and for the life of the world. “Sanctification” means being set apart for a particular task, function, or purpose. It can be translated as “being made holy.” But we equate holiness with some sort of cramped and crabby morality rather than with the idea that Jesus followers are marked out for being the place and places in the world where God’s presence in Jesus by the power of the Spirit is most visible.

It should be clear from Jesus’ own story that being set apart and sent into the world is dangerous business. We will see that below as we remember the execution by stoning Jesus barely avoided in John 10. Therefore, the discussion of sanctification is closely connected to the discussion in verses 11-16 of “protection.”

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Jesus has already moved into the final phase of his mission in John’s gospel. Remember, this the conclusion of the Farewell Discourse. “and I am no longer in the cosmos,” he prays in verse 11, “and they are in the cosmos, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me, in order that they shall be one, just as we are [one].”

The word which the NRSV translates as “protect” is a common Greek word which means to keep, to keep under guard, to keep safe. Jesus prays that disciples will be preserved and protected in the “name” they have been given. The opposite of “to be in the name” is to be in the realm or power of the Evil One. Riesenfeld (TDNT VIII:142) notes that there is a parallelism between “in the name” in verse 11 and “from the Evil One” in verse 15.

“[T]he evil one is the embodiment of all that is opposed to God,” O’Day and Hylen observe. “The community will live and work in the midst of this opposition. Jesus prays for God’s protection because of the realities that believers face living in the world” (Kindle Location 3463). The Good Shepherd has taken care of the sheep placed in his care. Now he goes to lay down his life for the sake of the sheep, and he prays that the Father will keep the flock together in safety.

“Sanctification is that which is essential to being sent into the world,” Karoline Lewis writes, “Another way of imagining the meaning of sanctification in this context is that it is a synonym for protection” (page 212). We are sent into places that are dangerous and where we might be tempted to fall away. “Both Jesus and the community are set apart for God’s work (v. 19),” O’Day and Hylen conclude, “in the full truth of God that Jesus’ life and death reveal” (Kindle Location 3468).

I don’t want to beat people over the head with this. However, I don’t think that risk and danger are the primary reasons people come to church. In my experience, most people want safety and security, comfort and consolation, assurance and affirmation, when they come to churches. They aren’t looking for confrontation with evil, danger of losing faith, and risk of death. I don’t come looking for that either.

Such fraught experiences are, however, to be the norm rather than the exception for disciples sent into the world and set apart for the sake of the Truth. If all we ever get and want is safety, I have to wonder if we’re really going to the places and doing the things for which we have been set apart. I wonder that first about myself, for example, in seeking to be an ally with and for those who are oppressed by our various systems of injustice and violence. I have rarely been in places of danger in that regard. That’s probably not what Jesus intends for me.

I have not often shared this with people. It’s not a great marketing tool for recruiting new members and keeping church council members from complaining. Yet is it any wonder that at least some folks feel like the church is sometimes a “bait and switch” operation? We promise sweetness and light up front and then ask disciples for their very lives. I’m not surprised that people respond somewhat violently when we do this. Perhaps we need to be a bit more honest about the risks of discipleship and let the rewards take care of themselves.

But then, I’m retired…easy for me to say.

We should note that in John Jesus is the one who is first “sanctified.” In the latter part of John 10, Jesus debates with the Jewish authorities about his status as Messiah. This debate takes place during the Feast of Hanukkah, also known as the “festival of Dedication.” This festival remembers and celebrates the restoration of the Temple during the Maccabean regime after the desecration of the Temple by the Greek invaders. It is no accident, of course, that this debate happens during such a festival. Jesus comes, as we know from previous discussion in John, to fulfill and replace the function and centrality of the Temple.

Jesus declares that he is the Messiah, that his sheep follow him and receive eternal life, and that he and the Father are one. In response, the Jewish authorities prepare to stone him to death for the crime of blasphemy. Jesus engages them in a debate about the text of Psalm 82, where the psalmist quotes the Lord as saying, “you are gods.” Jesus then challenges them by asking in 10:36 (NRSV), “can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”

Jesus is set apart (sanctified) and sent into the world to do the works of the Father. Jesus then picks up this combination in John 17:17-19. “Set them apart in the truth,” Jesus prays. “Your Word is Truth.” The term Jesus uses in this verse is “logos,” the primary term we get in John’s prologue. That’s why I would capitalize the term in translation. It’s clear that John’s gospel intends to connect the Word sent into the world to make known the Father’s heart with the Word that impels the disciples now to do the same.

“Just as you sent me into the cosmos,” Jesus continues in verse 18, “I also sent them into the cosmos.” Jesus followers are set apart and sent. There’s another possible sermon theme that wraps up the Easter season and propels us into the season of the Church. The verb tense is interesting here as well. We can understand that Jesus was sent (past completed action). But Jesus says that disciples were already sent (also past completed action). We’ve discussed the fluidity of tenses in John. It’s also the case that the Incarnation set in motion the process which has resulted in “set apart and sent” disciples. That event is in the “past” of the disciples.

There is, as Bruce notes, a kind of reciprocal relationship between the being set apart and being sent. “The very message which they are to proclaim in his name will exercise its sanctifying effect on them,” he writes, “That message is the continuation of his message, just as their mission in the world is the extension of his mission” (page 448).

As we bear witness, the Word makes a continuing claim on us and forms us for the sending. And the sending continues to set us apart for the mission. So, if we have some trouble connecting with our sense of “set apart and sent,” that might be diagnostic of our need for more exposure to the Word – in scripture, in sacraments, and in the life of the body of Christ.

Verse 19 brings this set of ideas to a conclusion. “And for their sake, I am setting myself apart,” Jesus says, “in order that they themselves shall also have been set apart in the truth.” Commentators understand Jesus to mean that he is now ready for the final act in his work – being lifted up on the cross, in the resurrection, and into the ascension.

What about the discussion of “protection” in John 10:11-15? Karoline Lewis suggests that “protection” is a synonym for “sanctification.” She writes, “To be sanctified has connotations of being set apart, dedicated, or consecrated. In this Gospel, it is directly connected to being sent into the world, for Jesus and now for the disciples.” (page 212).

I appreciate Karoline Lewis’ suggestions for how this text fits into the liturgical rhythm and lectionary flow of the transition from the season of Easter to the season “after” Pentecost. “As the seventh and last Sunday of Easter before the festival of Pentecost and the beginning of the long green season, Jesus’ closing words, are more than a fitting finish,” she notes. What if Jesus’ prayer for unity that mirrors the unity of the Trinity “was that which provided a theme for the entire season of Pentecost for your congregation?” (page 214).

Her concluding questions are worth quoting in full. “What if we imagined that the resurrection of Jesus was just the beginning and not the conclusion of the Gospel? That the promises of the resurrection are, in part, ours to fulfill? How would a life of discipleship, of witness, of love, between Pentecost and Advent, be different if we were to trust that Jesus meant what he said in 14:12, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” We are in the world now, the world that God loves (3:16).” (page 214).

References and Resources

Curtice, Kaitlin B. Native. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Laskey, Dennis A., “Luther’s Exposition of John 17,” Currents in Theology and Mission, 1991.

Lewis, Karoline M.; Lewis, Karoline M.. John (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries) Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

O’Day, Gail R.; Hylen, Susan E. John (Westminster Bible Companion) . Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Text Study for John 17:6-19 (Pt. 3); 7 Easter B 2021

3. Glory!

Eternal life, in the Farewell Prayer, is knowing God and God’s Messiah, Jesus, whom God sent into the world to give abundant life. The results of this relationship are “glorification” and “sanctification.” Both of those are words that produce allergic responses in my Lutheran-shaped theological brain. They sound like sure paths to works righteousness – the opposite of being saved by grace through faith. This has been part of my lifelong resistance to John, and it has been a mistake.

O’Day and Hylen define “to glorify” as “to make visible the presence of God” (Kindle Location 2931). This makes much more sense to me than some effort to offer God praise and honor and esteem that it would seem that God doesn’t need or desire. Instead, Jesus glorifies the Father by his Incarnation as the Word made flesh. We come back to John 1:18 and the fact that no one has ever seen God. It is the Word made flesh that has made the Father visible and thus has glorified the Father.

Pointing to this mutual glorification is how Jesus begins his Farewell Prayer in John 17:1. Just as Jesus has made the Father visible in his life, so the Father has made God visible in the life of Jesus – particularly through the signs in John’s gospel but also through the Word and words of Jesus’ dialogues and discourse. “‘Glorification’ is John’s way of describing the revelation of God’s love that takes place in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension,” O’Day and Hylen write. “By glorifying God, Jesus makes visible the presence of God; thus, Jesus’ glorification also glorifies God. Jesus’ prayer for his glorification is also a prayer that the events of his hour will complete his revelation of God” (Kindle Location 3425).

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To appreciate “glory” in John’s gospel, we need to review the background of the experience in the Hebrew scriptures. The word in Hebrew is kabod, which means “weight” or “substance.” It refers, in metaphorical terms to something that has what we might call “gravitas” (coming from our notion of “gravity”). We can talk about the gravity of a situation. We can note that some things are “weighty” matters. So, we can get closer to the Hebrew sense of the word.

In the Christian scriptures, “glory” often refers to an experience of light – not metaphorical, but rather a visible, and often overwhelming brilliance. When the angels bring their Nativity news to the shepherds and sing the first Christmas carols, “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The light was of such brilliance that the shepherds were terrified. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus was transformed into such brilliant glory that his clothing was brighter “than any fuller could bleach it,” as we read in Mark’s gospel. The disciples are befuddled by the brilliance and can’t process it very well.

The light of the glory of God is, however, the manifestation of God’s glory and not the substance of it. The glory of God is, as was noted above, God’s presence with God’s people. Several commentators refer us to the design and construction of the Tabernacle in Exodus, chapters 25-40. The specifics of the design are laid out in chapters 25-31. The construction is interrupted by the unfaithfulness of the Israelites and the need to renew and recast the covenant in chapters 32-37.

But by the time we get to Exodus 40, the Tabernacle is completed, and the Ark of the Covenant rests at the center of the installation. In Exodus 40:33, we read that “Moses finished the work.” In the Septuagint translation, phrase is “καὶ συνετέλεσεν Μωυσῆς πάντα τὰ ἔργα (“kai sunetelesen Moses panta ta erga”). We should notice right off that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 echoes this sense of “finished work.”

John’s gospel makes a connection between the completion of the Tabernacle and Jesus’ completion of the work of loving the world. The Farewell Discourse begins with the report that Jesus loved “his own” and loved them “to the end” (eis telos). That is, Jesus loved his own right through to the completion, fulfillment, and perfection of his work. In John 19:30, Jesus said “It has been completed.” He then bowed his head and handed over the Spirit. We dare not miss the connections John’s gospel is making here.

Exodus 40:34-38 describes how the presence of the LORD accompanied the Israelites on their wilderness journey by occupying the Tabernacle. “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting,” we read in verse 34, “and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (NRSV). “Glory” is the Hebrew word in question – “kabod” – and it is not exclusively brilliant light. It is, rather, the awesome presence of the LORD. In fact, a cloud covers the tent when the LORD is present, and there is no room for even Moses to enter.

When the cloud was on the tent, the Israelites needed to stay put. But when the cloud was lifted, the LORD went out ahead of them, and they could go forward. “For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in [it] by night,” we read in Exodus 40:38 (NRSV, see footnote). The glory of the LORD was not defined by light as such but rather by the LORD’s presence with the people.

In 1 Kings 8, the glory of the LORD is transferred to the Temple in Jerusalem, built by Solomon. Once again, lavish attention is paid to the details of construction and materials. The ark of the covenant was brought to the Temple and placed in the center – the Holy of Holies. After the ark has been installed and the priests had vacated the inner sanctuary, “a cloud filled up the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” (1 Kings 8:10-11, NRSV).

We have a repetition of the experience of Moses in the Tabernacle. There was no room for the priests “for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (verse 11b). Solomon the enters into a long prayer that lifts up the blessings, sins, history, and chosenness of God’s people “just as you promised through Moses, your servant, when you brought our ancestors out of Egypt, O Lord God” (verse 53). The prayer connects the Temple to the Tabernacle and assures the listeners that the “glory” is the same Divine presence.

We might think briefly about Isaiah’s vision of the Lord’s throne room in Isaiah 6. The heavenly attendants call to one another, reminding each of that “whole earth is full” of the Divine glory – that is, the Divine presence. This glory is expressed with earthquakes and smoke. Isaiah is certain he will die because he is not of sufficient worth (weight, in a metaphorical sense) to bear this vison of the Lord. He lips are cleansed so he can speak of what he has seen. His vision, however, is one of judgment rather than presence. The Lord will send the people away in the exile and will not accompany them.

Thus, the Babylonian Exile calls into question God’s presence with the Judeans. The Temple is destroyed, and the ark of the covenant is lost to history. At the beginning of the Exile, the prophet Ezekiel, in chapters 10 and 11, envisions the glory of the Lord as it departs from the Temple. The prophet does not leave his people desolate, however, In chapter 43 – after explicit and detailed instructions on rebuilding the Temple – Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord returning from the east. As Ezekiel witnessed the return of the Lord’s glory, he was transported to the inner court of the Temple.

This time there would be room for someone in the inner sanctuary when the glory of the Lord filled the structure.

All of this tradition and history stands behind the use of “glory” in John’s gospel. We can remember from John 2 that Jesus comes to replace the Jerusalem temple with his own body on the cross. There was a profound sense among the Jews that even though the Babylonian exile had ended centuries before, the people and the Temple were still in captivity. There had only been a few decades when the Temple was not on occupied land. Jesus comes, in all the gospels but especially in John, to restore the glory of the Lord to the center of the world.

Jesus has glorified God by finishing the work God gave him to do and asks God to glorify him in return (vv. 4–5),” O’Day and Hylen write. “This reciprocal glorification was seen in 17:1 and is already present in the prior narrative of Jesus’ life; God has glorified Jesus (8:54; 12:28), and Jesus has revealed God’s glory (1:14; 2:11; 11:4, 40). Jesus’ return to God reflects the fullness of his glory” (Kindle Location 3435).

Jesus is the Word made flesh, “tabernacling” among us, John’s gospel says. The Son glorifies the Father – that is, makes the Father present in the lives of the disciples and the life of the world. The Son is glorified by the presence of the Father in all times and places – especially on the cross. The Spirit continues to glorify the Son by making the Son present in the community of those who put their trust in the Son – that is, the Church. We who follow Jesus make him present through our love for one another and our unity in the Son.

In the image of the Vine and the Branches, for example, Jesus tells his disciples, “In this way, the Father is glorified – that you are bearing much fruit.” If glorification means making visible God’s presence in the world, then this sentence makes great sense. In the fruits of love produced by the ministry of the disciples, the world can see the presence of God in them and in their works. They make manifest the presence of God as disciples of Jesus – branches of the Valid Vine.

This sentence is not a prescription. It is a description of how the process works. In that fruit-bearing, the disciples show the presence of God and demonstrate their connection to Jesus as disciples. “In this way you show yourselves to be my disciples,” he assures them. With that background, we can think about the “weight” of our witness as disciples. We go there next.

Text Study for John 17:6-19 (Pt. 2); 7 Easter B 2021

2. Speaking of God, or What’s in a Name?

“We believe that God is one of a kind, but beyond that we can’t name what or who God is exactly,” Kaitlin Curtice writes in Native. “Mystery. Other. Sometimes Father, sometimes Mother, and sometimes Neither. Sometimes Friend, sometimes Challenger. When we begin to name God,” Curtice reminds us, “we find that God has suddenly become an image of us, our own cultural understandings” (page 23). We could use more of that theological, epistemological, and spiritual humility in our current discourse in America.

The writer of John’s gospel understands that as soon as we talk about God in any specifics, we are bound to be in error. Human language, concepts, and thinking simply cannot encompass or comprehend the Divine in anything approaching a full sense. So, John’s gospel uses repetition, images, figures of speech, and multiple frames of reference to begin to approximate what we mean when we talk about the God who is revealed in Jesus. John’s gospel is filled with overlapping, interlocking, and even inconsistent language about God in order to make this approximation.

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That is true, for example, in how John’s gospel uses the tenses of verbs to describe what God is up to in Jesus by the power of the Spirit. You can find verbs in the present tense, the simple past tense, and the past tense continuing in the present – often in the same verse! Is John’s gospel talking about the past, the present, or the future in these descriptions of Jesus?

The real answer is “Yes – all of the above.” John’s gospel describes what has happened for the benefit of listeners in his present time who will convey their witness to future believers. Therefore, all of time meets in Jesus as he is glorified.

“Jesus’ words address his disciples’ concerns, but also speak to the future experience of the reader,” O’Day and Hylen suggest. “One of the key marks of this multilayered address is the fluidity of verb tenses. Jesus declares the fulfillment of the events of his hour in the past, present, and future tenses” (Kindle Location 2964). Jesus’ prayer is for them, and it is for us as well. “The past, present, and future all exist within the moment of Jesus’ hour,” they write. “The words of encouragement and instruction that Jesus speaks are directed to future as well as present disciples” (Kindle Location 2969).

I think we can see this in one of the primary ways Jesus describes himself in John’s gospel – the “I am” statements. It’s not surprising that these statements connect Jesus to the God of Israel, who self-identifies as “I am.” You may recall Moses’ encounter with God at the Burning Bush in Exodus 3. When Moses asks for God’s real name, what he gets is a linguistic riddle. The name really means, “I am what I am; I was what I was; I will be what I will be.” All of time comes to…intersection?…completion?…union?…in this name.

Does the fluid use of verb tenses in John’s gospel reflect this understanding of God’s relationship to time? Is Jesus portrayed in the gospel as Lord of all time – past, present, and future – in this grammatical fashion? I think so. After all, this is the gospel that portrays Jesus as declaring, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). More to the point, however, is that this fluidity of tense is just one way to show that Jesus makes known God’s “name.”

“I have made known your name to the persons whom you gave me from the cosmos,” Jesus prays in John 17:6. “They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have been keeping your Word” (my translation). What is this “name” that Jesus has made known to the disciples? It can be none other than “I am.”

This is Jesus’ most common self-description in John’s gospel. On the one hand, we can find the “absolute” construction with “I am,” as noted in John 8:58 above. “The absolute ‘I AM’ statements are meant to be direct claims of who Jesus really is,” Lewis notes, “the Word was God, the Word made flesh, God incarnated, God revealing God’s self, as God did to Moses (Exod. 3:14), but now in a new and unique way” (page 62).

The other “I am” statements in John’s gospel are “predicate nominative” statements, such as “I am the true vine” in John 15. These predicate nominative statements are “not only unique to John; they are an essential aspect of the primary theological assumption of this Gospel,” Lewis writes, “’and the Word became flesh.’ The fourth evangelist undergirds a theology of incarnation,” she suggests, “by locating a description of Jesus in physical, material, and tangible realities” (page 63).

Jesus has made his name known, in John’s gospel, both through the absolute and unconditional application of God’s proper name to himself, and by using that name along with figures of speech to give depth and meaning to the name.

In John’s gospel, Jesus’ opponents are quite clear about the meaning of that name. In the incident noted above in John 8, Jesus makes the “absolute” identification between God and himself. “The response of the Jews is to pick up stones to throw at him (v. 59),” O’Day and Hylen note, “the punishment prescribed for blasphemy in the Old Testament (Lev. 24:13–16; see John 10:31).

“The accusation of blasphemy, first seen in chapter 5, again comes to the fore as a reason to execute Jesus,” they continue. “Yet the attempt at stoning also indicates that Jesus’ audience recognize the import of the ‘I AM’ saying. They do not attack him because they misunderstand his words,” the authors conclude, “but because they do understand” (Kindle Location 2051).

When Jesus makes known God’s “name,” what he conveys is, in fact, God’s identity for the world. This takes us back to John 1:18 – “No one has ever seen God; the Only-Begotten God, the one who leans into the bosom of the Father –that one has made [the Father] known” (my translation). In John 1:18, the Only-Begotten God “exegetes” the Father – reveals the Father by interpretation and explanation. In John 17:6, Jesus notes that he has made the name of the Father “appear” to the persons placed in his care. He has embodied that name for them.

This knowing is more than information. It is relationship at the deepest level. In fact, this “knowing” is the definition of “eternal life” in John’s gospel. “Now this is eternal life: that they shall know you, the one true God,” Jesus declares in John 17:3, “and Jesus, the Messiah, whom you sent” (my translation and emphasis). Eternal life in John’s gospel is far more than a heavenly insurance policy for the select few. It is knowing God and being known by God in and through Jesus by the power of the Spirit in the here and now.

“Reading verses 1–4 primarily as a reference to believers’ future place in heaven limits what Jesus is saying here,” O’Day and Hylen remind us. “Jesus’ hour creates new possibilities for relationship with God in the present life of the believer” (Kindle Location 3017). Rather than being Christians who are so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good, in John’s gospel, disciples are fed and formed by knowing God in Jesus right here and right now.

That will preach in a time when we need all the help in the here and now we can get.

Of course, we are taken back to John 3:16 and the purpose of God’s sending of the Son into the world – so that all might have eternal life. Jesus reminds us in John 10:10 that he came so that we might have abundant life. In his Farewell Prayer, Jesus declares that he has accomplished – completed – this life-giving work by making God’s being known among the disciples.

“While there is certain promise of life beyond death that is imagined as being at the bosom of the Father at the ascension,” Karoline Lewis notes, “to know abundant life means that abundance is not capable of being delayed. As a result, salvation is present, an eschatological promise that is in the moment as well as in the future. Preaching the meaning of salvation from the particular witness of this moment in John,” she suggests, “will invite a different and perhaps more robust soteriology than what preaching tends to proclaim” (pages 68-69).

Lewis suggests that this proclamation of eternal life will provide a helpful balance to the “escape hatch theology” which encapsulates so much American Christian piety. This description is more mine than Karoline’s, but I think it captures some of her concern. On the seventh Sunday of Easter, we can rejuvenate our cries of “Christ is risen!” by declaring that this life is available and impactful in the here and now – a useful reminder as it seems we are destined for more of the same old stuff.

It is also a welcome boost as we move into the long, green season ahead. “All too often,” Lewis notes, “the resurrection is preached as a culmination rather than an inauguration, the believer’s ultimate reality rather than the penultimate promise, especially for the Gospel of John. A primary theological assumption throughout the Farewell Discourse,” she writes, “is that there is more to being a child of God than being raised from the dead” (page 193).

There’s an interesting sermon theme for this Sunday – life is more than not being dead!

Next time, we look at “glorification” as the further description of this abundant life.

References and Resources

Curtice, Kaitlin B. Native. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Laskey, Dennis A., “Luther’s Exposition of John 17,” Currents in Theology and Mission, 1991.

Lewis, Karoline M.; Lewis, Karoline M.. John (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries) Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

O’Day, Gail R.; Hylen, Susan E. John (Westminster Bible Companion) . Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Text Study for John 17:6-19; 7 Easter B 2021

1. Praying John’s Labyrinth

Reading John’s gospel is analogous to walking a labyrinth. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is intended to get the walker lost or at least to give the walker the illusion of being lost. A labyrinth does not deal in multiple paths and doorways. Instead, the labyrinth carefully and gradually leads the walker to the center of the structure and then back out to the exit.

Walking a labyrinth can produce a different sort of anxiety than a maze. Why do I keep returning to almost the same spot over and over? Why do I make it nearly to the center of the ring only to be returned to the outer limits for more walking? Why do I travel the same path both entering and exiting the labyrinth? Walking a labyrinth requires patience, presence, and perspective in order to appreciate the experience. And it rewards repeated trips.

Photo by Altaf Shah on

That’s my experience of reading, researching, and reflecting on John’s gospel. It is not a theological circle. Rather, it is more of an upward spiral – often covering the same ground from a new elevation and perspective. On a first read, John can seem to be an exercise in obscure repetition. But with sustained attention, I find that the supposed repetitions in John are not redundant. Rather, they are invitations to go deeper, to go higher, and to go further along the path.

Nowhere in John is this more the case than in chapter 17. The chapter has often been called Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” It is the prayer that concludes Jesus Farewell Discourse in John 13-17. It appears to be part valedictory address, part last will and testament, and part commission to the Church for future mission and service. Gail O’Day and Susan Hylen encourage us to remember that this chapter is indeed a prayer. “Although interpreters have often read the language of the prayer as instruction to the community, the genre of prayer is important to the meaning of this passage. At the moment of his hour, Jesus entrusts the future of the community to God” (Kindle edition, location 3417).

Before we get into the finer details of the text, it’s helpful to re-position ourselves in John’s account. We know that John begins, in several senses, where the Synoptics end, and we must always keep that reality in mind. John 1:1-18 and John 21 serve as the prologue and epilogue to the account, situating the Gospel both in its cosmic perspective and its intensely personal application.

From John 1:19 through the end of chapter 12, we find ourselves in the “Book of Signs” which prepares us for Jesus’ departure into crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Chapter 12 serves as a kind of bridge to the second part of the Gospel account, the “Book of Glory.” That glorification is fulfilled in the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

This second “book” falls into two sections as well – the Farewell Discourse (chapters 13-17) and the Passion account (chapters 18-20). Karoline Lewis reminds us (page 177) that in John’s account, the Book of Signs covers approximately three years. The Book of Glory covers three days plus the Thomas story a week later. The Farewell Discourse fits into one evening. The writer of John’s gospel brings us to the center of the story and invites us to stay there for an extended time to allow us to rest, reflect, and wrestle with what we hear.

Chapter 13 provides the “sign” for this discourse – the Footwashing in the Upper Room. That sign is followed by a dialogue where the disciples understand only in part what is happening. They will understand more later. Jesus spends chapters 15 and 16 unfolding the meaning of the sign in the larger context of God’s work in Jesus. Chapter 17 summarizes not only the Farewell Discourse but in addition the main themes of John’s gospel.

The immediate context of the chapter should strongly influence our reading, reflection, and response. Jesus is going away, and he seeks to help his disciples understand his departure. The Farewell Discourse “is Jesus at his most pastoral,” Lewis writes. “This is Jesus as pastor, friend, mentor, teacher, lover, and speaking to every emotion that accompanies such relationships. Sermons on the Farewell Discourse,” she suggests, “will recognize the spectrum of these emotions and seek to create an experience of them, capturing the affection and compassion” (page 177).

The Gospel of John has been my least favorite gospel account for as long as I have been an adult Christian. I have avoided the intertwining complexities that seemed like a massively redundant word salad for as long as I have been studying and preaching. I have always been far happier with Mark’s “immediately” than with John’s “and…and…and.” That has been my deficiency, and it’s a joy and a challenge to slow down and take the time that John’s account requires and deserves.

Jesus’ farewell prayer may be especially powerful as American congregations begin to emerge from the long months of Covid-tide. Most of us know that we cannot return to the way things were before. Time has marched on, and the residue of various traumas can be acknowledged or suppressed – but that residue will not dissipate on its own. So, we move into a “new” time which is unfamiliar and frightening. If we can slow down and listen to Jesus as he prays for the Church, perhaps we can find some words that will sustain us in our own in-between time.

The immediate context of the Farewell Prayer is also significant for our interpretation and preaching. The end of chapter 16 is the clearest and most direct statement of Jesus’ identity, purpose, and goal. It is also a statement that he has already won the victory which the Gospel proclaims. “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace,” he assures the disciples in John 16:33 (NRSV). “In the world you face persecution. But take courage,” he urges them, “I have conquered the world!

The Farewell Prayer is the bridge between this declaration of triumph and Jesus’ confrontation with the rulers of this world in the person of Pilate. Pilate represents the Emperor, the one who claims to have conquered the whole world. Caesar can back up those claims with land and wealth, with armies and bureaucrats, with maps and treaties – and ultimately with the cross for those who are not yet convinced.

Jesus proclaims that he is the true “conqueror.” John’s gospel uses the verb from which we get the English commercial label, “Nike.” In fact, Nike was a goddess in the Roman pantheon – the goddess of conquest. Often, this goddess was conflated with the goddess, Roma, the personification of the Empire. Thus, the verb we read in John 16:33 is worth a bit of attention. “The verb tense (perfect) is significant because it indicates that the act of conquering has already happened,” Lewis writes, “with the effects of that happening ongoing in the present” (page 208).

Jesus prepares the disciples for the trials and tribulations, the pain and persecutions, that will accompany their apostolic mission. He also assures them that the final outcome has already been decided, even before the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

When did this conquest take place? Lewis asks on our behalf. “Jesus conquered the world at the incarnation,” she tells us, “which by default then assumes the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The last words from Jesus before he prays to the Father are a reminder to his disciples,” she concludes, “that his life, his ministry, and the grace upon grace it revealed, is that which has overcome the resistance of the world, particularly the resistance of the world to relationship with God” (page 208).

The disciples are quite brave in their words at this moment, but Jesus tells them they will fall away temporarily. That will not be the end of the relationship with Jesus, nor will their abandonment signal that Jesus is abandoned by the Father. Instead, Jesus will remain faithful to them even when they falter. These are good words for us in a time when faltering may seem like the order of the day.

“Jesus heads to his death with the announcement that his victory over the powers of the world has already been won (see 12:31; 14:30–31),” write O’Day and Hylen. “Love defeats the power of death” (Kindle, Location 3383). Here at the end of the Easter season – and at the end of one time of trial and tribulation – we can benefit from this announcement and the confident prayer for us that follows. While I don’t think it’s necessary to read these verses along with the appointed gospel reading, I think it may be a missed opportunity to fail to mention this context.

Next, we begin to look at the Farewell Prayer in more detail.

References and Resources

Laskey, Dennis A., “Luther’s Exposition of John 17,” Currents in Theology and Mission, 1991.

Lewis, Karoline M.; Lewis, Karoline M.. John (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries) Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

O’Day, Gail R.; Hylen, Susan E. John (Westminster Bible Companion) . Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.