The Gospel of John is an amazing story. It is a story whose purpose is stated in the 20th chapter, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” This story shows us these signs so that we may have life in Jesus. The passage we have before us today is a prayer at the time when Jesus knows that he will die. It begins in the first verse of chapter seventeen and continues to the end of the chapter, we have heard just a snippet of the prayer today. Jesus prays that his followers may know his father, Jesus prays for protection for his followers, and Jesus prays that they may know the truth, and that the world may know the father through them, his disciples. It is astounding.
If we believe that in the incarnation God comes into the world as one of us, to live, love, laugh, suffer and die as one of us; and if we believe that in the resurrection God inaugurates new creation, in effect beginning creation again; which is what the gospel of John shows us; and if we believe that because of incarnation and resurrection we are joined with Jesus in the new creation, then we, you and I are in the world as agents of this same new creation. And as agents of new creation, as agents carrying the amazing, abundant, and reconciling love of God made real in Jesus, to the world, we are open to attack. Jesus prays, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one… Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth.” Jesus is praying for us, for you and me. It is astounding.
This Good News is dangerous stuff. The promise that outcasts and sinners, single women and children, have an equal place in the kingdom as the mighty and powerful is a threat. The promise that God’s love, grace, and forgiveness are available to anyone is a threat to those who want to draw lines between people who are in and people who are out. Protect them, Jesus asks, protect them, they will be rejected and ridiculed on my behalf, protect them. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Your word is truth. Jesus is God’s Word, and Jesus is truth. Today I quote from Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell, a book I commend to your reading. Is the greatest truth about Adam and Eve and the fruit that it happened, or that it happens: This story, one of the first in the Bible, is true for us because it is our story. We have all taken the fruit. We have all crossed boundaries. We have all made decisions to do things our way and then looked back and said to ourselves, What was I thinking? The fruit looked so great to Adam and Eve for those brief moments, but the consequences were with them for the rest of their lives. Their story is our story. We see ourselves in them. The story is true for us because it happened and because it happens. It is an accurate description of how life is. The reason the stories in the Bible have resonated with so many people over the years is that they have seen themselves in these stories.
Another example: The Israelites leave the kingdom of Egypt where they are slaves, and God brings them out into freedom. It happens. Every day. For many of us, that is our story. We were in darkness and God brought us out. And we continue to identify areas of darkness in our lives, and God continues to bring us out. So the exodus is the Israelites’ story, but it is also our story. It happened then; it happens now. That is why the Bible is so powerful, and that is why the Bible is true. These ancient stories are our stories. They are alive and active and teaching us about our lives in our world today. We live in the metaphors. The story of David and Goliath for another example continues to speak to us because we know the David part of the story, we live it. The tomb is empty because we have met the risen Christ; we have experienced Jesus in a way that transcends space and time. And this gives us hope. We were in darkness and God brought us out into the light. The Word is living and active and it happens. Today.
The disciples were left to live in the world with this truth, and you and I live as disciples in the world today with this truth. We live in the world with the truth that we are new creations through our baptism, and as new creations we are agents of this truth. The Truth that is not black and white, the Truth that is not right or wrong, but the Truth that is living and active and happening.
The world is a messy and chaotic place. God has come and continues to come into this world to show us how to live with authenticity, with honor, with grace, God comes by our side in the midst of the messiness and the chaos not to remove us from the world but to show us how to live in it. The truth walks with us through the pain, the sadness, the suffering, and the joy and the glory. The truth shares our pain, sets us free, gives us hope. And it is this truth that we respond to creatively. We respond to the truth with joy in worship, we respond to the truth by being a blessing to everyone around us. We respond to the truth by getting busy with what God is doing in this world.
But the evil one seeps in, trying to twist us and turn us, seducing us into believing that somehow the truth is a set of words on a page, that the truth can be measured against a black and white set of standards, that the truth is contained, held close, or belongs to only a certain group of people. The evil one seeps in, trying to make us believe that what is real is what we have, or what we can acquire, or what we can own, or what we can possess. The evil one seeps in, trying to make us believe that death always wins. But we know differently, because we live the story.
Knowing differently however does not protect us. We often miss the mark. We often succumb to the seduction of certainty, where there are no questions, only clear answers. We often succumb to the seduction of rightness, where only those who agree with us can sit at our table. We often succumb to the seduction of greed, where having enough gets lost in having because I can. We often succumb to the seduction of self-importance, where it really is all about me and not about God. We often succumb to the seduction of entertainment, where mystery and quiet contemplation become boring.
Missing the mark is not irredeemable. The Truth that is living and active and happening, the truth that is God’s grace shown to us in Jesus, the truth calls us to turn around, to straighten our shoulders, to keep our eye on the target. The Truth stands by our side and says, you are wonderfully and fearfully made, you are the delight of my life. The Truth guides our arrow on the wind, and brings it swiftly and cleanly to its mark.
In the name of the Father who creates us, the son who walks by our side, and the spirit who guides our ways, Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.
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