“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. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 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. 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. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 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. 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. 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. 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. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
The New Testament reading for Sunday 16th. May is part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in St. John’s Gospel. Many have pointed out that this Farewell Discourse of Jesus, mirrors and amplifies the Lord’s Prayer found in the Synoptic Gospels. It begins as Jesus shares a last meal with his disciples during which he speaks about the responsibilities they are destined to undertake after his departure from them. Jn.17:6-19 reflects Jesus’ concern for the disciples and his earnest hope and prayer for their unity and mutual love. Immediately following the prayer, Jesus and the disciples cross over the Kidron Valley to the garden where Judas will betray him.
The disciple’s unity and mutual love for which Jesus prayed is a reflection of his own intimate relationship with God. The writer of the Fourth Gospel recognised that Christian unity and mutual love are as essential for Christian witness today as in the times surrounding Jesus’ death and the birth of Christianity during very difficult and turbulent times. The people of God today are called to witness to the truth in an environment that is hostile to the truth. The prayer is a summary of the Fourth Gospel’s theology. Central to it is Jesus faith in, and relationship to, God and the assertion that even his death is a demonstration of God’s love and glory. He prays that in his absence the disciples may be faithful to God. They are to live in unity, with each other, with himself and with God and there is committed to them their mission to the world in which they continue to live in order that others may come to know God. The unity they share with God and each other is inclusive and the means by which God’s love for the world is known.
The references in John about “being in the world but not of the world” indicate the tension that living as God’s faithful people experience. While John’s gospel portrays God’s love for the world (3:16!) as the basis for Christ’s coming, it also sees grave dangers for believers in the value systems of the world. One response to such dangers is for Christians to live in a world of their own, to withdraw, or to make forages out into the hostile environment in mission, but constantly to return to a reclusive huddle. The greater danger for most today is probably the opposite: not withdrawal from the world but conformity with its prevailing values and politics. It is to surrender to the norms of what it commonly means to be a good and patriotic citizen, which usually includes religious (Christian) sponsorship of some kind to make it appear respectable. It usually means reinforcing the status quo and often resulting p with an oppressive and unjust, collusion in injustice. Perhaps not as dramatic as Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, but probably far more serious in its consequences.
In a sermon preached at a theological college to students training for the ministry, the preacher sadly but wisely spoke these words: “I don’t know if our people understand how radical and counter-cultural the Gospel is. I wonder if we are simply too deeply enmeshed in the culture to see how we have departed from the faith — and all without intending to do so.”
As Christians we live in a culture to which we can never fully belong. A world full of beauty and goodness that is also crowded with evil influences. A home that we are encouraged to love but where we can never feel completely at home. Our relationship with the world is complicated. As people of faith we jump in with hands and feet to explore the life we are given, to enjoy love and friendship, to delight in the kindnesses we experience, to revel in the diversity of humanity and nature and how they express the wideness of God’s character. But we must also be watchful—watchful of our own selves— that we don’t mistake evil for good. We must always be wary of being drawn into things that appear to be good but are the opposite. It sounds deceptively simple but it can be really difficult.
When violence, power and injustice are simply shrugged off, when people are deceived and division is manipulated for political gain, when lies are passed off as truth, when the world’s resources are so unfairly distributed, when communities are destroyed by missiles with no regard for the lives or safety of citizens and when those fleeing from terror and tyranny are denied refuge, when the environment is sacrificed for greed, and when these things are ignored by religion, then faith is betrayed, our values are undermined, our concept of what it means to be one human family living in harmony with one another and with creation are compromised.
Human life and the world of nature are created by God, as beautiful expressions of God’s character. But that vision can be distorted when we are influenced by evil and wrong-headed pressures and dubious theological interpretations. Let’s enjoy the world and be fully engaged in it because it is God’s creation, but be wary that we do not succumb to the temptations of evil that corrupt the beauty of that creation.
Jesus’ life is an expression of God’s concern for the world and for all people, and despite ending in rejection and death, God’s love rises above the worst that the world can do when Jesus is raised from the dead. This is why Jesus’ prayer is not a prayer to exclude his followers from the world but to recognise our solidarity with the world God loves. That solidarity is first and foremost to be in communion with God whom we encounter in Christ. It is to share the intimate relationship which Jesus shared with God, the glory of which is everlasting. As the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 8:39 nothing – in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“God loved the world so much …..” (John.3:16).
We marvel at God’s all-inclusive love for the world.
We pray for the world, for the unity and peace of the whole human family.
Help us respect the very real differences that exist between cultures, religions and individuals
May we recognise the value of every human life and accept each other even when we disagree
and appreciate the remarkable uniqueness of each individual.
We pray for those from different cultures, colour and nationality
and we pray that human diversity may be permitted to enrich, broaden and improve the quality of life
We pray for the homeless, those who have no shelter to call their own
those living rough on the streets or elsewhere,
refugees forced by war and violence to flee from their own countries,
those whose means are so meagre that they are unable to afford a home of their own
those who suffer from inequality and discrimination,
those who live alone, the lonely,
those who feel unwanted, neglected, the elderly,
those in care homes, the ill – at home or in hospital – and those who care for them.
We pray too for those suffering from COVID-19,
those who have lost loved ones and friends.
We think especially of the people of India and those countries where the virus is so rampant.
Touch the hearts of all nations,
especially those who have been so successful in reducing the impact of the virus,
that they may share their expertise and resources with those whose needs are so desperate.
We pray too for the people of Israel, the Palestinians who live among them and in the occupied territories.
We also call to mind our families, friends and colleagues and those foe whom we care..God of all creation, show us how to care for every aspect of life and to celebrate the rich diversity of creation.
May our living in harmony with one another, with the so called ‘natural world’ and the whole cosmos
be a witness to the love which binds together the whole existence.
Glory to God in the highest.
Revd Michael Diffey