preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, Rector
Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas
2015; 7 Easter Sunday, Year B
Revised Common Lectionary
– Looking up
to heaven, Jesus prayed, "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."
Sometimes when I read John's gospel,
my mind just shuts off. It begins to sound a bit like the grownups in a Peanuts
cartoon. Wa-wha-wah-waaa. Words,
words—nice words. Going around in circles until I've lost track of any linear
meaning. I have made your name known to
those whom you gave me from the world… (T)hey 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… As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
It takes some concentration to listen to John's words. Sometime they sing like
a symphony for me; sometimes… well, I can be a poor listener or reader.
So I got stuck this week on a What-is-the-world?-merry-go round. In
John, Jesus talks repeatedly about the "world." But I'm not sure what
he means by that.
Everybody knows John 3:16. That's the
verse reference that gets held up on a sign in the endzone during extra points.
"God so loved the world that he
gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may
have eternal life." And it goes on. "Indeed, God did not send the Son
into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved
So God loves the world. The Greek word is cosmos.
When you read the word cosmos/world in
John's gospel, it often seems to mean "the creation." God loves the cosmos that God created.
In other contexts in John, world seems to mean humankind. As in one
of today's verses, when Jesus prays that the disciples may be one with Jesus
and the Father, "so that the world may believe that you have sent
me." So that humankind may believe that you have sent me.
And in some contexts, it is clear
that "the world" is a negative word. "I have given them your
word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the
world." In his translation, The
Message, Eugene Peterson renders these passages with adjectives like
God-rejecting world, or godless world. "I gave them your word; The godless
world hated them because of it."
Finally, there are places where
John's gospel contrasts this world and another world, a godless cosmos and a God-filled cosmos. You get the sense that in Jesus
and in the unity of Jesus and the Father and the rest of us, both worlds
intersect—the cosmos is one.
The Greek word cosmos seems to be a pretty flexible word.
God loves the cosmos/the world—the whole creation and all humanity, including
godless humanity—and God gives the Son to the world that all might be saved,
whole, one. Yet, in this ambiguous world, the results are pretty mixed.
Let's look at some of the characters
in John's gospel who enact the drama of Jesus in the world. Some of them get
it. Some of them don't. But many of the characters in John's gospel change and
grow along the way.
There's Nicodemus. He's a scholar who
is well placed politically. He's curious about Jesus, but comes to Jesus by
night when no one can see them talking. "Nicky!" says Jesus, "you
must be born from above, born again!" "Huh?" asks Nicodemus.
"I'm a grown man. How can I re-enter my mother's womb?" Jesus lights
up with loving fun, dancing almost teasingly around his friend. "Nicky,
you unimaginative literalist. The Spirit blows where it will, you can't see it
come or go. You must be born free like that." Nicodemus doesn't get it.
But later, when Jesus is attacked at
the Festival of Booths, Nicodemus speaks out to stand up to Jesus' right as a
Jew to a fair hearing. The authorities (the world) snap back at him. But when
Jesus is dead, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea with the burial of this
capital criminal. Nicodemus has caught on to something.
There's the woman at the well. She's
a heretic Samaritan, and an outcast even among the outcasts. She's alone
drawing water at noon, the hottest part of the day, when she won't risk an
encounter with one of the other women doing their chores. In violation of every
social and religious convention, Jesus speaks to her and asks her to draw water
for him. They talk, and he offers her living water. She doesn't get it. But she
listens long enough to decide he is a prophet. She listens longer, and thinks,
maybe he is the Messiah. She went home and talked about it openly, no longer embarrassed
or shamed that she was unlawfully living with her fifth husband. She's caught
on to something.
There was a sick man who had been
living on corporate welfare by the pool of Bethzatha for 38 years. "Do you
want to be made well?" Jesus asks him. He doesn't answer the question.
Instead he just makes excuses for why he's stuck there. He doesn't get it. Jesus
says, "Stand up, take up your mat and walk." He does so at once. But
it's a sabbath. Carrying your mat on the sabbath is strictly prohibited. He
ignites a firestorm of religious debate. But the next thing you know, Jesus
sees him worshipping in the temple. And John closes the passage with Jesus'
answer to the sabbath-protectors, "My Father is still working, and I also
am working. The implication, the man who
was sick for 38 years also goes out and finds some constructive work to do. Now
he begins to get it.
One more character. Peter. Throughout
John's gospel, Peter never gets it. And when the chips are down, when Jesus is
arrested, he denies Jesus three times—a failure and betrayal not unlike that of
Judas. After the resurrection, Jesus appears to Peter and asks him three times,
"Peter, do you love me?" And three times Peter answers, "Yes,
Lord. You know I love you." Three times Jesus empowers him, "Feed my
lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep." Peter is healed and empowered. Even
at that, Peter asks a dumb question about another, "What about him?"
referring to the disciple that Jesus loved. "None of your business,"
Jesus answers. But Peter is beginning to get it.
We see Peter in the first reading
today leading the church to pick a successor to Judas. One denier leading the
church to replace another denier. Judas could have been there with them,
continuing as one of the twelve. He just needed the humility to let Jesus heal
and empower him too.
This world, this cosmos, is a messy, ambiguous place. Humanity is a messy, ambiguous
mess. But God so loves this cosmos/this world/this humanity so much, that God
gives the Son. The Son opens his arms to everything and everyone in this
God-rejecting world, and gives us only love and healing. His purpose—that we
may be one with the Father and share in their joy.
John's gospel comes down to this from
Jesus: "As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you, abide in my love… I have said these things to you so that
my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my
commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." (15:9, 11-12)
Wow! Those are WORDS! For me, they sound with power like a symphony.
And sometimes, I get it; or I get
part of it, I, who am in the world.
We're all beginning to get it, aren't
The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and
God's infinite grace, acceptance and love.
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