Summary: When we die to our earthly lives, we live for Christ. Happiness depends on happenings in our lives, but joy depends on Jesus. Submission leads to happiness and joy. It mends our wounded souls.
What would you say to someone if you knew that you were seeing them for the last time? If you were dying, what would be the last words you would say to your family and friends? If you’ve ever thought about the answers to these questions, then you can appreciate what was going through Jesus’ mind in the Gospel reading from John 17:6-19.
This reading is part of Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples. He is preparing them for his death, resurrection and ascension. He knows that his disciples will be rejected by the world as he was. In this passage he hands over his mission to his disciples and all believers who come after them. The disciples have spent the last three years in training. Now it is time for them to pass the final test and go into the world.
Jesus’ farewell address can also be our farewell address to the world. When we die to self, we die to our old earthly way of life. We are disconnected from the world and connected to God when we live our lives in God’s mercy and kindness. If we have accepted that mercy and in return we show mercy and kindness to everyone we meet, then we are connected and present to God.
Jesus’s request was an expansive one. It was made on behalf of the disciples, but his thoughts travelled throughout history to today. His heart of love is bursting with the same message. Jesus prays that those who follow him will be protected to the end. Since Jesus is the one doing the praying, his request will be granted. He also prays that all believers will be united. That unity should be the norm, but unfortunately today it is the exception. There are still differences within and between denominations. For example, within our own worldwide Anglican Communion, there are divisions that have been caused by issues such as the ordination of women clergy and same-sex marriages. Within our own Anglican Church of Canada, we have seen several parishes leave because of the same issues. The only way Jesus’ prayer for unity can be achieved is through the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Trinity.
The world Jesus lived in emphasized group identity or unity. People thought in terms of groups. We are to be a united group that does God’s work in our world. We are to be united in our homes, our relationships and our church bodies. We are a group that is set aside for a special use.
In spite of the lack of unity, we as believers are not to withdraw from the world. We are to stay in the world and be a positive influence. We must open our hearts to the real needs of our neighbours. We do this by putting aside our differences and working together to spread the Good News of the Gospel. For example, the different churches in this area have been able to come together in spite of differences in doctrine to create and support the local food bank and conduct ecumenical services.
Jesus’ true followers know his name and keep his words. They are vulnerable in this particular other worldliness, especially since the world hates followers of Jesus. The world is captive to a spirit that is alien to God’s spirit. It is governed by a sense of scarcity instead of abundance, fear instead of courage, and selfishness instead of sacrificial love. It is easy to be obsessed with what is in the world. Jesus encouraged his followers not to embrace the world’s values. We must remember that even though we are in the world, we are not of the world. Christians need only to remember that Jesus has promised to keep them separate from the world. Jesus does not run away in the face of danger. He offers an alternative spirit and reality. We have different desires, goals and a different God than people who live in the world. Our God helps us to be different by continually sanctifying us with the truth.
We are called on to go out into a world which has declared that God is dead and has not risen, because God never was dead. We are to share the good news that there is a God and that he lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ. We must be careful not to water down this message by turning it into a model for social work. We must hold on to the truth that our actions are a sign and witness to God’s love for the world and the future promise for all people. We are to heed the words of the hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”:
My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,