7th Sunday of Easter
May 16, 2010
John 17: 20-26
In her memoir, “Breathing Space,” Heidi Newmark tells the story of Larry, a previous intern’s father who continues to drive from Minnesota to the Bronx every year in order to take a van-load of young African-American boys to Simba Camp in Strawberry Point, Iowa. He then drives back to Iowa to pick the boys up and drive them back to the Bronx, and returns to Minnesota. Neumark says,
Last year, one of the boys took Larry aside and asked, “Mr. Kinney, why do you do this?” Before Larry could answer, Lonny went on, “Why do you like us so much?” Lonnys’ own father was killed in prison. Kids tease Lonny. He’s overweight and has a lisp – all fodder for his peer’s cruel jokes. “Why do you like us so much?” Larry could have talked about the love of Jesus in a general way or quoted Scripture. Instead Larry answered by talking about Lonny in a specific way, mentioning all the good and unique qualities that Larry sees in him. “You noticed all that?” Lonny said, amazed. “You noticed all that?….” Larry noticed. Larry took time to notice.
This is how Jesus saves, I think. By transforming one life at a time, and transforming other lives by that love. This is the Christian life that Jesus envisions for us, living out of the transforming love of Christ right this minute, changed at the heart into one who loves freely. I think that this is what Jesus is talking about in the prayer we have before us this morning in John’s Gospel. This is part of the long dialogue which we have been reading from in the last few weeks as Jesus shares a last meal with his disciples before his death.
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one….that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
This illustrates the concept of prolepsis for me. Prolepsis is a fancy theological word for living out of the future which God has won for us in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our present reality is woven together with the new reality open to us in God’s redeeming love. In Neumark’s story, Larry is living a new creation, a world in which comfort and satisfaction come from participating unselfconsciously in the transformation of others because he has been transformed. Only the love of God has this power, the same power that raised Jesus to new life. It is a gift God gives the world through us.
As I hear this prayer from John’s Gospel, I hear with new ears the difference between the reality of the love God has called us to share and the history of the hatred which has been generated by religion in the world. How it must grieve the Jesus to see the blood which has been spilled in God’s name. Even we, who want to be a caring church feel free to use language which denigrates and discriminates among believers whose faithfulness to their understanding of God’s word is different than our own.
And so Jesus prays for us. He prays for those who will hear his words through the preaching and witness of the disciples with whom he is spending the last hours before his death. “That they may be one as we are one.” Our arrogance about doctrine comes so easily. Even our best intentions are colored by our sin. It is not as if even the most brilliant theologians can really understand or do what God intended for us. We try so hard to be what God wants, but we fall so short. We are only able to be what Jesus prays for through the redeeming work of God in Jesus. His resurrection is the guarantee that neither sin nor death can ever separate us from God. He came that we might have life, Jesus tells us, and have it more abundantly. It is this new life which calls us forward into the new world which has been won for us. It is in this new life that we can taste the love which makes us the free.
There is no room for arrogance or judgment in the proleptic reality of our redemption. We are loved beyond our failures and flaws. We are forgiven. We are healed. We are whole. We are called into service to continue the redemption of the world God loves. We live now through the gifts of the Spirit. And Jesus prays for you, for your work in this world, for your relationships, and for the transformation of your heart that only God’s love can work in you.
So now, may the promised peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.