6 "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. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 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. 9 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. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 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. 12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
To say that my father is a financial realist, well, that’s just being honest. Raising four children on a pastor’s salary was not an easy task, after all, and so there were any number of ways that we, as a family saved money, but the one that stands out most for me was our summer swimming ritual. Rather than paying extra for a membership to a pool, my dad would frequently take us to the local Marriot to go swimming. For me, as one who has a relatively high level of anxiety in general, the walk through the lobby was terrifying. I was just certain that someone from the hotel staff would stop us, ask for our room keys, and then we would be totally sunk, and in the vividness of my imagination, this somehow would be an offense worthy of police involvement. And while this never happened, those memories highlight for me the importance of belonging, of being in the right place. Deep down, you see, I realized that, at least on the very basic level of hotel finances, I did not belong, and pretending otherwise was, as mentioned, an anxiety producing task. Indeed, it can be utterly terrifying to recognize that you do not belong, and this experience can be traumatic in the extreme. Whether you find yourself in a dangerous situation or in a group of people who vehemently disagree with you or even in a social situation where your values are not shared, there is little that cuts as deeply and as quickly as realizing that you are out of place, and so finding a place of comfort, a place of belonging, a place where one can feel home, certain in the knowledge that one is genuinely accepted, this is essential to who we are as humans. We crave and need this as much as we need food and water.
“I am not asking you to take them out of the world,” says Jesus, and, for a moment, it seems that he has either forgotten or disregarded this most fundamental and basic of human needs. For here he sits, in prayer to his Father, knowing full well that his time on earth is drawing to a close. And so this prayer of which we only get an excerpt reads as something of a last will and testament for his disciples. Having bluntly outlined what the disciples are in for, reminding them that they will have trouble in the world and that they should not be surprised when the world hates them for it hated him first, yes after he gives them this sort of grim forecast, he says this prayer, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world.” And so Jesus prays that the Father will leave his disciples precisely in a place that they do not belong, right in the middle of Marriot Hotel Lobby with security circling, if you will. To say that this is confusing, even a little troubling, well, that is just to scratch the surface. What, exactly, is Jesus up to here?
Well, to get to the heart of that question, there are a few steps that we need to retrace. Yes, for this notion of the world and its hatred of the disciples’ and their proclamation has a fairly specific meaning for John’s Gospel, and this meaning has frequently been ignored so that more human ambitions and desires could come to fill the meaning of this phrase. Yes, it is my sense that so often when the church sees itself in opposition to the world, it can very easily do so for the wrong reasons, which is not to say that there is no difference between the Christ and the world, but that this difference is not often what we think it to be. For John’s Gospel, when one hears the phrase the world, one should not think merely of the created cosmos or human partisan politics or anything like that. Instead, when John’s Gospel sets “world” in opposition to the disciples, it is intended to describe the forces of unbelief, sin and fear that will keep individuals from being relationship with Christ Jesus. Which means that what the world cannot understand about the disciples, and about the Christ whom they proclaim comes down the grace, mercy and forgiveness that marks the God whom Jesus embodies. Yes, the reason that the world will come to hate the disciples is because they proclaim a God of forgiveness, a God who loves even those who despise Him, indeed, a God who would rather suffer the indignity of the cross than live without the sinners who have put him on that tortuous instrument. And this logic of grace and mercy, make no mistake, is not something that the world understands. The tension is real, as is the rejection of God in favor of other forces. For the world, meaning the forces of unbelief and sin, cannot fathom a God who forgives enemies rather than destroying them, a God who would rather suffer sin, death and the devil than ever live without the cosmos that He created out of love, a God who will gather all people to himself with no regard to the way that we draw distinctions and make human judgments, yes, none of this is understood by the forces of unbelief that keep us in constant judgment of and competition with one another and keep us in distance from the God for whom we were created.
Having spent three years, though, with this God in the flesh, I guess that the disciples cannot be all that surprised that Jesus will be leaving them in this place of hostility and competition, this place of brutality and division. For, in a rather ironic turn of events, that is place that they actually do belong, no matter the hostility that they will endure for the mercy that they proclaim. Yes, they will not be taken out of the world for this very simple and devastating reason: Christ loves those whom do not love him, and Christ’s mercy is for those who are hostile to it. This is why the disciples must stay in the world, for it is through their proclamation that the world will come to know a God who loves even God’s enemies. There is no way, then, that God can continue to be God’s loving-self and somehow take the disciples out of the world. Indeed, because God has love for even those who do not love Him back, the world is exactly where the disciples belong.
Not that this will be without its peril and danger, and the fact that early church underwent persecution and martyrdom, or the reality of the Egyptian Church’s on-going and current persecution all speak to the incredible cost of this love. And that there are Christian brothers and sisters in the world who are still giving their lives for their savior should make us think long and hard before we think of ourselves as persecuted or marginalized for our faith. Even so, though, this tension is something we experience within and without ourselves. Yes, we feel this every time we reject the God who has died for us or when we act as those this world and its values of accumulation and competition were all that mattered. We are not free from these forces, even as we have been claimed by Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the world remains within us and outside of us, and often it is easy to feel that we are not in the right place, for we struggle to hold onto Christian mercy and kindness and very easily behave as though we ourselves belonged to unbelief. Yes, Christ’s words ring true we do have trouble in the world and we do feel the constant battle between unbelief and faith, despair and hope, falsehood and truth. We see these things in the way that we treat one another or in the way that our hearts grow cold and we forget the incredible gift of faith that we have been given. But fear not, dear people of God, for Christ has yet another word for you: “take heart, for I have overcome the world,” he says. And yes, there is no power in heaven or on earth, no human darkness or fear that will keep him from loving and sustaining you, even as you, too, are left in the world. Yes, Christ is with you, which means you are always exactly where you are supposed to be. In Jesus’ name, amen.