Saturday, May 03, 2008


John 17:1-11

We get anxious when change is at hand. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, change makes us nervous. And we’re getting ready for change, and I think we’re just a bit nervous. Although my future is somewhat clearer than yours, I share in your anxiety as we both head out in new directions.

It is in the midst of this anxiety that we come to hear Jesus praying in the garden. In John’s telling of Jesus’ final hours, we hear him pray for his community. It’s often called Jesus’ high priestly prayer, because he takes on the role of an intercessor with God, and in this role he asks God to see them through the difficult times ahead. But more importantly he prays that they might share in God’s glory, even as he has shared in God’s glory. He asks that they might experience the same intimacy with God that Jesus experienced. And in the midst of this prayer, Jesus brings up eternal life. To experience intimacy with God is to share in eternity with
God, so what does this mean?


To understand what eternal life is, we must first understand what it’s not.

Talking about eternal life doesn’t necessarily mean talking about heaven, especially the popular definition of heaven. When we talk about heaven, we usually think about some kind of earth-like paradise, where we get to enjoy a life of ease and pleasure. When we look at eternity in this way, it’s simply a future state of being. In this picture, eternity is about pearly gates, harp lessons, and maybe even small group discussions with St. Paul or Mother Teresa. In other words, it’s all about me. This idea might bring us some comfort, but it doesn’t have much effect on the way we live our lives in the present.
There’s another way of looking at eternity. It’s a kind of now/not yet promise. Even though we might not be experiencing a face-to-face relationship with God yet, we get a taste of that relationship now. Elijah only saw the "backside" of God, but it was enough to strengthen him in his calling.

By sharing in God’s glory – which is in John’s mind the same as eternity – our lives are transformed. It may seem like we’re looking through a clouded window or through a veil, but this experience of God’s presence – which is eternity – empowers us as disciples of Jesus to take up the task of service to our neighbor. By sharing in that relationship – which is eternity – we participate in the reign of God – not just in the future, but now.


There is another way of talking about this. What we’re talking about is knowing God. As you may have heard, in the Hebrew the word "to know" has more than one meaning. It can refer to intellectual knowledge, but it can also refer to intimacy between two people. And so to know God involves the mind, but it also involves the heart. But to know God in this way, in an intimate way, we must step outside our daily lives and see the big picture.

And the one who helps us do this, is Jesus. In his life and in words we are introduced to God’s view of the world. In this picture, we see Jesus standing in the Garden, the cross before him, and yet he is concerned about his people. He wants them to share in the glory that he has experienced. Indeed, his own experience reminds us that it’s often in the midst of tragedy or difficult situations, that we are able to draw close to God. It’s in these moments, when we’re most vulnerable, that we are most likely to open our lives up to God.

As I said, to know God involves more than a rational, intellectual, understanding of the idea of God. Information is important, because it gives substance to what we believe. But information isn’t enough. I can get to know Abraham Lincoln by reading about him, and that’s not the same thing as knowing Abraham Lincoln as a person. Indeed, I can say that the same is true of those people I’ve come to know via the internet. In a sense they are friends –we share conversation – but it’s not the same as sitting down and having a face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversation. We may not yet have that "face-to-face" conversation with God, but in a very real way we can know God intimately, as we share in God’s glory.

A good picture of what I mean can be found in Genesis 3. Remember the story of God walking in the Garden in the cool of the evening. God is looking for Adam and Eve. He wants to share in a conversation with them, but they’ve hidden from him. The rest of the biblical story is focused on the brokenness of that relationship, and God’s efforts to change this fact.

Even if we don’t take Genesis 3 literally, it reminds us that we can become so involved in "stuff" that we don’t spend time in the presence of God. I know this is true for me. I can easily amuse myself and not hear God calling my name. I appreciate the way Barbara Brown Taylor puts it. She writes that when God went looking in the Garden for the couple, calling out their names, they wouldn't come out. After that, she says, things were different. But:

God still loved human creatures best of all, but the attraction was not mutual. Birds were crazy about God, especially ruby-throated hummingbirds. Dolphins and raccoons could not get enough of him, but human beings had other things on their minds. They were busy learning how to make things, grow things, buy things, sell things, and the more they learned to do for themselves, the less they depended on God. Night after night he threw pebbles at their windows, inviting them to go for a walk with him, but they said they were sorry, they were busy.1

In this prayer for unity, Jesus prays that this relationship would be restored. In other words, he prayed that they would be share in the glories of eternity now.

As we begin our journey forward into the future, knowing that in just a matter of weeks we will go our own ways, we hear God calling out to us, inviting us to walk with him and to depend on him. We have to listen closely, because the voice doesn’t come from the whirlwind, but as Elijah discovered, it comes as the "still small voice" (1 Kings 19:17 KJV).

As we walk these final weeks together, it’s important that we listen for God’s voice. We can do this as we read Scripture, offer our prayers, share in corporate worship, and as we come to the Lord’s Table. We don’t participate in these spiritual practices in order to impress God; we share in them because in them, we make ourselves available to God.

John’s message to us is this: God has chosen Jesus to bring us back into intimate relationship. He brings us the words of life, and as we know him, we know God – not just intellectually but deeply and spiritually. Jesus points us in the right direction, and guides us in the way forward. Indeed, Jesus is tossing pebbles at our windows and knocking at our doors, inviting us to walk with him in the Garden once again.

1. Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1997), 32-33.

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
7th Sunday of Easter
May 4, 2008

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