We Share Christ
John 17:6-19

by | May 15, 2024

PRAYER: Jesus, throughout your time on this earth, you taught us about love, about empathy, about proclaiming and demonstrating God’s unyielding love for others. Teach us once again of your ways, and inspire us in our lives to continue in your ways, that we may always strive to share you with others. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Two weeks ago, in the first week of our “How Shall We Love” series, we talked about bearing fruit. You may remember that we bear fruit when Imago Dei – the theological notion that all of humanity is created in the image of God – is at the forefront of our ministry, seeing others through a lens of grace instead of fear and suspicion. We bear fruit when we stretch ourselves out of our comfort zones and seek to love the stranger with all that we have, even if that leaves us lacking.
Last week, we talked about fostering an environment in which we – and others – are able to thrive… that such an environment is based in love. I connected the commandment that we love one another with the Wesleyan understanding of moving on to perfection. Wesley believed we could become perfect in love in this life. If Jesus invites us to seek perfection, perfect love is possible. For Wesley, growing as a Christian is all about being filled with love, which happens by the grace of God.
The three readings from this series, “How Shall We Love” all come from the latter chapters of John, and they all take place on the same night: the night that Jesus gives himself up for us. In the two readings from John 15, Jesus is talking directly to the disciples. He’s basically giving them a final summation of everything they’ve learned over the last few years. As I read it, I like to imagine that Jesus the teacher is at the end of the semester, telling his students what they need to remember because ‘it’s going to be on the final exam!’
In our final reading of our series, John 17, Jesus is not talking to his disciples; he’s talking directly to God. Jesus is praying and we have the privilege of being within earshot of him while he does it. For all the talking and teaching that Jesus does in the Gospels, we have precious few examples of him actually praying. He teaches his disciples how to pray, and we know that he often goes off to pray on his own. But this is one of the few examples we have in which we hear his conversation with God.
The difficult thing is that this is one of those narratives in the Bible that is often mischaracterized by many in the Christian faith. We often hear this chapter of John used to justify people in the Christian faith doing everything they can to avoid any interaction with the world outside of the church. Frankly, nothing could be further from Jesus’ teachings.
Jesus uses phrases like, “I am not asking on behalf of the world but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.” Or “…but they are in the world… Holy Father, protect them in your name.” Read a certain way, there is a feeling here that Jesus is advocating for this insular and exclusivist environment in which Christ’s followers must be kept separate and protected from the rest of the world. And there are a lot of Christians in today’s world who ascribe to this kind of belief. But we have to remember two things: first, Jesus was talking to God, not his disciples. Between Jesus and God, their conversation would have had a distinctly different understanding of the world. And second, in that culture, at that time, their land was occupied by the Romans, and Jews were often persecuted by the Romans. In the centuries following Jesus’ death, Christians too would be brutally persecuted. Not like today’s world where some Christians claim persecution because Starbucks puts “Happy Holidays” on its cups… we’re talking ACTUAL persecution, with life-or-death consequences. Jesus is not praying for his disciples to be removed from the world; rather, he’s praying for his disciples to be protected! It is a not-so-gentle reminder for us all to be mindful of one another and to care for one another, because there are risks that we take in our faith.
Let’s remember that when God created the very world that Jesus came to save, God called it all good. And let’s further remember that when Jesus met with Nicodemus earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus says that God so loved the world… Jesus would never be advocating for his followers to remain separate from the world that God loves, because Jesus is – I think we can all agree – the epitome of holiness. Jesus is all about connection – bringing together people from different walks in life, be they religious, political, economic, or whatever! So, it’s reasonable to conclude that Jesus is praying for the disciples to be protected so that they may love as he taught them to do… indeed as he commanded them to do, that they may be drawn into a deeper connection with the divine love that both proclaims and demonstrates that love to the world. Jesus is praying that his own may be protected not only for their own sakes but also in order to fulfill the mission of love in the world.
Our calling in the Gospel reading today is not to separate ourselves, but to connect ourselves, to share the love of Jesus with everyone… everyone! Our calling is to take the risk of reaching out to others and welcoming them, regardless of who they are, regardless of where they come from, regardless of who they vote for or who they love, or any of those arbitrary dividing lines that humanity often goes out of its way to create. We are called to share Jesus… the same Jesus who came to break down barriers – not to build them.
There’s a great irony in this because it is through a truly Christian obsession with connection that we actually do achieve what many Christians think we’re supposed to be doing. When we seek to build a greater connection, we truly do stop being “of” the world. We create a new world oriented toward God’s unifying love and life. Instead of leaning into the divisiveness that seems to be on the agenda of so many today, we choose to follow God’s path of life with and for others.
As people of Christ, we need to endeavor to share Christ in all that we do, by working to foster an environment of Christ-like connectedness. We can do this because in Jesus, God meets us where we are – thanks be to God for that! And in that good news, we are likewise called to meet others where they are, on their terms, offering grace and God’s mercy. We simply cannot do that if we are demanding that people come to us on our terms.
In the Message translation, verse 10 says this: my life is on display in them. I don’t always gravitate towards the Message, but I absolutely love those words from Jesus. My life is on display in them. How does that change the way we love our neighbors if Jesus’ life is on display in us? This is at the very core of the Wesleyan understanding of Sanctifying Grace, discerning how our words, our actions, or our silence and our INaction reflects the Christ that lives inside of us.
Author Brene Brown gives a great example of this when she illustrates the difference between sympathy and empathy. She says that Empathy fuels connection; sympathy drives disconnection.
Sympathy is expressed to a person who is going through some kind of difficult situation as, “I feel bad for you.” Sympathy is often trying to put a silver lining around a dark cloud. Sympathy contains judgement and it has an expiration date. Ultimately, it’s temporary.
Empathy on the other hand, involves the ability to take the perspective of another person, or recognize their perspective as their truth. It recognizes the emotion in other people without judgement and communicates that. It is a sacred space. Empathy is a choice and it’s a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with someone, we have to connect with something within ourselves that knows that feeling.
In Jesus’ prayer, he says, “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.”
He is demonstrating great empathy for his disciples, for the difficulties that they will face, and for the hope that is possible.
We are invited, in our faith journeys, to share Christ in all that we do, but especially to be mindful of how our sharing, how we love others, how we live our lives in our church, in our community strives to meet people where they are. When we foster an environment in which other thrive, when our kneejerk reaction to all situations is to love others first and foremost, when we allow ourselves to share Christ with others… that’s when we are truly putting the world behind us and living into the world that God sent Jesus here to show us.
Love, by its very nature, is an invitation. In our faith journeys, let us each strive to live our lives as an invitation to others that we may share Christ through how we love. Let us strive to offer Christ-like compassion and empathy, and provide a space of dignity for those who are struggling in their lives. Let us be beacons of hope for those who need help standing up for themselves. Let us always strive to share Christ, that love may be at the center of all that we are.
To God be the glory.