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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Getting to Know God

2010-05-16 Jn 17 20-26 "Getting to Know: God"
John 17:20-26
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church USA
Sunday, May 16, 2010

In chapter 17 of John, we get a gift - a really, really special gift.
We get to listen in to Jesus' prayers.
That's huge.
How many people do you let listen to your prayers?
How many people would you WANT listening to your prayers?
By way of John the gospel writer, we get the tremendous gift of being able to eavesdrop on the prayers of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
We get to overhear this incredibly intimate conversation between Jesus and his Father.
And in this incredibly intimate conversation, Jesus tells God - and us - what he hopes in his heart for his disciples, what he hopes in his heart for the disciples of his disciples, and what he hopes in his heart for the disciples of the disciples of the disciples of his disciples.
While we're rewinding the links in the chain, Jesus is fast forwarding to where the links are going to go.
And they're going to... us.
So while we listen to what's being said over our shoulders, Jesus stretches his prayers out across the centuries to our ears.
Jesus wants us to overhear him.
What a gift.
So before we talk about getting to know God, as in, "What's God like?" we have to thank God that we get to know God - at all - in the first place.

This is one of the things that sets Christianity apart from most other religions.
In most other religions, God is so awesome, so mysterious, so "other" that not only can your puny mind not understand God, you're not even allowed close enough to know God in the first place.
In a lot of religions, you're not even allowed to speak God's name.
And here we are, getting to hear God incarnate, Jesus Christ, speaking with God his Father.
Do you realize how amazing this is?
You're getting to hear the thoughts of God.
I don't know if we ought to be jumping up and shouting "Halleluia!" or crawling under the pews in fear.
So the first thing about getting to know God is knowing what a special gift it is that we DO get to know God.

Verse 20: "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one."
I think the words of emphasis are, "that they may all be one."
We and our great-great-great-great grand-disciples are all to be one.
And how are we to be one?
Verse 21 goes on, "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us."
He goes on, "...so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one."
Jesus wants us to be one so much that he says it about as many ways as he can.

What does it mean, to "be one," as Jesus and the Father are one?
I've heard this scripture used - and used well (sometimes) - as a call for Christian unity.
To "be one" means what the old camp song says, to be "...one in the Spirit, to be one in the Lord, and we pray that all unity may one day be restored."

Christian unity.
Now there's a concept.
I was at a conference with ministers once from other denominations and during a break, one of them comes up to me and says, "You Presbyterians..."
Whenever someone starts a sentence like that, I just smile... and grind the enamel off my molars.
He says, "You Presbyterians... think you're famous for all your meetings and all the stacks of paper you generate."
Yes. That's exactly why I'm proud to be Presbyterian.
But it turned out OK, because he goes on, "But you haven't seen anything until you've seen one of our conference meetings and all the paper we use up."
And we laughed about how proud Jesus must be that our point of inter-denominational, Christian unity is destroying the rainforests.
Bet Jesus just laughs himself silly over that one.

Other times, I've heard this scripture used (and used badly) to silence voices of dissent.
"We must be one! We must agree!"
As if we can't be Christian if we disagree with each other.
As if Jesus wants unity at the cost of our brains.
Here's Jesus praying for his disciples.
And remember, Jesus didn't choose one disciple, one successor to replace him after he retired -- he chose twelve radically different human beings, even one that would betray him.
When they did all agree on the same thing - like, which side of the boat to fish on, it was the wrong side.
Unity in the mind of Christ doesn't mean putting your brain in the safe deposit box and pretending to be "nice."

Unity is great, but "Being one" with Jesus and "being one" with each other means more than unity, certainly more than forced unity, and even more than being united behind a worthwhile cause (like chopping down the rainforests).
Jesus prays that we will "be one," just as he and the Father are one.
Remember - Jesus was Jewish.
And THE central prayer of to come out of the Old Testament - recited from the time of Jesus to this day - is Deuteronomy 6:4,
"[Shema] Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God is... one."
God is one.
Jesus and God are one.
So in his prayer for us, Jesus is praying this incredible, impossible thing, this amazing gift.
He's praying that we should be one, just as God is one, just as he and God are one.

What does that mean?
It means Jesus prays that we'll get to know this same intimate knowledge, that we'll have this same intimate conversation with God -
the same intimate knowledge and conversation that he, the Son of God has.
That's worth a heartfelt, "Whoa."
Consider how huge this is.
You don't just get to know ABOUT God; you get to KNOW God.
Again, I don't know whether we should shout "Halleluia!" or crawl under the pews and quiver.
Maybe both.
The most extreme miracle Jesus performs on us - on you and on me - a miracle that really ought to take our breath away - the highest miracle
Jesus prays for us is making us one in the unity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and their unity doesn't need to be restored.
Because the Lord our God is one.
Always has been; always will.
Jesus prays the same for us.


Imagine the three persons of the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - standing together and having a conversation.
Imagine now that two of them step aside and open up a space for you to enter into the circle.
That's where we are in this prayer.
What are we going to overhear now?

The next thing Jesus prays is in verse 24.
Here are the details of the arrangement with you and me: "Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."

Take the first part: "Father, I desire..."
What does he desire, what's Jesus asking God for?
"...that those also, whom you have given me..."
Pause there.
This is a blessing and a caution flag.
First, "those whom you have given me" means we belong to Jesus.
This means Jesus loves us, Jesus will care for us, Jesus will take care of us because we belong to him.
That's the blessing.
The caution flag reminds us that we belong to Jesus - and not the other way around.
We're guests in his conversation, involved in this relationship at his pleasure.
So, before we get all high and mighty, and blurt out something dumb to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we'd better watch our mouths, and our thoughts and our actions.

Then, "Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me..."
What does he desire for us?
"...may be with me, where I am, to see my glory...."
We're in this intimate conversation with God not for your glory, not for my glory, not for the church's glory, but for whose glory?
Jesus' glory.
To see his glory.
And what does that mean?

First, it means the glory of the resurrected Son, the glory of eternal life, the glory of forgiveness of sin.
That's what we know - because the Bible tells us so.
But second, and again this is cautionary, remember this is pre-Easter scripture.
When Jesus prays about his glory, he's not praying as the resurrected Jesus; he's praying as the Jesus who's about to be betrayed, denied and crucified.
That's all part of his "glory," too.
Does that mean we have to undergo the same suffering in order to see his glory - all his glory?

I remember back when Pope John Paul II was dying.
They were interviewing a nun on TV, who said her prayer was that none of this suffering would be wasted.
That stuck with me.
She didn't pray that he would be spared the suffering, but that none of it would be wasted.
All of us suffer, to a lesser or greater degree.
What do we do with that suffering?
Do we wallow in it, as if it's all there is to life?
Or do we use our suffering?
The next time you find yourself suffering, ask yourself, "What am I going to do with this experience?"
There might be no quick answer.
But just asking yourself the question starts to pull you out of the ditch and point you toward a greater purpose.
If you can take your suffering and make it mean something, you're getting a taste of glory.
You're reminding yourself that nothing in life can separate you from the love of God, the God who redeems us, who redeems our suffering, who gives us purpose and glory beyond imagination.

We get to know God.
We DO get to know God.
We CAN get to know God, better.
We can join into conversation with God, with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
That's what Jesus is praying for you.
He's done his part to grant that prayer.
Now it's your turn.