Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 28, 2017

John 17:1-11 Commentary

Every once in a while someone discovers a recording that until then no one knew existed.  Maybe it’s John F. Kennedy on the phone with Nikita Khrushchev or some other famous person having a conversation with yet another high profile person.  Once the recording comes out, it’s fascinating because now we get to eavesdrop on an important conversation that took place between two really famous and important people.

John 17 gives us the chance to “overhear” an intimate conversation between Jesus and his Father.

Talk about the ultimate eavesdrop!!!

When you think about it, it’s rather stunning to realize that we are privy here to a conversation between two members of the divine Trinity.   That alone is a signal that the things Jesus is praying about are already true: namely, that through the glory of Jesus’ ministry, we have gained access to the God of the universe.   Jesus prays for the Father to be mindful of us, to protect us, and the mere fact that we get to hear Jesus ask for this is proof right there that this is going to come to pass.  Indeed, it’s true already!

That’s why we get to hear all this.

Jesus here distinguishes between “the world” and his own followers.  For the moment, he has only the followers in mind.  He’s praying for believers, not for the rest of the world.  But the fact is that there is a distinction to be observed between the church and the rest of the world and, further, we know from earlier in John and in Jesus’ discourses that we can anticipate the world no more recognizing us than it recognized Jesus.  And since we know what that clueless world ended up doing to Jesus . . . well, we can assume more of the same will come to us latter-day folks who bear Jesus’ name.

So we do face a hostile world.  But the good news of this prayer is that we don’t face it alone.   We’ve got no less than the Sovereign God of the universe on our side!

But there is one line in John 17:11 that is worth pondering.  Jesus asks the Father to protect us “by the power of your name,” which is intriguing all by itself, but then Jesus goes on to say that the name in question is “the name you gave me.”  Just what name is this?   Raymond Brown believes that the name in question is essentially “Yahweh” or the great “I AM” of the Jewish tradition.   If so, and in the context of John’s gospel, this corresponds to the “EGO EIMI” formula that Jesus used again and again in the fourth gospel’s famous series of “I Am” statements (“I am the bread of life . . . I am the light of the world . . .etc.).

God is the great I AM of Israel, the God who told Moses “I am what I am and I will be what I will be.”  The fullness of this God came to us in Jesus.   He gave glory to God through all that he said and did here on earth.   We share in that glory!   What’s more, we benefit from and live off the riches of God’s glorious power as he guards and nurtures and protects the church at all times.  There is glory all around, even if we too often lack the eyes to see it.

There is a lot going on in this oft-called “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus in John 17.  But on the Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost when the Lectionary assigns this particular text, we are reminded that although Jesus has gone away physically and is now in session at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, the power of God the Father Almighty is right here with us by the Holy Spirit.

In John 17, we get to eavesdrop on a conversation between Jesus and his Father.  Sometimes eavesdropping is a bad thing, of course.   But sometimes when you overhear a conversation, you hear people you love saying really wonderful things about you.  And when that happens, you feel great.  Christians listening in on this conversation have every reason to feel great based on what they hear!    We are a people of glory protected by the glorious power and love of God.  What a gift it is that Jesus let us listen in on his prayer!

Textual Points

John 17:11 is the only place in the New Testament where God is referred to as “Holy Father.”  Although Jesus is now and again referred to as the “Holy One” and we know that the Spirit is ever and always the “Holy Spirit” in Acts and thereafter, this is the only place where the Father is called “Holy Father.”   It may not be a terribly significant point but in this context it may be part of John’s attempt to invoke the traditions of Israel and of God’s being the Holy One of Israel in connection with verse 11’s further mention of “the name” of God by which Jesus asks the Father to protect the church.

Illustration Idea

In John 17 Jesus prays to the Father to protect his people, to be in and with and for his people.  But often we in the church forget that all the energy and love of the Father is with us, is inside us.    Have you ever seen one of those Hoberman Spheres? A scientist by the name of Hoberman figured out how to make an amazing thing called an “icosadodecohedron.” It is a round ball made up of hundreds of rods, each one of which is multi-jointed to others.

Some years ago at a science museum in New Jersey, my family and I saw a giant one of these in the museum’s great hall. When that particular Hoberman Sphere is fully expanded, it is a ball that spans probably thirty or more feet in diameter–it’s quite huge. But when it is compacted and all the parts of the sphere are collapsed in on each other, the whole thing shrinks down to something not much bigger than a giant beach ball.

The power of God in the church is like that.  The Father’s power spans the universe and beyond.  Yet by a miracle of God’s Holy Spirit, it can collapse down into something that can fit right inside the church. And when by faith that power is inside of you, then you know that God’s might is always in service of love for God’s children.   It’s the mystery of the incarnation all over again. When the apostle John began his gospel, he was very clear that the Son of God was the Word of God who had made this entire creation. But then he says, “The Word became flesh.” The powerful Son of God who fashioned every atom in the universe somehow managed to contract all the way down to no more than a zygote inside a maiden’s uterus. The Word of the Father, full of grace and truth and containing the very power of creation, made himself so small that for a time, you would have needed a microscope to see him!

In a poignant moment of C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia,” the children at one point walk into what appeared from the outside to be no more than a shabby little building. But once they step into it, they discover a vastness they could not have guessed at before. “Why,” Lucy exclaims, “it’s bigger on the inside than on the outside.” “Yes,” another character replies, “something like that once happened on earth. In a place called Bethlehem there was a tiny stable whose inside was bigger than its outside because that stable contained the whole world.”


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