We all had those teachers in school and bosses in life who never seemed to stop talking. Teachers would prattle on about their subject matter or in the case of bosses about profit against loss always with regard to the product the company was selling. They would try to engender the same kind of energy and enthusiasm they had for the subject at hand. Of course, they would want those listening, willingly or otherwise, to share their knowledge, to embrace their expertise and to get as excited or as fearful of the future as they felt.
So, what was the purpose or purposes: to get their way, to meet their goal or to set the ball rolling so the future would be as profitable as the present – that what some teachers, bosses, moms, and dads and others often use. We might label their efforts with the term, motivators. There would be a promise of something in the future appealing enough to make it worth our while to pay attention, to listen, to embrace and to make a commitment, of sorts, to follow a path, which had been laid out for us. It should work; it often doesn’t.
I did have one annoying teacher in Seminary. He was the school librarian but he also taught an introductory class on ministry for first year students. The class was required so the motivation for all of us was high; we had to pass it. Which proved challenging. Mr. Davis was a committed and intentional professor, but deadly boring. I was no more certain of what the class was about or how it applied to my future ministry on the last day of the sessions than I had been on the first. I passed with, by the way, the lowest grade I received throughout my interim at the Seminary and then promptly forgot anything that Mr. Davis had said. To this day, I can’t figure out why the course was offered or even what it was about.
Imagine, for a moment, what would have happened to the Christian Faith if the Disciples had not caught on to the message Jesus was sharing. Over the space of 4 plus chapters, Jesus speaks first to the Disciples and then, as in this passage, prays to God for those who were following him in the moment and would, in the future, follow him. If the Disciples of old didn’t get it, there was little chance that we would have heard the name “Jesus” or known Jesus as the Christ.
There are three distinctive themes that run through this short passage – belief, oneness, and love.[i] Ask five people what they believe about most things and you’re likely to receive five different responses. But, faith in a Divine Being seems to multiply the descriptions of what we believe by an unknown number of responses. In part, this is due to the way in which we were raised, the influences of others on our lives, our personalities, and to a great degree in our familiarity with our belief system. If we don’t know the Word of God…and many, who profess Christian faith, really don’t, we can’t share it effectively with others. So Christ reminds his disciples, then and now, to know him in and through the word they’ve heard and the word they’ve witnessed. As Christ prays, he asked God to give his disciples the will, the ability to trust in what they’ve seen and what they experienced. Like in this little story:
A philosopher, a scientist, and a simple man—none of whom could swim—were trapped in a cove with sheer cliff faces. They split up, but the tide kept coming in. Rescuers lowered a rope with a safety harness.
Now, the philosopher said, “Ah, this looks like a rope, but I might be mistaken—it could be wishful thinking or an illusion.” So he didn’t attach himself, and he was drowned.
The scientist said, “Ah, this is an 11 mm polyester rope with a breaking strain of 2800 kg. It conforms to the MR 10-81 standard,” and then proceeded to give an exhaustive, and entirely correct, analysis of the rope’s physical and chemical properties. But he didn’t attach himself, and he was drowned.
The simple man said, “Ah, I’m not sure if it’s a rope or a python tail, but it’s my only chance, so I’m grabbing it and holding on with my whole life.” He was saved.[ii]
Sometimes we just need to trust. Our beliefs, our faith and our ability to trust begin and are strengthened as we study God’s word and share it with others. Christ hope for his disciples was to be one in spirit…to share their faith together, care for one another in community and support those in need. The concept of community also made room for those of us in need to allow others to be supportive pillars when our own faith is tested, our own strength is compromised, and our own will to heal and be well is weakened. Then the community around us can step in and offer guidance and loving support.
So the theme “oneness” comes directly from our absolute need for one another. We are hardwired for connection and community.
In his book, The Social Animal, David Brooks explores how humans are designed for community. In one section he describes the difference between our laughing in isolation and in groups.
Robert Provine of the University of Maryland has found that people are thirty times more likely to laugh when they are with other people than when they are alone. When people are in bonding situations, laughter flows. Surprisingly, people who are speaking are 46 percent more likely to laugh during conversations than people who are listening. And they’re not exactly laughing at hilarious punch lines. Only 15 percent of the sentences that trigger laughter are funny in any way that is discernible. Instead, laughter seems to bubble up spontaneously amidst conversations when people feel themselves responding in parallel ways to the same emotionally positive circumstances. Even the seemingly mundane parts of humanity, like laughter, show how we’ve been hardwired by God to love and enjoy relationships.[iii]
Finally, the last but hardly the least important of the themes lifted by Christ to God in prayer is love. Within the short span of six verses, the concept of love is raised in Jesus’ prayer.
- Love is the key descriptor of divine relationships.
- Love is the bond within the Godhead – that is described in the repetitious use of in me, in you, in them, in us.
- Love is the divine gift to the disciples.
- Love is the magnetic grace through which God seeks to attract the world.
- Love is the ingredient that the Lord prays will be within his followers.[iv]
Sometimes, I think children are closer to God than we give them credit. They see and understand things we can’t see because we think we are above it all and know too much. The innocence of children holds great wisdom. For example, a group of children were once asked the question, “What does love mean? They came up with the best answers I’ve heard to date
- Rebekah, 8, said, “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time—even when his hands got arthritis, too. That’s love.”
- Billy, 4, said, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
- Bobby, 7, says, “Love is what’s in the room at Christmas, if you stop opening presents and listen.”
- Nikka, 6, says, “If you want to learn to love better, you should start with someone you hate.”
- Tommy, 6, says, “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”
- Cindy, 8, says, “During my piano recital, I was on a stage, and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me, and I saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. And I wasn’t scared anymore.”
- Jessica, 8, says, “You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot.”[v]
It would be hard to find better definitions of love than these. But Christ managed to give us one more and it was the best. He gave his life for us and he invites us to give our lives for each other. In Christ, we have been given the gift of oneness and love; nothing can separate us from the power of a creating God who even now gives us the grace and will to believe in a our awesome God of faith. Even as we believe, so must we invite others to join us – one to one and one in Christ – experiencing God’s love for them selves. Amen.
[i] Feasting on the Word, F. Belton Joyner, Jr., 541.
[iv] Feasting on the Word, Joyner, 545.
[v] Mark Buchanan, in the sermon “The Greatest of These,” PreachingToday.com