Text: John 17:1-11
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them, protect them in your name which you have given me, so that they may be one, even as we are one. (v11)
Jesus’ last words to his disciples are a prayer. He says the kinds of things we say, in our own prayers: Protect them. Guard them. Keep them. And then he says something that only Jesus could say, something a little out of the ordinary: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 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” (John 17:14-16).
Technically, these three verses are not part of the lectionary for today. But Jesus’ prayer loses something important, when we tear it in half that way. Look past verse 11 to these odd words in verses 14-16, and see what the whole of the High Priestly Prayer of John 17 is really about…
Be in the world, but not of it.
Jesus’ disciples, through grace, do not belong to the world anymore than Jesus himself does. But they—we—are in it. We are here. We don’t have the luxury to opt out. So the challenge is to remember where we are, and whose we are. We are in the world, but not of it. We are in the world, but we do not belong to the world.
What could that look like—to be in the world, but not of it?
I know of a family that has given up television. They want to remind themselves and their children: this box does not own us!
I know of a woman who designates one day a week as her “car-less” day. She won’t drive, or accept a ride in anyone else’s car. If she needs to go somewhere, she takes public transport. She wants to remind herself: this car does not own me!
I read of a family that keeps a supply of homemade paper sack lunches in the trunk of the car. The children wrap up cheese sandwiches, and then pack them with pieces of fruit, a mars bar, and so on. If they see someone in need on the way to school, they stop the car. The children offer a paper sack lunch and a smile. They want to remind us: this myth of scarcity does not own us!
I know a priest who sets aside one day a month to visit a parishioner at their workplace. She goes to work with them, listens to them, and learns from them about the issues they think about, the problems they handle. She eats lunch with them, and at the end of the day, they pray together before she leaves. The practice has done wonders to strengthen the relationships between her and her parishioners. It has also deepened her preaching. This gentle pastor of her flock wants to remind us: our work—yours and mine—does not own us!
I know another priest who takes himself on an “artist’s sabbatical” once a week. He sets aside two hours to do something completely zany and arty and un-priestly, like walking around a gallery or a tattoo parlor or going to a movie—all by himself. The practice feeds his soul, and rejuvenates his spirit. It gives him energy to manage his overloaded calendar. He wants to remind himself: time, or the lack of it, does not own me!
I know a man who cooks a gourmet meal one Friday each month for a homeless shelter in London. He does it all himself. It takes a lot of time and energy and money to do it, because every month he creates a different menu. Some are critical of him: wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper and simpler to stir up a big pot of macaroni cheese? Of course it would. But that’s not the point, for this man, or the men he serves. The point is to create something beautiful, for men who do not often eat such exquisite food. The point is to share joy, not practicality. This man wants to remind himself and his shelter guests: this system does not own us!
Be in the world, but not of it.
Each of these examples shows me a little of what that looks like, to be in the world, but not of it. Because each of these persons is staging a quiet protest about what the world leads us to believe, and what we believe. The world says: you belong to the box! You belong to your work, your calendar, this system, and there is not enough to go around!
But Jesus says something different. Jesus says: these things do not own you. You belong to God, and God alone. So keep living in this world, as God’s. Be in it, but not of it.
How would you demonstrate the Kingdom built on earth?
Imagine for a moment: how would you like to show it?
And then, Go for it.