John 17: 6-19
This is a passage to give you neck-ache if you imagine the conversation between Jesus, the Father and the disciples. For example, sentences like “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them…”
Jesus refers 20 times to himself ‘I’
And 22 times to they or them – meaning the disciples.
This Passage is at least as much about the disciples as it is about Jesus.
Jesus constantly refers to himself in relation to the Father, but then says ‘as it is for me, so it is for them (the disciples)’ or ‘as you have done for me so do for them’.
Jesus talks about the name of God; the fact that he is sent by God the Father; and the truth that the disciples also belong to God. He then prays that the Father protects them once he is no longer with them.
Then comes this final, rather puzzling sentence;
“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.”
Jesus is sent by the Father into the world – John’s gospel makes that clear from the start “God so loved the world he sent his only Son…”. We know that Jesus is praying here at the end of his time on earth with the disciples. According to John’s gospel they have seen him turn water into wine, heal the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, feed the 5,000, and raise Lazarus from death, as well as teaching Nicodemeus and the woman at the well.
Jesus has come to do God’s will and to show the arrival of God’s kingdom with all that that means for the suffering and the needy.
But now Jesus speaks of sanctifying himself. To sanctify something means to set it apart, make it holy and consecrated, being used by God.
Surely Jesus is already holy? Hasn’t everything he has done and said so far showed the disciples that he is the holy Son of God?
But Jesus is speaking just before his death – in this self-giving, this act of laying down his life this sacrifice, he is setting his life down for God – making his life a holy offering for the world.
But remember, this passage is as much about the disciples as it is about Jesus.
Jesus prays “I sancitify myself so that they may be sanctified.”
Jesus lays down his life for the holy purposes of God – to show the amazing extent of God’s love – so that his disciples can also learn to lay down their lives as an offering to God, for the world.
What does this mean for us?
We are disciples of Jesus Christ, sent into the world to do the will of God the Father as he was.
Sent into the world to do what?
At a gathering of URC ministers the week before last we were hearing some amazing stories of faithful, radical disciples of Jesus – Maria Skobstova, Dorothy Day, & Madeleine Delbrel. If those names don’t ring a bell, perhaps you will be more impressed when I tell you that the person telling us the stories was Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury).
All three women that Rowan talked about gave up comfort and home and family to serve the poorest people, making themselves available to help others almost 24 hours a day and often giving away their own possessions for the sake of others. It seemed a bit daunting to try to be like them, but this is what discipleship looks like – refusing to hold onto your own life and your own possessions, for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Jesus gave up everything – even his life-blood; and so we should ask what it is that we should give up, as his disciples.
Rowan Williams suggested that the first thing we should be ready to give up is the church. Not give up coming to church, or caring about the fellowship of people here, but recognise that this is not our church. This is God’s church – it needs to be holy and sanctified, set apart to be used by God for the sake of the world.
Today we start a new chapter in the life of this church as we ordain Marius as an Elder, in preparation for him beginning to lead this church. Some things may change – Marius will bring new ideas about the life of the church, about what your life together looks like and about how you serve your community. But one thing will not change – this will not become Marius’s church: it will remain God’s church, and you will all continue to be set apart as Jesus’ holy followers.
How does this happen?
It is not a matter of determination. You do not achieve holiness by trying really hard, or achieve sanctification by saying the right words. Jesus prays that his followers will be sanctified, and his prayer is answered when the Holy Spirit comes to fill their lives with a knowledge of God’s presence and power.
As we ordain Marius to eldership, we pray for that same spirit to come and strengthen him in his discipleship of Christ.
Being sanctified and set apart as a leader on the church can sound quite grand, until we remember that this is not our church, but God’s and that we are not following our own plans, but seeking to follow Christ. Jesus was sanctified not for greatness but for service.
What is true for Jesus is true for the disciples.
The disciples – and us – all Jesus’ disciples - are not chosen for greatness and sanctified to a place of honour; we are chosen to follow and are sanctified for service to the world in God’s name. Marius is called to serve here – as we are all called to serve God in God’s church.
As we set apart this bread and wine for communion, we make it holy – holy things for God’s holy people. As we take the break and break it, and pour out the wine, we remember how Jesus’ body was broken to be offered to all the world. Strengthened for service by him, and filled with the Holy Spirit, we pray that God will use us in his service and for his glory. Amen.