Text: John 17:1-11
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
I was a senior in high school when I got hooked on the show, Survivor (any other fans here?). I had a good reason to get hooked on it because one of the contestants was someone that my mom knew and she was from Knoxville. Her name was Tina Wesson. Every week, my mom and I would gather around the TV to watch Tina on the show and wonder if she had a good chance at winning the million dollar prize and title as the “Sole Survivor” in the Australian Outback. She was 40 years old at the time, so we wondered if her age would be a factor since most of the contestants were quite a bit younger. However, she hung on through the episodes full of games, challenges, living in the wilderness, eating strange foods or nothing at all, dealing with alliances and also people who wanted to get rid of her or eliminate her from the game. In the end, Tina actually won! We couldn’t believe it! She overcame the odds and won it all! If any of you watch Survivor, you know it’s usually a mixture of things that will help you win: outdoor skills, physical health and strength, creativity, and creating strong bonds and relationships with other people. For Tina, her secret to winning was making relationships with others and building teams. She also will tell you that you can’t come on too strong at first. Instead, you have to sit back and learn how to work with others in order to achieve goals. You can’t be a jerk or a loner and win Survivor, although many have tried!
What Jesus does in the text today is pray for his disciples that they may be survivors in the world after he is no longer in it. In this heartfelt moment, Jesus prays to God that he may be glorified, that all will believe, and that those left behind will continue to glorify and believe all that Jesus has taught them. He then prays that all will be one, just as he and God are one. He gives us a blessing, and it is up to us to now live in this world- to live as survivors. But he doesn’t leave us empty handed of course, nor does he leave us orphaned. He leaves us with a survival kit full of things so that we may continue on in this world, even if it means that we are strangers in a foreign land. We are not meant to fail or be divided. We are meant to survive. But how?
The first tool in the survival kit is the knowledge that we belong to God. Jesus prays that we may know this and says to God, “they are yours…all mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” When I was in middle school, my best friend and I had a weird obsession with eyeball jewelry- we had earrings, necklaces, and even hair ties with eyeballs on them! Some of the other kids began to make fun of us and started calling me “eyeball Moffett” and other strange names. Years later when I was in high school, someone asked me where my eyeball jewelry was! Labels stick…whether we want them to or not…we all have them …whether we ask for them or not. Maybe you have had good labels throughout your life…but maybe they called you a loser…maybe they called you stupid…or fat…or ugly…or worthless. How would our perspectives of ourselves and one another change if we simply remember and acknowledge that we all wear this label: “belongs to God”? This would change the way we live in the world and treat one another. We are survivors, according to Jesus, when we recognize that we belong to God, and that all belong to God, setting all other labels aside. We are survivors when we see the image of God reflected in the other person, which is sometimes a challenge.
Maya Angelou, who died this past week, lived her life as a survivor. She was a survivor who understood the meaning of seeing the image of God in the other, no matter who “the other” was. She is quoted as saying, “While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.” She didn’t say that she had a choice to realize and remember that everyone else is God’s creation- she said that she is obligated to realize and remember this! Maya Angelou was also a survivor in the way that she lived her life and made a name for herself through her many inspirational writings and storytelling. She was also a survivor of sexual abuse and rape at a young age to the point where she was mute for 5 years of her life. In that time, she observed the world around her and gathered the courage to live and speak for herself. She found the strength to forgive and use her traumatizing experiences to inspire others to find the strength and courage within themselves. She encouraged people to strip away the labels we create and to see the good in people. She encouraged others to be survivors in this difficult world, just as Jesus does.
The second tool in our survival kit is faith. Jesus’ prayer includes praise for those who have believed- those who took a chance on faith and acknowledged the truth and life that Jesus brought to them. And we are not just to have faith, but faith enough to share the name of Jesus with those who may not know him yet. Jesus is leaving us with a challenge that we may glorify him in all we say and do. To glorify is to make renowned and known, to honor and celebrate. Jesus says that he has been glorified or made known by his disciples, and it is up to us as survivors in this world to continue to glorify him today. We survive as people of faith by glorifying God. We survive as the church by glorifying God. We glorify God whenever we open our hearts to love someone, whenever we open our hands to serve, whenever we open our doors wide to let all enter this place. We should glorify God in all we say and do.
The third tool in our survival kit is patience. Jesus is leaving the world, but he is leaving it in our hands to care for and glorify God by helping others to live in a way that glorifies God as well. Patience also involves waiting for Jesus to send his promised gift: the Advocate, our Helper, the Holy Spirit (stay tuned for next week!) We know that we live in a messy and hurting world and we long for something better. We pray for God’s kingdom to come, but we struggle to see glimpses of it. What do we do while we are waiting? We use our time in this world in the best possible way that we can. We survive, like Tina, like Maya Angelou, by building strong relationships, working in teams and communities to achieve our goals, by forgiving, by seeing the image of God in the other, by offering help to those in need. Jesus leaves us in charge and it’s sink or swim. Our key to survival is patience, but having hope in this patience and doing our part to make the world a better place. It’s easy to feel stuck and like we are not even making a dent, but Jesus is our hope that moves us forward, challenging us to survive.
Jesus doesn’t just challenge us to be survivors- he challenges us to take on new identities and to become citizens of a new and better world- a world that he hopes we will help to create. He challenges us to take even the most heartbreaking situations and bring a word or presence of hope. He urges us to move and progress forward when we may feel stuck. To survive, we must create joy for ourselves in a world that sometimes seems so dark. As Christians, we are caught somewhere in between the reality of this world and the promise of a better world to come. In this way, we might be considered foreigners in a strange land without really a place to call home. Jesus says that we do not belong to the world, but are citizens of God’s world and to live as such. We are getting a new passport. It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus asks God’s protection on us as we navigate a world that is so hostile. As Christians, we are strangers in a strange land.
Our very survival depends on how we live as people caught in between this world as we know it and the new and better world that awaits us. We are caught in between as we seek a place to call home. There is a great movie with Tom Hanks called The Terminal. In this film, Tom Hanks plays a foreign man trying to visit New York, but he gets stuck in the airport for a long period of time due to circumstances out of his control. Let’s take a look at how he manages to survive and what he learns in the process.
He gets a job, makes friends, he plays games, plays matchmaker, falls in love, helps strangers, and discovers all that he needs to survive by being stuck in the airport. He doesn’t just sit around and let himself go crazy…he makes the best out of being stuck. As a stranger in a strange land, he manages to not just survive, but to thrive and have a positive impact on the people he encounters. I don’t know if I could say the same if I was stuck in the airport for that long!
Instead of seeing ourselves as stuck, Jesus invites us to see ourselves as citizens of a world that is yet to be, but that we are invited to help create. We do this by surviving, believing, and glorifying God in all we say and do. We also do this by becoming one, just as Jesus and God are one. We may feel like foreigners, but we must not see one another as such. Our reality is that our world, our nation, our communities, and our churches are so divided that it’s so hard to see the ways in which we might be one. Even in the United Methodist Church, the divisions rage on concerning issues of gay marriage and ordination in the church. The big story this past week was that one of the conservative groups got together with 80 clergy from large churches and put out an official statement that they think that the church should split over this issue. The response from people on all sides of the spectrum were immediate, ranging from agreement to heartbroken disagreement. Some believe that the church is already split, just not in an official way…yet. Either way, many are watching, waiting, and wondering what the future of the United Methodist Church will be. We seem to be ignoring Jesus’ prayer that we should be one, just as he and God are one. Will we overcome this division, and overcome it in a way that glorifies God? We will end up dividing, and is this possible in a way that glorifies God? I don’t know. But either way I struggle with the fact that we cannot seem to overcome this, and to overcome it in a loving and respectful way. There have been many heartbreaking statements and conversations over this issue, and division seems imminent. Right now, we are stuck in between, wondering where to go next.
But if we hear anything from today’s scripture lesson in this prayer of our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer it is this: we are challenged to survive, and not just to survive, but to thrive in a world that needs us to continue to glorify God in everything. We are to survive in a way that brings others to God, using our tools of knowing that we belong to God, having faith, and having patience. We are to survive by knowing that we are caught in between this world and a better world to come, and that we are to help create that world with the help of Christ, who makes all things new. We are to survive by striving to become one despite our differences and disagreements, despite our struggle to see God in the other, despite our own flaws and judgments against other people. With God’s help we can and will survive. With God’s help, we can become one. With God’s help, we will work to create a new and better world where we will not just survive, but where there will be no question of our citizenship. We will finally be home. May it be so for each of us. May we be survivors. Amen.