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  • Writer's pictureRev Kalantha Brewis

In The World But Not Of The World

John 17.6-19

Jesus prays to the Father for his disciples

“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. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you, for 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. I 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. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I have been glorified in them.11 And 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. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 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. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

 


I don’t know about you, but most of the time, I just want to fit in. I don’t want to be noticeably different from other people. If you have ever turned up to a party and been the only single person in a room crowded with couples, or been the new girl- or boy- at school or at work- unsure where to find the loos or the photocopier when everyone around you is buzzing with their own certainty, in fact if you’ve ever felt that you just don’t fit in, you’ll know what I mean. If I feel I’m on the edge of things, that I don’t belong somewhere, I just want to run away.

 

Our gospel reading is aching with concern for people who don’t belong. The whole passage is a prayer- the prayer of Jesus for his disciples, and it’s the last chance he gets to pray for them before his arrest. He is praying for them, and he is praying for their protection; because he knows they just don’t fit in any more.

 

When Jesus first met his disciples they were just ordinary men and women- some of them had trades, others not, but none of them was special. They may not have been popular- Matthew the tax collector for one, but they weren’t weirdos. They were part of the normal spectrum of their community. And Jesus pulled them out of it. He taught them, listened to them, forgave them, loved them, saved them; and they changed. Whatever they had been before, however much weakness, cowardice and confusion still washed about inside their heads, they had come, truly, to belong to him- to be his followers.


At this point in the gospel, they’re about to be scattered: Jesus is about to be arrested and, as we know, the disciples vanish like smoke in the wind.

 

But wherever they go, they’re still his- as Jesus puts it “they are not of the world any more than I am of the world”. Well, isn’t that something. Those frightened, uncertain disciples somehow no longer belonged in the very world into which they had been born, the very societies in which they’d been raised.

 

They have become God’s outsiders. Living for a different purpose, marching to a different drum. Just like Jesus: they are inside and yet outside- in the world but not of the world. It’s the same for us today. It has to be. If we are to be faithful disciples of Christ we cannot help but distance ourselves from some of the values and parts of the culture which surround us. To be a true follower of Jesus is just as deeply counter cultural today as it was in the days of the Roman empire.


And we all know how tough it is to be an outsider- you only have to think about the heat that gets generated around the subject of immigration or gender identity to know that being different can be not just lonely but downright dangerous. Yet following Jesus means, necessarily, being an outsider.

 

Jesus doesn’t mince his words. He says “I have given them your word and the world has hated them” He goes on to ask his heavenly father to “protect his disciples from the evil one” because he knows that to be different means attracting both hatred and violence.

 

If, like Jesus you refuse to bully, cheat or lie, and you refuse to worship money or success, and you strive to make the whole of your life a source of love; eventually some bully, cheat or liar turns their attention to you. If, like Jesus, you expose the unvarnished truth about the society we live in, somebody somewhere is going to get upset, and you may end up paying the price.

 

Recently, the PCC of this church, has made a decision to join something called the Inclusive Church Network, an organisation that seeks to promote the growth of church communities which don’t just tolerate the outsiders, the people on the edge, but welcome them and celebrate them. If you find yourself excluded or misunderstood because you are neurodiverse, or physically disabled, or living with dementia, or transitioning gender, or living in a same sex relationship, or black or divorced or recently released from prison or trapped in an abusive relationship… or if you know someone who is, then perhaps you know what it feels like to be an outsider in our churches today.

 

The good news- the best possible news- is that Jesus loves outsiders. In fact, Jesus himself is an outsider- always on the edge of things, always out looking for that one lost sheep, that untouchable man whose leprosy has driven him out of his own home, the woman who’s on husband number 5- or is it number six now?? that one person whom everybody else has silenced- whether deliberately or not.

 

Jesus' concern for his little band of not especially holy but deeply loved outsiders is compelling, it jumps off the page at you. Although this prayer is quite complex, the most remarkable feature of this prayer is the love it conveys. The depth of the love of Jesus Christ for that tiny, straggling little group.  And that same prayer and concern, is for each one of us. That love and concern never wavers. It is eternal.


Jesus only had a handful of disciples, and the gospels paint quite a picture of them as chaotic, unreliable, a bit slow on the uptake; but he truly loved them, and his faith that, inspired by the Holy Spirit, they could change the world, never flagged.

 

So despite the dangers, Jesus does not pray for his disciples to be removed from reality- he prays for protection, for unity and for holiness.

Unity and holiness can only be achieved if each of us is willing to make room for the other, the person with whom we disagree, the person we don’t quite “get”, the person we struggle to love…. The person who looks, to us, like an outsider.

 

It is our calling as Christians to show that the brokenness of humanity and the love of God in Christ Jesus, however much they may seem to conflict, can be united. In our frailty- each one of us carries something eternal- “we have this treasure in jars of clay”. 

 

In the world, but not of the world..Its easy to be in the world- and easy enough I suppose to separate yourself from it; but we’re in the world, as Christ’s outsiders, to transform it, by inviting other people to taste and see the goodness of God.

 

To share the love of God in such a way that the lonely are befriended and the hungry are fed and the heartbroken are consoled and the guilty are released from their self-loathing and the unloved are given a place and made whole.

 

Jesus came to bring eternal life for everyone-and that does not just mean after we’ve died but now- as an immediate reality. Heaven through Jesus has broken into the here and now. And we can live and love and be who we were created to be now, in the present moment. That is the good news we are given to share with all those people who struggle with day to day existence.

 

We are to allow ourselves to be transformed- as Ezekiel says- we are to have our hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh, to be God’s people, however odd that may make us look to everyone else. We are to bring other people God’s abundant life squarely in the middle of this earthly life.

 

We have to be whole-hearted. Its no good putting ourselves half way in to this process- we have to be all the way in, as terrifying as that is, and as “left out” as it may sometimes make us feel.


Jesus asks his father to protect his disciples by sanctifying them- or, if you like, setting them apart for the purpose of doing his will.

Can we allow God to work in us, to create within our worldly bodies a holy- “set apart” life- a life that imitates the life of Christ?

 

To become God’s outsiders, we have to offer ourselves to God in prayer, time and again- in our actions, time and again, in the words we choose to speak or withhold, time and again.

And in order to become God’s outsiders, unsurprisingly, we must serve the outsiders all around us. The imprisoned, the lonely, the unlovely, the dishonest. We have somehow to bring them a direct contact with the warmth and love of God.

 

And when we’re frightened of doing it, when we feel that we’re stepping out over the edge of the abyss, lets remember that Christ himself has sent us, that he has been before us, that he loves us, and prays for us, and that we are his.

 

Let’s take a moment to pray.

Lord Jesus, we ask for courage to be your outsiders, practising love and grace as our daily, hourly habits, learning more and more about loving and celebrating others, including ever more fully those who feel they are on the outside, and drawing all into the light of your unbounded love.

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