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By: The Rev. Kimble Sorrells
This Sunday’s text invites us into an intimate moment in the life of Jesus: his prayer and conversation with his Father amid his farewell to his disciples. While the opening and closing parts of his prayer are selections for other days of the lectionary, this central section focuses on his prayer for the disciples as he anticipates their life without him.
Jesus’ words convey that the disciples are called into his mission and will be sent into the world to live out their lives of faith. There is no escaping the world or its hardships; indeed, he says that the world will hate them. Yet they are called to be set apart as holy and a witness—to live in the tension of being “in the world but not of the world.” It’s important to note that while the prayer carries a weight of responsibility, it also reflects reassurance that they will not be left alone, but are entrusted to God’s ongoing care, guidance, and protection.
It is easy today to see faith and spirituality as a personal matter—something that I do for my own self and my own wellbeing. We might see it primarily as being about feeling filled and connected to the Divine presence. As someone whose ministry is primarily focused on contemplative practices and retreat ministry, these aspects are obviously something that I think are important. However, this prayer reminds us that Jesus’ final request for his followers was for our faith to be about much more than or own personal lives. While it’s good to rest and withdraw from the world to recharge, we must return to engage the world around us. As followers of Christ, we are called to bear witness to God’s ways of truth and justice. A faithful follower and faithful community must take seriously its role of being in solidarity with the victims of injustice and marginalization, calling out the broken systems and engaging in active witness to God’s ways.
It seems that the times we are living in have made this tension even more apparent. Many in our faith communities are likely experiencing a bit “world-weary.” We have now lived through just over a year of a life-altering pandemic, and while we have hope of vaccines, we are certainly not out of the woods yet. Through this time, we also have experienced heightened suffering due to systemic racism, especially in the areas of police brutality and violence. Our country has grappled with the epidemic of gun violence as we see ongoing mass shootings. And of course, the threats to democracy that seemed a given shook our sense of security in a peaceful state. This isn’t an exhaustive list of all that’s happening, but it does seem exhausting.
To say that many of us are tired would be an understatement. If Jesus was sitting in front of me praying right now, I will be honest that I would much prefer that he pray for me to have a nice vacation—perhaps a little get away to the mountains. However, when Jesus prayed for his disciples (and that does include us today), he prayed that they not be taken out of the world but rather be made holy as a witness within it.
The key of holding this tension lies in the hope that Jesus also entrusted us to God’s care, guidance, and loving presence. We can find fulfillment, rest, and joy as we experience connection to God and feel God’s love. This allows us to live as called people bearing witness to God’s ways in the world. In this way Jesus’ prayer offers us both a weighty responsibility and the reassurance that we are not alone; that God is with us.
In preaching or teaching on this text, one might spend time exploring what this tension looks like to your community. How is it that they might need to find ways to retreat and tap into and connect with the Joy of God’s love, and how is it that they might need to bear witness to that by engaging in the world around them? What is happening locally that contrasts with Jesus’ radical message of justice? How is it that your community might engage in faithful witness—both individually and collectively? What ways do you need to examine your own community of faith? Are there ways that it falls short of the ways of justice and inclusion?
In preparing for worship or meditation, you may wish to examine the ways that your community may be feeling world-weary as well. What would serve to connect to God’s Love at this time? How might you spend time resting in the joy that Christ prays his disciples will experience? As we listen anew to the text for this week, we are invited again to overhear this intimate conversation between Jesus and his Father. We are invited again to receive a prayer on our behalf and lean into the call of discipleship, held and led by the Love of God as we go forth into the world.