Archive for May, 2015

“Sanctified with the Truth” (Sermon, May 20th)

Many of you have heard me say before that the Gospel of John is written in code, and one of the best ways to absorb that message is to do “ear-training”: ring a bell each time you hear a code word. The passage we read today is snipped from a larger section towards the end of the Gospel which scholars call “The Book of Glory,” which begins in Chapter 13 and ends around Chapter 20. If you’re using that bell while you read, this is where you start to really give it a workout. Chapters 14 to 17 are when you start to develop a headache…and in Chapter 17 that headache becomes a real rager. “In the world – not of the world.” “I am coming.” “Fulfilled,” “word,” “sent,” “truth.”

Chapter 17 is called “The High Priestly Prayer,” because Jesus is praying for the disciples – all of them, those present and those yet to be born. Beautiful. The High Priestly Prayer is also where you really start to see the lines of code in the speech.

Following the code words will likely get us lost and dizzy, but John really was crafted by a masterful storyteller, and we can see it here. This chapter, in effect, is yet another perfectly distilled essence of the entire story.

I’d like to share several truths in the code words I found within the jewel of this text.

The first is “given.” For the writer of John all that has happened to Jesus also happens to his followers – and will happen to us. Remember the story of Thomas – we are the blessed who believe even though we have not seen. In John’s story, Jesus was sent into the world from outside –outside time and matter, the pre-existent Word, beloved of God. Now we are created beings, of course – but Jesus thanks God for us! We were given to him by the Father, and then Jesus gives us back. We are gifts of God to God’s self: not pre-existent but still composed of carbon atoms and the remains of a great light, a great becoming: star stuff.

Second: Jesus finds himself “in the world…but not of the world”: created/uncreated; Prince of Peace/bringer of a sword; Son of Mary/Son of the Father. We, through virtue of our baptism, or through witnessing the great truth of Easter, are the same: beings living within a created order, experiencing in heart and flesh the death and resurrection of the Beloved. We experience the truth in our very own bodies: our blood and skin cells tell the story of death and regeneration – rebirth – from the moment we have life.

We are always dying, and we are always rising – in the world (forever locked in the process of change) and not of the world (subverting change with the stability of our faith shared across generations and therefore constant, even if day to day our personal faith may not be).

Third: Jesus is sanctified – “sanctified in the truth.” What could this mean? Pilate asks this question only a couple of chapters later: “What is truth?” For the Evangelist, I believe, truth is this: Glory is kenosis. Kenosis is a Greek word meaning “to pour out.” For John, the glorification of Jesus occurs on the cross. It is where he is enthroned – a ridiculous and rather frightening truth. Several scholars actually argue that the seventh sign in this Gospel is the crucifixion itself – the ultimate and consummating sign of Jesus’ kingship. It makes sense in context. The light shines in the darkness.

We are sanctified with the truth. Dying and rising simply as a matter of renewed cells and our day-to-day lives is not enough. We must not only accept this but embrace it.

Now of course this is a rather dark proposition. And yet, I’m sure each of us knows deep down that this is true. You don’t need to tangle with an Empire to know that sometimes you have to stand up for what’s right, even if you risk everything to do so. You don’t need to be crucified to know that sometimes despite your best efforts to tell the truth, others will turn on you and make you their scapegoat. You don’t need a spear in the side to know that giving of yourself in some way so that others may live is part of what makes the world holy.

Glory is kenosis. It is the truth, and we are sanctified with it, in baptism, at Easter, and at Pentecost.

Jesus prays that we will become like he is: a gift, in the world but not of the world, and sanctified with the truth.

Even now, I know that in the world, and among you, God will give him whatever he asks.