a sermon on John 16:6-19
Saying good-bye is hard. Whether you’re the one leaving or the one being left, the anticipation of missing the ones we love makes us sad as we imagine our lives without them.
But saying good-bye isn’t hard just because it’s sad – saying good-bye is hard because it’s a little bit scary. When we say good-bye, we are releasing someone we care about into an unknown future – a future where, even in an age of email and instant messaging and skype, we won’t be present to help in the same way, to pay attention in the same way, to share in the same way.
Parents know this, perhaps better than anyone as their children grow and move, day by day, farther and farther out into the world. But it’s not only parents. Teachers releasing students, nurses releasing patients, pastors releasing parishioners, friends releasing one another…saying good-by is hard.
In today’s Gospel reading, we have reached the end of Jesus’ very long good-bye – a 4 chapter stretch of final teachings, reminders, promises and, finally, this prayer. We have worked our way through much of this so-called farewell discourse in the weeks since Easter and have reflected on the ways Jesus prepared his disciples for life and ministry without him – or at least, without him in the same way.
But this closing prayer, as related to us by John, reads less like Jesus preparing the disciples to say good-bye to him and rather more like Jesus preparing himself to say good-bye to them, like he is reassuring himself that they are ready, that they will still be taken care of, that they will, indeed, be okay without him.
They are his beloved friends, after all – he has taught them and led them and travelled with them and loved them. And now he is leaving them, sending them out into a world full of danger and hostility, a world that rejects him and his teaching in fear and with violence.
But he knows that it needs to be done. He knows the hour has come for him to return to his Father – knows that his work, his mission, will not be complete until he returns. And he knows that his mission requires him to give the disciples to the world, just as his Father gave him to the world.
Consider that for moment – Jesus’ disciples – including you and me – we are given to the world just as Jesus was given to the world.
We often talk about the ways in which God gives us gifts – gifts of skill and talent, of wealth, of relationships, of opportunity – gifts to be used in the service of God’s mission. But in Jesus’ prayer, he names us to be gifts, not simply to have gifts. We are given to the world, like Jesus, to be an effective sign of God’s loving presence, of God’s redeeming power – agents of the kingdom of heaven.
In this moment, Jesus is reminding us – and himself – of that truth. The disciples were given into Jesus’ care only for a time – they belong to the Father who gave them to Jesus and now, now that they have learned what Jesus was called on to reveal to them, Jesus must give them to the world.
So he prays: “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. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
Jesus is under no illusions that the disciples will have easy lives and Jesus does not lie – not even soothing, comfortable lies. The world – this broken, violent, fearful place – will not treat them well. Like a wounded animal that won’t even allow a caring hand near, the world will strike out at them just as it will strike out at Jesus.
But the world is what Jesus was sent to save, to make whole and holy, because the world – broken and violent and fearful – is loved by God. And giving his disciples to the world is part of God’s plan for the restoration of the whole world.
Fortunately, Jesus also knows what it is to be given by God.
Jesus knows that to be given by God results not in loss or estrangement but in fullness and more perfect unity. Jesus seeks that oneness for his disciples – releasing them into God’s care so that they may be one as he and his Father are one.
Jesus knows that he is not leaving his disciples alone. God will continue to be with them, to protect and care for them. The Spirit of truth and power is coming to them. And Jesus himself will continue to be with them in their fellowship and their prayers and the breaking of the bread. And, in this constant divine love, the disciples will have each other.
Jesus’ prayer continues after the lectionary editors saw fit to end today’s reading. He continues:
‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
God’s steadfast love, God’s redeeming power is revealed in the act of giving the Son, a revelation that continues with the Son’s own self-giving and the giving of his disciples to the world he was sent to save. And just as the teacher, so the students – God’s love is revealed when we allow ourselves to be given to the world, when we give one another to the world, for the sake of God’s kingdom.
And so, like Jesus, we say good-bye, with sorrow and with trepidation but not with real fear. For we know that it is in being given that we are made whole; in being sent that we find ourselves most wholly in God. And we know that, in God, nothing is lost – not you, not me, not us. Nothing in all the world that God so loved that he gave his only begotten Son.