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You Are Loved Unconditionally
The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness

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. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. --John 17: 20-26 NRSV


This reading from the Gospel of John is absolutely remarkable. It speaks to us of things - both about Jesus and about ourselves - that are astounding! Did you hear them? Could you feel the impact? Let's savor them together for a few moments, just to make sure.

In this portion of John's Gospel Jesus is clearly praying. He is praying with his disciples, and he's praying for them. We've come to call this prayer the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. And he utters it now, just before he turns to set his face toward Jerusalem - toward the trial and crucifixion, toward the resurrection and ascension which await him there. Yet, paradoxically, rather than taking him away from the people of the earth whom he has loved so deeply, this journey will actually bring him closer to his disciples - closer to us - than he has ever been before. And this is how that happened...

As you ... read this prayer, did you stop to think that you yourself are among the people that Jesus had in mind that day while he was praying? Did that "sink in" to your understanding? For you see, it's important to realize that he wasn't praying just for that faithful band of disciples and followers gathered round him. He was also praying just as deeply for you and for me.

I pray not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word.

And furthermore, the concern for us that he expressed in his prayer wasn't abstract or ethereal or theological. It was concrete, personal and impassioned.

What is happening in this prayer is desperately passionate and profoundly human. For, you see, what I believe is happening is that Jesus, yes even Jesus, is suffering from seperation anxiety! Don't we know what that is like. He realizes that his life on this earth, his very human life, lived as it was in the midst of friends and family and humanity itself, he realizes that, for him, this life is beginning to come to an end. And so he kneels down to pray. But he doesn't pray just for his disciples, his contemporaries. He prays for the whole world and all of time. And he even prays for you and for me and for the church that he is entrusting to our care and our faithfulness and to the ministry we offer one to another. Think about it, for in actuality, Jesus is praying for you and for me. That's astounding.

But then, there's another thing that's happening in this High Priestly Prayer of Jesus that's perhaps even more astounding. And here again, we may have become so accustomed to the words that we fail to grasp their full impact. Or, on the other hand, maybe we miss the significance of what Jesus is saying here because it's lost in a very complex, complicated sentence, one my English teacher surely would never have let pass her eagle eye and red ink pen. So hear again these two verses from the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus:

The glory which thou has given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou has sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.

Now, really be sure that you hear the last phrase of this long sentence:

...so that the (whole) world may know that thou has sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.

Do you hear what Jesus is actually proclaiming? He is saying that God loves you and that God loves me with the same love, as God loves Jesus! He's not just praying that this might happen. He's acknowledging that it has already happened! And he's praying that you and I and all people of all time and space can grasp this and know its reality in the very depths of our being. Think about that...just as God loves Jesus, so God loves you - personally, passionately, without condition and without constraint. It's enough to break your heart. Pray that you never lose an awareness of that love, because your life depends on it.

One final comment on this Gospel reading. Take note of the emphasis that John places on the importance of knowing Jesus as a part of ourselves, and consequently, our knowing ourselves then as a part of one another. "No man is an island, entire of himself...," the poet has said. This is continually true and Jesus has given us the model, the foundation, for that unity which, like a powerful cornerstone, holds the whole Christian community and indeed the whole of humanity together, here and now and throughout all time and all space. Yet it has become increasingly clear that such unity can neither be established or sustained without our first "taking our bearings from Jesus," without our first building on the foundation of his urgent mandate that we have love one for another. (New Testament for Spiritual Reading: The Gospel According to St. John, Josef Blank)

What better reassurance could we have in our own "separation anxiety" than to know that Jesus has been praying for us, and that the love that God has for Jesus is the same love that God has for us. We too are being sent out into the world, out into the future, to continue praying and to continue making that love known to all people.

Most gracious God, make each moment of our lives a miracle.
Make us laugh at the utterly impossible;
give us hope when all things seem hopeless;
give us peace where no peace could be;
give us love for all that is unlovable,
and so renew our minds and transform our souls
that we are willing to gamble everything, everything on Your Almightiness,
and then to dare everything in your great service;
through Christ, our Lord, our Savior and our Companion along the way. Amen.

Excerpted from a sermon preached at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, May 27 , 2001.

Copyright 2001 Calvary Episcopal Church


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