When I say that we live in a dangerous world I am not telling you anything you do not already know; the proof is before us every day on our TV screens. But even the most terrible of, when viewed from the safety of our living rooms, tend to lose some of their impact. As for our own lives, well most of us rarely face real danger. There is stress, perhaps, but actual danger, not so much. However, sometimes life changes. Anyone may have to face danger.
2000 years ago, a rather motley group of ordinary people willingly gave themselves up to a life of risk, a life of danger. But you know, I do not think that when the disciples put down their nets, leaving their families and their old lives behind, that they had any clue that they would ever be in danger. But the man they gave up everything for did…
Jesus knew all about the world, after all, he had created it. He also knew that the world he had created had, in so many ways, come to be not only in opposition but also the opposite to what he had intended. It is this opposite way, this world of opposition which Jesus means when he talks about “the world.”
The world, our world, which has hated his disciples. The world to which Jesus says they no longer belong – and the world for which he still prays. This opposite world is the one humanity has made for itself and, we have not made it well. This opposite world is what we have come to accept as normal, containing as it does all the things which we think are important. Containing all the things meant to make life better (at least for some) but which too often result in making things worse for far more.
This was the world in which Jesus was leaving the disciples and it remains the world in which we live and practice our faith. Yet, knowing this and understanding that our priorities are often contrary and even directly opposed to God’s priorities Jesus offers up the prayer we see in today’s gospel.
Jesus prays on the evening of that last supper. Feet have been washed. Bread and wine have been shared. One man has left. Darkness has descended. This is a darkness not just of the night but of Jesus’ impending death. The darkness of not knowing the way. The darkness of a world that does not even recognise that it has rejected the light.
Jesus knows what is to happen, but his prayer is not for himself but for his friends. His plea is for the protection of his disciples, then and now. His humanity has never been so pre-eminent. He will face his fear and he will face it not as the Son of God but as the son of a carpenter. He will not run or fight. Instead, he offers a different way.
He prays for his disciples – he prays for all those who will continue his work in the world. He prays for us. We too live in the world; we are part of it, but we do not belong to it. And we belong to Jesus and the Father. However, even knowing that, we cannot assume that we are safe or saved. We must be aware that there is danger in complacency, danger in deciding that we have done enough. There is danger too in despondency. Danger in believing we can do so little that it is hardly worth the effort of trying.
Things can change
Jesus’ prayer tells us that this is not how it is intended to be, things can change, we can change. He prays for our protection in the world and that protection is not found in escaping or avoiding the danger. The protection Jesus asks for us comes through sanctification. Sanctification means becoming holy. Sanctification means being set apart for a special purpose. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth,” Jesus prays.
Sanctification helps us live according to God’s priorities for the world and in doing so we experience and share love and mercy and all that God gives us. So, our protection is in being made holy and completely God’s. It is this that keeps us safe in the midst of the conflict.
Have to respond
However, it is not enough to know the answers – it is not enough to simply hear Jesus’ prayer. We have to respond. His words ask that we live, act and work with God in answering his prayer. And that means we have to look at ourselves as a church and as individuals and we have to decide how much we are willing to risk. We have to decide just what dangers we are willing to expose ourselves to
Throughout our journey of faith God is preparing us all the time for the next stage. Our faith grows out of the things we learn, through the experiences we have and the people we meet. To learn what it means to be a Christian is a lifetime’s work and sometimes it is dangerous. But Jesus entrusts us to his Father’s protection even as he entrusted himself to the Father.
“Holy Father, protect them,” Jesus prayed – and he still does.
“Real Danger” was delivered by Elizabeth Binns at St John with St Mark’s Bury on Sunday 16th May 2021. It was based on John 17: 6-19. Beryl Cook’s picture of Madonna and Child is Elizabeth’s favourite picture and is shown here with grateful thanks. Copyright © John Cook 2021. www.ourberylcook.com.