Tuesday, May 3, 2016

So What? So That

Don't tell the bishop or the Title IV police, but, like many churches, we invite a graduating senior to deliver the sermon on Youth Sunday. Thanks to our talented youth director, we have a well-defined process in place that includes identifying the preacher, inviting her to commit to the process, supporting her through regular meetings about the lessons and her sermon, offering constructive feedback during practice runs, and always supporting her in prayer. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to make the lessons for Youth Sunday, which always falls on Mothers Day, any better for a novice preacher.

Every year, it seems we're neck-deep in Jesus' lengthy dialogue with the disciples before he leaves them for good. Sure, the date of Easter changes every year, which means the Sunday in between Ascension Day and Pentecost moves up and down the calendar, but, for whatever reason, Youth Sunday gospel lesson is always particularly challenging. Because of that, I've been reading John 17:20-26 and thinking about it and discussing it with the preacher for weeks now, and I'm only just beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Today, when I read the lesson, my eye fell to a series of four "so that"s that occur throughout the passage. Often Jesus provides provocative teachings on issues of the kingdom (e.g. it's like a mustard seed) and the pattern of discipleship (e.g. one must hate his family and his own life), but rarely does he tell us why. "Why is that the case?" I want to ask him. Well, this week, we get some answers.

"So that" reflects the Greek word "ἵνα" (pronounced "hina"), which is a conjunction that links the first part and the second part with a consequential relationship, meaning "in order that" or "so that." The first exists in order that the second may happen. All of these "so that"s line up to make quite a point, but, because of all the other prepositional phrases and repeated pronouns, it's easy to get lost.

Let me strip it down for you:

#1: "May [those who believe in me] be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
#2 & #3: "The glory that you have given me I have given to them so that they may be one...so that the world may know that you have sent me."
#4: "I made your name known to [those who believe in me]...so that [your love for me] may be in them."

This is a clear description of mission and purpose. It is the Father's mission for Jesus and Jesus' mission for the world so that the world might believe in Jesus and the Father who sent him.

Notice how the first three "so that"s hold together. In two different but parallel statements, Jesus lays out his mission as to enable a unity that exists between Father and Jesus to extend to Jesus' followers so that the world might see what is happening. The fourth "so that" is related, but I would argue as a precedent of the other two. In short, it goes like this:

Jesus & the Father have a unity. Jesus' glory, which comes from the Father, is a reflection of that unity, and he has shared that glory with his followers so that the same unity between the Father and Jesus can be extended to the followers. Thus, Jesus is now asking the Father to draw the believers fully into that unity so that the rest of the world may recognize what is happening.

In the end, it's all about evangelism--sharing the good news of what God is doing in the world through God's Son. It's never about unity for unity's sake. It's never about glory for glory's sake. It's always about invitation. It's always reaching out. It's always beckoning in.

Don't let the tongue twister of a gospel lesson stand in the way of hearing this bit of good news and sharing it with a congregation. Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus has already drawn us into that oneness so that the world might see and believe. We are one with the Father so that the world may know. It's never just about us. It's always bigger than that.

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