The Dividing Lines In Life – A Sermon On John 17:6-19

The Seventh Sunday of Easter – John 17:6-19

Easter, Sermon, John 17:6-19, Farewell Discourse, Easter 7B,
By Roger McLachlan, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons 

Last week I talked with a friend whose wife had a heart attack about a year ago. She survived, is doing well, and making a good recovery. He spoke about the heart attack as “a dividing line” in their lives. There was life before the heart attack and there is life after the heart attack. He said it changed how they are with one another, how they see their lives, and that they’re reassessing what really is important. 

That dividing line isn’t so much a way of marking time or remembering an event. It’s one of those threshold moments that calls into question everything: priorities and values, the way we live and relate to one another, the things that truly matter, where we want to invest our time and energy, how we want to be in this world, what we want from life. Dividing lines are those moments when life gets really real. They hold before us questions about who we are, who we want to be, what we’ve done, and whether our life matters and makes a difference. 

There is no one right answer to any of those questions. It’s an ongoing process of getting clarity and working out our life. And I wonder if that’s what’s happening with Jesus in today’s gospel (John 17:6-19).

Today’s gospel is a part of what’s known as the farewell discourse. It’s the night of the last supper. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and then he begins a long monologue about leaving and his impending death. He talks a lot and for a long time; four chapters and 117 verses worth of talking. He talks about what it all means and what it will be like for the disciples. But we also get some hints about what’s going on within Jesus. 

  • St. John says that “Jesus was troubled in spirit” and declared that one of his chosen friends would betray him (John 13:21). 
  • Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied” (John 14:8). And Jesus’ response, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (John 14:9) causes me wonder if Jesus is questioning what he has accomplished.
  • Jesus tells the disciples, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If? Is Jesus not sure that they love him? I don’t know but I hurt for him at that possibility. 
  • Jesus is, however, sure about the world. He says that the world hated him (John 15:18).
  • He also knows that he will be abandoned by his friends. “The hour is coming,” he says, “indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone” (John 16:32).

That’s the context for Jesus’ prayer in today’s gospel. Jesus’ prayer isn’t a simple, “Dear God, please ….” It’s a bit rambling and circuitous. It’s confusing. It’s hard to understand. It moves back and forth and folds in on itself. It’s as much about him as it is the disciples. He only asks three things of his Father: that God would protect the disciples so that they may be one as Jesus and the Father are one, that God would “protect them from the evil one,” and that God would “sanctify them in the truth.” The rest of the prayer is Jesus saying what God has done, what he has done, what the disciples have done, and what the world has done. The rest of the prayer is Jesus working through what’s happening.

Haven’t you had those kind of conversations? I have. They are those conversations in which we are thinking out loud, wrestling with life, making statements, asking questions. The conversation goes in all sorts of directions. It circles back on itself. Sometimes it makes no sense. We often contradict ourselves. It’s anything but linear and straight forward. We’re listening to ourselves as we talk and trying to clarity and come to terms with what’s happening within us. Sometimes they are conversations with a friend. Other times they are prayers to God.

Jesus’ prayer isn’t so different from the way I’ve prayed at times and the way I suspect you also have sometimes prayed. It sounds to me like there is a thread of grief running through the prayer. It sounds to me like Jesus is trying to get some clarity and work out his life, what he has done and what is coming next. It sounds to me like Jesus has come to a dividing line in his life, and more often than not dividing lines are places of prayer and pleading.   

We all come to dividing lines in our lives. It might be a heart attack, the death of a loved one, a divorce, the loss of job, a shattered dream, an aging body. But it might also be a graduation, a marriage, the birth of a child or a grandchild, a retirement, an unexpected opportunity. In some way our lives are a series of dividing lines. Every one of you could look back and see the dividing lines in your life; the questions that were raised, the choices you made, the struggles you faced, and the ways in which your life changed. 

Dividing lines frame the human condition and our struggle to be authentic, faithful, and whole. In that regard Jesus isn’t as different from us as we often think or want him to be. Today we see the human Jesus standing in solidarity with us and our humanity. Today we see the human Jesus working out his life. And who among us doesn’t know what that’s like? We all do. We all struggle to work out our life.

So tell me this. What are you working out and struggling with today? What is the dividing line running through your life? What are you doing with it?

I can’t tell you what to do with those dividing lines. I don’t have your answers. But I’ll tell you this. I am struck by what Jesus doesn’t do. He doesn’t isolate or close in on himself. He doesn’t get angry or resentful. He doesn’t resist or fight back. He doesn’t run away or try to escape. He doesn’t complain about or deny the reality of what is happening. Instead, he faces his life. He’s in touch with his humanity. He feels what he feels. He grieves. He weeps (John 11:35). He gathers with his friends. He prays. He lives with a faith that Easter is always on the other side of the dividing line. 

What about you and me? What will we do when we come to the next dividing line in our life? What attitudes, choices, and behaviors will we bring to that dividing line? How will they help us across? And what if we took our cue from Jesus? What if we came to the dividing lines in our life trusting our humanity and trusting that Easter is always on the other side?

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