The Abuse of Women and Our Response (Part One)

Women are abused every day, perhaps no less so than a few decades ago when the problem was not as open for the public to see as it has been in the early 21st century. This abuse might be even less understood by the general public than it was  a decade ago, at least based on some data I’ve studied. Reports of such abuse are as common now as ever but the response to them has not improved nearly as much as we should desire. Many abusive situations are settled in ways that leave me uneasy, to put it mildly. Let me cite one story to underscore how my sense of outrage about this issue was spiked just a few weeks ago.

UnknownExhibit A – The recent ruling of the National Football League (NFL) in the case of Ray Rice. Rice, a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, received a suspension of only two games for a domestic violence incident in February. This particular incident left Rice’s fiancé Janay Palmer (who is now his wife) lying unconscious outside an Atlantic City casino elevator. The NFL’s punishment of Ray Rice sends a chilling statement to women and anyone else who cares about domestic violence in a culture where males still abuse women in significant numbers. (If the history of NFL punishment is carefully considered the league’s response to Rice is weak and sends all the wrong signals. He was banned for only two games in a sixteen game season!) Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, suspended Rice for less time than he has players for marijuana use and other lesser offenses. Phil Taylor, writing in the August 4 issue of Sports Illustrated, said, “It’s the casual attitude about the assault from the commissioner’s office” that sends all the wrong signals. I agree.

In contrast NBA commissioner Adam Silver responded to the Donald Sterling racist flap with deep emotion and then stood his ground against the owner by banning his ownership interest in the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. In listening to Roger Goodell’s response, and that of his fellow NFL peers, there appeared to be nothing that conveyed any real sense of disgust. Phil Taylor asked: “How is anyone supposed to believe the league truly cares about the welfare of female fans after this?” Indeed, how?

Ray Rice pleaded “not guilty” to aggravated assault and will avoid jail time. He will also have his record expunged if he completes a pretrial intervention program. When all is said and done this whole episode underscores for women, children and uncaring men that beating a woman is nothing more than a minor slip-up. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens coach, underscored this attitude when he said, “It’s not a big deal.” Really coach? He added, about Ray Rice, “He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He [made] a mistake, all right?” To his credit Ray Rice has shown remorse for his actions and his girlfriend did marry him. (More about this later.) But the coach’s response doesn’t help me to believe the league, with all its testosterone-driven culture, cares at all about women.

Phil Taylor is right to conclude, “It’s hard to believe anyone would be so tone-deaf.” I think that Taylor, an African-American journalist, nails it. But I believe that he not only underscores a problem in our wider culture but one that is inside our churches. I am not referring to physical assault, at least in most cases. I refer to the incredibly destructive problem of emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse that goes on in the name of male leadership over women. The dirty little secret is that men still talk about women in ways that demean and destroy their confidence in their brothers. I will develop this thought tomorrow. I hope you will bear with me and keep reading.

 

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Luminosa Award Acceptance Speech (Part Five)

image005Chiara Lubich ends her reflections upon the “inundations” of this love by providing two notes of commentary.

1. First, she says there are times when we think the gospel does not truly solve every human problem. “It brings only the kingship of God; understood in an exclusively religious sense” (The Cry, 132.) The gospel is not simply a private message that only solves religious problems with religious answers. She adds, “That is not so. Of course, it is not the historical Jesus, or him as head of the mystical body that resolves all problems. It is done by Jesus-us, Jesus-me, Jesus-you” (The Cry, 132.)

Paul says, “Christ in you the hope of glory.” Jesus said, “We are a city set on a hill” and “We are the light of the world.” Do we believe this? Not arrogantly. No never. God forbid. But do we believe, humbly, that we (together) are the Jesus that meets people in their deepest need and that in this process of loving and serving we actually meet the Jesus who is present in others (Matthew 25:40)? Chiara says:

It is Jesus present in human beings, in a given person–when Jesus’ grace is in that person–who builds a bridge, or a road. . . . It is another Christ, member of his mystical body, that each makes his or her own typical contribute in any field: in the sciences, in art, in politics” (The Cry, 132).

2. Second, Chiara says that the other note of commentary we should understand is in regard to the renewal of our theology. We must see that all renewal is “new” precisely because it is based upon the trinitarian life lived in Christ’s mystical body. She says this “new” trinitarian life leads us to see the need of a “new science, new sociology, new art, new politics . . . ‘New’ because they are of Christ, renewed by his Spirit. We need to open a new humanism where the human person is truly at the center, this human person who above all is Christ, and Christ in humanity” (The Cry, 132-33). She says this was what developed in the Focolare Movement in the decade of the 1990s. She ends this by appealing to Jesus’ promise that “springs of living water would well up to eternal life” in those who drink of his Spirit (John 4:14). She quotes John Chrysostom saying the gospel creates floods!

Our business, my brothers and sisters, is to live the gospel in community. It is to be the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We cannot solve the world’s problems. In the bigger scheme of human  history the Focolare is as nothing. I am as nothing. You are as nothing. But we can be the presence of divine life in the world in all our weakness. By living the gospel we can see God send “floods” of renewing grace.

I end where I began. My first days of seeing the Spirit poured out as water on dry ground came when I was twenty years old at Wheaton College. Rivers of water were poured out upon an entire community and the impact of that renewal spread to the ends of the earth. Now, after my sixty-third birthday, in 2012, I saw a new outpouring of the same Spirit. Rivers are flowing. God is on the move in places that many of us will never visit. But he is using us and he is using this vision of love and unity, this cry of forsakenness, to bring good news to the world in every area of life and culture. The skies around us, in the culture of North America, are indeed dark. But the promise of showers of blessing may soon break with greater blessing upon our heads. Will we persevere in love? Will we become “white” martyrs daily and, if necessary, martyrs in blood? We can begin again.  Today we can ask God for the fullness of the Spirit to flood dry ground again. We can ask him to give us a “new” vision of living the gospel of love. Our Lord tells us, in unmistakably clear words in Luke 11:11-13, that he will do this if we ask him.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Amen.

The entire speech, which is much longer than the printed text version, is on this video link. It runs 53-minutes.

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Luminosa Award Acceptance Speech (Part Four)

image005The late Paul Harvey had a tag line that any listener to his radio broadcast will always remember. He would tell an intriguing story and then end by saying, “And now you know the rest of the story!” Well, brothers and sisters, the rest of my story is why I am here today. 

Time will not permit me to say nearly as much about Chiara Lubich and the spirituality of the Focolare as I would like. So I want to end by sharing the part of her life that has most shaped me.

At almost the exact time that God gloriously brought me out of a twelve year period of exile and personal darkness he introduced me to this lovely woman and to her distinctive spirituality of unity and love.

Chiara said, “In Christianity love is everything.” Ponder that for a moment. How can this not be so? But do you believe that? Really? I do. I’ll stake the rest of my life and ministry on this.

I am currently trying to write a book titled Our Love Is Too Small. I beg you to pray for me. It took me decades to see this but I now know that the risen Jesus is in our midst, within our communion. The effect of his presence is pure holy love. This is what Chiara called “the love of Jesus forsaken.” This particular point of reference must be taught but it also must be experienced.

Paul said, “I die daily.” In this sentence there is an ocean of meaning. Chiara surely understood the essence of this reality in a profoundly mystical and yet deeply practical way. This has framed everything this movement has learned, and continues to learn, about true dialogue. It continues to push you out into the wider world of culture, politics, economics, education and science. This love, she once wrote, is “always renewed by a pact–attempts to translate into limpid and sound doctrine our life of communion, the spirituality of unity, which . . . revives and deepens the reality of Christ’s mystical body” (The Cry of Jesus Crucified and Forsaken. New City Press, Hyde Park, NY, 2001, 131). Here is how she expressed this in 2000:

As a result, the light of the Holy Spirit shines more fully, making it possible to clarify, that is, to enlighten further not just theology, the science of God, bu philosophy and all other sciences and disciplines, consequently all fields of human endeavor, from the economic to the political, from the cultural to the artistic, from the social to the worlds of health and other sciences.

It is a light that can guide our efforts not only in creating the church as communion but the unity itself of the Churches, as well as dialogues with other religions and cultures. In a word, to build all things in Christ (The Cry, 131).

But, some will say to me, this is a false piety. This is an idealism that will surely fail. It is something like the promises of a politician that can never be delivered. If we are not careful we could easily become cynical about what she is saying.

But I stand before you today as a living witness to the reality of her words. I could have become a cynic except by God’s grace I did not. I reached my sixty-fifth year of life in March and I can assure you I am am anything but a cynic. I am more full of the peace, hope and joy that grows out of a living encounter with God-love than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Let me tell you why in my final remarks.

The entire speech can be seen bib the video link below. It lasts for 53-minutes and thus includes much more than was in my prepared text.

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Liminosa Award Acceptance Speech (Part Three)

image004After being at Wheaton for one semester I returned home for a summer mission experience among the Navajo Indians in New Mexico. When I returned to Wheaton I experienced a deep sense of aloneness and spiritual malaise. The Spirit prompted me, I now believe, to organize a student-led movement of prayer. This movement was used by God as a precursor to a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our campus that came on a memorable Thursday evening in February of 1970. I was transformed by this renewal of grace so powerfully that I would never be the same. I went on to do graduate work in theology, mission and ministry and became a church planter. In 1976 I returned to Wheaton and served a local church as pastor for sixteen years. My last Sunday, in April of 1992, I preached from John 17:21. I cannot tell you how all this happened but this text so deeply transformed my life that I have never been able to go anywhere, or do anything, without these words being at the forefront of my life and mission.

“My prayer is . . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). Here we listen to our Lord pray for oneness among his people, a oneness rooted in the oneness shared by the Father and the Son (thus within the Trinity). Jesus prayed that this oneness would be visible “so that the world may believe.”

The words of this prayer so transformed my heart that through this prayer I literally gave my life to God in new obedience in order to pursue their meaning in all things. After several encounters with God in deeply personal ways this prayer would change my life for the rest of my days on this earth. I had been given a unique calling, a charism as we call it. It was all grace. I never sought it. I didn’t even volunteer. God gave this to me and thus this honor belongs to him alone.

As some of you already know it took me a few more years before I understood what this vision really meant for my mission. I was deeply immersed in a popular national ministry that attracted thousands of people to conferences. This ministry opened pulpits to me in some of America’s largest evangelical churches. But God allowed me to see that this ministry had a profoundly sectarian orientation. Over several years I increasingly saw that such sectarianism was a scandal in the larger Christian community. I was growing weary of what I call “a culture of polemics.” I deeply longed for the kingdom of God. (My Wheaton College motto is: “For Christ and His Kingdom!”) Paul’s words haunted me: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

In the year 1998 God showed me how my future was going to take a very different course, a course rooted in radical love.

After twelve years in a desert of loneliness, often marked by tears and profound anguish of soul that felt like inky black darkness and dying, I was brought into a new place. This timing of this is uniquely connected to my being here today. Let me briefly explain.

In 2008 my wife Anita, whose love for me never wavered, encouraged me to tell my own story. I began to write my book, Your Church Is Too Small (Zondervan, 2010). When it was published in March of 2010 we convened a group of leaders to discuss the book at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. I invited an Orthodox priest, a Catholic priest and an evangelical member of the faculty to interact with me about the book before an audience that could ask questions. A whole new dialogue was begun. Later that year a Catholic missionary in Latin America read the book and called my thesis “missional-ecumenism on the margins.” He saw in the book a kind of ecumenism that would sustain the vision of mission among the poor as Catholics and evangelicals worked in collaboration. This friend, Nate Bacon, invited me to join a small group of seven missionaries who would visit the Vatican in March of 2011. God confirmed through many answered prayers, and the counsel of my community of friends, that I should go. I met with professors in Rome who teach ecumenism as well as with leaders from the Pontifical Counsel for Promoting Christian Unity. My life was again profoundly changed. I knew that God had led me into a new place, a place where deep unity was being learned and treasured. Shortly after returning to America I attended the American Lausanne meeting in Orlando, Florida. (Lausanne is a movement of leaders for global evangelization, begun in 1974.) There I met the general director of the movement and shared both my book and story. By late 2011 the dark skies began to slowly recede as a glimmer of sunshine broke through. A friend gave Cardinal George my book and one day an email came asking me to come to visit him at his residence. This meeting led me to invite him to dialogue with me about the book, and missional-ecumenism, at Wheaton College. We met on March 26, 2012. It was that evening, before over a thousand people, that the Lord spoke to me in a powerful way: “I am taking you out of the desert and placing before you a new work that I shall bless beyond your wildest dreams. You will know that this is all of me and you can take no credit for any of it.”

The entire speech is 53-minutes long and can be seen on the video link below:

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Luminosa Award Acceptance Speech (Part Two)

image001Today I post the second of five parts of my Acceptance Speech after being given the 2014 Luminosa Award for Unity on June 22. 

The plaque I was given reads as follows:

The 2014 Luminosa Award for Unity

Presented to Reverend Dr. John H. Armstrong,

Founder and President of ACT3 Network

by

The Focolare Movement North America

For his tireless work in Ecumenical dialogue, helping Christians from different denominations work toward unity. 

Mariapolis Luminosa, Hyde Park, NY

June 22, 2014

During these recent months I have tried to gain a sense of the history and development of the Focolare Movement. This reading has made me profoundly aware of the significance of this honor. This is why I stand before you with a deep desire to honor Christ by advancing his kingdom of love in all that I say and do. This is true not only today but will be, God helping me, in the days that lie ahead. I ask for your prayer that he will lead me into deeper love and unity in the days ahead.

So from the depths of my soul: “Thank you.” You can never know just how much this award, and all that comes with it this weekend, truly means to me. In my very first Bible my late mother wrote: “For My Little Pilgrim.” I am now a sixty-five year old pilgrim who has been on a journey toward Christian unity. This honor is therefore something of the Holy Spirit’s way of saying, “Keep doing the pilgrim work that I gave to you decades ago. Be my true servant. Continue to live out your own John 17:21 charism with love and grace. Feed my sheep. And love the brothers and sisters in this great koinonia of divine love.”

When I was first asked to consider receiving this award I confess that I was stunned beyond words. If you know me, or if you have an opportunity to get to know me, you will soon discover how rare such an occasion is. Words have always come easily for me. There are times when I long to become a man of few words but I fear I cannot live long enough to see that happen, except in moments when the Spirit profoundly works on my naturally gregarious and hyper-active mind. Such was the moment in a hotel in Seattle, Washington, when I opened an email last October which asked me to receive this award. I read that letter several times to be sure it was rightly addressed to me. Honestly, I was sure it had to be mistakenly intended for someone else. Let me explain, without being too wordy.

I was reared in a deeply Southern Baptist culture in a small town of seven thousand people in what is now a bygone era in culture and religion. This was, of course, a pre-civil rights community that reflected the values of the early post-World War II era. The church life that I experienced was profoundly sectarian and very denominationally defined. The idea of unity was never discussed. I believed, whether it was intended or not, that we were the best expression of the true church anyone could ever discover. Before I was twelve the civil rights movement had begun in earnest. Little Rock had experienced the federally supported integration of its main high school. I watched on a small television in the mid-1950s as these events unfolded. I sensed that some things around me were not right. My life would eventually be touched deeply by these movements for justice and equality. The greatest influence, however, came in my own home. My parents, Dr. Thomas and Marie Armstrong, humbly lived out the love of Christ in public and private. They loved one another, their two sons, and their neighbors. They loved people of color and openly demonstrated it.

After six years at an all-male military prep-school I entered the University of Alabama just months after Governor Wallace stood in the door attempting to block the entrance of the first two African-American students. It was there that I began to search the Bible and pray with Christians from many backgrounds. It was also there that I stood against racism openly and experienced the power of a rising movement for human dignity, justice and equality. And it was there that I also sensed that God was calling me to prepare for ministry and ordination. I would transfer to Wheaton College in Illinois to better prepare my mind and soul for this calling.

The entire speech is 53-minutes long and can be seen in the video link below.

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Luminosa Award Acceptance Speech (Part One)

image006On June 22 of this year I received the Luminosa Award for Unity. This weekend of June 20-22 in Hyde Park, New York, was a time of profound encouragement for me and for the work of ACT3 Network.

This week I am going to post my acceptance speech in five parts, each running about 600 words in length. 

At the end of each part there is a video of the entire speech. If you watch the video you will see that I departed from this script more than once, injecting aspects of what I felt led to say in the moment. (I have never been very good at staying on script!)

Today you can read the first part of my prepared acceptance speech here. You can see the entire video at the end if you’d like to watch it.

I wish to begin by expressing my deepest gratitude to my friends of the Focolare, friends I have known since 2012 and many new friends that I’ve just come to know this weekend. Thank you for inviting me to be your honored guest in Hyde Park on this lovely weekend. The Luminosa Award for 2014 humbles me more profoundly than you can possibly know.

I also want to thank the board members of the ACT3 Network who have believed in me, and affirmed God’s call upon my life. These men and women have shared in my life and work through difficult times, times of tears, tears because of struggle and tears because of joy.  When our mission had so little reason to believe that God was going to bless us in the vision that he gave to me from John 17:21 they still supported me. ACT3, which is an acronym for Advancing the Christian Tradition in the 3rd Millennium, is a ministry that began with a focus on spiritual renewal but then embraced the vision I call missional-ecumenism. We believe that unity in Christ’s mission is a distinct pathway to gospel renewal. Because of my background, my particular academic training and my ecclesial associations I have always been a part of the church that is called “evangelical.” Sadly, modern evangelical Christianity has not contributed to, nor received from, the larger ecumenical movement, at least since the middle of the last century.  This was not always so if you read the history of ecumenism leading up to the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. During my lifetime this vibrant movement for evangelism and mission has had either an ambivalent response to the word and work of ecumenism or, in some cases, a response rooted in deep hostility.

I would also like to thank my good friend Gerald Stover. It was less than three years ago that he attended a meeting in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, where we first met. Gerald asked me if I had heard of the Focolare. (I had not.) He encouraged the brothers and sisters of the Focolare in Chicago to invite me into their circle of love. There I saw what lived unity meant in a whole new light. Almost immediately the Focolare became important to me and now has become important to the larger ministry of ACT3 as we seek to partner together in the Lord’s mercy and grace. This happened at just the time when God knew that I needed to receive from many of you. The love and respect that I have received from my Focolare friends has been a well of profound joy in the work of the gospel.

It was through these friendships that I learned of the life and ministry of Chiara Lubich. I began to read her work in 2012. Over the last several months I have read a great deal, especially on love and unity. Her work has become the nourishing and life-changing resource that feeds my own mission. Her charism so parallels my own that I cannot but doubt that she rejoices today in my work for love and Christian unity. This has all come about through Chiara’s unique expression of spirituality. I will comment on this in a few moments but I must say here that this spirituality, a spirituality which I resolutely believe to be that of the early Christians who first experienced Christ’s love and unity, is what I have hungered for since I was a child in my small home town in Tennessee in the 1950s. It is so simple yet it is amazingly profound. It speaks eloquently to my mind while it deeply transforms my soul. It meets me in my inner longing for living and experiencing God’s love. It is a spirituality that I am still learning but it continually renews me in the image of Christ.

The entire speech runs 53-minutes in length.

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Joseph – A Type of Christ?

I am invited to preach in worship contexts in several different places, at least now and then. Here is my most recent sermon from Genesis 37 given at Lutheran Church of the Master in Carol Stream, August 3, 2014. All such audios are all available on the ACT3 website.

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Jesus’ Greatest Desire for His Church on Earth

When I first began to understand John 17 I realized that Jesus’ greatest desire for his disciples was that they would live this oneness together. He wanted them to be united as a powerful witness to the reality of the relationship between the Father and the Son. His prayer is that our becoming one will be the catalyst for people to come to know God’s love. I had never clearly seen this before. I had engaged in evangelism since I was twelve years old, but I had never known that unity between believers had anything to do with evangelism and mission. But this is precisely what is said in the prayer: “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. . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me . . .” (John 17:21, 23, NRSV).

Unknown-1Christian unity in growing relationships is clearly God’s design for how the world will see that God loves them. When the world sees true love between Christians then people will believe that the Father “loves” them. Let me put this quite simply.

God loves the world and sent his Son into the world as the fullest (and final) expression of his eternal love. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but rather that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17). What does Christian unity have to do with the love of Christ? Everything! Christian unity provides the real life context in which people can “see” God’s love in action.

It has been said that what we are speaks so loudly that what we say means very little. I think this is pretty close to what Jesus says in John 17. If our relationships are broken, hostile, and filled with bitterness, then the world will rightly look at us and reject our message. It is really pretty simple. If our love is too small the mission he gave us will not bear abundant fruit.

 

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What Has Love Got to Do With Unity?

So what has love got to do with unity? Everything!

When God revealed to me a whole new understanding of Christian unity in Christ’s mission – what I call missional-ecumenism – I began to share this message as widely as possible. Over time I came to realize two things.

First, if I teach and practice our Lord’s will for unity in Christ’s mission then I need to love more deeply than I have ever known. This love would have to be both relational and inclusive. My church was genuinely too small. I had limited the borders of my church to those who embraced my theology, my culture and my preferences. I soon realized that I did not need to change my understanding of the church so much as I needed to have a vision of the church that was much bigger than anything I had ever understood. This journey began in the early 1990s and continues today. The mountains and valleys that I passed over and through in the subsequent years have revealed to me that my deeper problem is not a unity problem so much as it is a love problem. This is how I came to understand that “our love is too small.”

Second, the obvious point of our Lord’s prayer for unity is that we share in his heart. Jesus’ heart is filled with love for the Father and the Father deeply loves the Son. Remember, the “glory” that he speaks of throughout this prayer is revealed in his showing his Father’s “deeper, hidden nature” of love. God is love and Jesus is the ultimate revelation of divine love. If we would begin to understand God’s love, then we must learn to gaze more intently at Jesus. Whatever else we see in other portions of the Scripture, especially in the darker portions of the Old Testament (as we shall see), we must realize that God is love. John expressed this very clearly in his first chapter of his Gospel.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (John 1:14-18, NRSV).

Clearly God loved Israel. He gave them his law for guidance and protection. The law was good. But “grace and truth” came through Jesus who is “God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart . . . [who] has made him known”

If we are to learn how much we are loved then we must know Jesus better. Why? Because he is the one who singularly reveals the Father’s heart to the whole world. And if we learn how much he loves us we can truly love God, and then others, with a love that is not too small.

 

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Does Jesus Love the Whole World?

jesus_198Jesus enlarges his prayer circle in John 17:10 to include his disciples: “I have been glorified in them.” In verse 9 he transitions from praying for himself to praying for his own disciples: “I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me.” He plainly says he is not asking on behalf of the world but for his disciples. Does this mean that Jesus does not love the world? Only an understanding of the word “world” can provide a solid answer.

I submit that Jesus is not excluding anyone from his love. Yet here he is clearly praying very specifically for these eleven men. It might seem that his love excludes some if we had only had these words. But we have numerous other verses in this same Gospel which tell us otherwise. The most prominent is John 3:16 which says God “gave” his only Son because he loved the world. So what does the word “world” mean here?

In this context the world refers to the “hostile” and unbelieving world, those who walk in darkness and oppose the light. Jesus “cannot pray for their success as long as they remain part of the hostile world. Rather, he prays that the world, understood as a good creation gone bad, should simply cease to exist.” He prays, in other words, that those in the hostile world would turn to him and believe the good news that the disciples will preach after Pentecost. If they believe the message then they will hear the prayer of 17:21-24 and apply it to themselves. “The world beyond the disciples may indeed represent opposition to Jesus, but he is well aware that it is the Father’s intention that all creation should belong to him.”

Jesus would soon leave the world. His disciples would spread the good news of God’s love and grace to the world. Their mission would arouse hostility just as Jesus experienced. The evil one would not stop his attack on Jesus, thus he would unleash his fury against those who follow him. Therefore Jesus asks his Father to protect his disciples: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11).

Nowhere else in this Gospel does Jesus use the term Holy Father in prayer. Here he adds “holy” to his most familiar way of addressing the Father. We are now enabled to address God as our Holy Father. We are protected “in” the name of the Holy Father, which is an acknowledgment of God’s love and holiness. This is a unique way of saying that he is the one, true God. This prayer also indicates Jesus’ confidence in his Father’s ability to “protect” his children.

Is this prayer a reference to the authority and power of God’s name which is used as a holy title? While this is indeed true, what is being said is much more specific in the context. He is speaking about a relationship between believers and himself. Simply put, Jesus is not just saying “Holy Father, use the power connected with your name to keep my disciples,” but rather, “Holy Father, keep these disciples intimately connected with yourself as (in the same way) I am in union with you.” This is utterly remarkable. Jesus says his disciples will experience a perfect unity patterned after that of the Father and Son. This means much more than we have imagined but clearly it means at least this much –  God desires for us to have a unified desire and purpose in serving and glorifying him. Jesus prayed that we would be one (17:21-23), just as the Father and Son are one. Simply put, just as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are united in love so all believers should be united in this same glorious personal harmony shared between the divine persons. Only then can we experience what is promised, namely the love of God in our relationships with each other.

 

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