I’ve mentioned before here, and elsewhere of the value that I place on what some call Social Media - Facebook and Twitter and the like. I find it an invaluable way to keep with people that I know in real time, but also a very effective way to ‘meet’ like-minded people or discover something new from someone with a shared interest.
I also find these tools invaluable for the ministry and you’ll find me engaging in pastoral and parish work using those media - something I’m speaking about at the Beds and Herts Media Trust annual conference ‘Faith in Social Media’ at the beginning of June. The thing with Twitter is that you are restricted to communicating in only 140 characters. This can be limiting, but most of the time it forces me to think hard how I want to say what I need to in as little space as possible. Why use 50 words when you can use 5.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus seems to be doing the opposite - instead of using 5 words he uses 50. So then I wondered, what would this morning’s Gospel look like as a 140 character tweet? Condensing some of the words a little so ‘you’ becomes the letter ‘u’ and Father becomes ‘Fr.’ and so on - perhaps if Jesus tweeted these verses it might look/sound like this: I have taught my disciples all u lovingly shared w/ me Fr. Keep them safe so that they can B sent into the world u love to love it as u do.
Many of us find it hard to share something of our faith publicly with others at all, never mind in 140 characters. For some faith is something held in private not to be spoken of. For others of us, we might not even be sure where to begin - frightened that if we did talk about our faith with others, we wouldn't be taken seriously or laughed at. Yet Jesus is clear in these verses in the latter chapters of John’s Gospel as He prepares to leave His disciples and face the horror of the cross - He’s shared with them all they need to know, they have seen the love that God has for people in action in and through Him, they know He is God’s chosen Saviour, but as Jesus withdraws it’s now their turn to take centre stage.
Jesus prays for protection for His disciples: that they may be a lovingly united; as God the Father is to Jesus His son in love and kept safe from the evil one. Those of us who are parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles will recognise the long term scarring a visit to the playground in those very earliest years of a child’s life can leave, but not on the child but on the parent. With every clamber,every swing, every climb your heart rises higher in the your chest till you can almost feel it like it’s beating in the back of your throat. No don’t climb on that, it’s too dangerous. There is a point where you cannot walk alongside them as they swing on the monkey bars - they have to do it themselves. They have to risk falling. You cannot wrap them up in cotton wool. As Jesus prays for His disciples protection He is not seeking to wrap them in cotton wool, to settle them comfortably behind the door of the church building or to batten down the hatches. Rather He prays for their protection knowing that He will send them, and us out from our places of security into potentially places of emotional, social and maybe even physical danger to make known the love he has for all.
Here's the thing - God loves the world. In the midst of this quite complex prayer, the word ‘world’ gets mentioned 13 times by Jesus and in so doing we are reminded of something - God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. God loves this world and all that is in it - not as a holy and special place but the broken and all too often painful place that we know well. And yet God loves this world and the disciples of Jesus - rooted in a relationship with Him like the Father and the Son - so that the world may see and know that love for themselves.
Sophie Coles and Dave McDermott grew up yards from each other and went to the same school and the same university and are set to marry 10 years to the day after their first kiss. I heard their story yesterday as it hit the media. The couple were born on the morning 14 March 1989 in Leicester Royal Infirmary possibly in the same ward. It was like they were destined to be together. We and everything else that is, was destined to be with God, who loved us from the very moment of our existence. We may find it very hard to love our world from time to time - atrocitys in Syria and such like make it very hard - yet God loves us and always has - and those who love Him are sanctified by Him - the same word is translated as hallowed in the Lord’s Prayer - made holy by Him, are sent into the world to serve it as it is - to love as He does, so that the world may be transformed one life at a time. God is setting us apart, yes us, to make Him known, so the question perhaps for each of us is not whether God is whether God will put us to work for Him, but how and where.
What is Jesus saying to us? As he prays for His disciples then, He prays for us too now. Jesus prays that we recognize, that we know, that we feel, that the resurrection we have been celebrationg these weeks of Easter is a way of life, a way of being in life, and not just his localized appearance in a garden, or in a locked room, or on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Why? Because our life here and now depends on it. Jesus wants us to live a life that is alive with resurrection, abundant with it, in fact. Because that’s what grace upon grace is all about.
How is God asking you to make this world, starting with our own community, our own friendship circle, a more loving and trusting place? Will it be through being a good friend to another, or listening to someone else’s struggle, or standing up for someone who is vulnerable, or doing an exceptional job at work, or volunteering to make a difference, or praying for those in need, or inviting someone to church to hear the truth about God’s abundant love for all of us. Who knows? What we do know is that God is at work in us and through us for the sake of this beloved world, and this week we are again invited to take part in God’s unfolding plans for the future.
As this passage shares a portion of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, perhaps we might close with this prayer: Dear God, whose love knows no ending, we know this life is beautiful and difficult and sometimes both at the same time. We do not ask that you take us out of this world, but that you support and protect us while we are in it. We pray that you would set us apart in the truth we have heard here, that your love is for everyone, and we ask that you would send us out from this service to bear witness in word and deed to your grace, goodness and love. May we hear your voice calling us at home and at work, at school, our social settings, and the places we gather and volunteer, that we might feel and share your love. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the one set apart and made holy for us.