Knowing God

Inspired by John 17:1-11

So, not only are we still in the Gospel of John, but we are still in Jesus’ long goodbye! Three chapters later and Jesus is still sitting with his closest friends and having his last meal with them. And I imagine for Jesus, this is not only his last meal with them, but also his death bed conversation with them. I know many of you have experienced such a conversation.

In someone’s final days on earth, maybe a parent, a child, spouse, or friend, when death is creeping slowly closer, close enough for everyone in the room to feel its presence, though no one wants to say it out loud. And then someone, usually the one dying, names the elephant in the room, and begins that death bed conversation—saying the things that need to be said, sharing the stories that need to be remembered, teaching those last minute life lessons.

This is where Jesus is. And though his long goodbye is very long, this is Jesus at his finest, at his most challenging, and at his most compassionate moment with them. A final goodbye is not something that you want to rush. If it even happens at all. So many of the deaths that we encounter come unexpectedly, without any warning, without any opportunity to say goodbye, much less anything else.

This is a bit of a tangent but allow me to give you some advice here. Don’t wait to say goodbye. None of us know when we will leave this world. Don’t wait. Say the things that need to be said. Share the stories that need to be remembered. Teach the life lessons that you have had learn the hard way. Don’t wait. I’m always telling my girls to be very careful with their words. You never know which words will be the last you say to someone.

Ok, enough of that! Speaking of words, as Jesus is wrapping up his long goodbye, he gives a definition. And I’m always surprised when I come across this because it’s so unlike something you would find in John’s Gospel. John is such a lofty writer, so philosophical, so deep. And then to hear such a clear cut definition like the one Jesus gives, well, it’s quite refreshing. So, the definition I’m referring to is when, Jesus praying to God says, “This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” It always makes me chuckle inside when Jesus speaks of himself in the third person. Like, who does he think he is Muhammad Ali?

Anyway, the definition for eternal life that Jesus gives is knowing God. That’s it! That simple! Man how we’ve complicated that! In the centuries since Jesus first uttered that definition, we have turned what was a very simple, straight forward, definition, into a labyrinthine gauntlet of hoops and hurdles to jump through in order to get to eternal life! When all it is, is knowing God. That’s it.  Jesus doesn’t say that eternal life is a creed, or saying a certain prayer, or confession, or a doctrine, or church attendance, or financial giving. Jesus doesn’t say that it’s certain place up in the clouds. Jesus doesn’t say it’s a certain time after we die. It’s knowing God. Period. Very different than what we’ve been taught isn’t it?

Now I’m going to use a word that the evangelical world uses very differently than how I’m about to use it, in the Gospel of John, eternal life was about relationship. That’s a recurring theme in the Gospel of John and so this uncharacteristic simple definition still falls within the framework of John’s Gospel. Now often times in the Christian world you’ll hear the word relationship and what you’ll often hear is, in order to be saved you have to have a personal relationship with Jesus.

And it has to be said that this is a very Americanized version of Christianity. And this shouldn’t surprise us. One of the marks that America has left on our religion is this very self-centered perspective on our faith, a me and my friend Jesus kind of faith. Now, aside from the fact that that is completely unbiblical, what does it even mean to have a personal relationship with Jesus? What does that even look like?

Is it reading your bible often? Is it praying more? Is it leading a holy life with good behavior? Is it coming to church regularly? Is it how much you are willing to sacrifice, particularly from your bank account? We laugh but there are many churches out there that would have you believe such garbage. And that’s important to know because there are many people leaving those churches because of that kind of garbage theology who unfortunately think all churches are the same so why try another! My prayer is that they cross paths with one of you and in some way you are able to share with them another way to follow Christ, a different way to eternal life, knowing God. But to be fair, that’s still a little vague. That definition is almost too simple!

What does it look like to know God? A wise theologian once said, if you want to meet God, go help out at a soup kitchen. If you want to spend time with God, go visit the sick. If you want God to come in, go welcome the stranger. Or, as the character Jean Valjean says at the end of Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” I love it when great theology is found in the unlikeliest of places. And it’s great theology because it is very biblical.

Last week I reminded you of a passage from Matthew that we read back on Christ the King Sunday about a king who was asked, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And he replied, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”

Or, to love others is to know God. That is the way that God wants to get to know you, through the lives of others—through relationship. Jesus says something else in this passage that can help us out with this. He says, “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world.” “The people you gave me.” How easier might it be to love others if we recognized that the people that cross our paths in this world were given to us by God? Think of the people that have intersected with your life?

Do we consider them all given to us by God? Now I consider my wife and children God given, that’s easy. Well, most days. And friends, church family, those are pretty easy too. But what about others? The co-worker who just gets on your last nerve day in and day out? The teacher at school who just does not want to give you a break? The grocery check-out guy who clearly is having a bad day and doesn’t care if he takes everyone down with him?

Could those be people that God sends as well? Is it possible to see the face of God in these people too? Can we know God through anyone who crosses our path? Yes, but only if we claim them, claim them as God given people in our lives. It’s not enough to recognize where they may have come from, but we have to claim them as one of our own. So much so, that we no longer refer to them as them or those people, but instead, we refer to them as us. It is then that we will become one, as Jesus prays for us to be. It is then that we will know God. It is then that we will begin to experience eternal life: here, now, together. Amen.

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