Week Three: February 28 – March 5, 2016
Read John 17
Jesus prayed in John 17 for his disciples. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. 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 (vv.20-21). It’s a triangle: the Father is in the Son; the Son is in the Father; and we as followers of Jesus, his church are in the Father and the Son. As there is unity in God of the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God yet three persons, Jesus prayed that his church would be united as one. Unfortunately, it did not take long for differences of opinion to divide the church.
The number 3 has an important place in the Bible: 3 sons of Noah, 3 men in the fiery furnace in Daniel, Jonah’s 3 nights in the belly of the big fish, Peter, James and John as the 3 closest disciples, Jesus raised from the dead on the 3rd day, Jesus asked for the chalice to be removed in the garden of Gethsemane 3 times, tested 3 times by Satan in the wilderness and the 3 gifts the wise men brought to Jesus.
In construction, the triangle is one of the strongest shapes that distributes weight. As a prime number 3 is vital number in mathematics. From philosophy to other world religions, the number 3 has great value in describing everything from Plato’s 3 divisions of the soul: rational, spirited and appetitive; Freud’s 3 divisions of the psyche: Ego, Id and Super-ego; and the 3 jewels of Buddism.
As Grace Church steps boldly into the mission God has prepared for us in our own community, there are 3 relationships that are essential if we are going to have any faithful impact in God’s name. Our relationship with God in Christ as individuals and a church is vital to who we are and what we are becoming. We respond to God daily by practicing faith as we study the Word, pray and serve. Our relationships together as church strengthen us as the body of Christ. As we worship and serve together we grow in our love and appreciation for each other. The 3rd key relationship is the one we form with our neighbors: preschool families, Friday Fun Fest families as well as our own neighbors. As our neighbors get to know us and we get to know them, trust grows and we can explore questions of life and faith together.
Forming our community in Christ, with each other and our neighbors is our pathway to the future. We must be strong in Christ to embrace God’s preferred future. It’s a sustained commitment to a partnership between God, ourselves and our neighbors. Together with the encouragement of Scott Boren our consultant, I invest a significant amount of time writing these resources for our congregation to use in groups to strengthen our relationship with God and each other. Scott and I share the conviction that strong relationships with Christ, with one another at Grace and with our neighbors is our best strategy to respond to God’s mission as well as to form a strong church today and tomorrow.
Having spent thirteen years on the territory and surrounded by the stories of the Iroquois Confederacy in Upstate New York, the story of the three sisters captivated me. In an organic way this story illustrates the partnership where each party brings its gifts to strengthen each other which in some way reminds me of the partnership between Christ Jesus, Grace Lutheran Church and our neighbors.
The story of the Three Sisters is a narrative about the value of companion planting. The Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops of various American Indian groups in North America: winter squash, maize (corn), and climbing beans. One of the major American Indian nations that used these “Three Sisters” to trade with others was the Iroquois Confederacy.
In one technique known as companion planting, the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each cluster of crops. Each mound is about a foot high and 20 inches wide, and several maize seeds are planted close together in the center of each mound. In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eels are buried in the mound with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil is poor. When the maize is half a foot tall, beans and squash are planted around the maize, alternating between the two kinds of seeds. The process to develop this agricultural knowledge took place over 5,000–6,500 years. Squash was domesticated first, with maize second and then beans being domesticated. Squash was first domesticated 8,000–10,000 years ago.
The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the growth of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a “living mulch“, creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. Maize lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the human body needs to make proteins and niacin, but beans contain both and therefore maize and beans together provide a balanced diet.
In a variety of ways, the story of the Three Sisters describes a mutually beneficial or symbiotic relationship among various plants and a balanced human diet. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is a series of petitions for unity among the church, for future believers and that the church, God and Jesus may remain one. The prayer of Jesus in John 17 covers much more than this petition but before we examine it, here is a rough summary formula: 1 God: 3 persons (God the Creator of life sent Jesus the Son to redeem life who sent the Holy Spirit to guide and empower the church as a community of faith to partner with God to complete God’s mission on earth). Our mission as a community of Christ followers is a partnership of 3 between God, the church and our neighbors (our local expression of mission in the world).
Chapter 17 has three main thoughts or prayer petitions and a summary. The first section is a prayer that summarizes Jesus’ mission on earth (vv. 1-5). Immediately after this (18:1), Jesus will go to the garden where he is arrested. While the wrestling in prayer aspect of Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is absent in John (see Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:22-39), chronologically at least Jesus is still praying immediately before his arrest here in chapter 17. It does seem rather odd that Jesus has been talking with his disciples at the table in John 13-16 and now he looked up to heaven and said…(17:1). It would feel more natural if Jesus invited his disciples to pray with him or he said, Before we leave, let me pray for you. It does not say that.
The language of the prayer is very much consistent with the language of John. It is pretty obvious that this prayer has been told and retold by the church for many years and by the time it was written in this gospel it has lost its personal character. For example, instead of asking God to glorify him (me), Jesus asks the Father to glorify the Son (v. 1). Chapter 17 is a dogmatic prayer of the church reflecting a later development much like a creed affirming who Jesus is in relationship to God, mission, and purpose. A good example of this dogmatic teaching is seen in 17:3: And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. No one prays like this.
In John17:4, Jesus says that he has completed the work God sent him to accomplish. You and I know what that work is and that at this point in his life, death was imminent but his greatest work was yet to occur: his death and resurrection. This gives further evidence that this prayer has been shaped by the confession of faith of the early church. Does this suggest that Jesus did not pray and give thanks to God (vv. 1-5), nor pray for the challenges his followers would experience in the future (vv. 6-19) or for future believers (vv. 20-24)? I am not suggesting that in the least. What I am saying is that when a story is told and retold for 50-60 years it is likely to get shaped and reshaped to fit new situations.
The main section of this prayer is for protection of the church (vv. 6-19). Jesus affirms that God had given him all who would respond as he invited them to follow him. As Lutherans, this teaching is in alignment with Luther’s explanation about the role of the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the church in the Small Catechism. It all begins with God. God initiates and invites many times and in many ways long before we ever respond and say “yes” to Jesus.
A further statement of Christian dogma answers the question of whose word did Jesus speak? Jesus spoke the word of truth that came from God who sent him for this purpose (17:7-8). The Holy Spirit takes that same word of truth that Jesus spoke from the Father and now has now spoken to the church as followers of Jesus (John 16:12-15). The Father spoke a word of truth; Jesus spoke that same word of truth; and now the Spirit speaks the same word of truth. 1 + 1 + 1 = 3 yet the 3 are 1. The Father sent the Son who sent the Spirit who sends the church into the world to speak the same word of truth about the God of life, hope, love and forgiveness and his Son Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.
While John does not have a story about Jesus teaching his disciples the “Lord’s Prayer” (see Matthew 6:9- 13; and Luke 11:2-4), elements of the Lord’s Prayer are included in John 17. Holy (Our) Father…(holy is) your name (v. 11d). Protect (Deliver us) them from the evil one (v. 15). What can be said is that common elements of Jesus life of prayer as revealed in the other three gospels is included in this whole chapter dedicated to Jesus final prayer.
Jesus prayer for future believers that they may be one as God is one (vv. 20-24) was already covered. The summary restates what Jesus has already said as well (vv. 25-26).
- What surprised you or captured your attention as you read this chapter?
- How does a divided church negatively impact non-believers? The missional point of the prayer for unity was that being united as one would show the world that Jesus was truly sent by God to love this world (v. 23).
- What do you pray for Grace Lutheran Church? Please pray for a deeper and stronger community. Ask God to raise up new leaders who are willing to lead groups in study and prayer so we may grow stronger in the Lord.
- Please pray for witness as a church that people with whom we have relationships but are distant from Christ and his church may respond to the invitation to come and worship.