In The World Yet Not Of The World, But Protected and Sanctified By The Word For The World (John 17:11-18)

Text: John 17:11-18

How do we respond to the world?  That is a valid question and the subject that Jesus hits on in our text today.  Jesus is praying a prayer in John 17:11-18 which is referred to as the High Priestly prayer.  In verses 11-18 He is actually praying for the disciples in their interaction with the world and the difficult events of the crucifixion that are to follow.

Now, one thing is for sure.  Jesus says that the world will hate the disciples, that the world will hate Christians.  Sorry for the grim news, I wish I could soften that up a little but I really can’t.  The reason why there will be hostility from the world towards Christians is because Christians don’t belong to the world.  My friends, often times we wrongfully communicate to individuals that they should become a Christian because there will be all sorts of peace, tranquility and life will be a heavenly bliss.  We can wrongly communicate that the life of a Christian is one where we go through life simply riding on fluffy clouds, hearing harp music with no problems.  No, my friends, when we are in Christ we have peace with God not the world.  In Christ our sins are not counted against us.  We know that eternally speaking that we have been reconciled to the Father.  This peace with God the Father is what sustains us as we walk in the here and now.  In the here and now though, we have primarily three enemies that we battle with.  We battle with our own sinful self.  Our old sinful nature doesn’t believe in Jesus, seeks self, seeks sin and is full of rebellion.  We also war against the Evil One.  The Evil One wants to kill and destroy our faith in Christ.  Finally, we war with the world.  We war with the methodologies and values of the world.

To focus more specifically on the world, how do we or should we respond to the world?  It seems to me that there are often times two extreme responses to how to interact with the world.  On the one hand many cut themselves off totally from the world.  The fancy word for this is “sectarianism.”  On the other hand we can become so intertwined with the world that we become “one” with the world.  The fancy word for this is “syncretism.”  Please say these words with me!

First let us look at sectarianism.  Sectarianism is where we look at the world and at ourselves and we end up placing a large distance between ourselves and the world.  We recognize that the world is hostile to Christ and His Word.  We recognize that we don’t belong to the world, so we remove ourselves from the world.  We dig a moat around us.  We fortify the walls.  We keep the world “out there” and keep us safe “in here.”  

The problem with this is that we can end up paralyzed in life.  How does one separate himself from the world?  Can we really totally separate ourselves from the world?  Wouldn’t we end up being a hermit or Amish if we carry this to the extreme?  It seems that individuals who get caught up in this line of thinking end up petrified by fear and paralyzed by life.  Furthermore, if we go this way, all of our energy, time and abilities are spent on keeping bad/evil away from us while forgetting that sin is not only “out there” but right here in our hearts.  Now, please don’t get me wrong, we can admire those that recognize sin and run from it, but the reality is that Jesus did not pray for God to take the disciple out of the world and keep them safe.  Jesus says in verse 15, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world.”

So if we are not to be taken out of the world, the obvious conclusion or assumption might be that we become “one” with the world.  To be “one” with the world is what we call syncretism.  Syncretism is where our Christian beliefs and values combine with the beliefs and values of the world.  Syncretism is where our faith and the beliefs of the world are mixed together.  If we are not to be separated from the world as Christians, we maybe should become “one” with the world by lowering the metaphoric “draw bridge.”  Better yet, bring the walls down, fill the moat and let’s mix everything together.  There are no standards and there are no distinctions.

The problem with this is that Jesus explicitly states that we do not belong to the world.  My friends, we belong to God.  Our citizenship is not of this world but of the kingdom of God.  We do not eat at the altar of the world but at the altar of Christ.

As we contemplate these two extremes today, it is very easy to recognize the conflict that can arise in a church over this subject.  In fact, we could maybe even take a vote today.  I could say to all of you, “How many of you think that SLBC has become too much like the world and that we need to separate more?”  Those of you who think this move to the left side of the sanctuary.  I could then say, “How many of you think that SLBC needs to become more in touch with the world, we need to spice things up a little more and be more like the culture?”  Those of you who agree with this question can then move to the right side of the sanctuary.  As a result what can happen is a nice fight can break out.  Those of you, who are sectarian, can accuse the syncretists of being too worldly.  Those of you who are syncretistic can accuse the sectarians of being too tight and not with it.

My friends, this is easy to do.  We have done this.  This is all too common.  The problem is that, this is not what Christ is pointing to in this text.  The text is not calling us to strike up a nice balance between these extremes.  It isn’t a balancing act where we are to have one foot in the world and the other foot out of the world.

You see, in this text Jesus’ prayer was that the disciples would not be taken out of the world.  The reason being, it is all too easy for us to become fearful of the world, to pull back and fail to engage the culture and the world with the Gospel.  Furthermore, we are not to become “one” with the world so that we become ineffective and lose our saltiness, our faith.  No, we are “in” the world, but not “of” the world but we are being protected and sanctified by the Word to be “for” the world.  Let me repeat myself one more time.  We are “in” the world, but not “of” the world but we are being protected and sanctified by the Word to be “for” the world.

O.k. let me unpack this for you.  This message of the Cross, the message of the Gospel is rejected by the world.  The world crucified Jesus and it is “bound to crucify whatever is of God.” (Luther)  The world is against the message of the Gospel, what we call the “Word.”  We have been given this Word.  We have the cross, which means that we belong to Jesus.  The cross declares to us that we have died and we have been resurrected in Christ… we no longer live but Christ lives in us.  Thus, as the world rejects the Gospel we can expect to be rejected too.  The two solutions to this tension are this.  We separate the world from us so that we don’t feel the tension.  Keep the world out there and us in here, we keep the tension away from us.  The other extreme is that we try to shake off the cross.  We try to minimize the cross, to decrease the tension from the world.  Both of these are our manmade responses to this conflict.  Rather, Christ prays that the disciples as well as for us that we would be protected by the Word.  The solution is not to run from the world or to dive into the world but to bury ourselves in the depth of the cross.  The issue is not for us to balance syncretism or sectarianism.  No, we are to be buried in the cross.   Our home is not in the world.  Our home in not in our own fortified castles.  Our home is in the name of Jesus and His cross.  You see what I am getting at my friends?  For in the cross we are protected from the Evil One.  For in the cross we have our identity.

Sidney Lutheran Brethren Church, brothers and sisters, you do not belong to this world, you belong to God for Christ died for you.  His death on the cross was to purchase you from hell and damnation.  His death on the cross was to redeem you from the condemnation of sin.  His death on the cross makes you a child of God.  You belong to Jesus. The world did not die for you, Christ did.  Furthermore, in Christ no one will snatch you.  The world and Satan himself cannot snatch you out of the nailed scared hands of Jesus.  You have been set apart in Christ.

Now get this, we have been set apart from the world so that we can be “for” the world.    Just as the disciple remained in the world, we too as the church remain in the world.  When a person becomes a Christian they are not raptured up to heaven instantaneously.  No, as Christians in the church we remain in the world so that we can go into the world.  What does this mean?  This means that as Christ is sent to us, we are sent to the world.  As the Word of God claims us, forgives us, we get to deliver the same Word to our neighbors.

It is like this.  We are poor beggars who have received the warm bread.  We have been given places at the table of God.  We have been declared children of God.  In fact there is so much food, grace upon grace, that we now “GET TO” go and invite others to the table.  We are for the world because God is for the world.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.   Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  My friends we don’t hoard the sweet warm bread for ourselves, because it is not ours to begin with, it is a gift.  Furthermore, we don’t eat the bread of the world, for it is stale.  We eat the bread of life and we go and let the whole world know that “There is warm bread for you.  Paid for by Christ.  Attention beggars, attention sinners, attention ragamuffins, attention drunks, attention self-righteous hypocrites, attention farmers, attention business men, attention homemakers, attention children, attention all… there is warm bread for you.  There is room for you at the table.  The Word is for you.  Come and receive.”

My friends we are in this world, but not of it, but protected and sanctified by the Word to be for the world.  May we find our identity, protection, hope and mission in God’s Words of forgiveness and righteousness.  Father we are yours, continually save us and save our neighbors, this we pray.  Amen.


Ron Voss said…
How about the syncretism that occurs when we conform to the world's thinking that the earth and the universe is millions and billions of years old?
Right on Ron. We have so much syncretism in the church right now, it is hard to know where to start. People generally think about syncretism in the realm of morality, but this also happens in a person's worldview and epistemology.