Carl Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scripture for this sermon is John 17:1-11 and can be found here.

The gospel writer John is a bit of a mystic.  Today he records Jesus prayer for his disciples.  Jesus prays that they might have a deep and intimate connection with the Father.

What does that look like?  When we try to talk about relationships, words often fail us.  Illustrations and stories seem to provide us the best help.  It’s Memorial Day weekend, so I thought I would begin with a military illustration.

The movie, “The Hunt for Red October” is a set during the late Cold War era.  In the movie, Ramius, a rogue Soviet naval captain, who wishes to defect to the United States with his officers and the Soviet Navy’s newest and most advanced nuclear missile submarine.  Jack Ryan, an American CIA analyst, has studied Ramius.  He correctly deduces Ramius motive and set out to prove his theory to the U.S. Navy before a violent confrontation between the Soviet and the American navies spirals out of control.

There is a scene in the movie, where, the submarine Red October is being chased by the Russian military.  The Russians would rather see the submarine sunk than have it fall into American hands.  The officers onboard prepare themselves as a torpedo is fired toward the Red October submarine.  They are operating with a skeleton crew, so Jack is an the controls steering the sub.  Captain Ramius orders Jack to steer straight into the torpedo.  The American Captain, Mancuso who has come aboard the Red October to oversee the defection immediately disagrees, with Ramius, believing the decision to be insane.  Captain Mancuso and Captain Ramius engage in a tug-of-war with Jack, both of the captains trying to get Jack to follow their own order.

Jack decides to obey Captain Ramius.  Captain Mancuso, the submarine’s crew, and the Americans watching from their command base all think Ramius’ order was a mistake.  Jack appears to be the only one to have any faith in him. As Ramius orders his men to speed up the ship, the men begin to brace themselves for a deadly impact.  In the final seconds before impact, Jack looks at Mancuso, wondering if he’s made a mistake in following Ramius.  Finally, the torpedo encounters the ship.  However, instead of detonating, it breaks apart, bouncing harmlessly off of the submarine.  Jack asks the surprised Mancuso what happened.  Mancuso: “Combat tactics, Mr. Ryan.  By turning into the torpedo, the captain closed the distance before it could arm itself.

What allowed Jack to trust Ramius in that decisive moment?  Jack had spent time getting to know Ramius.  He studied him.  He knew his writings.  Understood what was important to him and how he acted.  Knowing Ramius allowed him to correctly deduce his motive to defect.  It also gave him the ability to trust him when his life and the life of the entire crew was on the line.

In today’s gospel from John, Jesus is in the upper room, they have finished the Passover meal, Jesus has washed their feet, they are about to go to the Garden of Gethsemane where he will be betrayed, but before they go, Jesus prays for them.  We can hear in his prayer, a prayer for us.  Jesus begins by praying, “this is eternal life, that they may know you.”  What I find remarkable here is Jesus praying that they may know the Father.  Back in chapter one John tells us Jesus mission for coming into the world. John tells us, “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 places a special focus on Jesus being the way to know God.  John talks about knowing 98 times in his gospel.  That is problematic for us, because we tend to think of knowing as something we do with our heads.  But, the kind of “knowing” John is talking about is a relational knowing.  It is the getting to know someone – kind of knowing.  It is not just knowing about someone.  It’s about connection, relationship, and closeness.  We spend a lot to time talking about God knowing us.  John tells us Jesus’ mission in coming was to make the Father known.

Now we hear Jesus praying that we might know the Father.  In fact, he says that knowing the Father is eternal life.  When Jesus talks about knowing the father being “eternal life,” he is talking about experiencing Father – being connected to the Father – being in an intimate relationship with the Father.  Knowing God is love can help us put in perspective our feelings about God when we are going through a rough patch and we are tempted to think God doesn’t care.  But, knowing that about God cannot and does not take the place of actually experiencing God’s love.  It cannot take the place of “knowing” God’s embrace.  That embrace can come in different ways.

In the movie, “The Life of Pi, Pi tells the person who has come to write about his story, how an island provided much needed rest from the endless struggle for survival on the open ocean.  But, the time came when he knew he needed to leave the island.  So, he loaded up his lifeboat and his tiger and returned to the ocean, preferring to risk being lost at sea than to be stranded and alone forever on an empty island.

At the same time, he realized he couldn’t stay on the island, Pi also recognized the blessing the island had been, coming at just the right time during his suffering. Pi, attributing his circumstances to the miraculous care of God: “No one has seen that floating island since, and you won’t read about those trees in any nature book.  And yet, if I hadn’t found those shores, I would have died. Even when God seemed to have abandoned me, He was watching.  Even when He seemed indifferent to my suffering, He was watching.  And when I was beyond all hope of saving, He gave me rest, then gave me a sign to continue my journey.”  For Pi, the floating island became the way he experienced first- hand the embrace of the Father.

Jesus prays that they may be one, as we are one.  Often this part of his prayer is interpreted as a prayer for Christian unity, that we as Christians may be one – be one in the sense of being united.  While that may be true, I hear in this part of Jesus prayer, something more given the context.  I hear Jesus praying that we might have the kind of intimate oneness with the Father, that Jesus has with the Father.

How can we get to experience God that well?  How do we find that kind of closeness?  How do we get to know anyone?  Isn’t it by spending time with them, listening to what they say, seeking to understand who they are?  Isn’t it by discovering what they do and how they approach life?  Doesn’t it happen as we experience them in the daily routine of life?

Jesus prays that we may have the oneness he himself has with the Father, and in that we discover eternal life.  Jesus prays that this might come true for each of us!  Jesus prays that you might have a deep yearning to spend time with the Father; listen to what He says; seek to understand who He is; discover what He does and how He approaches situations and that we might experience Him in the daily routine of life.  It is Jesus deep desire that we might know the Father and the Father’s love for so well that we dare to trust him when our life is on the line.

Where do we see this most clearly?

In Jesus, himself – as he places his life in the Father’s hands on the cross.  “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons