“Concerning the Prayer of Jesus”

John 17:6-19

The Seventh Sunday of Eastertide

As you may have noticed, twice in this morning’s gospel lesson, Jesus prayed for his followers to be “sanctified in the truth”; the kind of phrase few of us use, but the kind of life many of us live.  Whenever we see new light on old truth, and follow that new light into a deeper life with God, we are slowly, slowly, little by little, becoming the people Jesus prayed for his friends to become in this morning’s gospel lesson, when Jesus prayed for us to be, “sanctified in the truth”; growing into a deeper life with God, as we see more clearly the truth about God.

A way of growing which is rarely easy, and, sometimes, can be very hard.  In fact, growing into a deeper life with God as we see more clearly the truth about God can be so difficult and demanding that we sometimes decide that being “sanctified in the truth” isn’t worth the trouble.  So, while we may see new light on old truth, we don’t let on; fearful that if we are truthful about all that the Holy Spirit has revealed to us, it might place an awkward  space between ourselves and our loved ones and friends.

If they ever open a Hall of Fame for that, I’ll be inducted on the first ballot.  I spent many years of my life knowing better than I let on, afraid to say out loud what I knew deep down, for fear that if I was honest about the new light I had seen on old truth it would make me seem disloyal to the church and home of my origins.  I did not know how to reach back with one hand and bless the best of what was behind me while simultaneously reaching forward with the other hand to embrace new light on old truth.  So, I “hid my light under a bushel.” I was growing deeper and deeper into the truth about what truly does, and does not, matter to God, but I wouldn’t say so out loud, because being sanctified in the truth left me petrified by the truth.  Which is why, to this day, I feel so much sympathy for, and solidarity with, those who do the same.  I know how hard it can be to speak truth which reaches beyond the boundaries of what you have always thought and been taught.

Thinking about all of that this week called to my mind one of my last visits with my mother, as she lay dying last summer.  As I sat, one day, by my mother’s bed, I thought about how, across the years, she and I had come to hold different views of the truth about God and scripture, theology and people.  But, we each had enough of the  Spirit in us that neither of us had any interest in changing the other’s mind.  There was a space between us, but we just filled that space with grace, and loved each other exactly the way we were; she, me, and I, her.

But, while we were fortunate in that way, not everyone is.  In fact, sometimes the risk of being honest about the new light you’ve seen on old truth just isn’t worth it.  So, you dam up the truth you have come to see, sort of like damming up a moving stream.  Someday, the dam may crack a little and let the truth leak a little.  Or, maybe, someday, the dam breaks open and the truth comes pouring out.  Or, maybe, someday, we die, and go to our grave, never once having spoken truthfully about the new light we have seen on old truth.

All of which is to say that, when Jesus prayed, in today’s gospel lesson, for his friends to be “sanctified in the truth,” he wasn’t praying for our life to be a stroll down Easy Street.  He was, however, praying for our life to be one of growing deeper and deeper into the truth; a life made more and more strong and gentle, upright and honest, forgiving and kind, slowly, slowly, little by little, across a lifetime of being “sanctified in the truth”; a prayer Jesus prayed for all of his friends, and one which, one imagines, will surely, someday, be answered; if only part of the way in this life, then, the rest of the way, in the next.