5/28/17 – ETERNAL LIFE by Lynn Naeckel +


Baptism of Linnea Yount

John 17:1-11

Our celebration today is an especially joyous one because we will be baptizing Linnea Yount, our once, and hopefully our future liturgical dancer.

As you know, the regular practice of the Episcopal church has been to baptize babies, whose parents are essentially speaking for them, saying, “Yes” to God on their behalf. Today is special because we are baptizing a young person who has chosen to say “Yes” to God for herself.

I am convinced that every child born is a child of God, and today Linnea is acknowledging that relationship, in effect saying, “Yes, I am your child. I know that you love me as my parents love me. I accept the things Jesus taught us about how to live with one another and I want to be a part of the community that worships together each week.

Baptism is referred to as “the sacrament of new birth.” The symbolism of dying and rising to new life through baptism if probably clearer in those churches that do full immersion – where the person being baptized is fully dunked beneath the water and rises out of the water to new life – but the meaning is the same in our method. Listen to the prayer over the water:

“We thank you father for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”

One of the lines from today’s Gospel reading that jumped out at me is John’s definition of eternal life – and that in turn connects back to our understanding of baptism. But first let me set the context for today’s reading.

In John’s Gospel, the last evening that Jesus spends with his disciples is different than in the other gospels. It clearly is not the feast of the Passover and there is no institution of the Eucharist. Instead, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and then delivers some lengthy teachings. These are called the Farewell discourses – because Jesus knows he will be going to his death very soon. He wants to reinforce for his disciples the most important lessons he has taught them during their time together.

Then, just before they leave to go to the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus offers a prayer. Our lesson today is the first half of that prayer.

Jesus prays to God the Father, but he does it aloud, because it is meant to be heard by the disciples, and also by us. So it is a prayer, but also the summation of his teaching to them. It’s his last chance to impress on them what is most important in his life and work.

He also claims that God has given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom God has given him.

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – – –

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Here is John’s statement of the central purpose of Jesus’s coming to earth in human form: to make God known, and to make himself known, because to know one is to know the other. To know God is not just about the head knowledge of what God is like. It is also the gut knowledge that comes from the personal experience of God or God’s spirit in the world.

For example, we may have all learned in Sunday School that “Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; we are weak but he is strong.”

And as adults we may have accepted that God is love, and that his love for us, his children, is unchanging. But to understand and incorporate into our whole being that God loves us no matter what we do, that God will love us to the end, that God will be present in our lives — that requires some sort of experience that makes God’s love and presence evident to us. It may come in a flash or through a lifetime of experiences, but it is different than just brain knowledge or a statement of faith. To know God is to trust, to have confidence in, to rest in, so that we are no longer afraid.

Jesus is claiming that eternal life is just this knowledge of God. Isn’t that strange? Or at least different from what we usually consider eternal life. The common understanding of eternal life is that when we die, it won’t be over for us. That our spirit or soul goes on in some other form. This teaching doesn’t deny that, but it claims that eternal life can begin now, in this life.

Nancy Ramsay commented on this text, saying, “Knowing God is an experience that draws believers into a new reality in which the new order that will be shaped eternally by God’s vision for love and justice and service can also be realized in relationships and communities now. Knowing God will be evident in our obedience to love, the singular commandment of this Gospel.” [Nancy J. Ramsay, Feasting on the Word]

Jesus presents us with a new God, not just a God of love, non-violence, and mercy, but also a God to all people, rather than a God only for the Hebrews.

No wonder Jesus prays for the people who already know this. There aren’t very many of them and they are surrounded by people who don’t get it, both Jews and Romans. When you think of this reality back then, it is surprisingly similar to the reality we face today. Love is not the dominant mark of our culture.

This prayer of Jesus reinforces the presence of the Kingdom of God in claiming that eternal life is available now. This is the life we rise to in baptism – that Linnea begins today. As we begin to see ourselves as intimately related to God, to Jesus, and to one another, we can begin to see the Kingdom here, to live in the Kingdom now, and to perhaps understand eternal life in new and wondrous ways.


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