We spend a lot of our time as strangers here.
As shining ivory residing in an exquisite ebony land we know what it is to stand out and be foreign.
Our family understands what it is to be different from those around us.
There are blessings abundant in this life choice.
It never stops being difficult.
Feeling like ‘the others’ has become our most settled niche.
Take furlough for example.
Months ago our family landed in Miami, Florida to begin our furlough.
We know no one in Miami. No church family. No friends. No family. Upon arrival, we quietly collected our bags, rented a car, found our beach condo and in the pressing haze of jet lag scrounged some food before we tumbled into a fitfully deep slumber.
We spent the next month chasing a dream (flight training for Jeff) while settling into our visit in a very different culture. We easily found all the physical necessities. Food, flight school, new books, a car to drive, phones. More food. God bless America.
But just a few days in, my kids started mentioning it.
“We need some familiar hugs Mom. Furlough is about the people we love here. It is very weird to not see our friends and family yet.”
We managed well in Florida but something was definitely missing.
Remarkably I would find the absent ingredient in a Whole Foods grocery store.
In Fort Portal there is one grocery store that I have shopped in for 20 years. Other shops move in and out but Andrew and Brothers Grocer has provided our staples the most consistently for all that time. The store is small in comparison to American supermarkets, but I have grown comfortable with the size and layout and inventory. So comfortable, in fact, that the immense expanse of American grocery stores and their choices can feel completely overwhelming. I’ve learned, through the years, that in the early weeks of a furlough I will manage better if I approach an American grocery story one or two aisles at a time. It’s really all I can emotionally handle.
One day, about a week into our furlough, I was perusing my ‘aisle of the day’ at a big, beautiful Whole Foods. In the midst of my methodical scan of resources I received a text message from my sister. She sent me two pictures with no words attached but I was immediately drawn in. The pictures were of dear friends from our teenage years. The photos communicated deeply to me. So many stories. And so much history. As only my family could know.
I quickly typed back some texts and my mom joined in. In a moment that I felt out of place and uncomfortable those simple texts connected me to those who know me very well. Connected me with those who can communicate a world of meaning from a few snapped photos on an Iphone.
And that’s why I was crying in front of the flax seed bars on aisle 10 in a Florida Whole Foods.
Sweet, sweet knowing.
It is truly awesome.
Being a stranger is not so impressive no matter how well rehearsed we are at the coping.
Being with those who know me? That is a life giving exorbitance.
And that brings us to John chapter 17.
In this chapter we have Jesus. Only His voice. And He is praying. Out loud. For all of His people.
The glory and sweetness and sheer comfort of Him praying for the likes of us…
It is breathtaking.
But in all the glory of these generous words, there are some very specific phrases that echo and repeat and stand astounding.
It is, quite simply, the beginning and the end.
(He is so beautifully both.)
“…Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
“I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known
in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
In this world of swirling authority wrangling we hear this simple pure truth in the voice of Christ. His last words (important words!) emerging from a peaceful gathering that would usher them to the garden and then to His death.
All authority was given to Jesus so that He might give.
Jesus, by God’s design, has authority over all and his authority gives life.
Life that equals knowing. And being known.
“I have made you known…so that your love may be in them.”
As rules and roles struggle and pull we are reminded simply and profoundly of Jesus’ work.
Knowing God so closely that it’s all he had to proclaim.
Being one with a God who is FOR us. (Glorify me that I may glorify YOU!)
Exercising authority that is FOR all the other ones.
We don’t have to look far to witness ‘authority’ that demands and takes and self aggrandizes. Sometimes under the veil of establishing credibility an authority structure will state strengths and advancement as reason for receiving one’s trust. We must discern well and proceed with much caution. Such authority does not resemble Jesus who, with all authority well in hand, proceeded to give and to break and to die. To serve.
Looking like Jesus is always the best choice when we step into the humility of leadership. His image, a wounded one, mirrored into all of our daily service.
Our accused, betrayed, and surrendering leader prays chapter 17’s very important words.
“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name…”
“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
Jesus wants us to have.
He wants us sanctified.
He wants truth for us.
He wants protection for us.
He wants LOVE for us.
“…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father…”
When I read this verse I often glance guiltily at every chasm I can see in our fellowship of believing. Every parting and separating and definitive line drawn.
The unity prayed for by Jesus here is our joining with God and Christ.
A joining that is far less severable.
Far less effected by the likes of us.
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”
Outside of our control.
It is a joining that holds onto me.
“Then the world will know…”
That Jesus was sent from God and that God has LOVED US. Even as He has loved Jesus.
“Then the world will know…”
This alone will teach them: our connection with God.
As we strategize and plan and study and grow in all our big, big kingdom work this truth repeats and whispers and kneads deeply into every shattered place.
We must never stop practicing our acceptance of this.
He is IN us.
We are known.
Grasp and hold.
Eternal life is now.
In the sheltered and cozied-up comfort of His very knowing gaze.
All of that love poured into us.
Attention enough for all.
And this is knowing.
And this is grace.
And this is unity.
Anchored in Them, complete.