6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Confusion about the World
We all know John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.” But then, most Christians hold tightly to the motto that we are to be “in the world but not of the world.” Together, these two ways of looking at the world may seem contradictory. Indeed, in our very passage this morning, the Greek word for world, cosmos, is used in the text 13 times in at least five different ways.
“In the world, but not of the world.”
In, but not of.
I remember the first time my wife and I visited Manhattan together. I was turning in admissions paperwork to the political science department at NYU near Washington Square Park. We decided to park near 14th Street and walk. At the time, I didn’t understand the basics of NYC navigation, that the avenues are laid out in ascending order from east to west and that the street numbers ascend from south to north. So I asked for directions. I asked the first guy I saw, and his response to me was: “You’re not from around here, are you?”
When I asked him if it was because I didn’t know how to find Washington Square Park he said, “Well, not really. I assumed from your accent you were a southern boy.”
I imagine he wondered what this southern boy was doing looking for NYU.
I was in the city, but I was not of the city.
The peculiarity of my Kentucky accent had given me away. I was not from the city. As kind as he may have been, I have always been a bit self-aware when it comes to my Kentucky accent. It felt as if he were saying that I (this country bumpkin from the backwoods of Kentucky) didn’t even belong here.
Christians read Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and claim that we are in the world, but not of the world. For many Christians this means that we are ultimately not from this world, and perhaps we feel as if we don’t even belong here.
For many Christians, this motto—in but not of the world—works like the great commission as a summary of the calling of the people of God. But if we’re not careful, this phrase might sound like this: Yes, unfortunately, we are in the world, but we should strive with all of our might to prove we not of the world. So, it seems like the “world” is this unfortunate trap that Christians need to run away from, something we are called to fight against.
But look again.
In verse 18, Jesus says in his prayer to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent (my followers) into the world.”
If the motto of what it ultimately means to be Christian is in opposition to the world, why then, on the night before he was crucified, did Jesus pray for protection for his followers as he was sending them into the world?
The Legacy of the Curse
I think it is fair to say that, for many of us Christians, what primarily shapes our imagination of the world is the doctrine of THE FALL.
In the story about the disobedience of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, we have been taught to over-emphasize the judgement in God’s voice as if it is the pronouncement of a curse on us and all of creation. So it might sound something like this: The ground is cursed, so God must be opposed to the ground. The animals and plants have been cursed, so God must indifferent to their care. And ultimately, humanity has been cursed, so God must be in opposition to us. All of creation is inherently in opposition to God. Oh, what wretched beings we must be to deserve the wrath of God! What is there for God to do but destroy it all?
But look again.
Something important has been left out of the story when it is told this way. That is, we call it Creation precisely because it was created by God, who called it GOOD. The story of the FALL is not the story of God’s curse, but the story of Creation’s brokenness. Creation is not inherently bad. The world—in the sense of the creation of God—is not inherently bad. It was created and pronounced GOOD. We human beings are not inherently bad—but inherently GOOD. Indeed, when God saw all that was created, God said it was “VERY GOOD” (Genesis 1:31).
But as the story goes, in our disobedience, this GOOD world that our GOOD God created has become broken. The world that God created is not inherently evil and in opposition to God. It is, however, broken.
Thus, to be in the world, from this perspective, means to be “amidst the brokenness of God’s good creation.”
So when Jesus prays in John 17, verse 18, that his followers have been sent “into the world” just as he had been sent, he is implying that his followers have been sent into the world to engage with the world’s brokenness.
The World Reconciled
In but not of—
I was not of the city, in other words, I must not be a native. So, I must be a native of somewhere else.
The Christian imagination of the world has been shaped in opposition to Creation, since certainly it appears we are not to be of it. But, if we are not of the world, from where or of what or to whom do we belong?
As Christians, as followers of Christ, few would argue that we are to be of Christ. Perhaps we might even say we are to be of the Kingdom of God. Was Christ against the world? Is the Kingdom of God in opposition to the world?
Let us look again.
In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul said that the main task of Christians was to be ambassadors of reconciliation.
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their failures against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal to the world through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
–2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Jesus says, “Father, just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.”
Why was Christ sent into the world?
“God was,” Paul says, “in Christ, reconciling the world to God.”
In Christ, a new creation has come.
Christ was sent into the world, not in opposition to the world, but so that the brokenness of the world might be healed.
We may know that altogether famous verse, “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.” But we should read further. Christ was sent, “not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
Christ was sent into the world that the world might be reconciled to God.
That the world might be saved.
That the wounds of the world might be healed.
That the world’s brokenness might be restored.
That the world in bondage to brokenness might be set free to thrive in the GOODNESS for which it was created.
As Christ’s followers, we have been sent into the world.
We have been sent as ambassadors of reconciliation, so that through us, the world might be reconciled to God.
That the brokenness might be restored.
That God’s spirit might bring newness, and life, and joy, and peace.
That we are in the world, means that we have been sent into the brokenness. That we are not of the world means that we have been sent into the world, not on behalf of its brokenness, but on behalf of its healing!
We are in but not of. This does not mean being in the world is an unfortunate state. Just as not being of the world should not imply opposition or that we are awaiting our escape. If this were our motto, it would be contrary to our mission.
The motto of our mission is that we have been sent the world to engage with its brokenness, on behalf of God as ambassadors of the world’s restoration!
The Cosmic Revolution
I could stop there.
Yet, I feel that I need to make it clear that the evidence is stacked against us. Christians too often claim to be on the side of eternal life while we live and preach and worship in ways that foster oppressive attitudes that beget exploitation, violence, death, and destruction. For too long the false notion of Christian opposition to the world has been deeply ingrained in our cultures. Too many of us have taken sides with the enemies of abundant life and confused darkness with light. As the saying goes, evil always parades around as goodness. Or, as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 11, “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
And in the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne, “the fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man.”
Too many Christians assume that the world—or the cosmos (this whole created order)—is in opposition to God. And thus, there are only two options: fight or flight. Either you fight against the world, or you retreat from it.
But Jesus revealed that there is another way, a third way.
The French preacher named André Trocmé put it this way. “We must not imagine (Jesus) as a sublime yogi sheltered from the world on the shores of eternity, or as an ascetic who invited his disciples to follow him in solitude in order to learn an ideal having no connection whatsoever with the problems of this world. To extol the exceptional nature of (Jesus’) holiness to such a degree is but an evasion of discipleship” (Jesus and the nonviolent revolution, p. 112).
Living in opposition to Creation fosters an attitude of exploitation, perverts our calling, and profanes the goodness of God. And retreating from the world is, at best, an evasion of discipleship.
Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was “not of this world,” and if it were, his servants would fight (John 18:36). And so, People generally assume that the kingdom which Jesus was championing was purely a spiritual kingdom, completely unrelated to the realities of the broken world we live in. But this is a misinterpretation of the threat the Jesus’ movement posed to Pilate’s authority. Preaching about an otherworldly kingdom might have explained why he was called a lunatic, but it wouldn’t have gotten him killed.
Being “not of the world” has little to do with being from some invisible, otherworldly kingdom. To be “not of the world” simply means not conforming to the spirit of the age in which we live. And leading a movement that calls for nonconformance with the current order of things is exactly what will get you killed.
“Do not be conformed to this world,” the Apostle Paul said, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Nonconformity invariably provokes hatred.
Hence Jesus’ words, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19).
Nonconformity means we will be peculiar. It will be clear we are not “from around here.”
But our nonconformity with the world is not because we are called to hate the world. It is because we have been sent into the world and called to love it with a rebellious kind of love. Our peculiarity is our witness. Our nonconformity is intended to challenge the present order of things. And we are not of the present order of things because we have called to restore life and oppose destruction. We have been called to turn swords into plowshares, to end violence and war and give birth to practices that beget life.
Just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us, we have been sent into the world to love the world and give our lives for it.
In Christ, it has been made known to us that though Creation is good, is has been co-opted by an order that seeks its destruction. Humans create laws and live in ways that hurt, manipulate, devalue, and destroy each other. The present order of violence and destruction begets more and more violence and destruction.
People live for the sake of being more and more successful,
more and more comfortable,
with more and more enemies that need to be defeated,
with their hearts every set on victory of one country,
or one people,
or one corporation
Thus, we live less and less in love with the goodness that is inherent in the world.
Rather than living as stewards of God’s Good Creation,
as people created to love and serve one another,
we live as destroyers of life.
This is the order of “the world” that we live in.
This is constitution under which the world works.
This is the brokenness of the world into which we have been sent.
But a movement is rising up in opposition to this dominate order of death and destruction.
There are those of us who have seen visions of a different way,
a way devoted to the restoration and revitalization of Creation.
We have seen that the measure of our humanity is not based on the successes of our conquests,
but on our self-giving willingness to love.
When a people rise up with a vision of a new world and the resolve to live out that vision, even at the costs of their own lives, this is what is properly called a revolution.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that when Jesus sat in the synagogue in the first days of his ministry, he read from the scroll of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus was pronouncing the fulfillment of a promise that had been foretold and longed after for ages—the Promise of the Jubilee of God.
As André Trocmé calls it, Jesus brought about the Jubilee explosion.
Nations were welcomed in.
Debts were forgiven.
Enemies were loved.
Hungry were fed;
thirsty were given water;
the captives were set free;
the outcasts were welcomed in.
The love of God for the world exploded so that a new and living way was opened up for all of creation—for the whole cosmic order to be restored.
And this is the revolutionary framework we proclaim every Sunday in prayer: “May Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth, just as it is in heaven!”
Followers of Christ, we have been sent by Christ into the world, not in opposition to God’s good creation, but in opposition to the dominant order of destruction that feeds on brokenness. We have been called to live into this Jubilee Explosion, this cosmic revolution that was initiated by Christ for the reconciliation and transformation of the world.
Let us put down our arms and pick up our gardening tools. Let us leave our corporate jobs that stuff our pockets and feed our greed, and let us join in the work of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and setting the prisoners free. Let us restore the dignity of those whose humanity has been stolen by this violent order that stands in opposition to the goodness of God.
Let us live out our calling as those who have been sent to engage in the world’s brokenness, as ambassadors of its healing!
Let the world say about us: “You’ve lost your minds.”
Let the world say about us: “You are dreamers.”
Let the world say about us: “You’re not from around here.”
And let us respond with the resolve of the people of God!
Christianity is not a passive call to make us comfortable.
It is not a call for us to be in opposition to creation.
It is not a call to retreat into a tranquil bliss on the shores of an invisible eternity.
We have been called by God to follow Christ into the world.
We have been called to engage in a cosmic revolution!
No, we have not come to destroy the world, or to announced God’s immanent destruction of the world.
But let us proclaim the ever-faithful blessing of God for all of God’s good Creation.
As God lives in us, and Christ’s love is manifest in us, let us be ambassadors of a revolutionary new way of life: The old has gone, and in Christ, the new has come!
Yes, we are in the world. We have been sent into the brokenness.
No, we are not of the world. We no longer see the world as we used to—as a place destined for destruction, ready to be pillaged and exploited to feed our own greed.
But as the Father sent Christ into the world so that the world might be healed, Christ has sent us into the world that we all might live abundantly together!
People of God, let us arise! For we have been empowered by God for the restoration and renewal of everything!
God has called us to live into this prayer for a cosmic revolution, for a jubilee explosion.