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ETERNAL LIFE John 17:1-11; 2 Peter 1:3-4 Theme of the Month Spiritual Reflection & Renewal

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Sharp

Lead Pastor, English Congregation Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church, Vancouver, British Columbia

Sunday Sermon for 28 February 2010

Scripture Passage John 17:1-11 1 After Jesus

said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 6

2 Peter 1:3-4

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 3

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Over the arches of the triple doorway of the Cathedral of Milan there are three inscriptions. One is a beautifully carved wreath of roses, and beneath it the words, “All that pleases is but for a moment.” Another is a sculptured cross with these words below: “All that troubles is but for a moment.” And over the central doorway these words are inscribed: “That only is important which is eternal.”  In today’s gospel lesson, we are in the closing hours of Jesus’ life. The hour of Jesus’ execution is fast approaching. And so, in the presence of his disciples, Jesus raises his eyes to heaven and prays to the Father for the power to give eternal life to his people. “Now this is eternal life:” Jesus says, “that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John17:3). In other words, eternal life is a present reality not merely a future hope, and consists essentially in knowing God through Jesus Christ and living in response to that knowledge. Life is so much a part of this Gospel and the message that Jesus comes to share and give that when John states at the end of the Gospel the purpose for the writing of his gospel he says that it is “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (20:31).   To know God, to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, to live in intimacy with God, that is eternal life. The invitation of the Gospel is to share in God’s life, or to use the words of 2 Peter, “to participate in the divine nature.” That only is of ultimate importance, and that’s the kind of life each of us are longing for at the deepest level of our being, whether or not we have spiritually matured enough to be conscious of it. When we begin to sense a deeper meaning to life, a deeper call to life, one that transcends the appeal of passing pleasures and worldly possessions, when we begin to trust in God’s promise of ultimate, eternal fulfillment, we’ve already begun to experience the eternal life Jesus spoke of. It doesn’t have to wait until after death. In this passage in John’s Gospel we have the great New Testament definition of eternal life. It is eternal life to know God through Jesus. The Greek word used here for “eternal” has to do, not so much with duration of life, but quality of life. And that is important. For many of us, we have thought about eternal life as a life after all our birthday’s have run out. For most of us, when we think of eternal life we think of it as the “afterlife,” as “life after death.” But Jesus and John want to remind us that we don’t have to wait for this life as something that will happen later. Eternal life is something that we can experience now, in this world, in the midst of this life. It is a quality of life that Jesus gives. It is the active presence of God at the center of my living—the movement of God’s Spirit within us—that gives us the eternal life. It is the Life of God being lived out through us. To possess it, to enter into it, to experience here and now something of the splendor, and the majesty, and the joy, and the peace, and the holiness which are characteristic of the life of God is eternal life and it is possible to experience it in this life. This is experiential religion. Jesus says it is “to know” God. While there is an intellectual aspect to this knowledge, in that we know what God is like—that God is not stern and cruel, but is love and that is important. But what Jesus wants to emphasis is that “to know” God is not merely to have ETERNALLIFE 2


an intellectual knowledge of him; it is to be invited to have an intimate personal relationship with him, which is like the dearest and dearest relationship in life. And without Jesus, this intimacy with God is not possible. It is a gift that Jesus gives to us. It is Jesus who taught us that God is not remote and unapproachable, but the Father whose name and nature are love. To know God is to know what God is like, and to be on the most intimate terms of friendship with him; and neither of these things is possible without Jesus. And once we have tasted the joy and peace that comes from being embraced by God’s love, we have come to know a quality of life that changes everything. We see that our life is a short opportunity to say “yes” to God’s love. Our death, when it comes, is a full coming home to that love. But in the meantime, we are to live in the fullness of God’s life that is ours in Christ. We are to enter into the deeper meaning of life. And when we do, it changes things. Muriel was a vivacious and fun-loving college co-ed, engaged to be married. She seemed to have everything. Then, at age nineteen she began having some physical distress which eventually was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. Since then, Muriel’s life has radically changed. Once, she could with grace and beauty skate with near perfect balance. Today, she can’t even shoo a fly from her ear. Her lovely voice has gone. She goes to church in a wheelchair. But when others come to give Muriel comfort, they go away knowing that it is they who have been comforted by Muriel. The weaker she gets, the more power God seems to give her to project an aura of peace and serenity and other-centeredness. There are those who see her present existence as hell. But others know she already is in heaven—already experiencing eternal life with God now. And that experience isn’t something that just happens. It is nourished in our daily devotional times, it is a life that is nurtured and encouraged and supported by those around us who are on the same journey of living out that new life that is ours in Christ. In every congregation there always are people who are hurting and some are hurting a lot. We need to remind them, and ourselves, that there is no event in our lives which is beyond the scope of God’s loving concern. No disaster, no heartbreak has the last word for those who live in the spirit of God’s love and in the spirit of God’s will that we love one another. Our fulfillment, our happiness and joy as human beings depends literally and absolutely on whether or not we make the connection between loving worship of God and loving devotion to one another in Christ. Faithfulness to God and faithfulness to our neighbor are inseparable. In First John the writer reminds us over and over again that it is impossible to really love God if we don’t love our brothers and sisters in the faith. If we don’t make that connection the inevitable disastrous consequence is the destruction of the human spirit, but even more disturbing is the witness this sends about God’s love and what it means to be in the community of faith which is supposed to be a loving, caring community. But make the connection and the inevitable joyful consequence is the enrichment of Life. We become more human. We experience wholeness and life. Because Jesus gave himself to us completely in love he was able to say to the Father these words from today’s gospel lesson: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me ETERNALLIFE 3


to do” (John 17:4). For you see to love God means that we love one another. This is the work that God calls us to; this is the evidence that we are being faithful to our calling as the children of God. And, if we belong to God, if we claim to be Christians, we should all be able to say the same thing Jesus says here—God, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do”—the work of making the connection between love of God and love of one another. It is our having experienced this love that gives us a heart for missions—to reach out to those who are lost and lonely, hopeless and confused with the same love God has shown to us. It is our having experienced the love of God that makes us care about those who are around us, to reach out so that they are empowered to live lives that matter and that are free from the things that dehumanize and drag down the human spirit because they are an affront to the image of God that God has planted in every human being. It is our having experienced the love of God that makes it possible for us to forgive one another and to support one another, to challenge one another to grow and mature in the Faith. So whether you are in pain or free from pain, whether you are rich or poor, whether you are alone or with other persons, whatever your present situation, God is present to you and he is loving you in that situation. As you respond to him, as you open your life to him and enter more deeply into a relationship with him, you will find that you can live more fully, now. This is what it means to be a complete person, a whole person. This is how we find the joy and the peace and the hope and the ability to love that we all want so very much. This is where we find LIFE. I think I have shared with you before the story about a father and his young daughter who were on a cruise together. It was a “get-away” cruise for them, because the man’s wife, the little girl’s mother, had just died, and they were trying to do something special to help relieve the pain. There on the deck of the ship one morning, the little girl asked her father a really tough question. ‘Daddy,” she said, “does God love us as much as Mommy did?” The father was taken aback by the question at first. He didn’t know what to say. This was an important question, and he knew he couldn’t sidestep it. Finally, he pointed out across the water to the distant horizon. “Honey,” he said, “God’s love reaches farther than you can see in that direction.” And he turned around and said, “And God’s love reaches farther than you can see in that direction too.” Then the young father looked up at the sky and said, “And God’s love is higher than the sky.” And then he pointed down at the ocean and said, “And it’s deeper than the ocean as well.” The little girl than said a beautiful thing. She said, “Just think, Daddy, we’re right here in the big middle of it all!” That says it all, doesn’t it? We live in the “big middle” of God’s strong presence and watchful care. Right in the middle of God’s great love; right in the midst of the gift of eternal life that is ours in Christ. To know God, to love God, to know him not just intellectually or by hearsay, but with your whole being, to rest in him, to settle down in him, to connect with him, this is eternal life, and it is

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something that can be experienced now. When you know God in this way, you experience the eternal quality of life in the present. But we sometimes forget that. It isn’t easy to live that way. There are many challenges. There is the wrong focus. This emphasis on the present is extremely important because many of us are living in the past.  We’re not here at all; we’re somewhere back in time. Maybe it is at the time we first said “yes” to Jesus and were baptized. Maybe it some emotional high you had at camp or some retreat. But there hasn’t been a lot of growth since then; we’ve mostly been coasting, drifting. For many others, they are focused on the future. Their tendency is to dream about the way things will be. For some of us who call ourselves “Christians”, followers of Jesus, Disciples, the problem is getting so caught up in the next life that we forget to live in the present life. “So caught up in heaven that we’re no earthly good,” is the way an old song says it. The Bible reminds us, of course, that the past and the future, both, are important to us. It is extremely important for us to be aware of our religious heritage and our roots as a people. And the Christian life is full of hope and expectation for the future. But what is most important is to be able to focus on living deeply and fully in God’s present moment: to be able to experience, here and now, the awe and the wonder and the joy of the miracle of our present life with God. But for many of us, the thing that keeps us from living deeply and fully in God’s present moment and the gift of life is that we are engaged in the wrong pursuit. Making it materially or professionally or socially grabs all our time and attention. Keeping up with those around us and wanting to have the material and social things that this world tells us we need occupies our time. And when we focus on those pursuits there comes stress, and anxiety and fear. We have forgotten what the Gospel tells us: that joy and contentment are found in simplicity and generosity, in faith and pursuing God’s purpose in life. This doesn’t mean that we live in poverty or austere, monastic communities, but that contentment and happiness and ultimate meaning and joy are not found in pursuing things, they are found in living with and in God. This makes it possible to be able to experience, here and now, the awe and the wonder and the joy of the miracle of our present life with God because we live deeply and fully in God’s present moment. Intimacy with God, oneness with God is not an abstract idea; it is a spiritual experience, an adventure of knowing that the timeless God is at the door inviting you into a relationship. It is attentiveness to the present, a readiness, at every moment, to receive reality, to enjoy deeply even the simplest things. But to experience this life means that we have to have a clear goal. So let me ask you: Do you have a clear goal in life? Honestly? The athletes whose clear goal is the winning of the Olympic gold are willing to let everything else become secondary. The way they eat, sleep, study, and train are all determined by that one clear goal. This is as true in the spiritual life as it is in the life of competitive sports. In fact, it is more important to give attention to the spiritual life than to anything else. Because it is possible to have ETERNALLIFE 5


all the medals in the world and all the world’s toys and still not be happy, still not be satisfied because we have forgotten the most important thing of all, the thing that is eternal. No wonder Jesus keeps asking over and over again that haunting question: What good is it, if you gain the whole world, but lose your own soul? Without a clear goal, we will always be distracted and spend our energy on secondary things. “Keep your eye on the prize,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said to his people. What is our prize? Is it the divine life, the eternal life, the life with and in God? Jesus sought to convey with every fiber of his being that goal, that heavenly prize. Earlier in this gospel, in chapter 3, Jesus says to Nicodemus, an influential leader: “…this is how God so loved the world: he gave his Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). I said earlier that to live each and every day is an opportunity to say “yes” to God’s love, to stay fixed on living out the eternal/full/satisfying/meaningful life that God gives to each of us in Christ. But it isn’t easy to keep our eyes fixed on the eternal life, especially in a world that keeps telling us that there are more immediate and urgent things on which to focus. There is hardly a day that goes by that does not pull our attention away from our goal and make it look vague and cloudy. But still, we know from experience that without a clear, meaningful goal our lives become fragmented into many tasks and obligations that drain us and leave us with a feeling of exhaustion and uselessness. How then do we keep our goal clear, how then do we fix our eyes on the prize? How do we finish the race? The short answer, but not an easy answer is by the discipline of prayer: the discipline that helps bring God back again and again to the center of our life. We will always remain distracted, constantly busy with many urgent demands, but when there is a time and place set apart to return and rest in God, the God who offers us eternal life, we gradually can come to realize that the many things we have to do, to say, or to think no longer distract us, but because we have a center, they fall into their proper place. That is why we have been urging you to make a commitment during this season of Lent to work through the devotional journal (“Running the Race, Staying the Course”) we gave you. This is why we have been challenging you to give time during this Lent period to get back in touch with your soul, to do some soul care through prayer and Bible study, and reflection. These are things that can make real in our life the promise of eternal life that Jesus offers to each and every one of us. So, how are you doing? Are you going to finish the race? A Baptist church in Atlanta was having trouble with people, who were not church members, parking in its parking lot. Some young people solved the problem by putting bumper stickers on all the cars. The bumper sticker read, “It’s great to be a Baptist.’ Religion is sometimes proclaimed by bumper stickers. One such sticker said, “If you love Jesus, honk.” Another said, “If you love Jesus, tithe. Anyone can honk.”

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One bumper sticker that was popular for a while said, “I found it,” Its purpose was to serve as a conversation starter. When any one asked, “What have you found?” the driver or owner of the car could reply, “Peace through knowing Jesus” Let me ask you this morning? Have you found it? Have you found and are you living out the gift of eternal life that Jesus wants to give to you? John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, did. He was an ordained minister, but something was missing. One evening, he attended a prayer meeting in a chapel on Alders-gate Street in London, and as he heard the minister read Martin Luther’s interpretation of acceptance with God through faith, he felt his heart being “strangely warmed.” As a result of that encounter with God, Wesley went all over England proclaiming his heartwarming message. William Carey, the first modern missionary to India, found it. As a youth, he made fun of a fellow worker’s faith. The boy invited him to his church. He went out of curiosity, and for the first time felt what he later called “experiential religion.” He found it—the gift and joy of eternal life. There is a further question that needs to be asked. If you have found it; if you have come to know God through Jesus Christ, if you have come to know eternal life, does your life show it? How is your life different because you found it? Do others see a difference between you and those who don’t even bother to look for it?

Reflection Questions 1. As you read and reflect on today’s two scripture passages, what impressions, questions, thoughts do you have? 2. Have you ever thought of “eternal life” as a present reality? If it is, would you say that the quality of life you have in Christ, reflects the intimacy and richness of God’s life? 3. If this quality of life that has been described in the sermon is the gift that Jesus gives and is the birthright of all the children of God, why is it that most Christians do not experience this quality of life? 4. If our life is an opportunity to say “yes” to God’s love, in what ways are you doing that with your life? 5. Would you say that you have made the connection between love of God and love of neighbor? Would you say that, like Jesus, you can say to God: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the world you gave me to do”? 6. How difficult is it in your life to “keep your eye on the prize”? To have a clear goal in life? 7. Why do you think that many Christians feel that intimacy with God, oneness with God is too abstract or impossible a goal for them? ETERNALLIFE 7


8. How would you answer the questions at the end of today’s sermon? “Have you found it—the eternal life that Jesus wants to give?” “If you have found it, does your life show it?” How is your life different because you have found it?” Do others see a difference between you and those who don’t even bother to look for it?” 9. What questions, reactions, thoughts do you after reading/hearing this sermon?

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Eternal Life  

Message by Pastor Jeff Sharp. Text: John 17:1-11; 2 Peter 1:3-4. Theme of the month: Spiritual Reflection and Renewal.

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