Sunday, June 5, 2011

John 17:1-11

”An Inheritance Or A Hot Potato?”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Allen V. Harris

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Did any of you actually have the game “Hot Potato” as a child?  I didn’t, but I always wanted one. You may have had another game with a similar concept called “Time Bomb.”  The idea was to toss around this “potato” until the music stopped.  The person holding the potato at that exact moment was out.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking, you can play “Hot Potato” without the help of Milton Bradley or Mattel, but having an official “Hot Potato” game seemed so much more interesting than using a bean bag or other household object.

Nevertheless, the expression “wow, that’s a hot potato” is far more familiar than the 1970’s game (or the newest version “available in stores now!”).  The phrase itself conjures up the image of an idea or topic of conversation that is potentially controversial and divisive.  Perhaps at your Memorial Day picnic some unsuspecting soul blurted out in front of everyone, “So, how do you all like Uncle Ed’s new wife?” while everyone within earshot zips their lips and thinks, “wow, that’s a hot potato!”

In the seventeenth chapter of John we find Jesus, similar to last week’s scripture lesson, sitting with his disciples just prior to the events of Holy Week, praying to God for them as they draw closer to living their lives without their savior’s earthly presence.  In this extended prayer to God Jesus does many things.  First, Jesus shows us his own amazing and effortless connection with God.  Second, Jesus seeks to prepare his disciples for the difficult days ahead as he fulfills his calling from God through the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.  And third, Jesus seeks to pass on both of these – a oneness with God and a boldness for mission – to his disciples.

Then Jesus decides to not simply tell them what to do, but how to do it.  It is here that these instructions become a “hot potato.”  Jesus prays to God that “they may be one” as Jesus and God are one.  So… not only are the disciples (read that, you-and-me-disciples!) supposed to be working on our relationship with God, seeking to find harmony with the Divine Source Of Life, AND concentrating on the mission and calling God has given us to “make disciples of all nations…”, but we ALSO have to do this in coordination and harmony with all the other disciples doing this work!  EehGahds!

Okay, let’s see… “Disciples To Do List”…

1.   Deepen Personal Spirituality… Check!

2.   Spread Good News Throughout All The World… Check!

3.   Do The Above With Other Followers Of Christ Even Those Who Have To Do It There Own Way And Those Who Irritate The Heck Out Of You… Awwwwwwww!

I’m not terribly familiar with the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy of books, made into movies some years ago, but J. R. R. Tolkien’s book The Fellowship of the Ring includes an evocative scene that failed to make it into the movie.  The eight travelers who accompany the ring bearer on his journey are men, hobbits, dwarves and elves.  In order to defeat the power of the Dark Lord, these historically divided groups must endeavor to work together for a common goal.  As the fellowship approaches Lothlórien, an elven region, the elven guard refuses to let Gimli the dwarf pass without a blindfold.  The resulting tension threatens to divide the fellowship.  But Aragorn, the group’s leader, suggests that if one of them must face this indignity, they will all go blindfolded.  Legolas the elf protests: “Alas for the folly of these days! Here all are enemies of the one Enemy, and yet I must walk blind, while the sun is merry in the woodland under leaves of gold!”

“Folly it may seem,” says Haldir. “Indeed in nothing is the power of the [Dark] Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.” (1)

We may take a lesson from Tolkien’s wisdom, which is a marvelous illustration of Jesus’ mandate for unity to us.  The forces of evil that oppose the ways of God draw strength from the disunity of God’s people.  Our calling is not only to proclaim God’s harmony and unity but also to live it.  Lacking that, both our personal piety and our mission to the ends of the earth will appear redundant, at best, and self-serving at worst.  Without a commitment to cooperation and collaboration, our work will only reinforce the deep divisions that the world already knows.  Better all of us be blindfolded than only one; which may, in fact, better force us to focus the “eyes of our hearts” to be open to the God who makes us one and empowers all we do. (2)

Yes, the tasks Jesus has left us with as he prepared to ascend to heaven are as daunting as they are inspiring.  We must deepen and broaden our spiritual lives so that each one of us is so much in harmony with God that as we live and breath, so does the Divine.  And we must continue to carry out the work of Jesus healing the sick, teaching the seeker, confronting the powers, welcoming the outcast, restoring justice, comforting the brokenhearted, and seeking the lost.  But just as importantly, perhaps even more importantly, we must do this as one.  This demands unity, but not uniformity.  This calls for the most powerful tools for unity available to us, such as forgiveness, humility, reconciliation, trust, flexibility, patience, and harmony.

Perhaps, rather than seeing Jesus’ directives as hot- hot- hot potatoes, we should, rather, see them as an inheritance.  And like any inheritance, if it is to honor the giver as well as sustain us, we must be good stewards of it.  And, indeed, there is no finer inheritance than this: a closer connection with God and living the gospel of Christ.  Both, if done in unity with our sisters and brothers, will lead to a lasting inheritance that will honor God and sustain us all for eternity.

And how shall we find the vision, energy, and will power to make this unity a reality?  Ah, that comes through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  But that’s next week’s scripture lesson!


(1.) Inspired by the article “Long Division,” Scott Bader-Saye, The Christian Century, 2002 found online at:

Scott Bader-Saye is professor of theology at the University of Scranton and the author of Church and Israel After Christendom: The Politics of Election.

This article appeared in The Christian Century, April 24-May 1, 2002, p. 16. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

(2.) Ibid