John 17:1-11

If you could gather
in one room all the people who have made a major contribution in your life,
what would you like for them to know?  What would you tell them?  How would
you thank them for their interest in you?  What would you like for them to say
to you?  It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?

I think I know what I would like for them to say to me.  I hope that
they would stand and say, “Well done!  You have made us proud of you.”  For
me, the hard part is what do I say to them?  Assuming you had lived a fulfilling
life, what would you say was the secret?  It really is essential to know the
answer to that question.  What is the secret to a fulfilling life?

I was called by a long time friend last week.  She was in the hospital,
dying, and she wanted me to come and see here.  As she talked, she directly
asked me, “How do I get ready to die?  I’ve never done this before.”  So we
sat there and talked about her sons and her grandchildren and the practical
things like the funeral and her wills, and her belongings.  She knew that all
of her bases were covered.  I asked her what she has told her family.  In her
direct way, she said, “I have told them that I love them, and I am glad I have
had the privilege of knowing them.  I hope they can say the same about me.”

Then we talked about the obvious.  “Peggy, how have you come to this
point ready to die?”  She said, “I’ve lived a long, good life, and I’ve done
everything I’ve set out to do and then some.  I know I’m forgiven for my failures,
and I know where I’m going.”

You may have watched the episode of ER
when Dr. Mark Greene died.  The scene in the show that was most poignant to
me was when he was sitting in a rocker, holding his infant daughter, and it
was obvious that death for him was imminent.  I asked Cristy, “Do you know what
I would probably do if I knew that I was dying tonight?”  She said, “You would
probably be sitting right there, holding David Isaac, and watching ER.”

This is what Jesus is doing for us in this text.  He is making it
clear to us that we can know what makes life fulfilling, no matter what the
circumstances.  In fact, he explicitly says, “This is eternal life . . . ”

We all have life.  We are all breathing, functioning human beings.  We
see life all around us in nature, in others, in faces.  But what does Jesus
mean with the adjective, eternal.  We have diminished the word if we consider
it to mean longevity.  For many, if life, lived like it is, is eternal, never
ending, then what is the attraction of that?  Living day in and day out is a
never-ending grind then death as the end would be a blessing, not a curse. 
If life is in the midst of poverty, and life like that is never ending, why
would anyone hope to live forever.  If life is in the midst of violence and
fear, why would anyone desire to live forever with that kind of pain.  Surely,
Jesus is not just talking longevity when he says life is supposed to be eternal. 
Jesus says that there is a qualitative dimension to life.

I have become acquainted with a Latin phrase recently which has affected
my thinking in this area.  It is the phrase summum bonum or greatest good in life.  We
all have in our minds what is the summum
bonum or greatest good in life, which is like an engine that drives
our lives.  We know when we are living it, and we know when we are not.  I’ve
observing life and have decided that there are many different opinions of what
is the greatest good in life.

Some believe that the greatest good in life is unbridled sexual expression. 
For them, to live life at its best is to “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow
may not come.”   This “greatest good” is all about gratification of self.  Loving
self for self’s sake.   The what’s-in-it-for-me mentality.  One can also throw
greed in there too.  “I want it, and I don’t care if it rightfully belongs to
someone else.”

Others believe that the greatest good in life is a convenient faith. 
For them, to live life at its best is to be able to love God so he will bless
me and mine.  This greatest good is also about gratification of self.  It says,
“I love you God.  What’s in it for me?  I won’t sacrifice myself for you, but
I’ll take what you can give me.”   If you listen to people, more than you think
believe that this is the highest good in life: Loving God for self’s sake.

Still others believe that the greatest good in life in understanding
God for what He is.  Loving God with no ulterior motive.  It is like a child
crawling up in your life, wanting nothing but being in your lap.  It is loving
God for God’s sake.   It is loving God, not for what he has done, but for who
he is.  For many, as noble as it is, this is the summum bonum of life, the pinnacle of all
our strivings.

Still, I think Jesus is telling us something more about eternal life
– the summum bonum of our existence.  Jesus says,
“This is eternal life – that you may know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.” 
This verse is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible.  The greatest good
in life is really about a relationship.

The idea of a relationship with God hinges on the word, “know.”  What
does Jesus mean to know God?  It means a knowledge that is second nature to
you.  Let me explain.  I have “friends” and I have friends.   On the one hand,
there are hundreds of people that I am friendly with.  I greet them.  I’m courteous. 
I am acquainted with them.  But there seems to be a guard up when I am around
them.  On the other hand, I have a few friends and we enjoy a certain rhythm
in our conversation, we laugh before the punch line, we know the “bag of rocks”
that we each carry and our guards are dropped.  We know each other in a way
that is second nature.  There is give and take, a dance that goes on without
having to pay attention to the steps in the instruction book.

I think that is what Jesus described for us by living an eternal life. 
He and God are one.  To see one, you see the other, and it is interesting that
he says that is the summum bonum of our lives – to live our
lives to where when you see one, you see the other.  To love self for God’s
sake.   The difficulty with eternal life is not that we don’t love God.  The
difficulty comes when we don’t love ourselves, and, I believe, to have the relationship
with God we must first have a love for ourselves.  Luke describes Jesus saying
this as “Love God and other as yourself.”  It all starts with the first thing
God did for us – namely, creates us.   God created our bodies, our minds and
he put us in a certain family systems, and sometimes it is very difficult for
us to affirm ourselves.  After all, how can I love God if I cannot affirm his
first act of love for me – my life as it is.

If you were to walk the streets and ask 100 people, “Are you talented?” 
I would be very surprised if you got an unequivocal “Yes!”  “Oh no, I was absent
the day they passed out the gifts.”  Or, “I have no talents, really.”  Some
may see this as a form of humility, but the truth is, it is self – dislike,
and it lies at the bottom of our relationship with God.  We don’t seem to believe
that God really knew what he was doing when he created us.  To regard our own
creation as Genesis Good – very good – is the essence of Christian redemption
and the essence of eternal life.

To experience this love of self for God’s sake, we are dependent on God. 
The word, “dependant” comes from a Latin word meaning “to hang.” We are like
a chandelier, hanging, held in place by something other than ourselves.  Should
that something ever let go, it has no power in and of itself to avoid crashing
down into brokenness.  This does not need to depress us.  The essence of eternal
life is to trust in God on whom we can depend.  It reminds me of driving by
McCallie School in Chattanooga to be reminded that man’s chief end is “to glorify
God and to enjoy him forever.”

Carlyle Marney once said, “When I die, I am going to get to the place
where I will have to say, “If there is anything more, it is up to God.  I have
no power to make anything else happen.”  This is radical dependence on God. 
To those who have learned to trust, it is not despair.  If he teaches us anything
at all, it is that when we get to the end of our ropes, we are not at the end
of anything.  There is God at the end of our utter extremity, and He is good
and it is his goodness that makes us good.

In a scene from Shadowlands, a film based on the life of
C. S. Lewis, Lewis has returned to Oxford from London, where he has just married
Joy Gresham, dying from cancer, in a hospital at her bedside.  Through her struggle
with her illness, Lewis and Gresham discover the depth of their love for each
other.  As Lewis arrives at the college where he teaches, he is met by Harry
Harrington, an Episcopal priest, who asks what news there is.  Lewis hesitates,
then deciding to speak of the marriage and not the cancer, he says, “Ah, good
news, I think, Harry.  Yes, good news.”

Harrington, not aware of the marriage and thinking that Lewis is referring
to Joy’s medical situation, replies, “I know how hard you’ve been praying. 
Now, God is answering your prayer.”

“That’s not why I pray, Harry,” Lewis responds.  “I pray because I can’t
help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out
of me all the time, waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God; it changes

So, now that you have thought about it, what would you say to the ones
that you have gathered in your minds who have contributed something significant
to your life?   Can you say that you have reached the summum bonum of life that Jesus described
as eternal?  If not, you know that can change.


Sermon brief provided by: David R. Tullock, pastor of Parson’s Porch, a
ministry in Cleveland, TN

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