Sacred Connections

John 17:6-11   

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. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for 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 trust that you sent me. I 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. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Abba, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how connected do you feel?

There’s a lot of disconnect going around, no?

Perhaps during this season in which many of us are inside our apartments and homes more than ever and not able to be with people, perhaps you are feeling more disconnected. Maybe you are even feeling lonely. It’s good and healthy to say it/express it and get it out there. How connected or disconnected do you feel? Once we are honest with ourselves, then we can have a deeper conversation about what connection really is about, and why feelings of loneliness have deeper roots than we think. For instance, we may assume that we feel disconnected because of the stay at home orders and all else during this time. We may infer that we feel disconnected because we cannot engage in person to person social activities like before, or that we feel a disconnect because we wear masks and see other people wearing masks [we cannot see each other’s facial expressions].

Is that really the reason we feel disconnected and/or lonely?

Or are those external things just what they are? Is our lack of connection actually a pre-covid phenomenon, more than anything? I would argue that yes—our feelings of loneliness, our disconnection—this was happening before. So I am interested in the why. Are you?

And the way I’d like to address that why question is with some ancient ideas, two in fact. One is the law of reciprocity and the other is a Greek word/concept called logos.

First, the law of reciprocity.

Understanding Law of Reciprocity as Golden Rule for Society - Mike ...

In essence, the law of reciprocity is the social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. Reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are very likely to be much nicer and much more cooperative. Conversely, in response to hostile actions, a person is frequently just as hostile and in some cases, even more brutal in their response.

This idea of Reciprocity is old. It’s possible that it is even part of our human DNA [say many social psychologists], at least it’s something that human beings developed socially thousands of years ago. We do know that in the time of Hammurabi (c. 1792–1750 BC), the 6th king of the Babylonian Dynasty, there was the Hammurabi code, a collection of 282 laws and standards for citizens’ conduct. You’re probably familiar with the “eye for an eye” principle.

8 Things You May Not Know About Hammurabi's Code - HISTORY

That’s this code, specifically Law #196.  

Now these laws of reciprocity showed up in the Torah [the Jewish sacred text] and the ancient Israelite culture and were also the cornerstone of ancient Greece. In fact, you can look around the world and throughout history and find the rules of reciprocity. There were a ton of social experiments done to prove the law of reciprocity. In fact, if you want to have a fun project during this strange time, engage in your own reciprocity experiment. Do some random, kind things for people you barely know. Ask for nothing in return. Can be simple things, but they need to be things that are kind, helpful, useful. Do that, and then see what happens.

Okay, now to John’s Gospel, the “eclectic” Gospel—Jesus of Nazareth, and an incredibly long prayer in this chapter 17. A prayer referred to by many scholars, as the most universal and cosmic prayer of the Gospels and probably of the whole New Testament. Spoiler alert: this prayer was not something said by Jesus in one setting, however. Think of it instead like a mashup of various prayers/teachings of Jesus while with his friends and disciples. It’s a best-of-Jesus playlist for Spotify or Pandora. 

The cliff’s notes version of the prayer: it’s about belonging and connection. We belong to God, we belong to Jesus, and we belong to each other. It’s reciprocity played out in a mystical way. Jesus is given things by God; Jesus gives us those things; we share those things; it keeps on going and going. Jesus of Nazareth would have been influenced by the Greek and Hebrew traditions of reciprocity. Jesus even spoke to it on various occasions, addressing things like an eye for an eye. And the author[s] of John’s Gospel were extremely influenced by Greek philosophy and were addressing an eclectic readership. It’s a smart prayer if you look at it closely. See, people hearing this would easily see the connection between their everyday life and the Divine, using the law of reciprocity. It would have been a tangible way to bring God down to earth. It’s logical, even.

Ah, logic. Which leads us to the second thing I wanted to talk about: logos.

Logos - Wikipedia

Now this word is more than just a word. See what I did there? One way to translate logos in English is word. But logos is much, much more than letters on a page, and that misunderstanding of logos has led to bad behaviors by Christians calling doctrines or dogmas “God’s Word” or constantly referring to certain theological slants as “The Word”. This completely distorts logos. No, logos is about as non-binary and non-dogmatic as can be. Logos is big, ya’ll. And it’s quite open for interpretation.

In this case, because we are still looking at this long prayer of Jesus of Nazareth in John’s Gospel, let’s circle back to instances of logos in the Jewish and Christian scriptures before we wrap this up with John 17. First, in the Hebrew Psalms, namely Psalm 33:6, which states: By the word (logos) of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the host of them by the spirit (pneuma) of Yahweh’s mouth. Then, there is the Book of Wisdom, chapter nine, in which King Solomon states: O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word [logos], and by your wisdom have formed humankind…

And 2 Samuel: But that same night the word [logos] of the Lord came to Nathan

In the New Testament, Luke 1:2 of the Christian Gospels, which states: … just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (logos) have delivered them to us. And of course, the instance in the beginning of John’s Gospel, chapter one: In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The Logos was with God in the beginning. Through Logos all things were made; without Logos nothing was made that has been made . . . The Logos became flesh and made its dwelling among us.

So you see, this logos thing is not just Christian. It’s not about Jesus. It’s not just Jewish. It’s not just Greek or Hellenistic. It’s bigger than that, ya’ll.

It’s about connection—in any time, in any place, in any season. It’s about connection when the world and society tries to tell you that you should feel lonely and disconnected. Logos is a wisdom-love connection that transcends binary limitations and religious dogmas.

And so, imagine, my friends, if are willing, that we are all one on this planet, but not because of our sameness or because of a religion or because of society or nationality or any of those binary categories. Imagine with a sacred imagination that we are one, we are connected in a deep, mystical, and universal way. What if we said, like Jesus did in this prayer, to plants and animals: all that is mine is yours. All I have been given I give to you, and you to me. How would we then treat the natural world and all its living creatures? What if we viewed the other humans in this world not as other, but as us? All that I have been given is yours. You are in me and I am in you, because logos is in us.

And before you roll your eyes at me because you think that this is some mystical, philosophical, unrealistic mumbo-jumbo, hear me out.

please explain to me what the heck you are trying to communicate ...

I’m on the ground today, with you. I want something tangible too. I want to truly feel connected. But we don’t need for others to tell us to reopen everything, including our church buildings, mosques, synagogues, and temples because somehow now they are deemed essential. Reopen our churches?

Um, I’m gonna borrow what one of my colleagues just said here in Philly—excuse me, but we weren’t ever closed! We are people, not buildings. We are still open—cultivating connection and serving and reaching out to the most marginalized. Reopen? Don’t need to open buildings for us to be connected. I refuse to let you or me be used in a skewed, hypocritical game of politics and economy.

Instead, let’s do something healthy and life-giving. Let’s join logos to the law of reciprocity. With this understanding of our natural and universal connection to each other and to all things living, we can stay connected. What if we choose to live a life of positive reciprocity? What if we tangibly act humanely and kindly with other humans, with animals, with plants. What if we don’t measure our sense of connection by how many parties we go to, or who likes our social media posts, or whether or not we have a life partner or spouse or a big family or a great job or any of that? What if our deep sense of connection is already within us—just waiting for us to recognize it, embrace it, let it thrive. What if that connection goes WAY beyond our social circles and religions?  

Consider, my friends, that if you are present in this very moment, you can feel connected—regardless of what’s happening in the world. You are connected. It’s there, that connection. It’s always there. It is in me just as it is in you. Thank YOU for connecting with me today.

Posted by

Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

Leave a Reply