And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them  in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself,  that they also may be sanctified  in truth. (John 17:11-19 (ESV)
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.
The seventeenth chapter of John, often called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It was something that Priests were expected to do for the people, pray before a sacrifice. Not that the laity weren’t supposed to pray, but it was part of a Priest’s job, even as it is part of a pastor’s job. Of course, in the New Testament we are all priests, members of the Royal Priesthood as Peter says in the Second Chapter of 1 Peter, what Luther called the Priesthood of all believers, it is in large part because we are all priests that the term Pastor has come to be used for those holding the office of Holy Ministry. Somewhere, somehow some distinction has to be made between ministers and laity. But we are all priests because we have all been sanctified in truth, and given the name of God in Baptism. Our lives then are living sacrifices to the Father that have been sanctified, consecrated in the blood of Jesus. We have been consecrated living sacrifices to the Father by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
And this is what Jesus prays for us here, that we would be ourselves priests, living sacrifices in the world sanctified in truth to be witnesses to him, sent by him into the world with his gospel lived out in our own lives.
In the world. This isn’t easy. Being in the world and not of the world. We can’t escape the world. This is often a temptation for people. In late antiquity the deserts of Egypt became the refuge for men like St. Anthony, whose life was recorded in a biography by St. Athanasius that became the template for monasticism throughout what is now the Middle East, but also Eastern and Western Europe. This man upon reading the words of Jesus about the rich man, the camel and the eye of the needle, threw his entire inheritance, and he came from a wealthy family, at the doors of the church and left out into the desert to save his soul. Tried to separate himself from the world. To this day, people find that sort of thing appealing, which is why Buddhism and Eastern mysticism are popular today, the very fact that monasticism isn’t peculiar to Christianity should be warning enough that it is just as much a part of this world as money. It doesn’t jive all that well though with Paul’s word’s in Thessalonians that he who doesn’t work shall not eat. The problem with monasticism is rather than looking for the narrow door that is Christ, it tries to form for itself a narrow door, a needle’s eye through which it can attain salvation. It is self-made works. The gospel isn’t about you becoming holy at the expense of others, by locking yourself in a cell, living off the donations of others you deem less holy than yourself because they haven’t joined a monastery and decided to get married, have children and otherwise care for their neighbor in this world through honest work, providing employment and other services. In other words, doing that which Jesus has asked us to do, to be in the world, but not of it.
We can’t love the world the way Jesus did if we take ourselves out of the world before Jesus himself takes us out of the world. He wants us in the world. But he does not want us to be of the world. And that is the trick. To be of the world, is the selfish type of living that we all fall prone to. In fact, being of the world is in large part the problem of monasticism, because it is the world, it is the evil one that will point to anything but Christ and his death as the way of salvation. But being of the world, also means to go in the opposite direction, to be one who tries to get what he can when he can, thinking nothing of his neighbor to disregard the Ten Commandments completely which commandments show us what it means to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves. To be in the world is to shun the lust for the world, the love for the world which would get in the way of our love for God, but then to love the world in the way that Christ has loved us, to live in it as living sacrifices who sacrifice ourselves out of love for neighbor and friend, who give ourselves into prayer and intercession for those with whom we live, our family, you know the husband or wife God has given you, the children God has entrusted to your care, God wants you to take care of them, provide for them, to feed, clothe and house them, and most of all to bring them up in the faith, to baptize them and nourish them with the word that they would be sanctified in truth as you are sanctified in the truth. That they too might go out into the world with his truth, his name and sanctify and bless others in this world with that truth too, That Christ might deliver us all from evil, and give to us eternal life here and now where we are in the world, but not of it.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.