I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:15-19
Human desire to escape the incessant pressures of the world is nothing new. The tourist industry spends millions to lure us away with luxury cruises, time shares, and all-inclusive resorts where we can leave the world behind us and disappear. With the advancements in Covid vaccinations, their message is being welcomed with open hearts.
Of course, for centuries men and women of different religions have left their worldly pleasures behind to live a life of asceticism. Even Jesus, who carried nothing with him, had to escape every now and then if only to be alone in prayer. One such story in the Bible comes from the Gospel of John 17:6-19.
In what is often called the “high priestly prayer,” Jesus petitions God to look out for his disciples because he knows how hard it is to live in this world without being shaped by it.
It’s an honest yet difficult prayer to understand. One that illustrates the paradox of our faith. As his followers we are called to live perilously perched between two worlds – ours and God’s.
While I don’t think there’s a formal name for this place, but I have begun to call it Anamesa, which is a Greek adverb that means between. But it’s more than a place between heaven and earth, it’s also the space between you and me, us and them, birth and death, past and future, and so on.
Anamesa is our reminder that our God is not some distant God. But one who is very personal and always present. So we must also be present. Mindful of life around us. In Anamesa, I’m not alone. There is the other and God in between us. And wherever I’m standing with God ...I am never standing idly. Trust me, God will keep you busy.
Just look at Jesus. He doesn’t stand around or run away from the space between his ministry and his crucifixion. He lives fully and faithfully in Anamesa, as a bridge between heaven and earth, where the pain is real, and suffering is happening in real time.
As you hear this world crying out for help and relief, you get a choice. You can stand passively on the sidelines waiting for God to act. Or actively engaged in it like Jesus did, bringing God’s redemptive glory to light.
Like I said earlier, Jesus recognizes how hard it is to truly live in this paradox of “being in the world, not of the world.” He prays for us because he understands how tough it is to live out one’s faith, especially in the midst of those who disagree with you or want to harm you. And they will.
Jesus knows what the world is capable of doing. He shares his knowledge with us - and shows us a way to live between the human and divine by bearing the fruit of love, peace, kindness, and generosity.
Jesus gives us what we need to live like him, fully and faithfully in all that we do, no matter where we are. On the night he will be handed over to his death, Jesus intercedes for us because he knows the world will push back. Let’s face it. Our world will always, in one way or another, be the alternative to faithfulness and not the means to it.
As Christians we might be tempted to leave this world and all its mess behind. We might desire to retreat to a monastery or a religious community where we can live apart from the greed, violence, and moral decay that’s affecting our communities.
But God has not called us to move away from it. Instead, we are called to move towards it - proclaiming the good news, freeing the captives, healing the brokenhearted.
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And yet, even in churches that bear Christ’s name, there’s hesitancy. It’s as if they are standing in a liminal space and not in anamesa.
I’ve been in churches and heard them pray and plead to God to come take them to heaven today! As my friend Dawn said, “That’s just being lazy.”
Why would they pray this way? Perhaps it’s because they want to escape the judgment and abuses of this world? Or maybe they simply don’t want to do the work of Christ; to be a bridge between humanity and heaven.
Imagine if Jesus came and took all his followers away right now. Who would be left to proclaim the good news and live out the gospel? We are not called out of this world, but into it.
Jesus made it crystal clear that there is no escape from this reality because it’s here, through us, that God’s glory needs to shine brightly.
So in his prayer, Jesus asks for us to be sanctified; set apart for doing God’s work in the world just as he has already set himself apart and is about to set himself apart through the cross.
Speaking of his cross...it’s a perfect illustration of how to live out this paradox of faith.
Picture the two wooden beams. The vertical one reminds us of the connection between heaven and earth. The horizontal one of our connection between each another. In that space in between the two, is Christ. He is the one who sets us apart from the world by trusting us to care for the world. The cross reminds us that world does not shape us or save us. Christ does.
While we are in this world, Jesus prays also for our unity and protection so that our joy might be complete, today – not in some future realm, but today in this world that is far from anything heavenly.
So the questions we must answer is this: How do we live in this world without succumbing to its values and pressures? How do we stay faithful when the world makes it so easy to lose faith?
The only answer I have is one we spoke about a few weeks ago, when Jesus said, “Abide in me.” Make your home in Jesus who embraces the sacred space of Anamesa.
It’s here, in this in between space, Jesus reorients the direction of our hearts towards God’s truth. A truth which is revealed in the world every time we love as he loved us.
When we abide in Christ, we allow him to live through us; seeing God’s glory like he did in the persons in front of us and beside us. And to act and react as if we were giving God all the best that we are able to bring. Which we do, every time we love one another.
The purpose of the Gospel message is not for us to withdraw from society but to be fully present in it – living our lives, faithful and true, to the Good News in all the ways we create justice, love kindness, and offer mercy. This is the example that Jesus sets for us in his life, death, and resurrection. He is the example by which we are called to embody today.
Therefore, it is his name I invite you to stand with me in the sacred space of Anamesa.
Come let us walk together in Christlikeness, as the fullest expressions of God’s love. Let’s struggle, and share, and thrive in the space between heaven and earth; between us and them; between you and me; and in between all the other in between spaces you can imagine.
We are Christ’s body, sanctified by his blood to be a sacred bridge between this world and the world that is to come.
We are his church, a sanctuary for those seeking peace from violence; freedom from whatever is holding them captive; healing from the wounds and pains they carry.
We are his people, a community that welcomes all to come and dwell in God’s presence no matter who you are or where you’re from.
As members of Christ’s church, we must take concrete steps, today, toward becoming the person and the place the Lord would have us be.
To do this means we have to let go of the things of this world that hold us back from clinging tightly to Christ.
We must let go of the stuff that is stopping us from truly loving, and caring, and sharing the joy that Jesus has given to us. We must let go of the guilt and shame, the anger and resentment that is holding us back from living into our truest and best selves.
This is always the hardest part, isn’t it? Letting go of the anger and jealousy, forgiving others who have hurt you, and moving beyond what you have known and done your entire life.
But in doing so, your head and heart and hands are free to grab hold of Christ and abide in him. And I can’t think of a better place to do it than in Anamesa – the space where God is always present, meeting us where we are.
As we move from this place to the next, as we walk through Anamesa, I hope that you will walk with me stepping into the future, by paying careful attention to that space between our steps, a shared and sacred space here on earth, where God awaits us to raise us up in glory.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word. Year B, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.
McCormack, Jerrod. In The Space In Between. May 13, 2018 (accessed on May 15, 2021).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”