“That They May Be One”

“That They May Be One”
John 17:6-19
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
May 16, 2021

We talked about middle school in last week’s sermon, and we return to middle school this week. In particular – Jr High Dances. Do you remember those? If yours were like mine, they were held in the school gym. And you would show up and be let into the dance by volunteer parents or teachers.

You would walk into this open gym floor now being used as the dance floor. And if you were like me, you immediately veer from the dance floor and head up into the bleachers – avoiding the actual dancing for the entire three hours.

No way I was actually going to dance.

Way too awkward.

Way too many ways this could go wrong – poor dance moves, tripping over words to a girl.  So, I sat on the bleachers – at a dance, most assuredly not dancing.

Perhaps some of you were right there with me in those bleachers.

The question for this morning is – are any of us there, today? Because what we find from our passage in John 17 – we are definitely in a dance.

Bear with me for a moment.

This dance has everything to do with when Jesus prays in verse 11: “that they may be one, as we are one.”

And this is where the early church fathers and mothers of the 2nd and 3rd century are so helpful. They really keyed into John 17 and noted this Son-in-Father reality that Jesus describes. And they observed how the bond that holds them is the Holy Spirit.

What they saw here was One God in Three Persons – this inter-relationship of one-ness. What would be called the Trinity.

And they had an important descriptor for the Trinity: perichoresis – meaning to dance or flow around, mutual movement, mutual indwelling.

They understood that the Trinity is not a static theological concept. Trinity for them was understood to be three-in-one in motion. Trinity is a dance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One theologian summarizes the early church leader’s understanding of the Trinity dance this way: Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love.

God at God’s very essence is a community of One in the constant self-giving motion of love.

And Scripture is clear time and again that we live “in Christ” – we live and move and have our very being in the existence of God.

In other words, we’re in the dance who is God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And so when Jesus talks about us being one as he and the Father are one, his prayer is that we, too, might dance with one another the way the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dance…that we might be in self-giving motion toward and for one another.  That our One-ness might not be known through agreeing on everything, thinking the same way about every matter of importance – but in our giving and receiving love.

Conceptually, I think that is a beautiful thought.

But then I remember those middle school dances. And I remember climbing those bleachers, sitting down with a couple of friends, and then making comments about how lame the dance was or how ridiculous so and so looked out there on the dance floor.

In reality, of course, we were in the bleachers because we were anxious, and this felt safe.

We were keeping ourselves from…

making a mistake

or looking foolish

or being ridiculed.

We didn’t use the word then, but we readily intuited that to go out upon that dance floor was to be vulnerable – and we wanted none of it.

And the truth is, at every phase of life it is tempting to be in the dance and not dancing.

  • Far safer to stay in the bleachers with our grievance or pain rather than risk the self-giving dance of forgiveness – because who knows what might happen if we offer that? Or receive that?
  • Far safer to stay in the bleachers with a couple of like-minded friends rather than risk the vulnerable, self-giving dance of caring for another or others with whom we are not so familiar, or we do not as readily understand…
  • Far safer to stay in the bleachers of our side throwing social media zingers at those people rather than risk the self-giving dance of listening to and learning about a different perspective…
  • Far safer to stay in the bleachers holding onto what we have rather than risk the self-giving dance of generosity and who knows how it will be received and what might happen if we gave that up and…
  • Far safer to stay in the bleachers comfortably seated rather than risk the spiritual gifts God has given us because what if those gifts prove too different, too poorly timed, or too poorly executed?

How many are the ways we can be at the dance but avoid dancing.

Thanks be to God our is not a God who has made that choice. For though Jesus could have remained safely on the heavenly bleachers, Philippians chapter 2 is clear that Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be held onto, but rather Jesus became a servant…” he came vulnerably upon the dance floor of this world – and offered himself, time again, in cross-shaped love.

And then in our passage, Jesus prays quite explicitly: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
“In the same manner I came into this world – vulnerable, loving…so too I send them.”

The bleachers are not our home.

Always, Jesus is sending us – even praying us – out of that next comfortable seat and unto a fresh expression of the dance. Or the kind of love that risks something…how does he call us this day?

And lest we fear we simply cannot muster the courage to step forward with forgiveness or fresh advocacy or compassion or humility or our gifts…lest we can think of too many ways that love will be ridiculed or rejected…take heart.

Look at the very first petition Jesus prays in this extended prayer on our behalf: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

“Protect them.”

  • We need not spend our time and energy building up our defenses and fortressing our hearts.
  • We need not take charge to ensure that whatever our next step of faith is, nothing goes wrong, we encounter no dangers or pains.

No, we step in faith assured that this very day we are covered in the prayer of Jesus: “protect them in your name so that they may be one as we are one.”

“Protect them so that they can dance as we dance.”

Can we receive the gift of this prayer as we take the next, vulnerable step?

I want to share a story I know I have shared with some of you previously but it feels timely to bring it back around.

I was in Bethlehem in January of 2015, and I came across this shop selling Christmas ornaments made of multicolor glass. They were beautiful. Some of them were in the

shape of doves, others angels, and some of them were manger scenes with a Mary and a Joseph and baby Jesus lying in between them.

I drew closer and read the tag attached to the ornaments. There had been a Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002 by the Israeli Army. It lasted 38 days, and during that time as shooting from the sides ensued there was heavy damage to the Bethlehem – and a whole lot of shattered glass lying around.

A group of folks in Bethlehem decided to begin picking up the glass.

And they put them through a firing process wherein the jagged glass had its edges softened and tempered and then the pieces were refashioned into Christmas ornaments.

What they envisioned was a day when was these ornaments could go on trees as a symbol of surprising friendship among those who once shot bullets at each other.

One might rightly ask: Why not take these shards of glass and throw them back? Or make something sharp and dangerous out of them? Why not take this glass or the time that it takes to pick up all this glass and instead find a way to guard yourself and your safety all the more? More, what would those still carrying the wounds of this siege think?

I did not know this at first when I was in that shop, but it turns out the shop was part of the local Lutheran church’s ministry.

Turns out it was the church, the people of Jesus, who had every reason to take to bleachers and find a way to be safe, people who surely had reason to worry about what some might think if they did this…the church who risked this fragile expression of hope. The church who risked crafting a vision of reconciliation with those with whom they’d known violence.

As I said, they were beautiful ornaments, and it makes me mindful that in the middle of Jesus’ prayer he says that he is praying all of this – this protection, this desire for us to be one like he is one – he is praying all of it, “so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”

There’s no joy, there’s no beauty, there’s no life in the ‘safe’ bleachers.


  • risk the dance floor,
  • risk Jesus-inspired love toward that person or those people,
  • risk the failure and ridicule as the church of God because you know what, its the way of Jesus,
  • risk the unknown of a dance move you’ve never tried but every fiber of your being says the time is now,

…and every single time there is such surprising beauty. And joy. And we know this because…

  • Jesus himself prays for the protection of this gift.
  • And Jesus’ love is faithful to abide in us and through us.
  • And as 1 Corinthians 13 so memorably reminds us time and again: Love. Never. Fails.

We live and move and have our being in dance…how, then, shall we dance for such a time as this? Amen.

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert