“Where are you from?” sermon

This is the sermon I preached at Iona last Sunday… In case anyone would like to read it…

John 17:6-19

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 have believed 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 Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me.  I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.  But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.  I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  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.

Staff members here tend to get asked the same questions over and over again. “What do you do here?” “How did you come to Iona?” “What are you going to do after this?” And, most often “Where are you from?” And I can’t really blame people for asking those questions, as they are also the questions I find myself asking the most – they are good ways to begin conversation and to begin to get to know a person.

I have been reading the book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. The tractor-mechanic messiah of the story carries around a how-to handbook, and one of its instructions is this:

“The simplest questions are the most profound. Where were you born? Where is your home? Where are you going? What are you doing? Think about them once in a while, and watch your answers change.”

So, where are you from?

My answers to that question have been changing through my life and even as I’ve been here. When I was younger, I could answer that easily, as my whole world revolved around the place I’d lived all my life. But as I move and travel, I have more and more places that have shaped me, more and more places where I have left a bit of my heart and gained a bit of my soul, more and more places I could rightfully say I am “from.”

And as I answer that question repeatedly, I find that the sense of being “from” a place has more to do with roots than with geography. It has more to do with belonging than with amount of time spent in a place.

Also in answering that question repeatedly, I have realized how much of identity is shaped by where a person is from. Culture, values, and ways of relating are at least partially products of where we each are rooted.

Where are you from?

The human condition is such that we are all rooted in something beyond ourselves. We seem to know what is right and good even if we don’t see it around us. We struggle to find some reconciliation between our infinite souls and our limited bodies. We, as humans, have an innate yearning that draws us toward something more than we find ourselves able to grasp. We catch glimpses of the eternal even as we live in finiteness.

I think this is what this morning’s scripture is trying to get at. We as humans know that we are “from” somewhere else, rooted in something beyond us. And yet we are in this world. We are living in a culture that is ours and yet is not ours. And it can be a struggle to know what to do with that.

Where are you from?

In my growing-up denomination, I often heard the exhortation, “be in the world but not of the world.” It has taken a long time to find some comfort with that statement, as it can often be used as a cop out – you are not of the world, so you don’t need to take care of it. In fact, you can reject it or disdain it.

But John’s passage, convoluted though it is in parts, encourages us to be in the world as Christ was in the world. Christ came to heal and set right, to challenge and bewilder, to touch and comfort. Christ did not disdain the world nor detach himself from the world. Christ put himself fully in the middle of it. No, we need to take very seriously our task to be fully engaged in the world.

And the other part of the statement is equally true – we are not only of this world. We are rooted in something beyond this world. We are rooted in God and in God’s vision. We are from a different place. And we are called to live the values of that different place. We are called to live the upside down values that we know in our depths are true, even if they don’t seem to make sense in this world.


Since I’ve been here, living in a culture that is different from where I consider myself to be from, I have found myself having to make choices and ask questions of myself. What parts of my original culture are important to retain and what parts are important to change? Do I soften my accent so that people can understand me better? Or do I keep my accent and realize that sometimes communicating might be more difficult? Do I continue to put peanut butter on my bananas and face the stares and conversations that might come? Or do I give up that small enjoyment to fit in better? And in many other more significant ways, I have to ask myself “which values do I cling to, and which values do I conform to?”

This, but on a much larger scale, is what we face, brothers and sisters, as people who belong to a God who is bigger than this world. And these are rarely easy decisions, rarely black and white answers.

Do we support wars when they seem to be the only option? Or do we stand against all war?

How much do we buy into consumerism, when to buy in could make connection easier and when not buying in could set us apart?

How much do we participate in the model of “hard work and money equals success”?

In what ways do we use internet and other technology?

How much do we sacrifice and set ourselves apart, and how much do we join and conform?

What decisions have you made recently? What values did those decisions reflect? Can others tell, through your decisions, that you seek a world ordered by God’s values?

We cannot opt out of this world, because to do that would be unfaithful to the call of Christ to stand with the naked and the hungry, the poor and the neglected. We cannot opt out of this world because it is God’s world and God has called it good. But we also cannot forget that this world is not our only home.

We must take hope in God’s promise to be ever with us, to guide our decisions. We must draw strength from the encouragement and accountability that surrounds us in each other. And we know truth when we see it – it resonates in us, and it sanctifies what it touches. The same way we know a “home” when we find it, we know truth and Christ-like living, because we are from that larger reality.


This morning Christ comes to us in the things of this world, food and drink and people gathered, transforming the ordinary into the eternal – or perhaps drawing forward the eternal that is already present.

Through this meal we choose to recognize both our presence in this good world, as well as our participation in something beyond this world.

At this feast we once again commit ourselves to be in the world as Christ was in the world, living and breathing, loving and working.

At this feast we once again remind ourselves that we are not only of this world – we are children of God, rooted in upside-down kingdom values.

As we are nourished by a sense of where we are truly from, we are strengthened in our hard decisions and encouraged in our Christ-like living, even when it is not popular or easy.

Indeed, brothers and sisters, it is good that we are here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s