The Upper Room Discourse as a Framework for Missional Spirituality

The Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) creates a model for how the missional church is called to dwell in God, each other, and the world.

Mapping the Text

Dwelling in the Tension of Love and Betrayal

John 13:1-20 Jesus Washes Feet

It is not an accident that the Upper Room Discourse begins with an action. God is not an object to be studied, or an idea or doctrine to be ascertained. God is love and love is action between persons. Jesus demonstrates the indwelling love of God by washing the feet of his disciples. The rest of the discourse is his explanation of what he has done.

John 13:21-30 Betrayal

God’s love exists in a world mixed with betrayal. It is not a utopian, escapist dream of perfection yet-to-come. God’s love extends to all people, even those who will betray it. It is unconditional.

John 13:31-35 Love in the Midst of Betrayal

Judas’ betrayal was immediate. Peter’s is yet to come. Yet, here, sandwiched between the antithesis of love is Jesus’ proclamation of God’s purpose for the world: Love. The disciples will no longer have Jesus bodily present with them. The only presentation of God in the flesh will be their love for each other. It will not be their preaching or their miracles or their institutions. It will be their love that proclaims Jesus to the world. Period.

John 13:36-38 Coming Betrayal

This foreshadowing of Peter’s coming betrayal is a haunting and hopeful reminder that even the best among the disciples is capable of the most heinous of acts. It is not the strength of our will, or the prowess of our intellect that will be the proclamation of God’s purposes. It is only the humble, Trinitarian dwelling—the mutual love—that will be the sign of God’s glory.

Dwelling in the Triune God

John 14:1-14 Dwelling in the Father

The dwelling of God is not in time and space. It is in relationship. Jesus goes to prepare a place when he goes to the cross and lays down his life. His selfless, self-giving is what opens the resurrection power of God’s life for the world. This is the way of the cross, the way to life, and any who walk it, by losing their life, will be opened up to participate in God’s life in and for the world. The are many dwelling places in the Father, and all are welcome.

John 14:15-31 Dwelling with the Advocate

The Spirit of God is the advocate, the paraclete, the power of God that comes alongside, speaks for, and works through the disciple. The Father and Son are one, mutually indwelling, and the Spirit’s indwelling of the disciple is the power through which the disciple indwells the Father and the Son. The Spirit is also the power through which the disciple is able to obey the commands of Jesus. The command is to love, and love is the mutual indwelling by way of the cross. We can only take that path by the leading and power of the Spirit.

John 15:1-17 Dwelling in the Vine

Jesus is the vine. He vine is the Father’s and the purpose of the vine is to produce sweet wine for the world. That is why Israel was planted—blessed to be a blessing. Now Jesus, the embodiment of Israel, reminds us that we are the branches. The branch does not produce fruit. It is the work of the Spirit that flows through the vine to the branch that brings forth the fruit. The action of the branch is to abide, to dwell, to remain in the vine, through the power of the Spirit, for the purposes of the Gardener.

Dwelling with the Neighbor

John 15:18-16:4 Dwelling with the Neighbor

The purpose of the grapes is to feed the neighbor. The neighbor may or may not want the wine. Jesus warns the disciples that many neighbors may be hostile to the wine and may reject them, even to the point of death. Yet, the wine is still offered. That is the purpose of the vine and the branches. They wash the feet of the betrayer, and love unconditionally.

John 16:5-15 Dwelling with the Neighbor in the Spirit

The disciples do not dwell with the neighbor in their own strength or by their own power. That is impossible. It is God’s dwelling through the Spirit at work in, with, and through the branch/disciple that will expose the world to the light of God’s presence in the world.

John 16:16-33 Dwelling in the Meantime

Time is a difficult thing for the disciple to grasp. Jesus leaves them and promises to return. If the purpose of discipleship is to be with Jesus like it was in the past, then why does he leave them to wait for the future? Perhaps it is because the only thing that exists is the present. The disciple of Jesus dwells with God and the neighbor in the meantime. The disciple loves in the midst of betrayal and hostile neighbors, dwelling in the meantime in God.

John 17:1-26 Dwelling in God’s Glory

God’s glory is not a time and place, but is the full realization of the indwelling of Father, Son, Spirit, Disciple, and Neighbor. The glory, doxa, fame of God is that God’s Trinitarian, Creative presence is embodied through the action of love by way of the cross and in the power of the Spirit.

This is Trinitarian Praxis.

It begins with Praxis

Jesus begins by washing the disciples’ feet. This act of service demonstrated to them, through action, the message he wished to present in the rest of the discourse. He showed them that the heart of leadership in God’s kingdom is that the leader is servant of the other. The focus is not self, but other, not preserving position, but putting others first.

It is About Dwelling

The Greek father, John of Damascus, first used the term perichoresis to describe the Trinity. The word denotes the interweaving patterns of particulars to form a whole. Jesus uses the word meno—to remain or to dwell—as a central theme in the discourse. He goes to prepare a place in his Father’s house were there are many dwelling places. The Father dwells in the Son and the Son dwells in the Father. The Father and the Son send the Spirit dwell in the disciples. Jesus invites the disciples to dwell in him so that he may dwell in them.

This dwelling has multiple facets that demonstrate a relational ontology. (1) The Father, Son, and Spirit share a mutual indwelling. This is the immanent Trinity. (2) The three persons of the Trinity, in their relationality, create and sustain life. The Father is the vine grower. The Son is the Vine. And, the Spirit is the life energy that flows like sap through the vine and the branch to produce fruit. Apart from a mutual indwelling with the vine the branch ceases to be and is discarded into the fire. (3) The church dwells in the world. Jesus prayed that the Father would not take the church out of the world, but that he would protect the church from the evil one. The church is sent into the world to dwell with the other, to demonstrate the mutual indwelling and unity of God and the church, so that the world will also know the love of God.

It is About Being Formed into Fruit

Here, then, is the place of spiritual formation in the church. The goal of the indwelling is the production of fruit that can be enjoyed by the world. This is the so that of the priestly prayer. The church focuses on its mutual indwelling, not so that individual souls can go to Heaven when they die, but that the whole world can taste and see that the Lord is good.