The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C - May 8, 2016

Preacher: 
The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor
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The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C

May 8, 2016

The Reverend Amelie A. Wilmer

All Souls Episcopal Church

 

 

Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)

 

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Today’s reading from the Gospel of John is, once again, about love.  Not only that, but what it means to be united in love, to be one.  This passage comes at the end of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples, his last will and testament, so to speak;

And he concludes it with this prayer to God on behalf of his disciples, and all who will follow them – that they will be one as Jesus and God are one.

Clearly it is important to Jesus that we love one another, and that we are united and at peace with each other. “Be one,” Jesus says.

Today is mother’s day and as a mother of three boys, I can’t help but think….so much easier said than done!  When they were going through their “terrible twos,” I found myself marveling at the fact that the human race has survived this long! And it doesn’t stop when we’re two!

What does Jesus mean when he tells us to be united in our love for each other? Can it really be that God requires us to feel a sense of warmth and good will towards everyone we come into contact with?  And then, does being united mean that we all need to act the same, think the same, believe the same things?  I sure hope not.

When Jesus commanded his disciples, and us, to be united in our love for each other he has to have known just how difficult that can be, sometimes.  I am sure we all can think of some people in our lives, our community, our work...in our own family, who are just impossible to love.  People who annoy us, who are rude or selfish, people who are relentlessly demanding…or whose ideas about things are simply too far out to tolerate.  Sometimes you just have to say: “God loves you and I’m doing the best I can”.

But what makes all of this so hard to do, all this loving of people who annoy us, is this concept of love that we’re stuck with, the warm fuzzy kind of love.  I talked about this a few weeks ago, when we read in the Gospel of John Jesus’ command to “Love one another, as I have loved you.” For Jesus, being united in love isn’t so much a feeling, but a choice - to act for the good of another – for their benefit, their spiritual growth, their relationship with God – not necessarily our own satisfaction. 

And Jesus knows, this kind of love isn’t easy, and it’s certainly not something we can do on our own. He reminds us over and over again that we love this way because God first loved us. We are united because Jesus is in us and God is in Jesus - God abides in us and we abide in God.  As in the namaste:  the God in me bows to the God in you.

But it doesn’t just stop with us. In our reading for today, Jesus prays for his followers to be united with each other in order for the world to know the love of God.  In other words, Jesus prays for our unity, not simply for its own sake, but for the sake of witnessing God’s love to the world around us.

And that is where things get a bit tricky.  Because we all know that the followers of Jesus had a lot of trouble “being one” – and we still do! 

John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople in the late fourth century, argued that the world could only come to faith in Jesus by observing the transformed lives of the followers of Jesus.  He wrote, “And how will they believe?  He then paraphrases the passage we get today, with Jesus praying to God: “You are a God of peace. And if therefore my disciples keep the same peace they have learned from me, your hearers will know the teacher by the disciples, however, if they quarrel, people will deny that they are the disciples of a God of peace and will not allow that I not being peaceable, have been sent from you!” 

John Chrysostom was no stranger to church fights and spoke with the voice of experience.  He knew what it looked like to outsiders when the insiders couldn’t get their act together...how ridiculous it was to witness to a God of love and peace while those very witnesses couldn’t keep the peace among themselves. 

Last week during our congregational meeting, we talked about the “mission of the church.”  Oftentimes, when we hear that phrase, we think about our outreach ministries.  But in today’s passage from John, Jesus seems to be saying that a primary “mission” of the church is to actually just be a loving and peaceful community in the midst of a broken and divided world.

And so, what I ask is this.  What does that unity, that oneness look like for the greater church when we are so different, when we hold so many diverse theologies and have so many different ways of worshiping?  Does oneness have to mean holding the same political views and moral values?  [issue in elections!] Does it mean saying the same prayers, using the same liturgies, reciting the same doctrines? Or is there a deeper unity grounded in the love of God - that transcends all differences?  Can we agree: in essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty?

As far as I know, Jesus did not call for doctrinal unity, organizational unity, or political unity.  And yet, so often, his prayer for us, “that we may all be one” has been used to justify particular interests and agendas, even the harsh imposition of artificial unity.  But Jesus’ prayer is for a unity that flows out of the love of God, received and shared among his followers, one that shows “the world,” the peace of Christ, born out of patience and tolerance, forgiveness and compassion.

That is, when we Christians “get along” with one another, our unity gives the world a chance to catch a glimpse of our “peaceable” teacher, Jesus.  When we Episcopalians partner with Lutherans like we do here, sharing a church home, doing things like Lent programming and July services together, we offer a model to others of a better world, a healed human family.  This past Thursday, we gathered at Historic Pole Green Church with civic leaders and clergy from a variety of faith traditions (with very different ideas!) to celebrate the National Day of Prayer.  I believe that these small acts of unity among Christians do offer us and those who look at us from the outside a new hope for the eventual unity and reconciliation of all people. 

This is what the ecumenical movement that emerged in the 20th century had in mind when they chose Jesus’ prayer that “we all be one” as the cornerstone of their efforts.  Since then, many of us, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and the Moravian church, Presbyterians and Methodists, are now in formal communion with one another while retaining our unique identities.  These have been good and productive developments, but of course, they haven’t been easy. 

Look at the give and take we’ve navigated here, over the past four years.  Messiah’s front lawn boldly displays both our sign and theirs.  We share the Narthex, classrooms, the fellowship hall. But, we have had to be patient with one another as we juggle a tight worship schedule, share a sacristy, make changes in the way we do flowers, liturgical hangings, and arrange our space. 

This has required compromise, open-mindedness, and self-giving; the kind of love that costs us our preconceptions and tightly held convictions, even some of our most cherished traditions. Or to put it more bluntly, the things that can become our idols.

So, where do we go from here, both as individuals, and as a community? How do we continue to show the world what it means to be united in love?   I am not sure I know, exactly, but what I do know is that love begins and ends in relationships.  We can talk about the nature of love all we want, but until we see it made visible in the way we relate to one another, we really don’t “do” love at all.

Perhaps, this week, we might consider how each one of our relationships is significant, how each might have Godly, eternal significance.  And then, what changes or adjustments might happen in our lives if we really believed our highest calling was to tend to those relationships?  What would this kind of “motherly love” look like, not only in relation to our families and closest friends, but in and between our communities of faith? 

Our unity hinges on this kind of love.  It all begins and it all ends, in love.

 

Amen

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