Saturday, May 11, 2013

That they might be one - Easter 7C

Recently we've been coping with a lot of funerals at St Matthew's – some for parish neighbours we didn't know well, but others for members of the church family whose passing leaves a real gap. I've been blessed to spend time with these dear friends in the last stages of their journey, and that has inspired me to think a bit more about the whole business of saying Goodbye.
I know that I will never forget the last thing that Pat said to me, a few days before her death
I'll see you later...” she said “Here or there”
Those words were a wonderful expression of the faith that had filled her life and spilled out to touch the lives of others...and I paid special attention at the time because I was pretty certain that this would indeed be the last time we met in this life.

Last words have a special power – and our gospel today is part of the the lengthy prayer that Jesus offers at the Last Supper in John's gospel – the wise words that are know as “The Farewell Discourse”
Last words of advice from our Lord himself...Clearly we should all sit up and take notice.
We NEED to hear what Jesus is saying.
And what does he say?
Well, on one level, he says nothing to US at all.
We are eavesdroppers, listening in as he prays to his Father – but as so often in the gospels there is a sense that we are meant to hear just as elsewhere in John Jesus says to God
You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me."
But this prayer is both an entreaty to God – to make things happen – and a declaration for us of the way things should be.
At this most crucial point in his earthly ministry Jesus asks God for one thing for us
That they may all be one”
Words that have troubled and burdened us ever since, as we deal with factions and disputes, as we take sides over theology and worship separately on the grounds of belief or simply of preference.

Words that can change how you feel in a matter of moments.

Let me explain
A couple of years ago I was at a training event – and sitting at the same table as our own Bishop Michael. I wasn't very pleased with him that day. Only a couple of days earlier he had refused to publicly affirm something that mattered a great deal to me – and I was planning to air my disappointment with him in the course of the event. Only very early on, as an illustration of something (I can't remember what) we were asked to give something we valued to someone else around our table to look after for the rest of the day. And so it was that I found myself wearing Bishop Michael's episcopal ring for a few hours.
It was heavy on my hand – a man's signet ring with a dark stone...and around the stone I saw engraved “Ut unum sint” “That they might all be one”
As I read those words and realised that for Bishop Michael they would be non-negotiably present whenever he caught sight of his hand, at any moment on any day, I understood just HOW heavy the ring really was – and how heavy the burden on our bishops to be a focus of unity within the church.
Every day they are confronted with the need to make Jesus's high priestly prayer a reality – while the members of the churches they serve seem intent on ignoring it as much as possible.
For a little while that day I was able to put aside my own anger and disappointment that +Michael had not fallen in with my particular agenda as I recognised his role in calling us back to the over-riding agenda that Jesus placed before us in his farewell discourse.
That they might all be one”
But oh, we seem so far from becoming the answer to that prayer.
There are divisions within our families, our churches, our nation.
A seemingly endless series of opposing pairs – male or female; rich or poor; gay or straight; Christian or Muslim; conservative or liberal; educated or uneducated; young or old; have or have not.
But those labels that we bandy about so liberally are attached not to issues but to people...
real people, with names, lives, joys, sorrows, concerns, and needs just like our own.
I think we sometimes forget or ignore this. It is easier to deal with an issue than a real keep our distance from the unfamiliar by drawing lines to exclude and to reassure ourselves that WE are right, approved of, accepted, in control.
In order for me to win someone must lose, in order for me to be included someone must be excluded otherwise winning and being included mean nothing. The divisions of our lives in some way become self-perpetuating.
But Jesus prays “that they may be one”

He doesn't pray for tolerance, for smoother relations between factions...
He doesn't pray that differences would be eliminated.
He prays “That they may be he and the Father are one – so that OUR oneness might be a revelation of God's presence in the world.

That does not mean, however, that we will lose our identity or individuality.
Jesus does not stop being Jesus nor the Father stop being the Father because they are one. Jesus and the Father are one because they love and give themselves to each other.
Their oneness – and the oneness to which we should aspire - is not about eliminating differences.
It is about love.
Love is the only thing that can ever overcomes division...for divisions are, ultimately, based on fear...and perfect Love (the love we meet in God) casts out fear.
In love there may be differences but there is no division.
God’s love knows no conditions and no boundaries.
God loves male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight.
God loves Christian and Muslim, conservative and liberal, educated and uneducated.
God loves young and old, introverts and extroverts,haves and have nots.
All are loved fully, completely, and uniquely.

Often when I'm baptising I tell the family “Baptism will change nothing on God's part. God already loves your child so much that if she was the only person every born, Jesus would still have come into the world for her.”
I don't often unpack what that total love means...
God's love has NO boundaries...not even between Jesus and you...or me.
Shall I say that again?
God loves you as much as he loves Jesus.
God loves your neighbour as much as he loves Jesus.
God loves your enemy as much as he loves Jesus.
No difference, no distinction.
Absolute love for each and every one.

If that is how God loves how can we be content to do less?
For far too long we have dealt with each other through our boundaries, differences, and divisions. See where that's lead! It's not very pretty
Though Jesus is praying to the Father you and I will in large part be the ones to answer his prayer.
We can collaborate with Him – or go our own way,clinging to those divisions wrought from fear and suspicion.
Let's begin, every day, to choose Love.

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