30 May Sermon: Easter 7 (Year C)
In the name of the Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit. Amen
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.
So begins our rather curious reading from the Gospel according to St John. They are the words often heard in prayers for Christian unity that we pray when we speak of different denominations or sects coming together but is this coming together of institutions or powers and dominions really the unity for which Christ prayed?
I suggest not. Nor is it a prayer for uniformity, the uniformity that brought the building of tower of Babel to an abrupt end. On such uniformity and conformity are the worlds empires built. This is not the way of Christ, nor is this prayer of Christ a prayer for a freedom where there are no bounds for in such freedom does not lie love but chaos and pain.
This prayer is a prayer for unity and a freedom but a unity and freedom far richer and deeper than most of us here on earth can imagine. It is a freedom enveloped and bounded by responsible love meaning a love that is truly considerate of others and puts them first. A love that originates from God.
Jesus makes this clear when he says 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.
The revealing of God’s love in us is the purpose of this prayer. The unity that comes from the gradual revelation of this hidden wonder of love is the joy that brings us together. In our world today many clashes are taking place. One is a battle of ideologies between authoritarianism and liberal democracies. Which one of these comes close to the vision of the unity for which Christ prayed? I would answer neither.
Authoritarianism is a call to uniformity and therefore does not adequately express the love and the embracing of the gifts and character traits of the individual, each made in the image of God. Liberal democracies lead to a freedom for the individual which although historically founded on principals of responsible freedom, has become one in which we have become increasingly separated from the reality of the corporate body or society.
This has meant that the practical showing of love to each other has become more abstract (excessive consumerism and misuse of social media being two signs) and is evermore resembling a freedom that is out of control. An attitude is developing that is indifferent to each others needs. And a love and empathy that is abstract so that the empathy felt about injustices does not lead to the action required. We see this in the climate crisis we face today as well as the worlds response to Covid where developing countries are left behind. This disconnect has occurred, at least in part, because of the giving up of its true foundation. That of God and our need for his grace and mercy and our dependence on each other in love.
These ideologies of the state are not the vision of the practical love and service that forms so much of Jesus’s own ministry and the early Christian communities in the book of Acts. And the cancel culture that fails to embrace unfashionable opinions is a far cry from the call to unity prayed for in the Gospel passage today and the merciful call for the thirsty to come and drink.
Indeed no ideology or false dichotomy will ever resolve the issues faced by the world today.
There is a great hope though and it is revealed in this prayer in the Gospel according to St John and is so graphically depicted in the readings from Acts in releasing of prisoners and the book of Revelation in the repeated calls to come.
Christ says he and the father are one. Christ’s will is therefore the fathers will. The same one, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who in the beginning said let there be at the creation and it was, and it was good is now saying let us be one. Therefore, as in creation, when it had been completed was very good so now the eternal words of let there be resound again and it will be so, we will be one.
What can this mean other than it is already coming into affect and to a large extent already is and indeed it will be very good. Yet we do not perceive this unity unfolding, this reality of the glory and victory of love revealed.
I wish to now tell you a story. It is a true story about an intrepid, although most would probably say foolish, middle aged monk who one day decided that he needed to cut an area of grass covering a hectare of land on a slope with many tree tubes and stakes in the way using nothing but a wheeled strimmer with a perished tyre.
For those who don’t know what a wheeled strimmer is, it basically has the appearance of a lawn mower but instead of a neat blade to cut grass it has a strong plastic twine that rotates and rips apart any grass, weed or thorn in its path. One might say it is a lawnmower with attitude.
Anyway this rather eccentric monk went out and reached the plantation of trees and all he could see was an endless line going to the horizon. He couldn’t see the end of the trees nor to the centre of the plantation. He didn’t even know where he should start, although filling the strimmer with petrol felt like a good idea. Anyway he got it started, put one foot in front of the other and started to push and strim. The grass was very long and strong and the landscape sloping upwards so the strimmer needed quite a push and then trees kept getting in the way. He started to try and strim in circles (the strimmer kicks it’s mess out to the right so mowing in circles ensures any cuttings get cast out onto areas already strimmed) but he was getting disconsolate. There seemed no end and with a broken tyre and grass too long he was expending much energy with what appeared to be little progress, but he persevered and he came to the end of the plantation and turned a corner. He completed his first circuit ducking in and out of trees and overcoming obstacles. He still couldn’t see to the end of where he had already strimmed or where he was heading but progress was being made and so he continued in ever smaller circles for another 10 laps. He looked up and low and behold up ahead was the area he had just mown. He could see across the uncut landscape to the end and so took heart that he was approaching his goal. Stoicly he continued in the same vein weaving in and out of tree tubes and other obstacles for another ten laps and he could now see clearly where he was heading. The centre of the plantation remained uncut but everything else around him was the delightful sight of sheer devastation. Then after 3 more laps the job was done. He had reached the centre and what had seemed impossible at the start, not knowing where he was going had been completed and he could see clearly.
The point of the tale is that the monk couldn’t see an end or indeed where he was heading at the start but he knew there was an end and a centre and so trusting in that he persevered and reached his goal.
I think this unity, indeed the revealing of God’s purpose or our vocational journeys, work in a similar way, if we have faith i.e. if we know it will happen and indeed that it is happening because God’s will has been expressed that it will happen then even if we can’t see it, if we persevere and open our hearts to the prayer that Jesus is praying in St John’s Gospel the truth of it will slowly be revealed.
Sight alone is a poor sense for discernment, it is when this is combined with the true light of faith through listening in prayer, to each other and to scripture that we make progress. So what are the signs of this revelation of love, our coming together as one, in our own lives? This list is not exhaustive but as examples….
If we see the work we do each day not as chores but as service of love for each other. If we begin to recognise a growth in patience and a growing desire to forgive where once we judged. If we wish to reach out and go the extra yard to help another. If we recognise a fault in ourselves and don’t beat ourselves up so much but work to improve and live lightly with our foibles. Then these are the building blocks of the unity for which Christ prayed. They are not superhuman schemes. They are the little everyday acts of love that lead others to observe and say see how they love one another and so get drawn into the union themselves.
And as we reflect on these things that others do for us so our love grows and we are more able to reach out further and see the destination clearer and when we see where we are headed, when we know that the prayer of Christ is being fulfilled in us how can we not come in answer to the call of revelation? and do we not feel as if the bonds are being removed from us as with Paul in Acts? and so our Lord cried out in Isaiah:
I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“I am the LORD; that is my name!
Has not this prophesy been fulfilled in Acts and the Gospels? and again:
All those who are thirsty come to the waters and those without bread come buy and eat without money and without price. Is not this echoed in Revelation today?
The fulfilment of such prophesy, of such hope, is through Christ and in his prayer of love that we have heard in part in John’s gospel this morning. The incarnation of God in human flesh has been taken up into the heavens so that he can be in all things and we too might become one with him.
Now sometimes we feel unable to do the little things mentioned above, just trying to look after ourselves and get through the day is an achievement. In this situation just the deep faith that God has promised we will be one with him and therefore we will be, just that belief is sufficient and if we can’t manage that then Christ’s love alone will overcome our despair.
We need not feel too guilty for not being able to reach out in the ways we would wish, as scripture says: Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world but that through him the world might be saved and All those who carry heavy burdens come to me and I will give you rest or again as we hear in revelation:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The water of life, the love of Christ and his word is indeed a gift. Do not doubt but believe. In times of trouble, when we are gasping or we have a flat tyre we should not lose hope in God’s mercy for his love for us is boundless. There is an end to the current struggle and a time of peace. We may not see it now but we know it’s there.
There will be more struggles but not without rest, care and support and the love of Christ. As the comforting words from the song of songs call out to us in our distress Arise my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle-dove of peace is heard in our land.
The Lord has said in prayer that we may all be one with him and that the world will come to know Christ through this unity. This promise will be fulfilled . As the Father and the son are one, we will be one with each other and with our Lord and that is an encouragement and our great hope in these dark times.
Alleluia! Come Lord Jesus and to him be all glory and praise. Amen