That They All May Be One

This sermon was offered at Christ Church, Edmonton, in prayer for General Synod.

……………………

There are a whole lotta ways 

You could describe the Church these days,

But “one” ain’t one of ‘em.

“Of the same mind,”

Ain’t it either y’all,

And don’t even try to tell me that

We look not to our own interests,

But to the interests of others.

These two passages we heard tonight

Might just be my two

Favourite passages in the whole dang Bible

But neither one of them

Describes the world I live in

Or the Church I love so much.

And it’s not exactly a recent phenomenon,

As much as certain parties like to pretend it is.

I mean, have they read about the Jerusalem Council?

Or the book of Galatians?

How about the Council of Nicea?

Or the Reformation?

Basically the second Jesus ascended into heaven

And left us to sort out how to follow Him

Without Him literally holding our hand through it

We quit being the kind of Church he prayed for

On the night before He died.

We have spent centuries –

Millennia –

Shouting at each other

About what communion means

And who Jesus even is, man,

And how to read the Bible

And who’s allowed to be ordained.

At least we’re not literally murdering each other anymore, I guess.

Because we did.

Literally.

Murder each other.

Over our disagreements

About how best to follow Jesus.

The same Jesus

Who prayed that we may be one

The night before He died

To save us all.

It’s almost as if He knew.

We hear today

The conclusion of what scholars call Jesus’s Farewell Discourse.

I’m sure it didn’t sound quite as lofty at the time,

But all the same:

If we’re looking at John’s Gospel, anyway,

It sure seems like the Last Supper was an awfully big deal.

Jesus makes some pretty grand pronouncements

And issues some pretty hefty commandments.

Commandments like:

Just as I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet,

So too you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

Do not let your hearts be troubled;

Believe in God, believe also in me.

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Greater love has no one than this:

To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

You are my friends;

I no longer call you servants.

And in the section we heard today:

The glory that you have given me I have given them,

So that they may be one, as we are one,

So that the world may knowthat you have sent me

And have loved them

Even as you have loved me.

And that’s the part that convicts me,

Every time.

Because you see,

Our lack of unity isn’t a problem

Onlybecause sometimes we end up hurting one another

When we put our need to be right,

Our need to have found

The onlyright way to read the Bible,

The only right way to worship,

Theonlyright way to ethically live in the world

Above the needs of others,

Though that is pretty bad.

Our lack of unity is a problem

Because Jesus prays that we might be one

So thatthe world may know

That God has sent Jesus

And loves the world

Even as he loves Jesus.

When we are not one,

The world doesn’t see,

Doesn’t know

Doesn’t recognize that good news

That God loves us

All of us

The whole world

Just as much as God loves Jesus.

The world looks at us,

A divided Church,

And doesn’t see a lot of love.

They don’t see a community that

Has the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God and had equality with God,

Humbled himself,

Emptied himself,

Because he did not regard actual, literal equality with God

As a thing to be grasped.

A thing to be exploited.

Jesus

Was and is co-equal with God

In authority,

In glory,

In every imaginable way.

He was and is one with God the Father,

Completely unified and inseparable.

And when God decided

To include us

In that relationship.

When God decided

To come to earth

To really cement His relationship with a sinful human race

That had rejected him

Over and over again,

Jesus didn’t say,

“Hold up, you know what sounds like no fun at all?

Living among those stinky humans for 30 years

And then getting crucified.

Oh, y’all need me in order to get eternal salvation?

Sounds like a you problem.”

Jesus humbled himself,

Even to the point of death

Even death on a cross.

And in so doing,

He united us –

Our sinful, stinky selves

Who have been dragged kicking and screaming

Into goodness –

With himself

And with God the Father.

And now we,

Who have been given this free gift of grace

For which we ought to be thanking God on our knees

Every single day

For this extraordinary gift

That we donot deserve

That we could not deserve

In any imaginable universe

Have the audacity

To turn around and try to shut the door behind us.

To try to grasp

The teeny, tiny bit of authority and glory that has been granted to us

As a gift from God

Not because we’re actually equal with Him

But because He made us part of His body

And we exploit it

To say to people

You can’t sit with us

Because we’re right with God

And you’re not.

I mean, do we hear ourselves?

Now, look:

The problem here is not disagreement.

God

The same God who created the whole wide universe

Who painstakingly handcrafted

Over 1.3 million species on this planet alone,

That God is not one who requires us to come to perfect agreement

In order to achieve unity.

I mean, God is, within Godself,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Two dudes and bird,

That God is not about sameness.

When Jesus prays that we may be one,

He’s not asking us all to agree.

He’s not saying that we have

To come to one unified position

About what certain passages in the Bible mean

Or how we ought to worship

Or what in the heck marriage is even for anyway.

Unity

Is not the same thing

As uniformity.

Unity

Does not require one, single, agreed-upon point of view.

In fact,

Unity

Isn’t something that we make happen

At all.

Unity

Is a gift

From God Himself.

In just a few minutes,

As we gather in Eucharist,

In communion,

Union with

The God who made us, redeemed us, sustains us,

Who incorporated us into His very own Body,

We will pray for the Church.

And when we pray for its unity,

We don’t ask for God to make us one.

No, no.

We pray,

“Reveal its unity

Guard its faith

And preserve it in peace.”

Revealits unity.

The Church doesn’t need our help

In order to be one,

It already is one!

The unity of the Church

Isn’t a state that we achieve

By bullying everyone into agreement

And forcing out those who feel differently.

The unity of the Church

Is a gift from our Creator.

A gift that He gives

So that the world he loves

May know how muchhe loves.

And that unity is revealed

When we lay down our pride.

When we lay down our lives.

When we sit next to those

Who most offend us.

When we walk together

With those who disagree.

Because being kind is more important than being right.

Because the world must know

Just how much God loves us all.

That is the only reason the Church exists.

So that the world may know

How much God loves them. And us.

And so tonight, let us pray for the Church.

Reveal its unity, Lord,

That your love may be made known

To a desperately hurting world

That needs to hear

How deeply you love them.

Amen.

3rd Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Pour your Spirit upon us, O Lord,

That we might preach good news to the poor.

Amen.

……………

You gotta have a good opening line.

Back when I was trying to become a blogger,

Websites who advised up-and-coming bloggers

Used to tell us to spend about 50% of the time

Coming up with a post title,

25% of our time on the first line,

And 25% on the whole rest of the blog post.

Because that was about in line with the amount of attention

Your readers would pay to each part.

At preaching camp,

They told us the same thing.

“Never start your sermon with

‘Today, we celebrate the Feast of Circumcision of Our Lord’”

They would tell us.

You gotta have a good opening line.

It draws people in

Captures their attention

Convinces them that the rest of what you’ve got to say

Is worth listening to.

Today, we hear Jesus’s opening line.

As I mentioned last week,

The gospels differ slightly on order of events,

But according to Luke,

Jesus’s adult ministry so far has been to

Get baptized

Immediately head out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan

Then go home to Galilee

To be a good Jewish boy and go to synagogue.

He hasn’t even called his disciples yet!

Because before he asks people to follow him,

Jesus has to give them this thesis statement

This encapsulation of what he is all about

To convince them

That the rest of what he’s got to say

Is worth their time,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus just lays it all out there.

This is the point.

When we look at all future teachings he offers,

All actions he makes,

Every healing,

Every miracle,

Every dinner at a tax collector’s house,

Even as he walks to the cross,

Jesus declares that

This is his mission statement,

Through which everything else he does

Should be viewed.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he says,

So he has been anointed by God

To share a message beyond human origin.

A message connected to history,

Because this is a quotation of the book of Isaiah.

And it’s the part of Isaiah,

Where God appoints the prophet to tell Israelites in exile

That they get to go home.

The Israelites who were living in Babylon

Believed that their exile was divine punishment

For their idolatry,

But Isaiah turns up to tell them they’re up for parole.

It’s good news, this message,

And specifically, it’s good news for the poor.

Not the poor in spirit.

Not the slightly disadvantaged.

Not the less than billionaires.

The gospel that Jesus preaches is good news

For the poor.

It’s also good news

For captives, who are now released from their bondage.

For the blind, who receive recovery of sight.

For the oppressed,

Who hear that freedom’s coming,

The Year of the Lord’s Favour.

Now, the Year of the Lord’s Favour

Doesn’t mean God is just smiling down on people,

Happy about them.

It doesn’t mean God is going to bless the crops

And make everyone rich.

The Year of the Lord’s Favour is something outlined in the Law.

It is a divine economic reset,

Intended to be carried out

Every fifty years.

All debts are forgiven.

All land that had been sold

Had to be returned

To its original owners.

Good news for the poor, indeed,

But not necessarily super great news for the rich,

Many of whom had bought up this land

And now had to return it

With no hope of a refund.

I haven’t been able to find any evidence

That the Israelites ever actually practiced this Law,

Which makes it kind of amazing that it never got dropped from the Scriptures

Over the years.

But it didn’t,

So everyone knew they were supposed to respond

To Jesus’s proclamation

With a radical reordering of society

That would leave many much poorer than their current state

For the sake of others.

It’s no wonder the crowd responds by trying to throw him off a cliff!

Now, we might be surprised to hear

That this is Jesus’s mission statement.

The Church,

As full of sinners as any other collection of people,

Seems to have forgotten our marching orders rather quickly.

While the Church in Acts is recorded as holding all things in common,

We can see from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians

That remembering we are all in this together

Was a struggle even from early days.

And nowadays,

People are shocked when I share with them

Christ’s love for the poor

His call to radical freedom

And total reordering of society

To render justice for the oppressed.

That’s not something they associate with Jesus at all.

Over the past 17 months I have served as your rector,

I’ve been running all over the city,

Having coffee with various non-profit leaders,

Trying to figure out how we can contribute

To the service they are offering our neighbours.

At some point,

In nearly every conversation,

The other person says,

“Don’t you …. worry you’ll get in trouble

For saying things like Jesus loves the poor?

For encouraging Christians to let those they’ve oppressed go free?

Shouldn’t you keep some of these opinions to yourself?”

At first, I didn’t know how to answer them,

So completely was I taken aback.

I didn’t realize just how terrible the Christian reputation was,

That people thought it would be controversial

For me to proclaim the very statement

That inaugurates Jesus’s ministry.

It’s been sobering

To learn just how few people

Associate the gospel of Jesus

With good news.

But we can change that.

We have to change that.

Because the body of which we are members

Is not just our human collective.

It is the body of Christ Himself.

It is not just that we all suffer

When even one member does,

Jesus suffers too.

And when we proclaim a gospel

That offers judgment upon the poor,

Slammed doors in the faces of prisoners,

“God helps those who helps themselves” to the blind,

And “get over it! That was so long ago” to the oppressed,

Then it’s Jesus

Who people hear making those claims.

So it’s our job

To live into his mission statement

As individual members of his body in the world

So that it’s no longer considered controversial

To proclaim that what motivates us

Is the same word that he lived, and died,

And rose again to declare.

As we gather today

For our annual meeting,

We will have some business to discuss.

Now, it may seem boring to talk about budgets and vestry members

And Robert’s Rules of Order,

But I want us to keep this mission statement in mind.

Because we are not a business.

We’re not even just a non-profit.

We’re a church,

Part of the body of Christ whom we worship.

Everything we do – everything!

From what we say to what we buy to who leads us

Should reflect the mission Jesus proclaimed.

Because if we won’t live into Jesus’s opening line,

How the heck are we going to follow

The rest of the example he showed us?

This is our mission.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.

Will we proclaim

Good News?

Amen.