"Be completely one"-Sermon for Easter 7, John 17:20-26
So, today’s Gospel lesson is a continuation of Jesus’ discourse at the Last Supper. The last earthly meal that he shares with his loved ones, his friends and family, before the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. And, as we come to today’s gospel lesson, Jesus has, at this Last Supper, already washed his disciples’ feet, the great sacramental act of vulnerability and lavish love…that demonstrates for his friends, including us, how they and we are to serve and care for one another. Further, he has already shared with his friends his “New Commandment”, the commandment to love one another…just as he has loved them…a sort of love that looks like washing one another’s feet…like a mutual caring for one another’s bodies, hearts and minds…like cleaning each other up, when we and the world have made a mess of things. For if nothing else, foot-washing is a sign and symbol of intimate connection…it says to one another that we are never going to let each other go…we are never going to stop caring for each other, in all of life and wherever we are…whether in moments of great joy or great sorrow. And following all of that awesomeness, both the foot-washing and command to love each other as he loves us, in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus then prays for his beloved ones…those in the room…and all those who will follow after them…including you and me. So, Jesus concludes the Last Supper by praying for his beloved.
I imagine they are now all reclining around the dinner table, as the meal nears its conclusion, soaking in all the love…all the wisdom…that Jesus is pouring into their lives…and then, again, Jesus begins to pray…for them…and they get to over hear his sweet words…asking God, their loving and eternal parent, to protect them, make them whole and complete, to fill their lives with wonder and joy…and to deeply connect them…one to another…and all together…to God. I really can’t begin to imagine how entirely filling and encouraging and wonderous it must have been to hear Jesus praying for them, out loud…prayers that surely kept them afloat in the difficult days that would follow…through Good Friday and Easter and the great challenge of beginning their own mission to share the love of God in Christ with everyone who has life and breath.
Indeed, today we just heard a part of Jesus’ prayer for his beloved. The whole prayer takes up the entirety of John chapter 17…26 verses in all...of which we heard just 7. And as I re-read the prayer in preparation for this sermon, I noticed that in those seven verses, sitting before us today, Jesus uses the word “one” 4 times, not the number 1…but the concept of one-ness…four times…in seven verses. And, as if for emphasis, the fourth time Jesus uses the word one…he prays that his friends and followers might become “completely one”, just as he and his Father are completely one. Though, again, Jesus, in this prayer, asks for God to shower many blessings on his friends…protection, joy, wonder, wholeness, it can surely be said that a primary focus of the entire prayer, most especially the 7 verses we read, is “one-ness” or, to use another word, for “unity” among God’s beloved people. The prayer profoundly suggests that Jesus deeply desires that his friends and followers throughout time and space would be intimately connected, again, one to another…and all together…to God. So, what might this mean for our life together…what might being “one” actually look like as a lived experience…and to what end…why does it seem that Jesus’ own heart’s desire is for us to live in unity…to be one?
Before St. Julian’s actually began worshipping publicly…while in a sense…still in the womb, I called together about a dozen people, many of whom are still with us today, to be the team, a band of sisters and brothers, who, with God’s help, would help me launch this family of faith…to be and become the beloved community we are today…and help set the communal DNA that we will continue to build upon, as we walk into our undiscovered future together. So how were we to begin once gathered? How does one start a church from the ground up? Well, at least speaking for me, the desire was to dive straight into what we would do…what ministries we might want to begin…what strategies we hoped to engage to begin to attract others…what worship might look like (always so important to us Episcopalians)…what goals we might want to set for both the near and long term. In our highly organized and success driven world, the instinct was and remains to plan and prepare…to do something. So, I will give all the credit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For fighting against these impulses, I decided that we would begin not by planning and doing but by telling our stories, over several weeks, to each other. The wisdom that came to me was that planting a church in a secularizing world was a great missional challenge. It was going to be really hard work…not entirely unlike the disciple’s beginning their own post Easter mission to take the message of God’s love in Christ out into the wide-world…to everyone with ears and hearts to listen. So, I felt like God was saying to us, in our prayers, that if we were going to accomplish the task set before us, begin to live into the vision that God had set before us, we could only do so if we were deeply connected, profoundly committed one to another…and all together…to God.
So, it made sense to begin our journey together by telling our stories to each other, finding connections in shared values and experiences, to simply begin to fall in love with each other…and find God in the very midst of that growing love…one for another. And the brave person, who is still with us today some ten years later, who courageously volunteered to go first, indeed, told his story, and he did so with great authenticity and vulnerability. He shared his highs and lows…his hopes and fears. And following his example, we were all encouraged to do likewise…and we went deep…quick. We bonded and became rooted in one another. And, I believe, we, indeed, experienced the sort of one-ness that Jesus prayed for…for his friends and followers…for us…all those many years ago at the Last Supper. And, thus, today, we, the 300 or so women, men and children who comprise this family of faith called St. Julian’s and the countless more lives that have been blessed through our ministries, are the fruit…the fruit of a dozen or so people, some of whom were strangers when we first gathered, who dared to discover one-ness, who courageously shared their stories, who chose to entrust our spiritual lives to each other, who chose a deep and abiding connection, one with another, in the very midst of this sorely divided and fragmented world.
So, why did Jesus pray for unity for his disciple’s…pray for a sense of one-ness to be found in the life they shared together…well…at least in part…because only together, only together would they ever begin to accomplish their mission…to begin to live into the vision for the creation of a beloved community that God had set before them. And, this is, of course, our story as well.
And, it is important to say, that the one-ness that Jesus prays for his friends and followers, for us, is not the same thing as ideological agreement on all things political, communal, or even theological. Instead, God-inspired one-ness, is expressed in an abiding love for each other, which is rooted in friendships of substance. One-ness is discovered in love…our love for one another, always first and foremost. For understanding the mind of God that directs our unified mission for the life of the world can only be discovered as we lean into each other…listen respectfully and attentively to one another…valuing our diversity of opinions and experience. Only then can a compelling and unifying, God-given vision emerge and take shape…birthed by the weaving together of our very different ideas and wisdom and gifts and experiences. And, further, living into this vision will require each and every one of our very different and unique gifts and backgrounds to be offered, appreciated and shared…if we ever hope to just begin to accomplish it…and, more so, to be and become it…our Go-given vision of “growing in relationship, loving all well, and seeking intimacy with Christ”.
So why, again, does Jesus pray for one-ness among his beloved? Well, for the very life of the world, no less. That in love and faithfulness toward one another…and all together…toward God…that we might, as one, shape a beloved community of rainbow-colored people that continually invites others from all sorts of backgrounds into God’s family. A beloved community that thrives because of the rich diversity it welcomes and holds together, like a many-colored stained-glass window that tells a unified story about the love of God. A beloved community that is bound together not by ideology, but by a willingness to love and appreciate one another through and because of our differences…for those differences make us rich and complex and interesting and colorful. A beloved community that demonstrates for all those around us…that everything we hope and dream for, everything that Jesus hopes and dreams and prays for, for our lives and the life of the world, begins and ends in one-ness, which is achieved by love for one another…alone.
So, now, our own story, as St. Julian’s, continues, just as it always has, by falling more and more in love with each other…through taking the intentional time to share our lives and stories with each other. For, as we do so, Jesus’ prayer is answered by God in our “one” communal life…our unified mission…to shape together a beloved community, full of diverse and unique people, loving one another, such that, with great authenticity, we can be described as…completely one. Amen.