6/1/2014 Seventh Sunday of Easter The text for today’s sermon is John 17:1-11.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’ve all heard of them…everyone who has seen a James Bond movie, or has grown up watching Mission Impossible or Magnum PI or even Get Smart has heard about those little listening devices which allow someone to listen in on another person’s conversation. These “bugs” are the things of spies and bad guys, and even CIA agents and FBI operatives who lay out snares to catch fugitives. But, unlike the hearing aids that are meant to help those who have lost the ability to sort out words and sounds, these are not the things of everyday life.
When I was growing up, I was taught that it is not polite to listen in on someone else’s conversation. Today, with people using cell phones, it’s almost impossible not to overhear a conversation – or should I say, one side of a conversation. Some conversations that I overhear make me chuckle, but more of them are so loud and obnoxious that I wish I could tune them out. What people don’t understand is that none of these conversations are totally private. They are spoken in public places or in such a way to magnify the sound of each word. If the truth be known, I have never overheard a private conversation that is spoken quietly and intimately to another – or should I say not until I read today’s gospel which is a conversation between Jesus and his Father in heaven. Today, we all get to listen in on one side of this personal conversation as we are invited and encouraged to hear the words of Jesus.
The words are part of Jesus’ farewell discourse. It is a prayer, spoken by Jesus before his death and departure from this world. In this prayer, Jesus reviews his work and asks that everything go well with his followers, those people who have been entrusted to him by the Father. This is not a public plea for world peace or a prayer for those who do not yet know him. This is not a public prayer, spoken in the midst of others or shared in the hope that others might learn to incorporate his words in their own personal prayers. This is a private prayer, spoke by Jesus, on behalf of those who will carry on his work once he is gone – those who will be sent out to preach and teach, to heal and baptize, and to serve others and the world. This prayer is for those who will be left behind, those who already belong to him through faith, and those who will come to believe and trust in Jesus in generations to come – for this prayer is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples of every age. This prayer is Jesus’ prayer for you and for me.
The word that repeats over and over again in this prayer is the word, “give.” God gives Jesus people who follow him. God gives Jesus work to do, words to say, and God’s name to share. Jesus gives the disciples God’s word and eternal life. He gives to them everything he has from God. And, now, with his impending absence at hand, Jesus prays that those he loves will be given even more – he prays that God will give to them what they will need to remain close to one another and that they will become one as the Father and Son are one.
Becoming one with each other is not a pie in the sky dream. Yes, it may be impossible for us to put aside prejudice and personal tastes in order to accept everyone, even in this room, as kin. But becoming one is not a matter of our choosing. It is something that Jesus wants for us and what Jesus wants, Jesus gives. God provides the connective tissue that makes us one. Without God, we are apt to become like little disconnected beads – individuals, full of beauty, but easily lost – but with God providing the binding thread, we become like priceless pearls strung together to form a necklace. We become something which we cannot be if we remain apart. Jesus knows this, so he asks his Holy Father to “protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus prays for his disciples because he does not wish them to remain alone. He prays that we find strength in our relationship with God and each other…a relationship established by the Father, given to the Son, a relationship which will be sealed in Jesus’ impending death and resurrection. He fervently prays for his disciples who will have to face the challenges of living in a world without Jesus’ physical presence among them.
Getting on with life without Jesus being there is going to be a challenge for 11 remaining disciples. But, then, we all face challenges in our lives and some of those challenges can only be met if we stand in a close relationship with another. The children’s book, Mirette on the High Wire, tells the story about one such challenge and a relationship which enables fear to be conquered. It is the story of the great Bellini, a famous high-wire walker, who had done amazing things. One day, Bellini knows that his career is finally over, for fear has crept in, and he knows that “once you have fear on the wire, it never leaves.” But a young girl by the name of Mirette comes into his life and she wants to learn his art. He warns her not to, for once you start, he says, your feet are never happy again on the ground. But, her feet were already unhappy on the ground and her desire to learn practically forces him to teach her.
As Mirette learns, Bellini knows he must conquer his fear. He decides to walk the wire again. A crowd gathers, the spotlight shines, but Bellini freezes on the wire. Mirette can see what is happening so she runs through the crowd, climbs to the opposite end of the wire and takes a step out. Seeing her, Bellini can move. The crowd roars, the agent thinks of what a great pair they make, but as teacher and student walk toward each other, all they can do is concentrate, “thinking only of the wire and of crossing to the end.”
In this story, who gives what to whom? Bellini comes to Mirette’s boarding house. She is eager to learn when he is in despair. Her eagerness sparks his passion, his skill sparks her talent. It is all a gift.
So it is with us. Each one of us is a gift to the other. Alone we are frail, easily lost and trapped by fear and despair. Together we can do more than what any one of us can do alone. Together we can even meet the challenges of living a faith-filled life as we help one another balance the demands placed upon us. Together we can effectively witness to God’s glory in a world which would push him aside. Together we can feel the love God reaching out to us to spark our passion for the Lord.
Jesus knows this so he prays for his disciples to be one. He prays that we find each other to be a gift given to us by a gracious God. He prays that we find in each other – strength, courage and protection. He prays that what one knows the other will learn. He prays that we work together and worship together. He prays this, not for his sake, or for the sake of his Father, but for us who proclaim him as Lord and Savior, so that we may stand firm in the faith and firm in each other.
May we who have been connected to each other through baptism in the living Lord find a solid and supportive relationship with each other and the oneness that Jesus has with the Father. May we find and cherish the gift that the Lord has given us. For, this is what Jesus wants for his disciples of every generation. Jesus wants us to be one as he and the Father are one in order that our lives may be made whole through our interconnection with God and each other.
Let us make this prayer public by showing it our relationships with each other. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.