Pastor Annabelle P. Markey
Year C – Seventh Sunday of Easter
Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA – June 2, 2019
In this short passage from John’s Gospel, we hear a piece of Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer.” It’s confusing. The Father is in Jesus, Jesus is in the Father, and the disciples are in them. Jesus is in the disciples and he prays that they may be one as he and the Father are one. I personally feel like this should come with a flow chart. But maybe, my old friends from the band U2 can help clarify:
With each other
Sisters and brothers
But we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other
One. It’s not only the loneliest number, it’s the one that appears four times in this short passage. It’s the thing that Jesus wants to drive home. Since there is no instruction on the Lord’s Prayer in John’s Gospel, this is the example of prayer we have. And as confusing as it might be at first glance, it is beautiful and powerful. Jesus prays in front of his disciples rather than retreating for private prayer. This means that his disciples hear what he has to say and what he has to pray.
Jesus prays first for himself, then for his disciples, then for those who will come to believe through their words. On the eve of his crucifixion, he is entrusting his disciples, the same ones he know will scatter in fear, with the sharing of the Gospel. That’s tremendous trust and grace!
In the church, we hear this prayer in between Jesus’ Ascension, which was celebrated May 30th, 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection, and Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, which is next Sunday. In the church year, it’s a time of waiting and wondering. Jesus has ascended and we’re here pondering what to do. When will the Holy Spirit come? What will the Spirit do among us and call forth in us? It’s in this context we hear Jesus praying for his disciples – that they would remember that even when it seems like God is most absent, God is still with them. That God is in them. That God has built up a community of believers and Jesus has prayed that we all might be one.
Jesus prays for his followers. It is incredible and humbling to have someone pray for you. To hear your need and to lift it up before God. When we pray for others, we are putting them into contact with the very life of God. To think that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, our brother and friend is interceding on our behalf… there are no words for that.
We heard last week about the Spirit teaching us and guiding us into all truth, helping us to believe what Jesus has said, trust in who Jesus is, and also making God real and present in and among us. Now we hear that Jesus is praying for us. He not only sent a helper, he continues to teach us how to pray and to pray with and for us even now. And part of his prayer is that he asks that we may be one, as he, the Father, and the Spirit are one. That we might recognize that God is in us and we are in God. And that we belong to each other. Wow.
How might our lives and our world be changed if we actually believed that God was in us? That God was living and active in others? That we were already in God? We’re invited into union and communion with the Triune God, but we have a hard time with this because we underestimate God’s crazy love for us. We doubt that kind of deep connection, wondering what kind of holy God would dare stoop to our level. The answer? The God we worship.
If we knew that love and really trusted it, think about how our perceptions about our worth, dignity, and lives would change. We would be secure in who we were. We wouldn’t have to be striving to prove ourselves or be defensive because we’d be confident in our own identity, worth, and goodness. We wouldn’t have to be driven by our egos. We wouldn’t be afraid of others who were different, or of situations that might unsettle us. We’d know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were from and of God. That we were intimately and beautifully connected to God. And to everyone else.
But we struggle to feel worthy of that kind of love and to offer it to others. We doubt that that kind of crazy, extravagant love exists for us or for anyone else for that matter. But the amazing good news is that it does! Love is the bond that connects God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the way in which we are invited into the intimate union with God that this passage is talking about.
So I have to wonder, what is Jesus praying for as he continues to intercede for us? I honestly believe that he continues to pray fervently that we come to recognize and dwell in the astounding love God has for us. That we come to realize that we are fully and completely known and loved by God. Those are the two deepest desires we have – to be fully known and accepted and to be truly loved for who we are. In recognizing that we are in God and God is in us, we come to a realization of our truest selves. And living in that kind of radical love and oneness with God, we are strengthened to freely, joyfully, and generously love and serve.
But life in community isn’t easy. Communities are tough because, well, they’re made up of people. And, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but people are complicated. Still it is clear that Jesus’ prayer was not only that we would recognize our intimate relationship with God, but also with one another.
One of my all time favorite movies is “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Steve Martin and John Candy make an amazing comedic duo in this movie about high-powered businessman, Neil Page, played by Martin, trying to get from New York to his home in Chicago for Thanksgiving. Through a series of unfortunate events, he ends up stuck with shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith – an over-the-top, gregarious, awkward, and messy man. As they make their way across the country using various modes of transportation, they get into all sorts of hijinks with Martin’s character almost coming completely undone. But in the end, they learn how to appreciate each other with all their foibles. They learn from one another. Finally alone on the L train headed home, Martin realizes that Candy was reaching out, in need of connection and love since his wife had died. So he invites him to his family’s Thanksgiving. Even more, he realizes how much he had been neglecting his own family in his pursuit of success at work. It took a horrible trip with a stranger to point it out, but it changes his life. They realize how much they need each other – one to find real human connection and one to be shaken out of crippling striving for success. That’s community.
Medieval English mystic Julian of Norwich understood from her prayers and communion with God that, “We have come from God as one, and to God we shall return as one. And any true well-being in our lives will be found not in isolation but in relation. She uses the image of the knot . . . to portray the strands of time and eternity intertwined, of the human and the creaturely inseparably interrelated, of the one and the many forever married. The closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another.” What will our relationships with others teach us? To all of us, God says, “come.” All who are thirsty are invited to drink of water of life that Jesus offers so freely. To drink deeply, knowing that God is inviting us into nothing less than union, not only at this table of grace, but in all of life.
“One life with each other, sisters and brothers, we’re not the same, but we get to carry each other.” We get to carry each other. We have the gift of God and each other. It’s all about relationship – about being known and loved, knowing and loving others. How might Jesus be praying for you in your relationships with God and others? “Jesus, pray for what you know we need for today.” Amen.