Sunday, May 20, 2007

We and the Father are One

Jesus prays, “I ask not only on behalf of these” – the disciples – “but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word” – that’s us – “that they may all be one.” And again, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one as we [you and me, Father] are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one.”

Perhaps you will remember that my first sermon to you was on this theme of unity: we are all one in Christ Jesus, Paul tells us in Galatians, by putting on Christ in our baptisms, being made one in our new identity as belonging to him. In that sermon I referred to this prayer of Jesus’, and this morning, very appropriately, we will spend some time together with this prayer in my last sermon to you as your intern (that doesn’t mean I won’t preach anymore – I hope!).

If I may speak from my heart for a moment, John and I have greatly appreciated your warm welcome to us over these past few months. We feel a very strong affinity for this church and for all of you. I’m sure you feel it too – especially as we approach our big 75th anniversary.

But we have to remember that we’re not just “one” because we all show up at the same building on Sunday mornings. We’re not just “one” because we are all members here, or because we tithe, or because we know everybody’s name (and maybe everybody’s business!). We are not “one” by gathering or worshipping or working towards a common vision for this church. We’re not even “one” because – or if – we all like each other.

We are ONE because we each belong first to Christ – not to St. Barnabas. In our baptisms we put on Christ. We joined this community, yes, and we were made family members. But we became ONE by putting on Christ – by wearing that same outfit, Jesus. We are ONE by all being in Christ and by each living our lives listening to him and doing what he commands.

In this, we don’t lose our individuality, or our distinction as a church, or our identity as Anglicans or, as Paul says, the fact that we may be Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. BUT, these fade into the background. They take their proper place behind our primary identity: being in Christ and together being Christ’s body.

After praying that we may be one, Jesus goes on to explain how this can happen: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” As Jesus was with his Father, that is how we are to be in them. How close was Jesus to his Father? He was close enough that he could say, “I and the Father are one” in John 10:30, and in 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” That’s pretty close!

Why was Jesus get so close to the Father? What does he say after 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”? He goes on, in verses 10 and 11, to say, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” Whose works? The Father’s! “The Father who dwells in me does his works!”

It’s all throughout the gospel of John, this explanation of their relationship:
5:19: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing, for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.”
6:38: “for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”
8:29: “And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”
10:37: “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.”
12:49: “for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak.”

Are you getting the pattern? Jesus and his Father were so close as to be one because Jesus did whatever the Father commanded. Jesus was so full of the Father that when he did his own will, it was the will of God. When he spoke, it was God’s word. When he acted, it was God’s action. Jesus was entirely about his Father’s work in the world – he had no personal agenda. Nothing he wanted or hoped for was apart from, or a distraction from, God’s will. How many of us could say that? Yet if we truly want to be disciples of Jesus – to learn to live as he did – this is the goal to which we are striving, the way of being-in-God that we must pray to receive, by the grace of God.

Fortunately, we have some help. Jesus tells his disciples that if they have seen him, they have seen the Father. So it is by being in Jesus that we become not only one with him and with one another, but one with God the Father as well. If we are truly living into the meaning of our baptisms, being clothed in Christ and keeping his word, then we will be emptied of ourselves and filled with God’s purposes, love, mercy, justice – and most especially, God’s Holy Spirit. In John 14:23 and 26 Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Next Sunday we will celebrate the Father’s sending of the Holy Spirit as we enter the season of Pentecost.

Maybe you didn’t realize that this is what you signed up for when you were baptized. Maybe you were baptized as an infant, and somebody else signed you up! But if you really want to be a disciple of Jesus – and I believe you do, because it means having life, and having it abundantly, the best possible life you can live – then it’s not enough just to be here. Coming here week after week isn’t bad – it’s good to be fed, to learn, especially to worship. But there is more. There is a deeper commitment to Jesus that changes your whole life – and changes the world around you. It is the life that Jesus gives – a way that means being emptied of yourself, your ego, your agenda, even your own hopes and dreams, anything you hold back as “mine” – and being filled with the Spirit of God.

Being filled with God can happen anywhere: here in worship, or in your prayer closet, or in Bible listening and prayer, or in your family devotional time. It can even find you when you are having fun: hiking, having a picnic, baking, enjoying nature, laughing at an animal or a child’s antics. Anything that causes you to decrease and Christ to increase fills you up with God.

In the last couple weeks I’ve been reading a lot of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, for a school assignment. He had this to say about being emptied and filled with Christ:
The final step on the way to holiness in Christ is then to completely abandon ourselves with confident joy to the apparent madness of the cross…This madness, the folly of abandoning all concern for ourselves…that we may entrust ourselves to Christ, means a kind of death to our temporal selves. It is a twisting, a letting go, an act of total abandonment. But it is also a final break-through into joy. (Life and Holiness, 119)

Another mystical writer, Mechtild of Magdeburg, put it this way:
Lord, you are my lover,
My longing,
My flowing stream,
My sun,
And I am your reflection.

Oh, to be God’s reflection! To entrust ourselves fully to Christ!

This week, as we prepare to enter the season of Pentecost, as we prepare for the coming of God the Holy Spirit – our companion, our advocate, our fiery passion – this week, I have a challenge for you.

Before you come here to celebrate being filled with the Holy Spirit, you must be emptied. Think about it. Pray about it. Where are you holding back? What are you holding on to? What is not God’s? What do you still need to control?

Is it a plan for your life? A career path? A big event you’re planning? A restful retirement?

Is it a person? A child you can’t control? A spouse who doesn’t believe, or listen? A relative or a friend who’s hurt you so bad that you can’t forgive?

Is it even your walk with God? Do you think you know exactly what you’re supposed to do – exactly who God wants you to be? Are you open to God surprising you? Challenging you? Taking you out of your comfort zone? Being bigger than you could ever imagine?

Don’t hold back. Ask God to show you where you’re hesitating. And then ask God to help you release it. It may be that you notice you’re too polite with God, you’re afraid to say what’s really on your mind for fear of retribution. Maybe you’re not happy about what I’m suggesting, and you don’t think you can trust God to take better care of things than you do. These are all big struggles for me. I’m always afraid of making God mad at me.

But then I remember that God is our loving, nurturing Mother – the Scriptures say She longs to gather her people under her skirts and protect us. You can be real with God. You can be yourself. God wants that more than anything! Don’t be polite – God wants a relationship with you, and that means it’s not just “God says jump, you say how high.” It’s you sharing your dreams and fears and anger and joy, and God sharing Her plans and hopes for you. It goes both ways. In a real relationship, we tell the person how we really feel – we let them see who we really are. Have that relationship with God.

I need to tell you that I am the last person who is good at this. I get hives – my husband can tell you – when I’m not in control of a situation. I’m not saying this is easy and I am definitely not on the other side of it telling you to be more like me. Far from it!

I just know that if there’s anything left that’s not surrendered, while God won’t abandon us for it, we won’t be living as fully into life with Jesus as we could be. I know when I hold back – when I try to keep control, when I have stuff in here that I’m clinging to as my own, my idea of “me” – then I am not able to let God in all the way. God can’t work through me when I hold back, when I don’t make room because I’m holding on to myself.

I guess what I’m offering you is an altar call. Come to this railing – this week but especially next – and empty yourself, as much as you can, so that you can be truly fed – and filled! It won’t happen overnight – it’s a lifelong process of giving over everything again and again and again. But I believe it will be worth it. Those who have glimpsed it tell us so.

They invite us into “this madness, the folly of abandoning all concern for ourselves…that we may entrust ourselves to Christ.” They invite us to release ourselves to our lover, our longing, our flowing stream, our sun. To be God’s reflection. Most of all, Jesus wants this for us: “As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us. 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 Spirit is on the way. The Pentecost is coming. It’s nearly here. Are we ready to be filled?

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