Gospel: John 17:20-26
1st Reading: Acts 16:16-34
2nd Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
This coming weekend, I am headed to Synod Assembly, and more significantly for the longest stretch I have been away from my baby since he was born-a whole 48 hours. I am excited to get away. I am planning to take some knitting which I haven’t done in a year and a half. I’ll take a good book. Maybe I’ll get some good sleep. I’ll have 2 whole days of adult time! Freedom!
And I am a little anxious. How will I adjust? How much will I miss him? How will he adjust? Will he cry for his mama? Will he even miss me? How will my husband adjust? Will he know what to feed him? Will he remember to brush his teeth? Will he wake up when the baby cries? I know we’ll all survive, but I am a little bit nervous.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is going away. His disciples are anxious. They are most comfortable with Jesus being right there beside them. Now he’s telling them that isn’t going to be the case. They’ve been working up to this—practicing. Jesus has shown the disciples how to preach, heal, feed, and care for people. They’ve gone off on little trips and done it themselves. Now, like a mother bird, he’s pushing them out of the nest. They are really going to have to fend for themselves.
He is praying for them. This kind of prayer is to give them confidence, as they overhear it. Last week he reminded them that they wouldn’t be alone. They’d have the Advocate—the Holy Spirit, God’s spirit—there with them. Today he reminds them that they have each other. When you are afraid, remember that you have unity with all these others. When you fail, remember it isn’t all up to you—you have people to help you. All of you are working on the same project of love. You all have the same teacher. When you find yourselves arguing and fighting—remember your unity in Christ.
Jesus is about to be arrested, in the Gospel timeline. Part of the reason the authorities want to arrest him is to create fear among the disciples and followers of Jesus so they disperse. They want to discourage this band from continuing all the love and empowerment and healing they’ve been doing. Fear scatters.
But Jesus is reminding them of their unity. They will continue to be united with Jesus, even though they can’t see him, through the Holy Spirit and through the meal they share and the stories they pass on about him. They will be united with all believers, no matter where they may reside, even across the world. People they can’t even see will be praying for them and encouraging them and doing the same work somewhere else, spreading the Gospel in their corner of the world. They will be united with believers of all times, as well. Generations yet unborn will share love and healing and Gospel and will continue the work. We are all united in Jesus Christ.
We get to spy on Jesus’ prayer for us. Did you notice? Today, Jesus is praying for us! Can you feel Jesus’ prayers strengthening you? Did he picture people like you and me? Did he picture our fears and our joys? Did he know what we’d be like? I think he did know because he was human, too. The details don’t matter—we’re all alike. We are human and we are the same. Jesus is still praying for us, that we would see that. We are all afraid on the inside. We all put up walls. And, we are all capable of love and great generosity and tenderness.
We are unified. I really feel this as a mother. I can glance at another mother with a child the age of my child or younger and I feel in an instant her joy, her confusion, her fears, her exhaustion. I glance at a mother with an older child and I see myself, next year or in ten years or as a grandparent. I anticipate with joy and fear what is coming and pray that I am prepared, that I am balanced, that I can forgive myself, that I can learn, that I can let go and that I can hang on. Even those of you who have not been fathers or mothers, have taken on important grandparent roles—you know the unity you feel with these families who have adopted you. We are one humanity, with a lot more in common than we have to divide us.
We gathered at Spirits and Theology this week to talk about what is essential to each of us in worship. Once again, we find that we are all over the place. Some feel the need for traditional worship every week, with the confession, the creed, the organ, the kneeling, the old hymns. Others are excited about different kinds of music and art to help us get in touch with God. Some like the sermon, others like communion, others rely on community and fellowship. Some like fast music, some like slow, others like none at all. Here we are, with all our different preferences, with all our different upbringing, some more open to change, and others holding fast to the old ways. Why do we come to this church?
I’d say it has to be Jesus Christ! Only God could bring together this group of people and make it stick and find an incredibly patient pastor to listen to all the preferences and try to balance all the needs. And also it is the love that you hold for each other. Because you care for each other, you put up with a lot you don’t prefer in worship because others do. You know each other’s story and it unites you. Look around at your neighbors. Is one tapping his toe at a song that drives you nuts? Is one cringing at a part of the creed that makes your heart sing? Is one leaning forward for a word of hope in the children’s message, even though you don’t see anything there for you? We’re all here to find connection with God and everyone has their own path. Yet we need each other for this day to be meaningful.
Worship planning takes a lot of things into consideration. We begin with the scripture—God’s word for the Sunday always comes first. The past is always a consideration. We’ve been handed a way of structuring worship in which we come together, prepare ourselves to receive God’s word, listen, share our material possessions, eat a miracle, praise God, and go out renewed. This way of worship has built into it a lot of flexibility so that we can make it fit our time and place. Those disciples of the past prayed for us and thought about how to shape worship so that it would stand the test of time.
The present day culture and circumstances are a consideration. Our prayers and language reflect the times in which we live. Our music has to speak to people today. The sermon is written fresh each week so that it addresses the needs of the community today.
And in our worship we pray also for those who are not here, those who believe who cannot be physically present, those who have been hurt by the church and yet long for connection with God, those who will come after us and give thanks that we thought to prepare the church for them so that the Gospel will continue to be spread and love will be spread and our unity will be remembered and give strength to them. It is also about the future, because God is drawing us into God’s vision. God is pushing us out of the nest, so we can have new experiences and grow.
This prayer about unity says, “It isn’t about you. It is about Christ.” It says to put away our differences—they are not important. We need to do all we can to find the common ground. Look at Paul and Silas, using their powers to free a slave girl—to share the gift of freedom with someone of so little significance. They didn’t say, “You’re not like us—go away!” They said, “We’ve been slaves to sin, she’s a slave like we were. Let us share the good news of freedom in Christ.” They freed the slave owners from their role exploiting this girl, although they didn’t get any thanks for it. Then, notice how their prayers and songs encourage the other prisoners. They are united in that moment of holiness. Notice how they don’t run when the walls of the prison come down. Instead they wait and share the good news with their jailer. They are living their life in unity with those around them rather than their own desires. Because of that witness, many are drawn in by their message and their lives and begin to believe.
This day, Mother’s Day, our mother is pushing us out of the nest, not because she doesn’t love us, but because she does. It is for our own good. We may be afraid, but if she doesn’t do it, we will never fly. Put your own fears aside for a moment to say goodbye to all that you’ve known. And prepare yourself for the future that God has in store where we rely on the power of God, where we are loving in all things, and where we rely on each other and our unity in order to bring freedom to those in fear.
God came into our world a baby bird, in Jesus Christ. He soared through the land, sharing the good news of unity and love. He lived in unity and love with all he met. That was threatening to many, so they threatened him. But he didn’t let them stop him. They shot that bird down and he fell so far and lay so still. But he rose up again, and took all of us soaring with him, to share that life, that unity, that love. If anyone could say, we are different, it would be God to us. Instead, he became like us, called us brothers and sisters, so that we would be like him, for all time, washed, claimed, united, and loved.