Sunday, May 29, 2022

One, but Not the Same


John 17:20-26

Easter 7 / Year C

Jesus prayed, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they [us who follow Jesus] also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” 

It is sobering to ponder the responsibility Jesus places on us.  Our actions – not just as individuals, but as a community – are to be a witness to the world leading all to faith.  This includes how we treat each other in this place.  It includes how we relate to other churches in our area.  It includes how we participate in the common life of our diocese, our denomination, and the Anglican Communion.  It includes how various expressions of the Christian faith – Evangelical, Pentecostal, Anglo-Catholic, Socially Progressive, to name a few – express a sense of unity amidst our obvious differences.  When the world looks at us and how we are in relationship with each other in Christ, what does it see?

The late Marcus Borg, in his book The Heart of Christianity, wrote about asking his unchurched university students to turn in a short essay describing their impressions of Christians.  He states they consistently used five adjectives: literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted.  Not exactly what Jesus was hoping for, is it.  Of course, impressions are just that – impressions.  They are both true and not true at the same time.  While it is easy to see how someone might come to think of Christians in this way, it certainly is not descriptive of every Christian or every Christian community.  Still, it suggests we have a tough row to hoe if we want our faith to be a positive witness to the world.

The oneness Jesus prays for isn’t just about playing nice with each other.  It is a relationship rooted in God’s very nature.  I describe the Holy Trinity as being perfect Relational Harmony – the Three in One and One in Three.  Desiring to share the essence of its relationship beyond itself, this Relational Harmony brought forth creation and humankind to enjoy what lies at the heart of its very Being.  We live into this purpose (to use a wonderful phrase from the prayer book) though “ever widening circles of fellowship.”  In a very real sense then, our oneness is a manifestation of God’s very nature. 

Oneness does not mean sameness.  We don’t all like the same food.  We don’t all root for the same team.  We don’t all vote for the same candidate.  We can be different, yet still be one. 

Our country desperately needs this kind of witness.  On this Memorial Day weekend, we pause to ponder the sacrifices made by so many to protect our great American experiment.  The soldiers who fell on D-Day, for example, did not storm the beaches of Normandy as Republicans and as Democrats.  They acted as Americans and as Allies.  They were not the same, but they were one. 

Today we treat citizens with opinions different from our own as dangerous enemies who want to destroy our country; at least this is the message I hear trumpeted by polarizing talk shows at the extreme edges of our political discourse.  America is looking less United and more tribal every day.  We are squandering an important aspect of our national heritage – e pulibus unum, out of many one; a principle many gave their lives to defend and to protect.

The Christian Church has always struggled to express its unity.  In fact, if God was a professor we’d be given a D- for our efforts, and this would be generous.  But since God is God and God is merciful, our grade is an Incomplete.  We still have time to finish the assignment.

When the church has been at its best it has loved the people unloved by our society.  The Christian Way took root and endured persecution, in part, because the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely found they were loved by those who adhered to Jesus’ teachings.  We desperately need this kind of church in our country today.

On last Tuesday’s zoom call with diocesan clergy, Bishop Susan talked about the need for us to mentor today’s youth.  She noted the typical profile of a mass shooter is a young, white male who is disenfranchised and lacks a father-figure in his life.  She noted it is easy to scream for gun legislation, but more difficult to give of yourselves by being a mentor, a coach, a neighbor to young isolated people. 

USA TODAY interviewed Reid Meloy, a board-certified forensic psychologist, who, after researching behaviors of individuals prior to their committing acts of violence, has identified eight warning signals of potential mass shooters.  While I don’t want to elaborate on them in this sermon, here is what is striking about them: either the person who commits these heinous, unfathomable acts is so isolated no one is paying attention to his troubling changes in behavior, or those who are close to him simply don’t recognize the significance of the changes they are seeing or, maybe, they are troubled but what they are seeing, but don’t know where to turn. 

Is it time for the church to filter out into the community not as literalists, anti-intellectuals, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted peddlers of some soft-soap, foul smelling religion, but as people blessed to dwell at the heart of the Holy Trinity and willing to share what we experience from this?  Is it time for us, here at St. Paul’s, to pray and dream and discuss how we might extend our oneness to the people of our community – our schools, our playgrounds, our neighborhoods?  Do we believe our common life in Christ is of value to our world?