John 17:1-17 “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
This is Jesus’ prayer for us. What he said about his dream for us all pulled me into this prayer: “What was this “oneness”, Jesus lived, he wants all of us to share in?” And the echo of past members of the churches I lived in, came back to me. When I had asked the question: “Who is God?” and they answered: “God is love.” So the first clue I had about this “oneness” was: This is a unity of love between God and Jesus. Then, I asked, “Who was Jesus in this unity of love?” And I remember the moment after his baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptist, the man who prepared the people for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” So Jesus is ‘the beloved”; the One loved by God. And again, the echo of these same words, repeated in countless baptisms links us to this same gift: We are ‘the beloved”; loved as deeply and as fully as Jesus. This led me to ask, “How is this love to be known and experienced?” and the words of our baptisms continued to move through my memories. To the place where we reenact the promise of baptism: by making the sign of the Cross on the child’s forehead, praying for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. To help the child grow to discover those unique gifts of love, God had gifted them in their birth, to give to the world.
This ‘one-ness” which Jesus shared with God; that He prayed we would come to understand, experience and share with everyone; is: Love. Jesus prays we will become the living essence of love, source of love, live by and through love as He did. Love; the link, between ourselves and God; one another and the world.
When I realized this is the way God sees me. Who God, in Jesus, prays we might be and become; this humbled me. But it also fills me with wonder: That this is the life we can become and live! If only, we are willing and this is when I began to feel the pull of Scripture: My life stretched out and the possibility of change; to grow into becoming more like this person of love God declares and sees me to be:
The first pull, came from a moment in our history: 1988. The year our denomination chose to welcome gay and lesbian people into full ministry within our church. I remember those days still. What those on both sides of the argument said and did to one another. The passion and conviction both had; that their understanding and point of view must dominate the decision we had made. Each was absolutely certain: What they believed and felt was ‘God’s word; was, “God”” to them. I remember talking with ‘both sides’ and when I did I told them that I had learned from this how no amount of discussion, or proofs, or examples would change the minds and hearts from the positions they held. They were unshakeable in their conviction. “But, I said to them, “Don’t be surprised if someday you ‘hear God saying to you: “I am not in the positions and understanding you have of me in either of the two positions you have taken. I am over here. Do you have the guts to move and follow me?” In the passing years, I have watched that ‘movement” of God reveal itself through the ministry of our churches and the courage of those who had the ‘guts’ to love and to move. I came to realize God, showed God-self, through the stories of Scripture, as a God who goes with us. Revealing more and more of who God is and is calling us to be and become as we travel through life together. How, learning to become the essence of love, is not something we achieve but something we live into and live out more and more as we go and daily life gives us the place to do it. It’s a love revealed through our seniors, for example, by the patience and laughter life experience has given them and by our babies, in their self-discovery and their joy in life’s newness.
It is a love that daily life calls us to declare openly when we see loves absence. As Pope Francis did, when he said of Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall between the United States and Mexico: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not Christian, this is not in the Gospel.”
It is a love which challenges us with love’s presence and love’s opportunity every day of our lives. Let me give you an example and the suggestion of a path to follow where we can choose to live more of this love:
We all have problems with people; of all sort and descriptions. Sometimes, like we were in 1988 or have seen in Donald Trump, our beliefs and attitudes take on the same unbending character. If you have been watching “The Good Wife” which recently ended production, for example, I’ve been constantly amazed at how many time in the law office one of the characters has misunderstood the words or actions of another. Created huge problems between them and done real harm to the ability of the firm to offer the kind of service they were capable. Only when one of them decided to talk to the other would they discover: there was no problem at all.
This is the first step toward living this essence of love: Sit down together and name the problem between you. Through the years I have been surprised when I did this. How many of the things I believed were problems between myself and loved ones or friends, turned out to be no problem at all. It was my fear which stopped me taking this first step. And the scripture says, “Perfect love cast out all fear.”
The second step toward living this essence of love. Is to admit together your responsibility for creating the problem. What each of you have done to cause the problem. Holding ourselves accountable. It stops, ‘blaming’ and judging each other in its tracks. Jesus practiced this example when he asked his disciples questions like: “What were you arguing about as you travelled together with me along the road?” To the level they were willing to hold themselves accountable for their words and actions and admit they were arguing about which of them was the greatest; they were able to live into the example of becoming the essence of love as Jesus placed a child, who had no value in their society, in front of them and taught them what humble serving looks like. In the same way, when 72 disciples returned from their journey and reported all the healings and changes they had witnessed in the lives of people as they lived Jesus’ example of love; Christ told them “ He had seen Satan fall from the sky; no longer the power in the lives they had touched.
A third step: List what you have done to try and solve the problem. I remember someone who said, “You know Mark, I can count on my fingers and toes the number of times my partner has said to me: “You were right, or, I’m sorry.” But I can’t count the number of times I have had special dinner soon after one of our arguments and what I had said or done had proved itself to be the right thing to do.” Once I realize this is what they were doing, they said, I was able to let go of a lot of stuff.” Counsellors call this, “repair behavior.” If we look for this we might see how many times someone we loved or a friend has tried to solve the problems between us. What naming what we have done shows both of us is: We have been working on the problem, even if what we have tried hasn’t been successful!
The fourth step is to brainstorm possible solutions between you. Make the list a big as you can: from the possible and workable to the ridiculous. Pick one.
The fifth step toward moving into a life were we live as the essence of love is to write down what each of you will do to make your solution real. This blocks the possibility of misunderstandings I talked about earlier
Finally, pick a date when you will meet again to evaluate your progress. If the plan has worked; good. If not, pick a new solution. Make a commitment to action and begin again.
Do you feel the stretch? The movement: From having a problem and-the sense of isolation; of being ‘alone’ this can cause? Moving, through the steps, ever closer to the commitment, a sense of togetherness and living into the essence of love which is Christ’s prayer for us?
Recently a friend sent my wife a Facebook video. In it Michael Jr. who is a professional comic, has as his practice, the habit of stopping his performance to talk with his audience and ask them questions. In the film he talks to a man named Daryl and discovers that he is a music teacher. He teaches voice. The comic asks him to sing a few bars of “Amazing Grace.” He does; beautifully, perfectly; the kind of way when you close your eyes now and listen for it, the words come to your mind. But then he asked him, “To sing it as if the man was talking to a drug addict. A person who was just out of jail. Who had no job and no promise of one; sing it as if you have shared some of his experience and want to give him hope.” He did. And the power of his singing had the people jumping up and down in their seats. Shaking with the energy from his voice. Touching his shoulders as if to capture the power of what he was singing. When the moment was past Michael Jr. said: When you know the “what” of what you’re going to do, things rarely change: Just like you just sang the same song with the same words. You may do it well. Do it perfectly. But when you know the “why,” that takes the same life you’re already living and fills it with passion greater than anything you’ve ever known because knowing “why” goes to purpose; The purpose of what you are doing and all of us could hear that purpose as Daryl sang the second time.”
Living; being the essence, the presence of love is the reason, the “Why” for Christ’s coming. It is the reason for Jesus praying for each of us. Go then, and live into our “Why” the purpose of who you and I are called to be. Become the essence and presence of love for others through your life and discover the joy. Feel the stretch? Live God’s joy in you. AMEN.