On the Loss of a Child (Lk 12:32-40)

In our Gospel reading (Lk 12:32-40), Jesus indicates to us, his “little flock”, the importance of watchfulness over our treasure of faith, and the importance of perseverance.

In terms of watchfulness, I remember once losing my son at an amusement park.  Fortunately, the park was a small one and the period until I found him was short.  He had simply wandered from the dodgem cars to the carousel.  Any parent will know the cold clutch of fear on my heart – and the importance of watching over such a treasure as a child.  You can pay a price for being distracted.  I remember that Abigail Adams wife of President John Adams) blamed her absence for the loss of one of her sons.  And we remember that God lost a child too.

Raising a child also takes faith, and perseverance, doesn’t it?  You invest your whole self in the future of this child – so there is faith; and you don’t stop half way – so there is perseverance.  So these things that Jesus mentions, faith, watchfulness, and perseverance are all three important elements of every family with children.  It takes parents, teachers, and many more to raise children, of course.  When children finally fly, however haltingly, it brings one of life’s great joys, does it not?

The importance of faith and perseverance is in our other readings today: In Genesis 15:1-6 we have the wonderful story of God’s promise to Abraham.  The reference to the stars and the whole promise recalls the creation in Genesis 1. Psalm 33 also recalls the creation.  Why the creation?  The reason is that the perfect relationship between God and Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 and 2, was lost in Genesis 3.   That relationship with God begins to be restored through the faith and obedience of Abraham in Genesis 15.  Abraham “trusted God and God counted it to him as righteousness.”  In Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 we read that Abraham trusted God persevering, trusting way, even though he and his son, and then his grandson, all died without receiving the promised land.   Yet God’s promise has been fulfilled at least in a degree, for we see billions of children of faith coming from Abraham, through the Jews, the Christians, and the Moslems.

IT HAS PLEASED GOD:  God has not done this begrudgingly or apprehensively, but God is pleased to entrust us with this right and responsibility, without any prospect of withdrawing it.  God is sure of our capacity to do it, equipped with the forgiveness we have in Jesus, with the power of the Holy Spirit, with the sacrament of the body of Christ.  In each hour, we are to follow the person of Jesus Christ.   As we grow in familiarity with Jesus Christ, our lives increasingly follow God’s constitution, and follow the contours of what God wants us to be.

So today, when we put our talents and abilities into action, we act in a spirit of trust and faith in God, and a spirit of continual watchfulness that the final curtain may come at any moment.  Noel Coward said “Thousands of people have talent.  I might as well congratulate you for having eyes in your head.  The only thing which counts is this: Do you have staying power?”

Staying power simply, that we choose this way or the other way in this one hour of the life that God gives us.

In these days we remember Albrecht Durer the artist, Laurence the deacon and martyr in Rome, Clare of Assisi, and Florence Nightingale of nursing fame.  They all expressed their faith in God, in their particular ways, and they persevered in doing so for their whole lives long.

In so doing, we will come to the point – perhaps tonight — that we will return to God the life that God entrusted to us.  Furthermore, that we can return that trust and that life back to God with the same pleasure that God handed our life to us.

In each hour, do you have staying power for one hour, to reach that great moment?

(Closing prayer from John Rippon’s hymn, #637 in 1982 Hymnal vs 3:)  “When through the deep waters I call you to go the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; for I will be with thee thy troubles to bless and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress… [your] soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”

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The Revenant and The Lord’s Prayer

The Revenant was an Oscar winning ‘survival’ movie last year (2015).  Set in Montana and South Dakota, it was based on (but different from) the story of Hugh Glass in 1823.

As portrayed in this very bleak movie, Glass’ desperate journey was fueled not only by an attitude of rugged individualism, and the desire for survival but also for the desire of revenge.  As director-producer Inarritu said, surely, anyone who lives for revenge will meet not only disappointment but self injury.

Our Gospel reading today is Luke’s version of “The Lord’s Prayer” (Lk 11:1-13).  Here, there is a complete contrast in perspective from that of The Revenant.  For Jesus teaches us to seek not revenge, but forgiveness; he teaches us to pursue not rugged individualism, but community with God and God’s people.

On our TV screens, we watch destruction and terror, with extremist religion used as a tool of war.  We see men, women and children bleeding, starving, and suffering.

In Exodus 22:22-27, however, God says: “Be sure that I will listen if they appeal to me… for I am full of compassion.”  Ins Psalm 138 we read, “When I called, you answered.”

In Genesis 18:11-15, we see Abraham and Sarah learning that God’s promises are not impossible, not laughable.  They learn to converse and even negotiate with the God who is both near and yet also immense and majestic.  They learn to listen to God, to patiently expect and await God’s promised history changing action even when it seems impossible.  Prayer is about learning to listen to God.

A connecting verse between Genesis 18 and Luke 11 could be how Abraham, like Jesus, reached the point of praying that challenging prayer, “Thy will be done.”   I knew a woman whose young daughter was deathly ill with mercuric poisoning, in the mid-1950’s.

At that time, there was no cure known there in Durban, South Africa.  They sent off to London for advice.  The mother prayed on the beach, and as the Dutch people do, finished her prayer with, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, …”  But she could not say the next phrase, “Thy will be done.”  There was a great spiritual struggle there on the beach, before she eventually said, “Thy will be done.”

On her way home, she first dragged, then walked, then ran, then skipped.  Bursting into the home, she said to the nurse: “Old bananas and egg custard!”  It was a quarter teaspoon first, then a half later, until the child was eating again.

About a month later, the message returned from a London hospital: “A cure is not known.  But one nurse says that one should feed old bananas and egg custard.”  That young child is alive and well and living here in the USA today. I know her.

In Luke 11, we have Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching on prayer.  There are the following seven important features:

[1] The intimate relationship between the disciple and God: “Father”; Aramaic “Abba”.  Prayer itself is not superficial saying of words.  Rather, prayer is our deep yearning cry to God.  And it is all about our lives becoming conformed to God’s will: “Thy will be done.”

[2] The depth of this yearning cry is reflected also in our decisions, choices, actions, and lifestyle.  The disciples are praying as they are carrying out God’s mission, in prayer and work. Admittedly, sometimes I have found that everything I tried to do came to nothing, but there is an honesty about prayer that is accompanied by action; and a divine wisdom about action that is woven with prayer.

[3] This deep yearning cry is “our” cry – rather than “my” cry, as we see in verses 11:2, 3, 4 and 5. There have been times I have worried alone and isolated, like Hugh Glass in The Revenant:  Rather, turn each concern into a prayer to God who is always listening, especially into prayer in which others share–perhaps around the meal table.  There is healing in that prayerful conversation together with God.

Notice when others around you seem to be worrying alone.  Share together the deep yearning cry to God of the heart with that person, with a friend, or with a prayer group.

[4] In our gospel passage, the health of the community and relationships appears in two ways:

  • Physical survival — in verse 3, bread [but not luxury food, cars, and housing!]
  • In verse 4, in the forgiveness of our sins as we forgive others

[5] Our deep yearning cry is persistent: “Day by day” in verse 3; and in the persistence of the friend. “Seek and ye will find; knock and the door will be opened unto you” (Lk 11:9//Mt 7:7-8).  I prayed for one person for 12 years, daily; another for 24 years so far: all these prayers being answered.  Persistence in relationships allows for adjustments, for growth, and for maturity.  Patience is one of the fruits of the spirit in Gal 5:22; and “Patience produces the proof” (Romans 5:4).   Stick to it!  The moment will come that you will again see what God has done.  Love never fails.  God never fails.

[6] Our deep yearning cry is effective: Earthly bread Luke 11:3; the friend who knocks finds the door opens; and when we ask we receive.

[7] Our deepest yearning is for The Holy Spirit; and the gift of the Holy Spirit is the Divine response to the cry of God’s children (Luke 11:13). This emphasis on prayer and on the Holy Spirit is a characteristic of Luke in his Gospel and in Acts.

Make this prayer your own: “O Holy Spirit, Lord of grace, eternal source of love: you searched for us and found us in Jesus; you unbound us and freed us; your love is all around us: inflame our hearts with love for you and for one another; inflame our hearts with faith, with hope, and with joy” (Fred Kaan in Hundred Hymns For Today #25; and C. Coffin 1676-1749, tr. J. Chandler in EH 453)

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A British massacre of German sailors

What Jesus calls essential: The loving care of the other

The British ship HMS Dorchester played a key role in sinking the German battleship Bismarck on 21 May 1941.  Then, in an act of vengeance and hatred, the HMS Dorchester sailed away and left 840 German sailors of the sunken ship Bismarck to drown.

That sad action is by contrast with the message of our gospel reading today from St. Luke 10:25-37.  This gospel reading begins with the great command of love, the summary of the law or Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5 with Leviticus 19:18): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and your neighbour as yourself.”

Then Luke’s gospel continues with Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.  This parable is about the loving care of the stranger who is in need, and who is also from another ethnic group.  The antagonism between Jews and Samaritans appears at several points in the Gospels.  In this parable, Jewish leaders fail while it is the Samaritan who fulfils the by the summary of the Law and so gains the eternal life promised.

In our first reading today, from Deuteronomy 30:9-14 we are told that doing God’s law is not difficult.  Indeed, loving-kindness to our neighbor need not be difficult at all, except for our prejudices, racism, and hard heartedness!

Our psalm today (Ps 25) affirms that God “guides the humble in doing right, and teaches his way to the lowly” (verse 8).  That is, the proud, self-righteous, and arrogant will not find God’s way.

Around us at present we have cases of prejudice, hatred, vengeance, cruelty and violence in all the events of Ferguson, Orlando, Baton Rouge, St Paul, and Dallas; in Aurora, San Bernardino and in Sandy Hook; and in Paris, Turkey and Iraq in the week up to last Sunday.  Each action and reaction seems to be an increasing vortex of evil.

I remember a moment when a friend and colleague of mine named Phakamile Mabija was murdered by the authorities in 1977.  For some time, I was wracked with anger and the desire to retaliate, and indeed took some steps in that direction.  But the moment came that I felt I met with God directly, and God simply and quietly said to me that that was not the way.  I personally know those feelings of anger, vengeance, and prejudice, and I know that they are not the way.

On the other hand, we have wonderful examples of human beings who have shown a love which reflects divine love.

To me, one example of this is Eleanor Roosevelt.  She suffered great personal disappointment.  She could have turned inwards.  She could have taken vengeance just as HMS Dorchester took vengeance on the German sailors.  But rather, Eleanor Roosevelt decided to turn her energy and abilities outwards to others.  She is famous for the way in which she lovingly cared for others.  She built up the women of the USA, and loved her country.  She built up the world through her contributions to the United Nations.

Through this parable in our gospel reading, Jesus asks us all, “To which person are you a neighbor?”  Which stranger in trouble, in need, would say that we gave loving care to them?  This week, who will say that we expressed divine love to them?

As individuals, perhaps for good reason, we may feel frightened or angry; but Jesus calls us to reach out beyond that.  If your love is insufficient, you can know that God loves them.  Borrow God’s love, and lovingly care for some wounded and ignored person or group of people, however and however repulsive they may seem.

As Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) wrote: “Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest, well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest! Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are thine: teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.”

(The music to the above is adapted from Hymn To Joy by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

July 10, 2016 at Trinity Church Whitinsville and St John’s Church Millville MA

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“My name is legion”

by Mitch Palmer

“Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion;’ for many demons had entered him.” He called himself Legion but that is not his true name. That is not who he is. It is, rather, what has become of him, what has happened to him. Let’s not get stuck on the demons. That’s simply descriptive of the emotional and spiritual disruption and “dis-integration” of our lives, a reality all of us have experienced. That he knows himself to be Legion means the causes, sources, and manifestations of this disruption and disintegration are many and great. I know there are times when I and my life could rightly be called Legion. I suspect you could say the same thing.

At a historical level Legion refers to a Roman army unit of about 6000 soldiers. So when this man says that he is Legion he is saying, “I have been overrun. I am divided and separated. I am fragmented and fractured. I am disrupted. I am overwhelmed. My life is broken into 6000 pieces.” Sound familiar? Ever felt like that?

This man is lost to himself. He has no center. He no longer understands who he is. He is without an identity. He has been dispossessed of himself and his humanity. His life has been shattered into pieces. He is alien to himself and alienated from his life. All this leaves him vulnerable, naked, exposed, and unclothed. He no longer lives in a house in the city, but in the tombs. He is in essence dead to himself.

Who of us does not know what that is like? One day we look in the mirror and say, “Who are you? I don’t recognize you.” Other days we say, “I don’t know what’s come over me. I’m just not myself today.” Our head is filled with conflicting thoughts and voices. We chase each thought but get nowhere. We listen to each voice but know nothing. There are times when we lose our bearings in life and no longer know who we are or what our life is all about. We silently wonder if we are going crazy. It is a place and time of separation, loneliness, and isolation. We are exiled from ourselves and each other.

We know what this man’s life is like. Each of us could tell about a time when our life was shattered and left in thousands of pieces that we just could not put back together. Dreams and hopes. A marriage. The death of a loved one. Faith and beliefs. We know what it is like to lose our self, our life, our name and identity. We know what it is like to be Legion.

I don’t know what in your life has shattered. I don’t know the thousands of pieces with which you live. I don’t know the Legion of your life. You have those answers, but I can tell you this. Whatever it might be it is the place to which Christ comes. Jesus comes to the Legion of our lives. He did for the man in today’s gospel and he does for each one of us.

Jesus steps out onto the land of this foreign country, the land of Legion. He comes to us as the one with inner clarity, focus, knowing, and understanding. He is the presence of unity, wholeness, and integration. He is the image of who we are and who we can become. That’s why we continue to seek and follow Jesus as our teacher, guide, and savior. He is and has the life we want.

Jesus comes unafraid of death or the tombs in which this man lives. He is not distracted by the man’s craziness. He is not repulsed by the man’s nakedness or appearance. He is not limited by the chains and shackles that bind this man’s life. He is unchallenged by the guard. Legion holds no power over Jesus.

 “When the man saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’” Within that question are recognition and non-recognition, likeness and unlikeness, sameness and difference. The man knows Jesus is nothing like him and yet, something within the man knows he is like Jesus. Something within him can still recognize Jesus; the divine one, the one who saves, the one who is whole, complete, and holy.
We can only ever recognize that which we already know, that which at some level is already a part of us. Despite the presence of Legion, the true image of and within this man was never completely lost or destroyed. It may have been taken over, covered up, forgotten, denied, or ignored but it was never absent. It was this true image, a reflection of Jesus himself, that recognized Jesus. That is as true for us as it is the man in today’s gospel.

Jesus stands before us as the mirror, the image, the truth-teller of who we really are. He gives us back ourselves. He reveals the original beauty of our creation. He stands before us with a truth that challenges us at the places in which our lives have become fragmented and distorted, in the ways in which we are not true to ourselves, and in the times when our identity has been lost and shattered.

Jesus comes to the man seeing and knowing a truth about him that the man can neither see nor know for himself. How can he? He has been convinced that his name is Legion. Jesus knows otherwise. In the face of that truth the unclean spirit cannot remain. Legion can never be our final reality or ultimate identity. That will always be Jesus. That is the truth that commanded Legion to leave. That is the truth that puts life back together. That is the truth that clothed this man, returned him to himself, and seated him at Jesus’ feet.

Yes, we know what it is like to be Legion. We can tell that story. For every story about Legion, however, there is a counter story. It is the story of our how our life was put back together, how we were given back ourselves, how we were seated at the feet of Jesus. It’s the story Jesus wants told. We need to tell it. Others need to hear it.

Amen.

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What Really Matters — July 17 2016

Today I think of air Captain Chesley Sullenberger III.  Born in 1951 in Denison, Texas, He was a faithful member of his Methodist Church and an excellent student. By January 15 2009 he had been a pilot for 30 years, with 20,000 hours of flying experience.  He had been a fighter jet pilot, a member of national air safety boards and air accident investigations.

On that day in January 2009, his civilian Airbus A320 airplane took off from La Guardia Airport with 155 people on board; then it struck a flock of birds and lost both engines.  He was over the Bronx or northern Manhattan with a fully fueled widebodied airplane, so untold disaster loomed.  Not distracted or paralyzed by fear, with vast skill, experience, and focus, he brought his plane safely to an emergency landing in the Hudson River.  All souls were safely evacuated.  It is about to appear as a movie titled “Sully”, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, and Laura Linney.
The message to me is this: focus on God’s calling to you, not being distracted by anything. (Sullenberger is the author of the New York Times best-seller Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, a memoir of his life and of the events surrounding Flight 1549, published in 2009 by HarperCollins.)  Focus, without distraction, is what our readings are about today.

Today’s gospel reading on Martha and Mary, from Luke chapter 10 verse 38-42, concludes that chapter.  That chapter 10 began with the mission of the seventy, which refers to the mission of all of us who follow Christ.  The chapter continued with the summary of the law, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  That is the core value that all of us who follow the one God hold and share with the world.  The chapter continues with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which directs us, on our life of mission in the name of Jesus, to cross ethnic and all social boundaries in the whole world, and to care for the suffering person irrespective of how different they may be from us.

Finally, that chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel ends with this story of Mary and Martha.  Here, Martha is distracted with many activities, while Mary has chosen the single good or spiritual portion of listening to Jesus.  The thrust of this gospel reading is this: That, on our mission we should be focused on God’s call to us in our life.  We should not be distracted by fear and anxiety; and we should not be distracted by the things of this world.

There is an echo here of the message of the angel Gabriel to Mary the mother of Jesus, about thirty years before, early in Luke’s gospel.  Jesus’ mother Mary responded with the words, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord: be it unto me according to God’s word.”  Here is Luke again and again emphasizing the role of women, and emphasizing Jesus as the example that we can and should emulate.  As Jesus is focused on God, so we must focus on Jesus.

Remaining focused on God’s call to us appears in the other readings for today, in Genesis 18, of Abraham meeting the three angelic beings at Mamre.  Abraham was still learning to follow the covenant that God made with him in Genesis chapter 15, that he would be the father in faith to countless numbers of people in the future.  He was still learning to focus on and believe in God’s call to him, and not be distracted by anything else.

Remaining focused on God’s call to us is the subject of our Psalm 15 today.  The author does not want to be distracted by enemies, by money, or by anything else.

In our reading from Colossians 1, we learn that the whole universe, that all things, are held together by Jesus Christ.  That the secret of the ages has been revealed: Christ in you, the hope of glory.  When we focus on Jesus, we are focusing on reality, on what holds the universe together.

This idea of focus, and of not being distracted appears in different ways in more recent times:

Last Monday, July 11, we remembered Benedict of Nursia of approximately 540 A.D./ C.E.  The Episcopal Church rests upon Benedictine spirituality, for example, in sanctifying time.  Every day begins and ends with prayer, and there is prayer during the hours of the day.  During each hour there are designated activities.  Whether the activity is menial or great, it is to further God’s reign.  There is the sanctifying of material goods.  Each implement, like a shovel, must be seen as a divine thing, like the world itself, and must be treated with respect.  So the whole of time and matter is offered to the call of God.  Benedict’s Rule begins with the word, “Listen”, or “Obey”.  We must be focused on God’s call and not distracted.

In my own life I remember the eight years of studying for my doctorate in the New Testament.  For those eight years, all done part time with three children, there were an average of three hours of study and research before breakfast each morning.  I knew what it was to be focused on a goal and a calling, despite any distraction which might appear.

Last week we heard of the death of Edmond Browning, who was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1986 onward for 12 years.  His great focus, theme and calling was this: There will be no outcasts in the church.  With that rallying call, ‘No outcasts’, he led us through the AIDS pandemic which began in 1984.  He taught us not to be afraid, and to care for each other even in the face of death.

For days, weeks, months and years now we have been surrounded by violence around the world,  There is no one cause.  It’s not only extreme religious groups,  Its not only gun laws,  Its not any particular ethnic or racial group.  It not only homophobia.  It has occurred in many countries and continents.  Politicians at times rant and rave and yet achieve very little.

In the midst of all this, Jesus’ call to us is the same as it has always been:  to listen to God’s call to us; to not be distracted by fear, or anxiety, or by the things of the world.

Are you caught up by fear, or anxiety, or by the things of the world?  The gospel today calls you back to your true identity of God’s call to you.  Listen to God.  Love and obey God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

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Outcasts accept Jesus — Lk 7:36- 8:3 — Sun Jun 12 2016

A central idea in today’s Gospel reading (Lk 7:36-8:3) is that it is the outcast person, or publicly recognized sinful person who accepts Jesus, as he accepts them.  The elite people (Simon) do not accept Jesus for who he says he is, and so they themselves keep their own distance from God’s grace.  The attitude of the heart is everything in the gospel reading today.

I remember at one time working in a city, where there were many Episcopal or Anglican parishes.  Yet two were remarkable by comparison.  One of the two parishes was on the side of a lovely mountain, where there were vineyards, and large properties, beautiful views, and great wealth.  The parish there was quite small in membership, however, and they were not very generous in their outreach.  The other or second of the two parishes was down on the lowlands.  The people there were much poorer, and life was tenuous and difficult.  The parish there was much larger, and the people much more generous as a percentage, per capita.  The contrast between these two parishes is just the same as the contrast between the woman in our gospel reading, and Simon.  The poor, outcast, repentant woman had an attitude of gratitude to God for forgiveness.  The wealthy Simon, had little thought of any need for forgiveness, and for that reason had little gratitude to God.

In God’s sight, little forgiveness (was) shown to Simon, not because of his conduct, but because of his fundamental (judgmental) attitude” (Fitzmyer p. 692).

By contrast, the woman in this story, before this story began, had already realized and accepted God’s forgiveness for her sins, and was filled with overwhelming gratitude.  She expressed her gratitude with her tears, her hair, and her perfume.  The same quality of penitence and the acceptance of forgiveness are reflected also in the sinner David’s Psalm 32, and also in our OT story of the sinner David in relation to Bathsheba, and to Uriah (1 Ki 19:1-8).  Both the woman in the gospel, and King David had confessed their sin, had sought God’s forgiveness, and realized and accepted that God had forgiven them.  Both of them had been freed in their hearts.  I too can repent, and then accept that I am released from captivity to guilt and resentment.  I can live with an attitude of gratitude to God for that forgiveness.

What is your and my attitude to others, and what is your and my attitude to God?  We should realize and accept our sorely needed forgiveness.  We should have an overwhelming attitude of gratitude for how we experience God’s love and forgiveness.

Our Eucharistic service begins with the Gloria — an attitude of praise and thanksgiving.  The heart is the thing.  Do you and I repent, accept God’s forgiveness, and then open our hearts in thankfulness, love, and praise to God?

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When Our Divisions Increase, Finding Healing

At this time of the year (May 8) we have the Feast of the Ascension (just past), today’s gospel reading (John 17:20-26) and the Feast of Pentecost coming up next Sunday.  So by virtue of the Ascension, all things have been placed under Christ, by this gospel reading all believers are unified in Christ, and by virtue of us anticipating Pentecost, we are praying to be empowered by the Holy Spirit (who is the same as Christ and God).

HUMAN DIVISION AND DISREGARD

To the contrary of that gospel vision of unity, however, we find ourselves embroiled and implicated in a world of continuing division, human misery, and conflict. Nations and politicians are adversarial. There is a growing mountain of laws, locks, alarms, security cameras, controls on travel, or other types of policing.  Nevertheless, they do not bring peace and don’t solve the cause of the problem.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus prays for our unity:  “That they may become completely one.”

Some Christians live opulently, while other Christians live in misery, and this is reflected on Sunday mornings around the world.  Internally, Christian families sometimes reflect relationships that are badly divided, oppressive, or abusive.

In the face of all this, in our gospel reading today Jesus says, “That they may become completely one.”

Yet, in all places, there is the occasional love that heals, the outstanding groups or individuals who call us back from our divisions and violence.  For example, almost all of us have known the empowering love of a mother, for which we express gratitude not only on Mother’s Day.  It is a love which fosters in us a sense of security and self worth, and it draws us towards our markedly different siblings and members of the wider family. 

Another example is that the Nobel Peace Prize recognizes people exemplify this spirit in whole communities, individuals who address or bridge social divisions.  It is often in the name of God that they do so.

Another example of Christ-like healing and empowering love is in Louise Erdrich’s book titled LaRose:  “When a 5-year-old boy is accidentally shot and killed during a North Dakota deer hunt in 1999, the family of the father who pulled the trigger decides to give their own son, named LaRose, to the grieving family.  This is a tradition among the Ojibwe people – and LaRose is a novel that stays haunting to the end.” (This summary is by the publisher Harper Collins.)

UNITY WITH JESUS AND EACH OTHER

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus lays out his social program,  which is quite simple:  those who follow or emulate Christ are one.  According to Jesus, Christians are closer to one another than citizens of a country and they are closer to one another than members of human families.  For those who follow Christ are as much united with one another as God the Father and God the Son are united with one another.  There is therefore no room for prejudice of any kind amongst those who follow Jesus.  Rather, we should be actively engaged in overcoming social barriers.  For Jesus, the Christian prostitute, priest, and president are a single united being; they are one united being with the pauper, artisan, and investment banker.

There is power in the gospel of Jesus to energize us to investigate social conditions, to understand, to build communication, to build bridges, to heal, and to work towards a better future.  The power of his love is greater than any or all of our divisions.

Roy Campbell on an air trip (on approximately Friday 14 May 2010) was greatly impressed by two of his companions on the journey:  A paraplegic and his sister, who has cared for him devotedly for thirty years.  Such Christ-like loving care is always deeply striking and moving to see.  The reading from Acts regarding Philippi (Acts 16:16-34) says that the jailer of Paul and Silas, gripped by fear of the earthquake there, intended to commit suicide: but even to a potential suicide, love can come and can heal, and, in time, bring a future that is good or better.  Love heals.  Actions which help those released from jail to build a new life are acts of Christ like love.   Love that heals can be of many kinds – romantic, congregation, family, colleagues, friends, or a religious or other community.

This prison scene can remind us of how much we can help those that are released from prison, and are trying to find work and other kinds of support. I know a self-storage business owner who deliberately employed such persons.  Assisting such individuals can further help society by building productive members of society, and reducing recidivism (or repeating crime and imprisonment).

We pray for all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit:  In the name of Christ, we can love and care for groups of people – for prisoners, for the poor, for the sick, for the oppressed, near or far. Do we follow Jesus?  If so, his love dwells in us.  We are all bound together by the chains of his love.  His people are inescapably drawn together as one.

As we seek ways to deepen and express our unity with others this week,  praying for the empowerment of God’s Spirit, our gospel tells us that those around us will recognize the divinity of Christ; and  we will see Christ’s glory.

 

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