May you be one

The following link will provide you with additional information and resources for the whole family for this Sunday, Easter 7: 
https://sjruc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Easter-Week7.pdf

John 17:1-11

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “God, the hour has come; glorify your son so that the son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.  So now, God, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;  for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.  And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

May you be one                                         Rev. Chris Fickling

A couple of weeks ago we started this text from the Gospel of John as Jesus leaves his disciples with one last word (or 4 chapters worth of words).  I’ve had to write those letters…and unlike Jesus, I’ve found the briefer, the better.  However Jesus’ words were meant to last a whole lot longer – as he’s leaving the disciples with enough teachings to last a lifetime, or several thousand lifetimes.   

At the outset of this Farewell Narrative, Jesus describes himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and if you missed it last week, we looked at how Jesus’ Way begins and ends with love.  This way is full of love that we can show others[1] – most simply in this time by wearing facemasks (as this artist created this beautiful reminder).  The Way forward means listening to and following God, no matter how much we want to listen to our own voices.  This Way is being present to the world in all of its highs and lows.  For this week, we’ll get into the Truth of Jesus’ life, as we celebrate his Ascension. 

Ascension Sunday is the last Sunday in Easter before Pentecost – which we celebrate next week.  Ascension Sunday is “the day when Jesus started to work from home,” as one person joked.  But Ascension is when Jesus leaves his disciples (for real this time) and entrusts the future ministry with them.  They are the carriers of the Gospel.  They are the walkers of the Way.  They are the bearers of Truth. 

See there’s truth out there, and a whole lot of untruths.  Fake news has filled our timelines, and the mouths of politicians, and it’s made it harder to figure out what real truth is for us.  We’ve heard the metaphor that we’re all in the same boat, (a lovely sentiment when first coined) except that not all of us have the same means, the same experiences, the same supports or challenges.  Instead, the truth that rises out of that mistruth is that we’re all in the same storm.

The disciples found themselves similarly storm stayed.  Faced with an unknown future, Jesus prays for his disciples, that they may be one, as God and he are one.  But when these words were first written down, they had been without Jesus’ physical presence for nearly 70 years.  And in that time, the spread of Christianity had brought with it greater threats from Rome, increased persecutions and just general forgetfulness as to all that Jesus had done.  And so his words come from a future already felt: people unsure where to turn, doubtful of gospel good news that doesn’t address the current state of the world. 

Just over two months into quarantine and we’re tired of our state of the world.  The real struggle is now, when we realize that “just” staying home is exhausting!  And people can’t imagine doing this all summer,[2] and make claims that government has overstepped[3], or how businesses claim to have their people at heart, all while closing stores, laying off workers, while some[4] have managed to accumulate even more net worth while frontline staff become unwilling pawns used to feed the capitalistic machine…what gospel good news speaks into that truth?

For a long time we’ve mistaken our current circumstances as indicative of God’s presence.  Virus hits – and clearly God’s abandoned us.  Close churches, and somehow worship ceases to exist.  Cancel vacations and suddenly we’ve become Job.  I guess that’s why I was drawn to the body prayer of Julian of Norwich.

We await God’s presence. 
We allow (this moment) to be what it is. 
We accept that we don’t know everything, that we’re not in charge, and we accept this present moment for what it is, not what we want it to be. 
We attend to our calling, to be God’s love in the world.

I’m most moved by the middle two, of allowing and accepting, especially as it connects me to a sermon recently offered by preacher Nadia Bolz-Weber.  She referred to something called the Stockdale Paradox, the ability to hold two opposing but equally true things at once:

You must have faith that you will prevail in the end
And at the same time you must confront the brutal facts of your current reality…
[5]

An Admiral in the US Navy, James Stockdale survived 8 years as a POW in a North Vietnamese prison camp. When asked who of his fellow prisoners struggled to make it out alive he replied,

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart….”

You must have faith that you will prevail in the end
And at the same time you must confront the brutal facts of your current reality.
[6]

We can’t just pretend things are fine.  Nor can we give up hope.  It can be both,

the best of times, it was the worst of times,

as Charles Dickens described 19th Century Europe (yet eerily appropriate for us:)

it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way
 
(A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens)

This week as school was announced to not return to in classroom teaching, there were those (children) who yelled out in excitement, and at the same time those (parents) who cried out in distress.  And other voices chimed in of those missing out on graduations, and stressing about online school, and all those struggling to learn a new way – the best and worst…and when so much is taken from us, we still have the power to allow and accept[7].  Anything more puts us in a state of delusion or hopelessness.  We grieve…but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Allowing and accepting enables us to grieve all we’ve lost.  Future plans that have been abandoned.  Embracing the uncertainty of what a return to church looks like (with current scientists saying no singing, no eating, no large gatherings…I guess it’s just me talking…**shudder**) Allowing and accepting[8] gives us something to “do” when we feel helpless.  Allowing and accepting is a part of Jesus’ prayer, as one Rabbi said, for our hearts break so that God can fill in the cracks.  Jesus prays for protection for us/disciples, insomuch as to ensure

that [we] may be one

Not that we may be safe, not that we may be protected from viruses and the like.  But merely that we may be one.  When we feel pulled by all the truths and untruths out there, when we feel we need to solve it all, may Jesus’ prayer for oneness, unite us with God.  May it pull us together when we’re falling apart.  May the paradox of oneness enable us to yearn for the best for all people, and may it inspire us to work for good news that is more powerful than a quick fix. 

I leave you with two songs – because I couldn’t make up my mind.  One speaks to what I think is deep wisdom to us in this time, that

Nothing is a waste if you learn from it

And this is a time of deep learning for us all.  And the second, more well known is the profoundly loved hymn In the Bulb there is a flower – for we hold onto what is, while still yearning for what might be.  For

From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/14/mutual-aid-coronavirus-pandemic-rebecca-solnit

[2] https://kristopherwalhof.wordpress.com/2020/05/06/when-attending-church-is-unchristian-a-response-to-the-romanian-american-churches-of-chicago/

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-us-churches-reopen-latest-today-coronavirus-a9529076.html

[4] https://www.newsweek.com/5-wealthiest-americans-have-gotten-75-billion-dollars-richer-while-pandemic-guts-economy-1506044

[5] https://nadiabolzweber.substack.com/p/optimism-wont-save-mebut-neither

[6] https://nadiabolzweber.substack.com/p/optimism-wont-save-mebut-neither

[7] Insofar as we are not participants in injustice – those suffering abuse (physical, sexual, etc) should not allow and accept – for God doesn’t desire the destruction of one person for another’s gain.  In fact, in the midst of this virus, one could argue that we shouldn’t necessarily allow and accept all the failures in the systems that have contributed to the high death toll thus far.

[8] God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.  Reinhold Neibuhr

3 Comments

  1. Well done again Chris, Alison and Dave. And Chief Science Officer Nahum. And Teresa for the prayer shawls.
    However, we need to know what was at the bottom of Chris’s tie!!!! One fish, two fish…..then what?

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