The sermon preached by The Rev. Andy Jones, on May 24, at St Andrew’s Episcopal Churchs, online service of Morning Prayer.
You will find a video of the Morning Prayer service on St Andrew’s web site on the 1833 Online page. The sermon begins at 11:30 into the video.
From the Gospel assigned for the Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year a of the Revised Common Lectionary:
“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
So much has changed in these last few weeks, in these last couple of months. Sometimes it seems like nothing has been spared. Everything has changed. And that has even extended, at least for me, to my prayer life. There’s so much to pray for, so much to pray about right now. I pray for family and friends, that they stay healthy and safe. I pray for my aging parents, that they stay home, and stay safe. I pray for this community, that we may stay bound to one another. I pray for our leadership: national, state, and local governments, that they may make wise decisions. And I pray for all of you. I pray for the members of our community who are home alone, people who are sick, and even for a few of us who are dying. There’s so much to pray for. Sometimes it feels a little overwhelming. And so, there are days when I am so overwhelmed, I seem to have lost my voice. I don’t know how to pray, or for what I should pray.
That’s one of the reasons why I am so grateful for this gospel passage today. Here on the last day of the Easter Season, here on the last Sunday before we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we get to hear Jesus pray. We call this chapter of John’s Gospel The High Priestly Prayer, twenty six verses in which Jesus prays for us. I think that we can find some direction for our own prayer, in the words that Jesus says today.
The last line of our reading this morning, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” So that they may be one, as we are one… In the twenty-six verses of chapter seventeen of John’s Gospel, Jesus prays three times that we may be one. Just a few verses after the line we heard today, Jesus prays, “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” And then “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one…” Three times Jesus prays that we may be one as he and God are one. That’s a powerful prayer, and a powerful prayer to repeat over and over again. May we be one as Jesus and God are one. What exactly does that mean? What would it mean for us to be on as Jesus and God are one?
Early theologians liked to talk about the Trinity, the connection between God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, as a connection of movement, as a dance of three persons, so united in desire, and will, and being, that they move effortlessly together, like a couple that are so used to dancing together that they glide effortlessly across the dance floor, and it’s hard to tell who’s leading and who’s following.
Jesus isn’t praying that we all agree. He’s not praying that we all come to the same conclusions, or that we find our way forward with the same sorts of paths. I think that what Jesus is praying for in this moment is that we learn to dance together. That we learn to accommodate one another. That we give and receive both identify and understanding in that movement that flows back and forth between us. That we may be one as Jesus and the Father are one.
Now what Jesus doesn’t say here, but which should become obvious as we think about Jesus’s movement in this dance, is that in order to be one with someone else in this way, we have to be ready to give, to bend to move, to allow the other to lead. There is some sacrifice involved. I may be entitled, it may be my right, but that might not be the best thing for the ones with whom I am dancing. So, I need to be ready to give, to give way, to allow the other to be and to breathe. When we all do that together we are participating in the dance that is the inner life of the Holy Trinity; moving, flowing effortlessly together; understanding that the others agenda needs to become ours, even as ours becomes theirs; as the needs of the other become our needs, as our needs become theirs. I think that this is a particularly powerful and profound way for us to pray right now; that we may all be one; and recognizing that we are all bound together, and that there are no disposable people.
As we continue to move through these difficult times, and our federal, state and local governments begin to remove the restrictions that have kept us Safer at Home, we need to consider the needs and the agenda of the other before we jump in with both feet, stepping on their toes, asserting our own rights, privileges, and agenda.
I think this is particularly true of us in the church. It may be that Dane County, Madison, say that we can open our doors and come back together in our building, but that may not be the best thing for all of us. And if it’s not the best thing for all of us, I’m not sure that it’s the best thing for any of us. What will it look like to gather with no more than ten people in our building? What will it look like when we are allowed to have as many as fifty people in our building, but because we need to maintain six feet of separation, we may only be able to accommodate thirty at a time? If only thirty of us can come to church then is it really appropriate for us to open the doors and gather in that way? And even when we are allowed to gather, there will be those in our community who will be prevented from joining us because they are in a high-risk population. I say that with some real trepidation as I approach my sixtieth birthday this summer, and will be joining that group of those officially designated as at risk. Someone told me earlier this week that whether or not I want to admit it, I am part of that group.
So how will we gather in a way that brings us all together and allows us to be one as Jesus and God are one. One of the things we know is that we will not stop live streaming our services. In this time of pandemic, we have been forced to try out some new tools that we may not have explored if not for the urgency created by our current context. And so as we figure out how we can come back together in or building we will work to make sure that we all have access to the community that we love and depend on.
Our Bishop, Bishop Steven Miller, has a Task Force assembled and they have been working on guidelines for reopening our parishes. He has submitted those in draft form to the clergy and the wardens in the diocese and we’ll be meeting with him on Tuesday to discuss them, and then we will be ready to share them with you all. Mother Melesa and I have gathered together a Task Force of St Andrew’s Parishioners so that we can figure out how those guidelines work with our architecture, in our space, within our walls; and we will be working and sharing our progress with all of you as we think this through. The Task Force will then make a proposal, or some recommendations to the Vestry for their approval. All of this will take time. And whatever we do, I imagine that we will be behind our state and local government, watching to make sure that it is safe, that they have made appropriate and healthy decisions for all of us, as we strive to do the same for our community.
One of the things that Jesus says in his High Priestly Prayer, is that he hopes and prays that we will be one so that the world will see us and know that it was God that sent Jesus into our midst. Jesus hopes that by our unity, by the depth and strength of the community that we form and sustain, the world will see Gods presence, and be moved, and be changed. This is a moment for the Church to lead. This is a moment for the church to say that we might be entitled to gather in this moment but we will not do so until it is safe, and we know that we can all be one in ways that are healthy and life giving.
If you’ve been paying attention to this discussion on the internet, you will know that Bishops across this church, clergy across this church, have been saying that the government did not close our doors, and the government cannot open them. We closed our doors. We chose to stay home, because we know that that is the best way for us to love on another in this moment.
Jesus prays that we may all be one. We can’t gather together as a body in our building right now, but by staying home and protecting one another, we are one. God has given us a way to be one even when we cannot be together; and that is by honoring and respecting the needs of all of the members of our community, by loving one another, by staying safe, and by doing all we can to keep each other safe at this time.
It has been a difficult time and there has been a lot to pray for. I hope that you will add to your prayer list and not feel like I am imposing on you when I make this suggestion, but I think it would serve us all well if we close our prayer time in the days ahead by echoing Jesus’s words.
Heavenly Father, makes us one as you and Jesus are one; Jesus in you and you in him, and us in you and you in us, so that we may be one, and continue to love one another in ways that only you can show us.