Sunday, May 16, 2021
Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B

Prayer of the Day
Gracious and glorious God, you have chosen us as your own, and by the powerful name of Christ you protect us from evil. By your Spirit transform us and your beloved world, that we may find our joy in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 Matthias added to the apostles
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13  Life in the Son of God
John 17:6-19  Christ’s prayer for his disciples

Sermon

Title:  Images of Life in Christ

Alleluia Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia

The season of shouting this phrase is coming to an end.  Today, we mark the seventh and final Sunday of the Easter season (well, sort of the final Sunday. Next Sunday is officially the fiftieth and last day, but it will be Pentecost and we will be moving on to focus on rushing wind, tongues of fire, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.)  Now, I don’t know if it’s the pandemic and the extra quiet and solitude it has offered, or should I chalk it up to age, having marked these 50 days many times so that now, at least in a small way, I’m able to appreciate…explore…examine…reflect on…(not sure what the right word is) maybe just leave it as live these 50 days with some new insight.  Whatever the influences, this year, this Easter season, rather than a 50-day party at an empty tomb, for me it has felt a little more like a journey than usual.  I know, what in faith-life doesn’t feel like a journey.  But like with the seasons of Advent and Lent, this time around, I have been more aware of movement through these soon to conclude 50 days.

Sure, we started at the empty tomb of Jesus, proclaiming his victory over death that is shared with us.  But then it moved, the story got us moving, through our doubt and into the reassurance of Christ’s presence, onto the pastures of the Good Shepherd and into the vineyards of the true vine, and culminating in the love of Christ that binds us together as one in a living and evolving community of faith that was so wonderfully expressed by the vicar last week.  If you didn’t see the journey while it was going on, does my quick recap of snapshots help you see it now?  As you think on it, are there images from our Easter journey that you were most comforted by, encouraged by, found peace and joy in, will hold close as you journey beyond these 50 days?  Were there some surprises, some new insights, fresh epiphanies?  Here’s a few more images to prime your memory and ignite your imagination.  A patient savior meeting Thomas in his questions.  A comforting host reassuring and nourishing around broken bread. A care-taking shepherd who knows each sheep by name. A vine so filled with life that it constantly is pushing out new branches, new growth, new fruit.

Following last week’s call to loving relationships in all their wonderful diversity and definitions, we end this season of shouted alleluias with the intimacy of a prayer.  Here Jesus is not teaching us to pray.  Instead, it is one of the few recorded prayers that Jesus directs to heaven.  This time he prays on our behalf.  Jesus is praying for us.  Praying for those who will continue the work begun in God’s name and according to God’s desires.   And for the sake of this work, Jesus is praying that we might all be one.

Note to self.  When preparing to talk about Christian unity, don’t read a history of the papacy.  The book I am currently reading is a brief history of the 2,000 years of the bishop of Rome, aka the pope.  I have made it up to the mid-16th century so far and I am constantly asking myself:  How has the church survived?  But that question can be asked throughout much of church history, regardless of denomination, nation, or main characters.  For as many times people lament that God is not answering their prayer, we can certainly turn it around and see that we, too often, are working against Jesus’ prayer.

And Peter is not helping this morning.  While next Sunday is considered the birthday of the church with the coming of the Holy Spirit and the gathering of new believers into the fellowship of Jesus’ followers; today, in that pre-Pentecost episode recounted in our first reading from the opening chapter of Acts, we see that the entrenching and inhibiting practice of “this is the way we’ve always done it” (so well known and observed in the church) was in place before the church was even born.  Look back at what we heard read.  It is immediately after the ascension.  The disciples, now eleven, gather as they wait for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.  Left to their own wisdom, what do they say?  “Well, Jesus called twelve of us, so we better pick someone to fill Judas’ spot.  We gotta have twelve.  That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  The Holy Spirit, bringing holy wisdom, will bring a new way of thinking.  But that’s next week.  Perhaps this is an example of what John is talking about in his letter.  There is human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater.

So, while I can be brokenhearted by church history that I read filled with abuses and greed, or frustrated with worn out practices that I myself engage in and are hindered by; I can also be encouraged by Jesus’ prayer and know that the work is not finished. I can be challenged by hope-filled insights like those shared by the vicar last week that there is always growth and transformation. And with that, I can be inspired that the Spirit is working in us and through us so that Jesus’ prayer for unity for the sake of our shared mission of spreading God’s reign might reach beyond our faulty wisdom and understanding and bring new light and life to all those wonderful Easter images that we share together for the living of our lives as the new creations we are resurrected to be – individual lives and communal communal.

This call from Jesus to be one in Christ, may have inspired St. Paul to engage the imagery of the Body of Christ as he was writing to young churches struggling to live out their calling.  Just like the images of our Easter journey have helped us see deeper into the resurrected life that is ours in Christ, so this image of the body of Christ, helps us see deeper into how Jesus’ prayer for unity can be expressed and lived.

Combatting that temptation to stay in our comfort zone, to do things the way we have always done them, understand things through past perspectives, listen to only one voice, one interpretation; I would like to take advantage of this new way of being together, and invite you to view some images that seek to creatively express unity in Christ and encourage you to meditate on insights that they inspire in you.  Each image is paired with a phrase from Jesus’ prayer.

Picture One:  11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world,

Picture Two:  they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

Picture Three:  so that they may be one, as we are one

Picture Four:  so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves

I invite you to share in the chat in ZOOM or the comments on Facebook any thoughts or insights you wish to share.

A final word.  As with any relationship, there is a surrender and a vulnerability to which one is invited to submit when joining this unity through faith.  Becoming one in Christ Jesus invites us to see ourselves and one another in a new way.  A way contrary to what the world teaches us.  Following in Christ’s way, we are called to be servant to one another, but also to be served by one another.  Not be oppressed nor the oppressor.  We are called to seek forgiveness and reconciliation and to offer forgiveness and restoration.  Not be shamed or seek revenge.  We are called to show mercy and to rejoice in the mercy that is gifted to us. Not dominate the weak or ignore the grace shown to our own frailties.  In this sharing, the joy of Christ is made complete in us.  Jesus’ prayer is answered. The good news is proclaimed and our new life shout continues wherever we are on the journey.  So, it is together, as one in Christ that we say and live:

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

The Rev. Mark Erson,
Pastor

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