I realize I haven’t posted anything since Mother’s Day. I’ve been a little preoccupied. See, I’m preaching this Sunday! And doing a baptism, too! All pretty incredible stuff, since I haven’t led worship anywhere since last August! (If you are the praying sort, please shoot one up for me). Anyway, I thought I’d share my sermon with ya’ll. Insofar as I haven’t written one of those since last August either, I’m kinda tickled with it. Please do not feel obliged to read on, though. Once the pressure’s off, I’ll be back to post some other stuff. Blessed weekend!
John 17:6-19 Easter 7 – 2015
Baptism of K—
One Plus One
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as you and I are one (John 17:11b).
Even folks who claim to know nothing about Jesus or who haven’t been to church since they were kids, know something about Jesus praying for his disciples to be as one. And most people, both inside and out of the church, pretty much think that idea is a pie-in-the-sky kind of notion. Mainline Protestant denominations may have made tremendous ecumenical strides over the past couple of decades, but when it comes to our own back yards, any idea of true unity seems unlikely. Let’s face it, everybody knows at least one Christian who is, well, a total pain in the tuckus. When it comes to loving one another, we are more than happy to love some of Christians most of the time, but all of them all of the time? Jesus had to be kidding, right? There is just no way. Ever. It’s not possible.
Well, first of all, while I want to believe Jesus had a sense of humor, I don’t think for a minute he was kidding. Think back. Before Easter. To the night we remember Jesus was betrayed. He took a basin and a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. And what did he say to them after that? “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). The second thing is, Jesus goes on to pray, prays this very prayer that same night. He prays for his disciples then and now, prays for his Father to protect us in his name, prays that we might be one. It is still Thursday. No one’s left the table yet. No one except the one destined to be lost. Yes, Judas has gone off to betray Jesus and collect his silver, but the others are still there.
I think it is important to note that Jesus commands us to love one another, then spends what takes up 3 chapters of John’s gospel explaining what that sort of love looks like and promising the Holy Spirit will help us. And only then, does he go on to pray for another 25 verses, or what amounts to the entirety of Chapter 17. No matter how impossible it may seem, Jesus was not kidding. He commanded us to love and then prayed like crazy for God to help us. It seems the least we can do is to give this love thing a shot. If you are anything like me, you’ve failed miserably. More than once. That’s okay. We’re forgiven. We start again.
I have a new neighbor. I only met her once. Introduced myself one sunny afternoon when we were both outside on our respective back decks. Now, in order to get a sense of our initial meeting, you have to imagine where I live. My back deck is attached to the deck next door, but divided by a tall privacy wall of spaced boards that make it possible to see, but not really. Anyway, my new neighbor and I exchanged greetings and chatted pleasantly. I since noticed, through those same slatted spaces, that she had put out a patio table and chairs. And noticed again, when a potted rose bush and a large hanging basket of red petunias appeared. Then nothing. I got nosy. I peered through the cracks intently. Her blinds were all closed, the furniture was thick with pollen. She obviously wasn’t home and hadn’t been for days.
Now, this is the sum total of what I know: her name; that she is renting; and a rose bush and petunia plant are sitting on her back deck neglected and dry as a bone. So there I am this past Thursday morning. Using a plastic cup. Reaching through the opposing boards intended for privacy, watering my neighbor’s pots. It took some time. And once I got my arm through, I couldn’t see what I was doing. I just reached until I felt the cup against a pot, tilted it, and poured. It took quite a few pours before I was satisfied. Her plants were okay. Whatever was going on in that woman’s life that was keeping her away from home—and I have no way of knowing and it’s none of my business—but, I hope and pray she is okay and, whenever she does return, one thing’s for certain: her plants will still be there, healthy and full of flowers. I’ll see to it. Personally.
I have come to believe this whole loving thing is really that simple. We don’t have to have warm fuzzy feelings about everybody. Not in the world. Not in our neighborhoods. And not even at church. We all know somebody—or most probably quite a few somebodies—who stick in our craw. What are we to do with them? Well, I think the right answer is we should pray for them. But let’s not get too carried away. Let’s just try to start small. Near strangers are the easiest. We don’t know them well enough to be annoyed with them yet. Or, if we think we do, we can just move on to a different near stranger. Then just commit some wee little act of kindness: Tell the cashier at ShopRite to have a good day. Pick up a neighbor’s newspaper and toss it on his porch—even, no especially if it’s raining. Hold open a door. Smile at a kid. Water somebody’s neglected plants.
And then, then if we can just go one step further, say a quick prayer for that person. Nothing complicated. Just “bless him, God,” or “be with her, oh God,” or “God have mercy.” Can you imagine? Can any of us begin to imagine what might happen if everybody started praying for somebody else all at the same time? The odds are even pretty good that somebody’d be praying for you, too! It’s almost unimaginable, and yet the thought of it is such a crazy wonderful incredible thing. The whole heavenly switchboard lighting up with bless this one and help that one and keep another one safe. All the while, Jesus is still praying timeless words of truth that reach through the ages pleading for you and for me and for this one and that one and even the ones who stick in our craw and are a pain in our tuckus: Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
On this day, little K— has been baptized into this diverse and sometimes wacky group of folk otherwise known as the Body of Christ. Like each of you, she too is now sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. She now bears the name Child of God and is numbered among the members who make up Christ’s Body here in [Your Town] and throughout the world. Such is both blessing and responsibility. As Teresa of Avila once summed up so well: “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world, yours are the feet with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.” Yours, K—. And, beloved children of God, each one of yours, too.
One plus one and one and one and one and one equaling one. The fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer is happening all around us all the time. We just don’t see it. Our human tendency is to focus on everything that’s wrong in the world and wrong in our lives and wrong with each other. We think that in order to make any sort of difference, we have to do something big. Volunteer in a food pantry or serve on the church council or—God forbid—run for public office. Those are good and necessary things and thank God for the people who feel called to do them. But not everybody does and that’s okay. Each one of us lives out our discipleship one newspaper, one door held open, one fading rosebush at a time. And the Holy Spirit keeps helping. And Jesus keeps praying. And we all inch closer and closer to the glory of the coming of the kingdom of God.
May God bless each of you. Amen.