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Sermon for Seventh Sunday in Easter 2020

Acts 1:6-14 Psalms 68:1-10, 33-36 I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 John 17:1-11

As the season of Easter draws to a close and we move toward Pentecost, the readings focus on transitions. The Gospel reading, part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, anticipates his departure and the effects it will have on the disciples left behind. It expresses concern for their care and protection in Jesus’ absence.

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. That we may be one. What does that mean for us? There are some traditions that I think put God in a box, so that all are on the same page about God, all the answers are there before the questions are spoken. The Episcopal Church has always welcomed diverse thinking. We have learned in our adult classes, that we don’t all think alike. We have also learned that that is okay. Staying with a difficult situation to resolve it rather than trying to escape it gives God the chance to complete what such an experience was meant to effect in us. This weekend on Memorial Day is a time to honor those who have lost their lives serving our country, regardless of what we think about war. We honor those fallen out of respect and appreciation for their sacrifices.

In the Episcopal Church, we acknowledge the importance of scripture, tradition and reason. I’ve heard it described as a tricycle with the large wheel in front being scripture. The two wheels in the rear would be tradition and reason. So, our minds, our minds in Christ are driven by our interpretation of scripture – by our individual groundedness in the Word of God. That we may be of one mind – the mind of Christ within us.

That we may be one. Recently, we have asked for financial contributions for gift cards for our Ruskin families. We have received such a positive response that we provided gift cards in April and May and hope to be able to continue in June and July. It costs about $425 to provide for our seven families with a $50 card and a $75 card for the larger family. There has been such an emotional response to their needs, that I see us as having one heart – a heart pierced by pain, a heart shattered by injustice, a heart broken by poverty. We don’t have to live with people to feel their hunger. However, as the body of Christ, the Church we are blood relatives to each other through the love of Christ. Christ’s blood, Christ’s love has shaped and molded us into the family of God.

Wayne Muller writes, “At our best, we become Sabbath for one another. We are the emptiness, the day of rest. We become space that our loved ones, the lost and sorrowful, may find rest in us.” That we may be of one heart.

That we may be one. Stress strengthens us. We learn that what we survive we do not survive alone. The pace of life is getting faster by the day. Everyone wants instant answers to everything. Instant release from the corona cloud hanging over us. Patience is a spiritual artifact. The idea of having to wait for something is a unthinkable. Food is fast, communication is instant with texting and instant messaging, human beings are shot through undergrounds and airports. We are pushed from every direction to go faster, to do more, to think less. We rush from birth to death, from place to place, with little opportunity to integrate anything into our souls, to evaluate them with our minds, to come to grips with the effect of one part of life on us before we are faced with the demands of the next.

The professionals call it “stress.” The contemplatives call it a “lack of balance” in life. How can we survive it without breaking down, without quitting, without rejecting the very things we must be concerned about in a rapidly changing world if humanity is to remain human at all? In the psalms, over and over again, we hear that distress is relieved by right-mindedness. It is not so much how much we do that determines the amount of stress. It is the attitude with which we do it that determines its effects on us. It is the spiritual reserve we bring to natural situations that determine the toll it takes to survive the passing of time gone mad.

We can take a lesson – a trusting heart is what enables us to lean to the left when life tilts us to the right. It is called “Balance.” That is what a life in community offers us – balance. When we are off center, there is someone to call us, pull us, and encourage us back to center. In that calling, pulling, encouraging we are together in one strength – a strength empowered by the love of God lived out in the community of faith. That we all may be of one strength.

That we all may be one. I was reading of restrictions placed on our country during World War II, which lasted from 1941 to 1945. In 1942, a rationing system was begun to guarantee minimum amounts of necessities to everyone. Tires were the first item to be rationed in January of 1942. Gasoline rationing followed. As the war effort grew, by 1943, people needed government-issued ration coupons to purchase coffee, sugar, meat, cheese, butter, clothing, shoes, and many other items. Some items, like automobiles and home appliances were no longer being made. Ration stamps were valid only for a set period of time so people couldn’t hoard necessary goods, like toilet paper. People were committed to the war effort and followed the guidelines that were best for the country, for years. We are having difficulty giving up some of our freedom for a few months fighting the war against the corona virus. I don’t know what it will take to get past the partisanship that divides us as a nation. Truly we are all in this together, and we need to find that common ground, that common cause that we may act in the best interests of all the people. I believe we can do it…we are able to do it. That we all may be one patriotic spirit.

That we all may be one. Today is the last Sunday of Easter prior to Pentecost. Easter is fulfilled in Pentecost. A church without Pentecost cannot shout “He is risen” loudly enough to sustain Easter week after week. Luke says that Easter is not only shouting, but waiting in prayer for the coming Spirit. John says that Easter is also listening to Jesus pray for us.

In previous chapters, Jesus has instructed his followers about the Holy Spirit, how to pray using his name, and has spent time saying his goodbyes. Jesus is returning to God, leaving behind disciples who are confused, afraid, and forlorn. We can relate to those feelings with the uncertainty of our future looming in front of us. In these readings, we are overhearing a pastoral prayer. Jesus knows what we are feeling. We are not directly addressed, but we are very much in the mind of Christ who is praying. The prayer is of the Christ who is already ascending. In this sense, it is uttered between earth and heaven, a prayer both of the historical Jesus and the glorified Christ.

Jesus’ prayer for his disciples has poetic qualities. It is spoken in behalf of the Church through many coming generations. It is vital to the life of the Church to know that the revelation, the truth, from Jesus has been faithfully transmitted. The question is, “Can we trust the tradition we have received?” These verses reply with a resounding “yes.” The apostles were given by God to Jesus; Jesus gave to them the message of God; they received that message, believed it and kept it; they had not been corrupted by the world, for they were not of the world, even though one of them had gone astray, even that was within God’s knowledge and according to Scripture; just as

Jesus had sanctified himself in total dedication to God, so were the apostles set apart for the truth with the sole purpose of continuing the mission that Jesus had from God. John has left no doubt. The church is not an orphan in the world, it is not the creation of a religious imagination, the frightened child of huddled rumors. This is truth’s pedigree: from God, to Christ, to the apostles, to the church.

How does this reassurance feed our souls, how does it strengthen our faith? We, here, and at home, have done most of our singing, praying and witnessing within a circle of believers who agreed with us before we spoke. But the church that takes seriously Christ’s mission, that moves out into a world that is hostile and yet the object of God’s gracious love, will be asked, and will ask itself about the reliability of its tradition. John offers one response to one church that, under heavy pressure, needed to hear this word. That we all may be one in God through Christ.

This weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day. Decoration Day or Memorial Day is a federal public holiday in the United States. Decoration Day is usually observed on the last Monday of May every year. This day is set aside to celebrate and honor United States men and women who have died serving their country in military. Memorial Day began as an occasion to honor and celebrate Union Soldiers, who died serving their country during the Civil war. Memorial Day was inspired by the way people honored their dead in the southern States. After the end of World War I, Memorial Day was extended to include all American men and women who died serving their country in any military action or war. The holiday became real for me in middle school when Jack Cox died in Vietnam. Jack was athletic, patient and kind man. He taught me how to swim. He was the first one killed in Vietnam from my hometown. Today we honor those who have shown courage and commitment to serve and protect us. That we all may be of one soul – always open to God’s wisdom and compassion.

Reaching out to those who differ from us is what really teaches us to think beyond ourselves. It is a gift of soul. Jesus prayed, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” To the disciples, in the season after Jesus’ death, when he appeared to a gathering of people, or when the disciples encountered him in a stranger, it was as if he had “crossed over.” Finally, they understood that he was emptied into them. Now they would be his body and his blood, his hands and heart and feet in a hurting world; they would listen for his spirit so that their joy may be complete.

When we speak from one heaped up heart, one developing and inquiring mind, one soul collected through tradition, worship and The Word and one strength, grounded in God’s love, we are able to go out fortified into the world. We are better able to glimpse a vision of what is holy and good, and in that glimpse of God’s grace, we are able to live faithful and holy lives - so that we all may be one. Thanks be to God!! Amen.

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