7 Easter A
Transcribed from a sermon given on
June 5, 2011
By The Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church
I’d like you to imagine that the patriarch of a family is dying. He’s in the hospital and he knows his death is near, so he gathers the whole family together - the sons and daughters, their spouses, the grandchildren. They are all gathered together and he looks at them and says, “I have loved you and cared for you and had concern for you, but I am soon going to be gone. My prayer to God at this moment is that you will stay together as a family, that you will love and support one another.”
You can imagine that happening. And that is basically what we have here today in the Gospel. It is the night before Jesus is arrested. He is talking with his disciples. He is giving them the last of his teachings. He is trying to prepare them for what is ahead. Then here he prays for them. He prays of all of those who have been given to him, which means us too. We too are his disciples. We too are those whom God has given to Christ. And his final prayer, his last request, is, “That they may be one as you and I are one.” Christ’s last passionate prayer is that his people will be together and united in the way that he is united with the father. That we, as he gives his command earlier, would love one another as he has loved us. That is his final request. And any of you who know anything about church history know that the Christian church has not been really good at doing that. But that doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying.
Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter. It used to be called the Sunday after Ascension. On Thursday we celebrated the Ascension which happened forty days after Easter. Jesus spent 40 days in his resurrected body interacting with the disciples. Then he took the disciples up on the hillside and as he stood there and told them, “You will now be my witnesses. I’m leaving. You will be my witnesses.” Then a cloud came and he disappeared from their sight. Now throughout scripture whenever there is a cloud that appears it represents the presence of God. It was as if a door opened between earth and heaven and Christ walked through it. He was gone.
In the reading today from Acts that describes this, what stood out for me was what happens immediately after the Ascension. The disciples had all been looking a Jesus and they continued to look at where he had been. Now he is gone and two men dressed in white, who obviously must be angels because they are messengers from God, appear. They say, “Why are you looking there were he left? Why are you staring at empty space?” So the disciples stopped and they looked at each other. The next thing we hear is that the community is gathered together in the upper room for prayers, for food and for sharing. The whole family, the disciples, some of the women including mother Mary and Jesus’ brothers, the whole family is there gathered together. It is the family loving one another.
Architecture has a strong effect on what we can do in a church or in a house. Think about an airplane. Now the goal in an airplane is to get lots of people close together for a long time without causing too much of a fuss. You don’t really want them interacting with each other. You don’t want them getting up and moving around, so you have all the seats lined up facing forward, That the only thing you can see is the back of people’s heads. And maybe the person sitting next to you, but you don’t look too much at the person sitting next to you because that is not really socially acceptable. You look straight ahead.
Now if you have people over for dinner you are going to sit around a table, or gather around in the living room. Where you can see one another, and you can talk to one another, and you can interact with one another.
Think about how we set up a church. We have all these pews and you are all sitting here and looking up at the cross. Except for the choir. The choir gets to look at the people. We have the cross up there so we are all looking at the cross. And that is a fine thing to do. But the angels said to the disciples, don’t look at where Jesus was - and they looked at one another. So I would like to invite you to be very counter cultural and turn around and look at one another. If you are sitting up in the front you might have to stand up. Look behind you. Stand up and look behind you. Look at these wonderful people. Look at this variety of human beings.
Every Sunday I get to look at all you and see the smiling faces and the sleepy faces, and the young ones and the old ones, the familiar and the unfamiliar as you look around at the people. Now there are some people here that maybe you have never seen before. Who are they? I wonder if they are new. Well maybe not.
Or maybe there is someone you see and you think I recognize that face. I wonder how long they have been coming to church? You might see other people whom you know their names because the name tags they wear but that is all you know about them. And there may be others here that you are really close to and you have come to really value and share deeply with. This is our family. This is the family that Jesus prayed that we would be one as Jesus and the Father are one. This is it.
Now to be one with one another as Jesus and the Father are one with one another we kind of need to get to know each other. When you love someone you want what is best for them. You do what you can to help them. But how can we help someone if we don’t know what their situation is. If we don’t know who they are. When we love someone we value them for who they are, we listen, we appreciate, we celebrate with them, we grieve with them, we support them.
In order to do that we have to know one another. A little bit more than just hello. A little bit more than just shaking hands on Sunday morning. So I would like to invite you to be brave and trust the Holy sprit. You will find on most of the pews, or at least every other pew, a basket that has some little pieces of paper and there should be a writing implement it it.
What I am inviting you to do is to write your name and a way to contact you. It might be a phone number or if you prefer to be contacted by email you can put your email address. Then what I am going to do is to collect all these and mix them all up. Then everybody that has put one in, takes one out. We are going to trust the Holy Spirit that whatever name it is you pick out is someone you need to get to know. I’m going to put my name in here too.
So what you will do is you will pull out a piece of paper and you will contact the person that you get. And you’ll say let’s get together. Maybe you will go have a cup of coffee together, maybe you’ll take a walk together. Maybe if it is someone who has physical limitations you may need to go to their house. Whatever. You may even go to the beach together. Whatever it is it is a chance to listen and get to know someone on a little bit deeper level.
I trust the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit works very efficiently. Trust that that person whose name you get has something you need. Maybe a story of their life. Maybe some encouragement. Maybe a new idea. And trust that you have something for that person. Maybe they need a ride, or a listening ear, or a good friend. Who knows what the Holy Spirit will do with this. I had one person at the 8:00 services that said, “I got just the person that I need to talk to.” I didn’t ask any further about why the need to talk.
We don’t know, but I am going to be real curious to find out what happens. I am going to be real curious for people who want to share their story of who they talked to. Now there is a small chance, a small probability that you will get yourself. If you get yourself that means the Holy Spirit is saying you better hang out with yourself a little bit. Take some time, listen to yourself, love yourself. Or you may get your spouse, and once again you better spend some time with your spouse. It might be a message that you need to do that You may get someone you know well. You may get someone you have never met, but it is an opportunity. An opportunity to practice loving one another.
And so I invite you to put in your little slips. I’ll get the choir over here.
Mix the all together and we’ll hand them out. Take one and pass it on. Don’t look. Trust the holy Spirit
Jesus said to his disciples before he went up to heaven, “You will be my witnesses. In Jerusalem, in Judea in Samaria and to the ends of the world.” We will be God’s witnesses. What does that look like? We can witness with our voice. We can tell what we know. But it is a much more powerful witness when we witness with how we live our lives. When we witness Christ’s love by loving one another. Most of you may know the old song “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love” Let us witness Christ in our love for one another.