Sunday, May 17, 2015

Easter 7B, 2015: Dancing with Jesus' prayer

Lectionary:Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

At my wedding, I danced a waltz with my Dad instead of using the traditional “Daddy’s Little Girl” or “Sunrise, Sunset” for the
father-bride dance. We’d been dancing the waltz together ever since I was tall enough to be his partner.

“Lean back on my arm,” my Dad would say. “Don’t count, don’t think. Just relax, and let me lead you.” I knew I was safe in my father’s arms, even though leaning back in order to follow him put me a little off-balance.

Trusting him, we entered the rhythm of the waltz 1,2 3… 1,2,3.. and we’d twirl in unison around the floor. It was the closest I ever felt with my father, which is why I chose to dance the waltz with him at my wedding.

Jesus’ farewell prayer in John’s gospel is best approached like a dance. Leaning back in our Father’s arms, not thinking, just relaxing, we enter the rhythm of the words and God leads us to become one with them, and one with God through them.

A little context will help as we dance with this prayer together… Jesus often went off by himself to pray, but in this case, he prayed with his followers so they could hear his words and be comforted by them.

The farewell prayer follows Jesus’ farewell meal – the one with the foot washing – and his farewell discourse where Jesus tells his followers of his coming death, and their betrayal of him. As all of this unfolds, Jesus tells them, “Believe… Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Then Jesus teaches them how we (the church) have been reconciled to God, that is, made one with God, through himself – and for a purpose. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” You are the branches. Abide in me. And remember… “…I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit.” (15:16)

The world will hate you as it hated me, Jesus says, but be at peace, even in those terrible experiences. You won’t be alone. I abide in you. Abide in me.

Then, Jesus prays this farewell prayer for them. He begins speaking of himself in the 3rd person: “Father the hour has come: glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you… This must have sounded a bit strange to his listeners, but remember, this is a dance.

Then Jesus says an amazing thing. Speaking in the 1st person he says, “I have glorified you on earth… now glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” In this prayer, claims his eternal co-existence with God, his identity as the 2nd person in the Trinity of God.

This man praying isn’t just their beloved rabbi anymore. These followers are in the presence of the Incarnate God in conversation with the Godhead.

This is where our gospel reading picks up the prayer. Jesus states his purpose as the Incarnate One: “I have made your name known…” The name of God in Hebrew culture, referred to the true nature and character of God.

Jesus is the fullest revelation of God. In his Incarnation, the world could see God’s true nature living, loving, healing, and responding in the world. When we say we are made in the image and likeness of God this is what we mean, that we too can reflect the true nature and character of God – if we are faithful… if we believe.

Jesus goes on… I have given them all you gave me to give and they have received it and (finally) they are able to believe. Notice, he doesn’t say understand. They don’t understand – and some don’t even know they believe until later, like Mary Magdalene when Jesus appeared to her at the tomb, or Peter when he saw the empty tomb, or Thomas when Jesus let him touch the crucifixion wounds.

That we can believe is a gift from God. The maturity of our belief depends on our willingness to remain open to the truth.

Then Jesus acknowledges the reality that he is not long for this world. As he prepares to go, he says the words his followers need to hear: “Protect them in your name (that is, according to your true nature and character) that you have given me so that they may be one, as we are one... so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”

The joy that Jesus is talking about isn’t happiness or freedom from problems. Problems and trials are a given. This joy refers to our belief in him which opens us to experience true unity with God wh0 motivates us from within and guides our response in every experience we have in the world.

Jesus makes clear to his listeners that he isn’t asking God to take his followers out of the world but rather to be one with them in the world protecting them from the evil they will confront.

Two things about this (they’re really important):
1) When we hear the word “evil” we think: bad, immoral, malevolent, intending to do harm. But in Jesus’ day, and in the Greek which the evangelist used to write this gospel, it simply meant ‘that which causes sorrow or pain.’
2) It’s also important to note that in the original Greek, Jesus prays, “I ask you to protect them from the evil.” It does not say “the evil one.” This isn’t about protection from an evil being, but from anything that causes his followers sorrow or pain.

Then Jesus prays that his followers be sanctified in the truth because he is sending them into the world just as he was sent by God – to reveal the true nature and character of God by their lives, their words, their actions, and their prayers.

To be sanctified, as you know, is to be set apart as holy, as belonging to God. Jesus is asking that God maintain his followers in a state of consciousness - a state of being – that corresponds to the true nature of God in whose name they are being sent to serve.

Then, like Jesus, the believers will respond differently – not as the world would do, but as God would do. The story of the woman caught in adultery comes to mind; and the demoniac; and the trial and crucifixion.

Jesus’ responses in each of those situations (and so many more) reflected the true nature and character of God. Ours must too – and will - if we believe – for then we are living in the eternal presence of God in Christ. We in God and God in us… in unity, in complete oneness.

As theologian and liturgist, Lee Mitchell says, it is necessary for all Christians to participate in the liturgy… for in the liturgy we have the means of uniting with God. And union with God, not deeper understanding, is the only thing essential for new life in Christ.” (“Praying Shapes Believing” by Leonel L. Mitchell, p. 303)

I close with a portion of the conclusion of Jesus’ prayer (which, sadly, was not included in today’s lectionary reading): Jesus said, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one… (that’s us, btw – Jesus prayed for us!) 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…”

May we become completely one, as Jesus prayed we would. Amen.

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