Friday Focus: That We May Be One
John 14: 15 - 21 (Easter 7)
Some call this Sunday: “Waiting Sunday.” That’s because, sandwiched as it is between The Ascension and Pentecost, it might easily be overlooked and dismissed as a time-filling intermission. But that would be a sad loss. We would miss one of the truly great gospels. We would lose the opportunity to hear Christ’s final report to the Father. We would not hear Jesus explain how all the pieces of the divine plan fit together. So let’s pause and give Christ’s brief but powerful monologue the reverent attention it deserves. It’s worth the “Waiting.”
On the very rare chance that you missed the message in the other twenty chapters of his gospel, John is again making the case for Christ’s divinity. Jesus calls on the Father, again revealing himself as the manifestation of God’s love made flesh for our redemption. He’s obviously much more than God’s goodwill ambassador or the prince of the prophets. Jesus speaks to the Father reverently. But he also speaks as God, the Son of God. John’s gospel began by establishing the fact that: In the beginning was the Word. Lest we miss or forget the point, Jesus repeats that he was with the Father before the world began and not as an honored guest. He was, is and always will be one with the Father.
While Jesus makes his report, his Passion and Resurrection still lie before him. But he is confident and prescient enough, to foresee his mission fulfilled: Jesus has made God more accessible to his people. He has established love of God and neighbor as the paradigm of the new covenant. For our redemption, he is ready to take our every sin with him to the cross. In giving Christ his mission and his power, the Father has glorified Jesus. In his humble obedience and love, Jesus has glorified the Father. In the gift of eternal life, God has glorified his people. And we in turn worship God with a whole new fervor and enlightenment. All the loose ends are tied up. God’s plan is a closed-loop of love… Father-to- Son-to-people… all flowing reciprocally with the ease of alternating current. And as St. Augustine explained, that current is the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.
Buried deep in the cosmic sweep of this gospel is another message that should not be overlooked. Jesus asks the Father: That they be made one, as you and I are one. I thought about Christ’s prayer recently while watching the evening news. An obviously traumatized Nigerian boy was recounting how his father was murdered by terrorists. This back-country subsistence farmer was confronted by gunmen. They made one demand: Renounce Jesus. Fighting back his fear, the man explained that he could never do that because if he renounced Jesus, then Jesus could not commend him to the Father. His declaration of faith was answered by fatal gunfire.
Watching the boy’s moving, matter of fact presentation I was overcome by a spectrum of emotions… horror, sorrow, pity and finally inspiration and humble exaltation. There I was, TV-remote in hand, sitting comfortably in my American suburban security. This boy and his martyred father were a world away. We had neither nationality, nor race, language, culture nor circumstances in common. And yet I felt profoundly that their loss was my loss. I prayed that their declaration would be my declaration. And in the glory that these humble people gave to God, in the witness that they gave to me, I rejoiced that Christ’s prayer for unity was being answered. We are one… closer than sisters and brothers… one in the Body of Christ. Today I pray that by the grace of God the faith and the courage of our Nigerian brothers and sisters will be ours: That we may be one. Alleluia. He is risen.
Feast Focus: The Other Miracle (Ascension Thursday)
Luke 24: 44 - 53
Can you imagine what a spectacular sight it was? Exactly as promised, Jesus ascended into heaven. The scriptures were fulfilled. The Redeemer returned to the Father in a final climactic miracle.
But there is another often overlooked miracle tucked into this gospel that deserves our attention. Just before the Ascension, Luke tells us: Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. In these few words Luke describes one of the truly transformative events in human history. Suddenly it all made sense. Jesus had told them over and over that he had not come to overthrow God’s covenant but to fulfill it. He was the answer to the prophet’s prayers. He was literally the embodiment of God’s love.
How many times had he taught this to these unschooled manual laborers? How many times had they struggled to understand? Now they knew the answer. They knew Jesus as they had never known him before. Now they had the wisdom and in a few days they would have the will… when Jesus would send down the Holy Spirit… to multiply their new found knowledge and put it to work… to send them out into the world to carry on his work of redemption… to change the world.
Without fully understanding the old covenant, how could Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ever have transcribed the new covenant? How would generations yet unborn come to know that the Word was made flesh? And yet miraculously there it was. Not as obvious as the medical miracles of cleansing lepers or curing the deaf, the blind and the lame, this intellectual and spiritual miracle resounds down the centuries to bless us today.
The Bible that grew from this miracle is not a disjointed collection of legends. It is an integrated account of God’s covenant with his creation, divided into old and new testaments, but united in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That was Christ’s parting gift to the disciples and through them to us. It is our link to redemption… our road map to salvation… our promise of eternal life.
Through the power of this miracle, the word of God has been translated into hundreds of languages. It has been carried to the remotest corners of the earth. It has been broadcast by astronauts orbiting the moon. It is the center piece of Christian worship across the world. It is the essence of literally millions of social media messages every single day of the year.
But today, all the news about God’s Good News is not good. The Word is under assault every day… and not only from the usual suspects: the mockers, the bigots, the anti-Christian zealots and the secular establishment. The world has always been a formidable obstacle to the word, but so too are the flesh and the devil. Jesus did not enlighten the disciples and inspire the evangelists just for us to be too busy or too lazy to live in his word. Yet sometimes days, weeks or even longer can go by without our ever cracking the Bible. Too often it sits gathering dust while we are in desperate need of its strength, its direction, its consolation. Our own sloth and neglect will always do the devil’s work in the world, if we let them.
Clearly, this “other miracle” of understanding the scriptures is not a one-time event. It is repeated in the lives of countless Christians who are guided by an inspired understanding of the word of God. Jesus did not give us this grace of understanding to turn us all into theologians or Bible-quoting whiz-kids. He performed this miracle to inform and to form our daily lives… to fill us with the faith from which grows our hope and our charity. He gave us this “other miracle” so we could follow him home to the Father.
Holiday Focus: "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" - Memorial Day 2014
I urge you now to keep up your courage; not one of you will be lost ... God has granted safety to all who are sailing with you ... Acts 28: 22-25
“Eternal Father, Strong to Save” is the salutation of a familiar hymn sung in both Britain’s Royal Navy and the U. S. Navy. It is simply called “The Navy Hymn.” But over the years its humble petition for divine protection has extended well beyond the Navy. And so we invoke it today “For those in peril on the Sea”--- acknowledging the tenuous fragility of our human condition and the juxtaposed joys and dangers of a summer on the water.
This universal benediction extends to passengers, crews, swimmers, skiers, divers, surfers, waders and particularly poolside children. All of which remains very true to its origins. The hymn was originally composed as a poem – a gift for a student about to journey across the Atlantic. In 1861, the Anglican priest, John Dykes, composed the powerful score Melita to set the poem to music. Melita is an archaic term for Malta, the ancient Mediterranean seafaring nation and site of the Apostle Paul’s shipwreck on his journey to Rome. Paul’s faith gave hope and courage to all aboard and they were saved. In that spirit we pray for God’s protection for all on or near our waters this summer.
Let us pray:
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddist the mighy ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy word
Who walkest on the foaming deep
And calm amidst it rage did sleep
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
O Father, King of Earth and Sea
We dedicate these ships to thee
In faith we send them on their way
In faith to Thee we humbly pray:
O hear from Heaven our sailors’ cry
And watch and guard them from on High!