17 May 2015
10.30 Sung Eucharist
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1.15-17 & 21-end, John 17.6-19
Lord, may our hearts be open to receive your love, so may our minds be open to hear your word. Amen.
Maybe like me, you sometimes struggle with prayer, asking; …how do I pray?…what do I pray for?
In our gospel reading to-day, Jesus is praying to his Father. Jesus is in prayer, in communion with God. It is so profound to know Jesus prayed and to know ‘how’ he prayed. Even more profound is that he was interceding for the disciples, asking God to look after them. His prayer is full of joy and hope, which we can use as a rich source of prayer ourselves. So for instance, we can read the prayer, substituting ‘Jesus’ with ‘I’ and changing ‘they’ and ‘them’ with ‘I’ or ‘me’. By changing the focus of the prayer, we adapt it for our own context, creating our own prayer in dialogue with God.
In the gospel passage, Jesus is with all twelve disciples for the last time. His prayer to his Father just before his crucifixion reveals as much about the nature of God as it does about Jesus. It shows that Christ’s relationship with his Father was deeply intimate, loving and reciprocal. Throughout his ministry, Jesus slowly revealed all that he knew of his Father to the disciples. In his prayer he says: ‘I have given them the words you gave me, and they have received them. They have come to know, in truth, that I came from you. They believed that you sent me.’
Through Jesus, the disciples have understood the truth of God and become committed in belief to God’s word. This transformation, though, has separated the disciples from others, taken them partially out of the broken world, connecting with God’s purer world. The spiritual part of their being is awakened and Jesus is anxious for God to look after them as he knows he will soon be apart from them and no longer be able to protect them himself.
What has set the disciples apart in our world is their holiness, their bond of love in Christ. To-day we might think of holiness as a form of over-pious religiosity. In first century Judaism holiness was very tangible. It called to mind the temple, the Holy of Holies, the innermost shrine which was considered to be God’s space. A place where heaven and earth co-existed. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, once a year, to make atonement for the people. To be holy was to be ‘separated’ or set apart from the world. The disciples were separated from the world, whilst at the same time, still in the world. This duality is at the heart of Christian life, as potent to us to-day, as it was for the disciples with Jesus.
One challenge we have, is to figure out how we can live this dual life with any degree of authenticity. Wearing the ‘cloak’ of Christian faith is easy. Being true to the Gospel message, deep in our hearts, is uncomfortable and difficult. Yielding our hearts to love God, rather than ourselves, and then to love our neighbour, our enemy and strangers with any degree of honesty to Christ’s message is challenging.
But to be a Christian, is to do just that. It starts in our hearts. Our desire to love God over ourselves creates the right mind frame to think and act in ways Christ has shown us. This requires us to separate ourselves from self-centred, self-serving ways of thinking to give space for selfless action to flourish.
To-day many corporations constantly seduce us with an opposing narrative, that by investing all our personal capital inward on ourselves we will somehow be freer and happier. This freedom, this happiness, is unfortunately superficial. Much of the media and some state institutions reinforce this messaging to convince us that we live in a liberalised secular society, so we can do what we want, when we want, how we want. This view encourages us to think that the world revolves around ourselves.
From a Christian perspective, there is a fundamental flaw in this narrative, that permanent happiness cannot be derived from such narrow, self-absorbed attitudes. Jesus makes it completely clear: we are to love one another as God loves us. As he prayed: ‘Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them too into the world.’ To live a God-centred life requires us to go out and live as a witness of God’s love in the world.
The good news is that real happiness is derived from selfless love, of giving ourselves to others, which will lead us into a deep peace and union with God. A peace which far outstrips any temporary earthly reward we can conceive of, and which is everlasting.