Seventh Sunday of Easter
13 May 2018
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Acts 1. 15-17 & 21-end; John 17. 6-19
Tony Cantlow served as verger at the Priory Church until January of this year. He is nearing the end of his training for ordination at the College of St Hild in Mirfield and will be ordained deacon in Ripon Cathedral on 30 June. Tony will serve as a curate in the parish of Christchurch, Skipton.
May I speak in the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Actions speak louder than words. This is no doubt true whatever our worldview. The way we choose to live and the priorities we make reveal the true nature of our beliefs and values. Of course we live in a world that seems to be saturated with words: texts, tweets, emails, magazines, newspapers, even presidents of nations – all bombard us with words in an attempt to influence, educate, impress or even insult. The power of the word cannot be overestimated, and of course that’s something that we, as Christians, are particularly aware of. We only have to think of THE Word, the WORD of God and how that has influenced our lives and how it has influenced the world. Of the words we use when we pray, when we worship and give thanks and praise to God. Words ARE essential and necessary in order that we are able to express ourselves effectively. However, there is a danger that we can fall into a form of lip-service rather than humble service, because it is not so much words that ultimately define our character but our deeds. And that is precisely what Jesus is alluding to in today’s gospel reading in his prayer for the disciples.
Many of us will be familiar with the passage from St Matthew’s gospel ‘Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven’ (Matt 5: 16 NRSV). In other words, as Christians, the light of Christ IS revealed to others through our faith, service and love, that they may see and recognise the living God at work in us and give thanks to God. In today’s reading Jesus says: Glory has come to me through them. That’s right: ‘Glory has come to me through them’. Jesus is acknowledging before God that it is thanks to the work of his disciples that his mission and purpose are made known in the world. Indeed, the whole passage is wonderfully affirming and encouraging for all disciples the world over, especially as we remember the continued persecution of our brothers and sisters in various places throughout the world. As we hear Christ’s prayer it becomes very clear just how much support we all need in order to sustain us on our journey of faith and service. Jesus states: the world will hate and reject us because we are different to the world – our values and standards are those of another world, the kingdom of God. But what a wonderful realisation that is! Our values and standards are those of the kingdom of God. We are its ambassadors and guides, who point the way to the world’s redeemer and saviour. Jesus knows it means a living a life of sacrifice as we follow him rather than the ways of the world. And that is why, as well as warning us about the perils of being in this world, he also reminds us that it is in this world that we are needed: My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, Christ says, but that you protect them from the world…as you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. I am coming to you now (father) but I will say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. Jesus reassures us of the reward, and the joy, that we shall possess by following and believing in him.
This joy is perhaps best summarised in the first letter of St Peter, which says: By God’s great mercy he has given to us…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you…in this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, being more precious than gold, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1: 3-9).
This is, without doubt, one of the most profound and liberating passages of scripture. At its heart is the redeeming work of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it isn’t just the words that Jesus spoke that influence, change and save people’s lives. It’s his actions. And in order for us to be able to grow more Christ like and continue his purpose in bringing people to God we ourselves have to take action. And prayer itself is a form of action. This is made wonderfully apparent by Jesus, not only in today’s reading but throughout his ministry.
And today he makes clear the ultimate goal of the disciple: to be at one, in unity, with our loving, living God. It is the disciples function to be active in the world to bring people to Christ and thereby bring about the kingdom of God. What a responsibility! But what an absolute privilege! What a joy it is to be working with and for God! Each and every one of us is participating in God’s call, however large or small you may believe your contribution to be. God has blessed us with different skills and personalities, all of which have their fruitful place in the purposes of God. As Christians, we can, and do, make a difference to the world and to those we encounter. And that’s precisely what Jesus expects of us. Because it is through him, and with him, that we are able to bring glory to God and bring people to God.
An example of this work can be seen and experienced this very week as the diocese engages in the global call to prayer, aptly named ‘Thy Kingdom Come’; ten days of corporate and personal prayer aimed at seeking the lost and bringing them closer to God, which is exactly what Jesus is praying for in his prayer for the disciples. It is, of course, closely connected to the Great Commission in Matthew 28 where Jesus calls us to go into the world and make disciples of all nations. In fact, just bringing one person to Christ is a wonderful achievement. Remember, there is more joy in heaven over one lost soul who returns to God than over ninety nine righteous persons who haven’t strayed away (Luke 15: 7 NLT).
And that is our primary role. Our faith isn’t about trying to save ourselves! Jesus has achieved that for us on the cross. It is about sharing our faith in Christ with those around us, by letting them see God at work in us, in order that they may want to join us. And Jesus doesn’t mince his words. He knows it’s tough to be one of his followers. And that’s why he prays: Holy Father, protect them, Holy Father protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be as one, as we are one. Jesus reveals to us the importance and the necessity of prayer.
Over the past few decades, especially in western societies, people tend to think of themselves primarily as individuals, free to make their own independent choices. But the Christian way is rather different. Our true nature is not found in individuality but in belonging. We find our true identity in relationship to others, not in isolation from them; in interdependence, not independence. We are first and foremost members of families, neighbourhoods, societies and friendships before we are individuals. We are individuals of course, and we do have an important measure of personal freedom, but just as God is diversity in unity, so too are we. And we are in this together my friends!
But in order for us to live in unity as obedient Christians we will need to make sacrifices. It has to be part of our character, our calling – to give, as much as to receive. It isn’t an easy life. But remember, Jesus prays for all who follow him, and that includes you and I. Knowing that Jesus prays for us can give us confidence as we all work with him for the coming of his kingdom.
I would like to end by reciting a poem composed by the English writer and cryptographer Leo Marks. For me this short poem is a disciple’s perfect response to Jesus’ prayer. It is simply called ‘Yours’:
The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have is yours.
The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours, and yours, and yours.