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10.07.12 That The World May Know, John 17:15-26 with Ephesians 4:1-6, Sermon Summary

by on November 15, 2012

Sharing life together is complicated, but fortunately we’re not alone: God understands.

Summary Points

  • Complicated relationships, even family ones
  • How Jesus uniquely understands
  • God’s solidarity with us in baptism
  • Four practices for living out our baptism

October always reminds me that it’s almost time to break out the “dysfunctional family holiday movie” collection. Of course Christmas Vacation is in there, and The Family Stone. My favorite is Surviving Christmas. The reason I’m reminded of this movie collection is because October is birthday month in my extended family, and I come from a dysfunctional family.

You know the tensions of complicated relationships. The “cards at Christmas” and “calls on birthdays” kinds of relationships. Pictures on your refrigerator are embarrassingly outdated because they stopped sending and you’re too ashamed to ask for new ones. “Yeah, we really should get together this year.” And so it goes.

Sharing life together is complicated, but we’re not alone because God understands. God understands how relationships can be complicated because God is triune. Since the time of Jesus forward, Christian faith and doctrine has crashed on the shores of the trinity. People wander into heresy and lose faith by trying to figure out answers to such questions as:

  • To whom is Jesus praying? When he prays, is there an echo in his head?
  • Why does he pray at all? Can’t he read his own mind?
  • When did he realize he was God?
  • What happened at the cross? Who died there?

Putting all these and such questions aside—not that they’re unimportant, but because they’re not all important—at its core, the doctrine of the trinity says, “We can find comfort in God’s solidarity. In all our complicated relationships, we are not alone.”

Jesus, being a member of the divine trinity and a human being also, understood this solidarity better than anyone. And it was complicated. When he was baptized he heard the divine voice say, “You are my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.” Our baptism proclaims this same message to us. We also, are God’s beloved children with whom he is well pleased, for in baptism we are united with Christ in his dying and rising.

And so it is that Jesus, being in the unique position of “truly God and truly human,” in the words of the Chalcedonian Creed, can and does pray for our unity: “that they may be one as we are one.”

But how do we live out of this baptismal identity? Since Jesus, whose very existence is as relationally complicated as it can get, was able to live out of this baptismal identity, there’s hope that we can also. What example did he give us?

The first thing we can do is remember God’s love in prayer, just like Jesus did. He meditated upon and rejoiced in the love God had for him “before the foundation of the world.” We should not read this through chronological literalism, as if Jesus existed before the creation of the world, but rather as a statement of depth. To our very cores, not just along with the whole world, but at the very center of our own individual beings, God’s love enters in and resides.

Another thing we can do is let that love move us and send us, just like Jesus did. God’s love changes us because it claims us. We are not left alone, subject to the dark forces that would rob us of life, forces that reside in the world and even in ourselves. We are possessed of God’s love. The theological term for this is “sanctification,” being lifted up and set apart for a divine purpose. God’s love for us claims us, possesses us, sanctifies us, and then moves us, sends us, out into the dark forces to bear the light of God’s love for all creation. “As you have sent me,” Jesus prayed, “so I am sending them.”

A third thing we can do is to let God’s love change us. It will take time, and it won’t be easy, but God’s love sanctifies us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love, maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” If such change seems impossible because it is so immense, just begin by behaving in the small ways Ephesians lists: humility, gentleness, and patience.

In our complicated relationships, it will take time to “bear with one another in love,” and we may not be able to envision ever living in “peace.” But being humble? Acting with gentleness? Exercising patience? These are things we can do, especially if we remember God’s love in prayer and if we let it move us.

Finally, as a church, we are called to be this kind of community. And Jesus not only prays this for us, he gave us the sacraments to help us. Weekly we are called to practice eucharist, “thanksgiving,” for the love with which God has loved us. At the table of the Lord we remember our baptismal identity, that we are God’s beloved children with whom he is well pleased, when we remember our union with Christ through sharing one bread and one cup with our Lord who is one with us and with God.

Let us remember that, “God so loved the world that he sent his son” (John 3:16), and that God has made us one in Christ, so that when we live this way, this world will know God’s love sent in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Consider the “complicated relationships” in your life. How difficult is it to imagine that they could be different? What difference does it make hearing that Jesus had complicated relationships also, and is available to help?
  • Spend some time meditating on the baptism of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke). What do you learn about yourself in light of the fact that you are baptized into Christ?
  • In what ways does God’s love move you? If you’ve never felt moved by God’s love, why is that? If you were to begin seeing yourself as set aside for a divine purpose, what might that purpose be?
  • In what ways can you be more humble, gentle, and patient in your “complicated relationships”? Maybe it begins with being gentle and patient with yourself. Maybe you can start by being more humble and patient with God.
  • How often do you celebrate the eucharist? Does remembering God’s love for you and the world with thanksgiving make you want to celebrate more often?
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