Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 29, 2022

YEAR C 2022 easter 7

Easter 7, 2022
Acts 16:16-34
Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21
John 17:20-26
Psalm 97

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

My oldest brother was ordained a Lutheran pastor in New York City in 1990.  He spent his entire ministry at a parish in Howard Beach, Queens, though he and his wife have lived in Manhattan since the mid 80s.  From the apartment where they live, when they looked south, they could see the Twin Towers out their living room window.

On 9/11, they watched the towers burn and collapse, my brother lost cops and firefighters from his own parish that day; there were constant sirens, and the unrelenting smell of smoke for days on end.  After a couple weeks, my brother went to his Bishop and said, “I think I have to resign from my parish and leave the ministry, because I have lost my faith.”  I can’t remember what the Bishop said in response.

But I have to confess to you, beloved in Christ, after all we have been through these past three years, after all the division and the fighting, and after the hateful shootings in my beloved Buffalo, and now after 19 elementary school children were slaughtered in their classroom, in a country with more guns than people, and so polarized that we all know no one will do anything about any of this . . . I am understanding why my brother said that to his Bishop.  Because I feel like I have nothing left.  No faith to fall back on.

For the past year or more, I have focused relentlessly on the idea of unity, of getting along, of being the body of Christ, so that we might bring hope to this world, because our world needs hope, and hope keeps us alive. I have been telling you that hope keeps us alive, but there is so much death right now that I am starting to doubt my own words.  And, honestly? I get the sense I might not be cut out for this job  The message of unity and hope sounds false to me right now.  I may be many things, but I am not a hypocrite.  I could never stand here and tell you something I do not believe.

But, we worship a God of hope.  And even when I am filled with despair, even when I doubt whether there is any good left in this world, God is still the God of resurrection and new beginnings.  Even if I have lost the ability to believe there is hope, God is still my only refuge, my only harbor.  In the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus asks the 12 disciples if they also want to leave, just as many others are leaving.  And Peter says to him:  “Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  Like my brother, and like Peter, I have nowhere else to go.  You and I must stay with Jesus, and trust Jesus, the one who has the words of eternal life, because there’s nowhere else to go.

In this reading we just heard, from John’s gospel, the first five words are, “Jesus prayed for his disciples.”  I feel like I just want to stop right there and have five minutes of silence, so we can contemplate the magnitude of that sentence.  Jesus prays for his disciples.  

And then—since this is John’s gospel—we get a lot of confusing language, about Jesus and the Father and the disciples and so on.  But the key in this section is the phrase “so that.”  In each case, the “so that” is that the world might believe that Jesus has been sent by the Father.  Jesus asks that we all might be one, so that “the world may believe that you sent me.”  And again, “so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  Jesus asks that we might be one, so that the world knows that the Father sent him.

This takes place in the final moments before Jesus is arrested and put to death on a cross.  It’s like his last public prayer, and here he asks that we might be one, as he and the Father are one.  So now here’s the question:  Are we . . . one?  I mean, look around.  Look at the Church around the world right now and ask yourself,  “Are we one?”  Did the Father not receive the request from Jesus?  Did Jesus not pray hard enough?  And what does it even mean to be one?  

I think part of the disconnect for us starts from the assumption that “to be one” means that we are united.  Or that we all agree.  But, of course, that’s not the case.  I mean, I am part of one family, and we have a hard time agreeing on what to have for dinner.  To be one, as the Church, does not mean that we see eye to eye.  Or that we agree.  Or even that everyone is welcome.  Historically, on a global scale, there is no institution more misogynistic, homophobic, and racist than the Church.  In the early 1600s, the 30 Years War killed between 5 and 8 million people, with parts of Germany losing more than 50% of their population.  And that’s not an outside force; that was just the Church fighting among itself.

Was the Church one during all of that?  Not by our definition, right?  And before that, in the 1500s, the Protestant Reformation split the Church in two . . . allegedly.  And before that, in 1054 in the Great Schism, the Church split into Eastern and Western . . . allegedly.  I mean heck, way back in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he writes, “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.”  That’s St. Peter and St. Paul, in the year 55 AD.  That’s only like 20 years after the Resurrection!  The point of all this is to say, just because we don’t get along does not mean we are not one.  We are one, just as Jesus asked.  The problem is . . . we forget.

We forget that we are one.  Yesterday morning, up in Cleveland, our seminarian Mo was not ordained into the Episcopal Church.  No, she was ordained into Christ’s ONE Holy catholic and Apostolic Church.  One Church.  There is no other Church.  Eastern, Western, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal, we are all together, whether we believe it or not, whether we remember or not, whether we like it or not.

We are one.  And as I keep reminding us, the power of evil is always striving to divide us, to separate us, to isolate us.  And, you know, this week I would add that the power of evil also seeks to depress us, to drive us to despair, to convince us that there is no hope.  Anticipating Ohio’s upcoming changes to concealed weapons laws, while remembering 19 little kids lying dead in a classroom from unspeakable violence, in a country that won’t do a damn thing about it . . . yes.  I am filled with despair, and I am searching everywhere for a word of hope.  Hope for today.  Hope for tomorrow.  Hope for all the children who will be going back into their classrooms on Tuesday morning.  I need hope, because hope is all we have.

And, well . . . here’s what I got.

Jesus prays for his disciples.  When we’ve got nothing left, Jesus prays for us.  When we cannot find a glimmer of hope, Jesus prays for us.  When we are convinced that we have lost our faith and must leave the Church, or leave our ministry, or leave the parish we belong to, Jesus prays for us.  Let us keep going back to that.  The one hope we can cling to:  Jesus prays for his disciples.

Lord Jesus, pray for us sinners.  Now and in the hour of our death.


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