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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Seventh Week of Easter - 05/08/2016

It was tempting to just focus on Mother’s Day today even if it’s not a church holiday because, even though we’re still in the Easter season, at this point, on this seventh and final Sunday of Easter, no matter how hard we might try, Easter has kind of a washed out, afterthought kind of feel to it. We had the big Easter Day celebration followed by Doubting Thomas in week 2 and Jesus’ breakfast on the beach with his disciples in week 3. We’ve done Good Shepherd Sunday along with Holy Humor and Ascension so on the whole it feels like Easter has pretty much run its course.

Signs of Easter aren’t completely gone; the Paschal candle we lit back during the Easter Vigil still burns as a reminder, but Easter candy is long gone, the last remaining lilies have been gone for a few weeks now and the hymns for today aren’t particularly Easter-y. Following the celebration of the Ascension last Thursday we even picture the Risen Christ himself gone from the scene. But still, the calendar says one more week.

So we’re kind of in a holding pattern, but…on this final Sunday of Easter we’re in a holding pattern during which Jesus prays for us. Think about that. It always makes me feel good when someone tells me they’ve been praying for me or that they’ll keep me in their prayers, but to have Jesus pray for me and for you, just think about that.

It’s an interesting part of John’s gospel. In chapters 14 through 16 you get what is known as Jesus final discourse as Terry mentioned last week. This discourse, according to John, represents Jesus’ last words to his disciples. What’s interesting though, is that in this final discourse Jesus explains the significance of things that hadn’t happened yet. In the imaginative way that John records things, time as we normally think of it gets set aside and becomes more circular so Jesus’ conversation with his disciples comes before the Passion narrative and before his resurrection and ascension, but he speaks as if all has been accomplished and they are already on the other side of those events. These are words that are meant to be read or heard after Jesus is gone.

In chapter 17 though, from which today’s reading comes, there is a shift from discourse to prayer. Jesus prays which is not unusual as prayer was pretty central to who he was. At this point in John’s gospel though, Jesus’ prayer is a little different than it is in the other gospels because like his final discourse, his prayer also comes from the other side of death and resurrection and ascension which is perhaps why this reading appears on this Seventh Sunday of Easter after we have marked or celebrated all those events.

In this prayer, Jesus prays for his disciples, but he also prays “not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” Those who will believe in Jesus through the words of his disciples includes us. Jesus prays for us as what is described is a long chain of believers, a chain that leads from those first followers all the way to the present, a chain that is still being forged.

So Jesus prays for us, but for what does he pray? The substance of Jesus’ prayer is: “That they may all be one;” that they may all be one, they being that long chain of believers. Based on this phrase, this prayer has often been interpreted as a prayer for Christian unity in light of a 2000 year history of disunity. From the earliest days of the church as recorded in Paul’s letters and in Acts and including the time John was written, there have been issues that have caused division and throughout church history, sometimes in large ways like the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation, sometimes in smaller ways like the denominational squabbles Lutherans and others get into, the division has continued with more and more fractures being added.

It raises the question though, that if this were a prayer for Christian unity what exactly would that unity look like? Would it mean that we all believed exactly the same thing, that we all interpreted the Bible the same way, that we all worshiped the same way, that we all held the same political and social views, that we all could gather around the campfire and sing Kumbaya?

I don’t know, and I don’t know if such unity would even be desirable. It could certainly be argued that a variety of approaches and understandings is a positive thing for the life and growth of Christianity as long as we don’t wind up killing each other over the differences. Anyway, to fully unpack the pros and cons of Christian unity would require a much longer sermon than you want to hear or that I’m prepared to give so we can leave that for another time. Besides, I don’t think that is what this text is mostly about anyway.

After praying that “They may be one as we are one,” Jesus continues with, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” This is typical John language for which you really have to slow down and consider the words. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” In this case, the oneness that Jesus describes seems to have to do with an individual relationship. His prayer is that each of us might share in the same kind of close relationship that he has with the Father.

And what kind of relationship is that? That’s another thing that is typical of John; any answers that are given tend to lead to more questions. In the gospel of John, the oneness that Jesus and the Father shared was that of living together in mutual love . A couple of chapters before this, John used the imagery of the vine and the branches to illustrate this kind of love and relationship. While the theology can get a bit dense, the way that I understand this, the Father and the Son retain their individual identity, like the vine and the branches do, but at the same time they are one, connected in that indwelling mutual love and that’s what Jesus wants for us.

Mother’s Day didn’t exist at the time John was written but it may be that the image of a mother and a child is another way that this mutual love and indwelling can be pictured. With any mother and child there are going to be similarities, similarities grounded in both nature and nurture, but even in the closest of relationships, there are also going to be profound differences. Often, as the child gets older, the differences can become greater and more noticeable which isn’t a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just what happens.

Ideally though, even as the differences become greater, even as the physical, geographical distance between the two often becomes greater, the bond between a mother and child can grow stronger, the relationship gets even closer. They continue to be two distinct individuals, but there is also a unity and an indwelling based on love. I think when Jesus prayed that we might be one, this is the kind of unity that he had in mind, this is the kind of relationship he wanted each of us to have with God. Whether it’s the vine and branches or a mother and child, none of these images are perfect in unpacking the nature of the relationship into which Jesus invites us, but Mother’s Day and the ideal of a mother/child relationship certainly provides an opportunity to consider the possibilities of a divine/human relationship.

This kind of relationship bound in mutual love also reminds us though, that Christianity is never just a “me and God, me and Jesus thing.” That’s part of it, but it seems pretty clear that in this final discourse and prayer that we get in John, relationships among the members of the community are also part of what Jesus prays for. As individual followers of Jesus we all represent pieces of a larger puzzle, a puzzle through which the love of Jesus is to be revealed. It’s hard to reveal that love when we become obsessed and preoccupied with differences. As we grow in our relationship with God though, a relationship bound in mutual love, we can respect the fact that others with whom we may disagree on some things, still share the same kind of relationship. Respecting that can make it easier to transcend the differences. We can come closer to being the individuals and the community God would have us be.

That’s where the Easter season ends this year, with Jesus’ prayer that our relationships with God and with each other might be like the relationship he has with the Father. It’s not just an afterthought as it’s a reminder of the ongoing significance of what we have celebrated over the course of these seven weeks. It’s a reminder of what it means when we say, “Alleluia! He is Risen.” So, one more time: “Alleluia! He is Risen!” “He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!”

Pastor Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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