May 8, Seventh Sunday of Easter:
Acts 16:16-34; Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21; John 17:20-26
Sermon Delivered by the Rev. Cristina Rathbone All Saints Church, Brookline May 8, 2016
Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
The words we have just heard from the Gospel of John form the end of what is known as the ‘farewell discourses’ – a term which makes sense, as they are the words Jesus saves for his friends and followers until the last moments before he is arrested and executed. As his last words they carry a special kind of weight – the way the last things anyone says before they die carry with them a kind of heightened importance. And perhaps because of this too, we’ve been with them for a while now. For the past several weeks we have been reminded, both in the Sunday readings and also in the readings allotted for weekdays, of the core of Jesus teaching in the Gospel of John: that He is the vine and we are the branches; that we are connected through the truth of love, which is God. And that in light of this, our path onward is clear: we are to ‘love one another” (even) as He has loved us.”
It’s so simple, in the end. And so beautiful. And so inspiring. And also, for me at least, so easy to lose the connection between the ideal, its perfection, and my own very imperfect day to day life. What does it mean in the work-a-day, ho-hum, moment by moment, mostly mundane seeming run of our lives, this invitation to join together in the kind of love that makes us one the way… what are the words Jesus uses in this prayer to his Father?… The way That “we are one – I in them and you in me…”?
Well, in an attempt to get away from perfection let me get super mundane and tell you a story from just last week when I was rummaging around in my car looking for quarters for the meter. It was raining out, and I was late, and it felt like there was a lot on my mind and on my heart, and I just really, really didn’t want to get a ticket. I managed to find one quarter, but knew I’d need at least two. So when I spotted a pedestrian walking towards me, I decided to approach him. “Excuse me,” I said, and saw him flinch, not only because it was raining, but because I was intent on invading his privacy, he saw. “Excuse me,” I said again. “Do you have a quarter?” – and then quickly, before even he had time to compute the first half of the sentence, I stretched out my hand and finished it with: “In exchange for several nickels and a dime?”
Instantly I saw his face relax, as I knew it would. Because with that final clause “in exchange for several nickels and a dime” I wasn’t asking for change – but was simply asking for a fair exchange of coins. Clearly relieved, the young man stopped and despite the rain happily began to rummage in his jean pockets, eager to help.
“Here’s one!” he said.
“Thank you!” I replied. “That is actually worth about $25 to me,” I said. At which point his smile grew even broader because he knew what I was talking about, it was clear.
“I know, me too,” he said. “I hate parking tickets! Oh, here’s another!” he said then, finding a second quarter which he handed over to me with what looked like complete joy and then happily went on his way.
Perhaps because I’d been thinking about our gospel passage for today, all of this got me wondering. What was it that transformed the young man’s expression from pre-emptive resistance to openness and even delight? And then, what was it that led him to want to give me more – double – what I’d originally asked for? It could have been many things and of course I’ll never really know, because I don’t even his name, but it seems likely to me that it was the simple fact that we shared a set of experiences; that he knew himself the mild anxiety of parking at a meter with insufficient change, and the frustration of getting a ticket, and the annoyance at all that wasted money. And so did I, of course, and in this way we who were two random and unconnected strangers, in this tiny thing for this tiny moment, became united, genuinely one, so that suddenly the demand for him to give – however little – became not something to be avoided but to be embraced and even celebrated.
He left indisputably happier than before I’d stopped him – that’s the mystery here. And I left indisputably happier than before I’d stopped him. And both of us for the same reason I think: because we had met and been met by each other; which is to say, we had somehow been given the grace to slough off our professional or social or whatever identities we most usually walk around in the world confined by, and replace them instead with the known truth of our own need: mine right then, his on other days in other places, but the same nonetheless – and so uniting.
Of course this is an almost embarrassingly miniscule example of two becoming one. So run of the mill that it seems barely worth mentioning. I’ve had many similar encounters over the course of my driving life – and so, I’m sure, have you. But I’d like to spend just a few more minutes with it today — not only because our lives, or my life anyway, is mostly made up of these humdrum, run of the mill encounters, but also because it seems to me that what happened between the young man and I so naturally out in the rain last week is something like what Jesus is constantly calling us to – and very like what happens down in the basement of the Cathedral where I am lucky enough to work, as well.
Some of you know, I think, that I have been serving as a Missioner of the Cathedral ever since I was ordained, and that I have the honor and privilege of working there with and through a community of homeless and recently housed men and women who call ourselves MANNA: Many Angles Needed Now and Always. Everything we do downtown, we do together: worship, prayer, writing for our monthly literary magazine, meditating in silence, pilgrimaging, fundraising, feasting and celebrating is done together, and the work of cooking, serving and clearing up for about 150 hungry women and men every week at the Monday lunch is no different.
Just the way the young man and I stood together out in the rain while he rummaged for quarters, so the men and women of MANNA are drawn together into community through the power of our shared need. And in just the same way too, the differences that most typically gape between someone like me say – a well-housed, relatively well-heeled priest of the Church, and many of our homeless community leaders — the differences which most frequently, lets face it, define us are – what is the word – removed? dissolved? melted-away? I don’t know… are, at least, rendered completely immaterial before the certain and actual truth of our shared experience – by which I mean of course, our shared struggles and frustrations and failures as much as our successes and occasional triumphs.
And in this way, we too become one — doing what we can, hand in hand and each in our own way, to share in God’s work in the world together as a community of persons who regardless of our housing status, or mental ability, or level of sobriety, all have needs and all have gifts and who offer both to each other and the broader community because — well, simply in the end, because we desire it. Because it brings us joy, just as it brought the young man joy last week, even if it cost him double and caused him to get wet in the rain and perhaps be late for work.
Just like him, in fact, our raggedy community of faith keeps wanting to give more to one another and to the broader community at large, both on the street and in the church, because we have learned that our shared experiences together bring us – reliably – to the kind of communion Jesus spent so much of his time trying to nudge us towards. Last Sunday, for example, a team of thirty of us Walked for Hunger for the 7th year in a row. And for the 3rd year in a row, this team of thirty homeless and recently housed men and women raised more than $3,500 for other hungry people in the City of Boston. “We did our part” one of our team, a veteran soldier who has been homeless for 9 years, said with clear, if understated, satisfaction during our leadership team meeting the following Monday. “We did our part.” And he is right. We did. But the money we raised was just the bi-product, the side-effect, of what we really did last Sunday. Because what we really did last Sunday was take our part in a community of men and women of every kind and shape and social and cultural and racial and socio-economic and intellectual group you can imagine — and become one with each other through the reality of our shared and fundamental need as human beings.
This, it seems to me, is the reality for which Jesus prays to his father on our behalf. And this is reality you all share in right here at All Saints as well too – I know, because I was one of you and if its ok, would like always to be able to claim being one of you. All Saints was the first community I ever committed myself to in any way. And All Saints was the first community that committed itself to me. You welcomed me without requiring anything of me other than my desire to be here. And you taught me so vitally and with such gentle conviction about the reality of God that – well, that I changed most every aspect of my life and ended up becoming a priest.
So you can imagine how deeply my heart rejoices at even the possibility that a some of you might come and join the men and women of MANNA downtown in the endless, humdrum dance of giving and receiving, teaching and learning, healing and being healed that is our life together every Monday between 10 and 2. We are not perfect in any way, and we are about as far from exalted as it’s possible to be. But we are struggling all together to be faithful to God’s son who is love, and to dare — again, all together, and each in our own way — to share with one another the incarnate reality of that love both through our gifts, and through our needs.
And even this must be a gift from the One we call brother and teacher and Lord, who took time to pray for us – for all of us, for you and for me – that long ago day in Jerusalem just before he was taken away to be killed. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,” he prayed. “So that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. “
May it be so. May it be so. Amen.