May 29, 2022 - A Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Easter: On Intimacy with God, Jesus and the Spirit; Baptism; and Gun Violence
Sometimes when I read John’s Gospel, I feel like Jesus is so opaque. Today is one of those times! I can read, re-read, and say out loud all those words, but it’s a challenge to tease out what Jesus actually means by them.
As always, we are helped in our discovery by the biblical context. Today’s reading comes at the conclusion of a section of John’s gospel scholars call “The Farewell Discourse.” It’s a multi-chapter section, near the end of the Gospel, where Jesus teaches the disciples and He prays for them. The very next thing that happens after today’s reading is that Jesus goes out to the garden where he is arrested, tried, and crucified.
In other words, right before He is crucified, Jesus prays that His closest friends and disciples will be enfolded into the intimate, in-dwelling and dynamic relationship that exists between God, Jesus, and the Spirit.
In this prayer, Jesus names the deep intimacy that exists between him and God (as you Father are in me and I am in you). He prays for that same intimacy to exist between his companions and God (so that they me be one as we are one, I in them and you in me). He prays that that intimacy will serve one purpose (that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me). And Jesus names the fact that this prayer is not just for those close followers. (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). In other words, all the followers of Jesus from then until now are included. We are the latest beneficiaries of this prayer.
So, to super-simplify Jesus’ words, Jesus, God, and the Spirit are intimately connected. First the disciples, and then all who come to know Jesus because of the disciples, are enfolded into that intimate connection. And the primary purpose of that intimate and connected love is to show that love to others, so that they too can enter into this intimate love.
And, I would add, because of who Jesus is, and how he lived out his ministry, that love isn’t just about feeling good about ourselves and our relationship with God. Rather, from that place of knowing ourselves loved and intimately connected to God, we can then go into the world to do the work of justice. And we get a picture of what that looks like from Jesus: hanging out with sinners, advocating for the vulnerable, and speaking truth to power.
I’ve had two things on my mind this week as I’ve thought about this sermon. The first is Matt’s baptism and the second is the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. And this text has something to say to both of those things.
Matt, when you and I sat down on the front steps this week to talk about baptism, we spent some time talking about the baptismal promises. In a moment you will make those promises and the rest of us will recommit ourselves them.
In brief, we promise to gather for worship and community; to recognize our own failures and turn back to God; to live exactly as this text calls us to do – as a living example of this intimate love; to work to see Christ in all others; and to strive for justice and peace among all people. Our response to each of those promises will be: I will, with God’s help.
The things we commit to in these promises aren’t easy. Here’s some truth. I can usually see the face of Christ in the people I love. It’s so much harder for me to see it in those I disagree with. And, I can try to be a living example of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ – until I’m overtired, distracted, hungry, or otherwise miss the mark. But fortunately, it’s not all up to me. Because I am enfolded in the intimate love that exists between God, Jesus and the Spirit, that intimate love is the source of my help. And the same is true for each of you.
There’s a super-fancy-sounding Greek theological word: perichoresis. Don’t be intimidated by it because it means something fun and wonderful. Perichoresis means to dance around. It’s one of the words that theologians use to describe the intimate and vibrant relationship between God, Jesus, and the Spirit that Jesus talks about in this prayer. And through this prayer, each of us invited into this dance. And it is through our participation in this perichoresis that we are formed. And that participation begins at our baptisms. It’s almost like DNA. Our intimate involvement in this loving dance molds us so that what becomes most important to us are the values that are demonstrated by the life and death of Jesus.
Our Jewish siblings use a Hebrew phrase tikkun olam to describe this calling. Tikkun olam are the actions we take to repair and improve the world. Near the end of the book of the prophet Isaiah, after the exiles have returned from slavery in Babylon, God speaks through Isaiah and describes this calling, “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Isaiah 58:12)
This week, I suspect we’ve all been deeply troubled by the horrific and senseless murders by gun violence of 19 fourth graders and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. An additional seventeen were injured in that senseless act. And that act of violence was only ten days after ten people were killed by a racially motivated gunman in Buffalo and nine days after one person was killed in a hate-based shooting in Laguna Woods, California. In fact, they didn’t all make the news, but there have been 213 mass shootings already in 2022 (https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/query/0484b316-f676-44bc-97ed-ecefeabae0). A mass shooting is defined as an event where four or more people injured or killed. 213. Let that number sink in for a moment. 213 mass shooting events and it's only the 29th of May.
No other country in the world experiences this epidemic of gun violence. (https://www.healthdata.org/acting-data/gun-violence-united-states-outlier)
I come from a family of hunters; at one point in my life I owned a shot gun. I’ve eaten deer and bear that have been hunted for food by members of my family. I used to enjoy target shooting, and I was pretty good at it. And I know that things need to change in this country. The only reason to own an automatic weapon is to do maximum damage to humans. Let's face it, if you took an automatic rifle deer hunting, you’d be hard-pressed to find much left to eat.
I read this week that 88% of Americans are in favor of common sense gun legislation. We are taught in this country that questions about guns all boil down to rights. The second amendment gives us each the right to bear arms. But questions of rights are not based in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are part of our cultural inculcation as Americans, and have nothing to do with Jesus and his teachings. Rights are about what I am entitled to. Jesus didn’t talk about rights. Jesus talked about justice. And justice questions have to do with what is right for everyone, not just me.
Jesus’ priority was always the most vulnerable. Jesus intentionally engaged with children, women, and those on the margins of society. In a situation where individual rights and the needs of those who are most vulnerable come into conflict, Jesus can always be found standing with the vulnerable.
There are many ways that we are called to live out the mission that we claim as ones who are in an embedded, intimate, active relationship with God, Jesus, and the Spirit. There are countless challenges in the world that need us to act as repairs of the breach, friends of sinner, advocates for the vulnerable, and speakers of truth to power.
Right now we grieve this unspeakable loss. We lament this violence. But then we must act. We can take the despair we feel at the deaths of all these innocents, and work to repair the breach. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Donate to a group that is working on enacting common sense gun laws. That’s speaking truth to power. That’s advocating for the vulnerable.
Our lives and the lives of all God’s children may depend on it.