The Seventh Sunday of Easter 16 May 2010
(Acts 16:16-34 Revelation 22:12-14; 16-17, 20-21 John 17:20-26)
“That We May Be One!”
There is a story about a unique form of logging that is practiced by some villagers of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. What the natives do if a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, is they cut down the tree by yelling at it. Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree at dawn and suddenly scream at the tree at the top of their lungs. They continue to do this for 30 days. At that point the tree dies and falls over. The theory behind this process is that yelling and screaming kill the spirit of the tree. And according to the villagers, it always works.
Sounds like such a quaint and charming habit of the jungle. Screaming at trees! Sounds very primitive! Too bad those native peoples don’t have modern technology and proven scientific approaches!
But we who are sophisticated do our own share of yelling! Maybe not at trees for logging…but we yell at our cell phones. We yell at the TV and the newspaper and the lawn mower. There’s a man down my street who yells at his car a lot. A few weeks ago one of my neighbors yelled at a stepladder for most of an afternoon.
We modern, sophisticated, educated folk yell at traffic and umpires, at ATM machines and at cats and dogs. We yell at our spouses. We yell at our children.
These days I think relatives and computer screens get the most screaming. I really don’t know what good it does. TVs and computers just sit there. Even kicking doors doesn’t really help (unless we want a new door). As for people, well, those Solomon Islanders may be on to something. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our spirits and our hearts….
The final lines of the final prayer Jesus prays with his disciples before they leave the upper room and head toward the Kidron Valley, to the garden where Jesus will be betrayed is a prayer for unity. It is a prayer that the followers of Jesus can work together, live together, get along with each other and love one another.
Jesus tries his hardest to reassure the troubled disciples that they will not be separated from him. He has promised to send the Holy Spirit as his continued presence. He has commanded them to love one another just as he has loved them, warning them that because they abide in Him the world will hate them. But alongside suffering, he has guaranteed them a joy no man or woman can tear away from them, a joy that will come from knowing and understanding Jesus in his Holy Spirit.
As a church, our identity cannot be separate from our unity in Jesus Christ. Jesus is our center. In a culture where, too often, we wish to define ourselves by what sets us apart, by what distinguishes us, this final prayer of Jesus is one of coming together, of taking our identity from the One who has loved us to the end. This is the way we define ourselves, by our relationships with each other, by the Paschal Mystery—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!
On this weekend when we are welcoming new members into the faith life of St. James; on this weekend when we celebrate “Come to the Banquet” as we have visited members throughout the community to welcome them here; as we welcome men who are living at our Adams County Rescue Mission, many of them who already worship with us on Saturday evenings, we are reminded of who we really are.
On a weekend when we come to the end of our Easter season, we realize we are Thomas who was unsure; we are the sheep who wanders away; we are the apostles who go back to their old lives. And we realize we are a people who don’t always do everything correctly; we miss people in the hospital; we don’t always welcome people as we could; we sometimes even miss a music note.
Most of the time we are a messy community—more often sinner than saint. But we are a people whose central identity is beloved of God! We can disagree with each other but we can never question the salvation of those with whom we disagree.
In the closing lines of the Book of Revelation, we hear the grand finale of the entire Bible. We hear a most elegant and commanding conclusion which is really a grand beginning, an invitation of hope and assurance. The final written words are an invitation for a loving and compassionate God to enter into our lives when we need God most. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let everyone who hears say, “Come!” Let everyone who is thirsty come! Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The image of Jesus at prayer with his disciples is surrounded by two contrasting images. The one (The islanders yelling at trees) is the reminder that each one of us possesses the ability to break down the human spirit and to break the human hearts of those around us. The other image is a hope-filled answer to Jesus’ prayer: we are beloved of God! We have the power to be menders of wounded persons. We have the power to be healers of broken spirits and broken hearts. In Jesus, we have the power to give birth again to life!
On this final Sunday of Easter, pain and suffering and death are never far from us, but they need never overwhelm us. There is always more! There is our ability to look inside ourselves and then to go outside ourselves. Our identity is to create new life!
Together we witness, we share our joys and sorrows; we join worship and play in that ever-homeward bound journey toward the welcoming arms of a waiting God. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
1All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. 1988. Robert Fulghum . p, 19.