Seventh Sunday of Easter 8 May 2016
(Acts 16:16-34 Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 John 17:20-27)
“Together We Make a Terrific Picture!”
1There is a story (maybe some of you have heard it before) of how some villagers on the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean practice a very unique form of logging. What the natives do if a tree is too big to be felled by 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 begin screaming at the tree as loud as they are able. They continue to do this for 30 days. At that point the tree dies and falls over. The theory behind the yelling is that screaming at a tree over and over again kills the spirit of the tree. According to the villagers, it always works.
When you first hear such a story, we think it sounds like some quaint and charming habit of unsophisticated people. Screaming at trees! Come on! It sounds so primitive! Too bad such people don’t have modern technology and more proven scientific approaches!
But we, who are “sophisticated” do our own shares of yelling! Maybe not at trees for logging, however; we yell at our cell phones; we yell at our flat screen TVs; we scream at our lawn mowers. There’s a man on my street who yells at his car an awful lot. One day last fall my neighbor across the fence yelled at his stepladder most of the afternoon!
We modern, sophisticated, educated folk yell at traffic and umpires, and ATM machines, and at cats and dogs. We also yell at spouses. We yell at our children, and those we love and trust the most.
Computer screens may get the most screaming these days. But I don’t know what good it does. TVs and computers just sit there. Even kicking doors doesn’t really solve anything (unless you want a new door!). As for people, well maybe those unsophisticated islanders may be smarter than we give them credit for. I think they are onto something!
Yelling at living things over and over again really does kill their spirit in them. Sticks and stone may break our bones, but words will break our spirits and our hearts. . . . .
In John’s Gospel, the account of the Last Supper spans three chapters 15 –17, often called Jesus’ Farewell Prayer. The Gospel text we just heard are the final lines of this intimate and heartfelt prayer that Jesus prays to his Father. The very next line begins Chapter 18 and we are told that Jesus gets up from the table and heads out to the Kidron Valley, to the garden where Jesus will be betrayed by one of his own.
The final lines of this prayer are a prayer for unity. It is a prayer for his closest friends to be able to work together for the good of all that they have learned from Him these past three years. It is a prayer where he begs his Father in heaven to help them get along with each other and love each other, for his sake and for witnessing to the world.
Jesus tries his hardest to reassure his troubled disciples that they will not be left alone, that they will not be separated from Him, even after he is gone. He has promised to send the Spirit as his continued presence with them. He has commanded them to love each other as He has loved them, but warning them that this will not be as easy as it might first sound. In fact, the world will hate them when they love in an unconditional manner.
Yet, alongside the suffering, Jesus has also guaranteed them a joy no man or woman can tear away from them, a deep joy that will come from knowing Jesus and his Spirit.
Who we are as a church, cannot be separate from our unity in Jesus Christ. In a culture where, too often, we choose to define ourselves by our differences, by our disagreements, by what I believe is true over and against what you believe is true, this final prayer of Jesus is one of coming together, of taking our identity from the One who loved us to the very end.
A week ago, a team of individuals, more than half from St. James, returned from spending a week in Haiti, where we experienced a country whose poverty and way of living is impossible to communicate, even with pictures and words. I, personally, struggle to know where to d=find a sustainable hope for the future of some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met! Our day with LWR and LWF went a long way in giving me hope precisely because of their witness in that beleaguered country.
Later in the summer we intend to use a weekend to describe more fully the experience we all had for a mere seven days. But until then, one thing I will say is that I found in so many people on mission trips such as we were on. We met nurses and doctors and biologists and social workers, but mostly ordinary people who had a passion to reach out to the people of this embattled country. I’m talking hundreds of people defining themselves, not by our differences, such as how many sacraments we believe in, or if we raise our arms when worshipping, but by what we have in common, what brought us there to work: a commitment to the Risen Christ among us!
On this weekend when we come to the end of our season of Easter, we realize we are Thomas who was unsure; we are the sheep who wander away; we are the apostles who have gone back to their old lives. We are those Pacific Islanders who do a whole lot of yelling!
Sometimes we are more sinner than saint!
Be we are also a people whose identity is beloved of God! And to live this belovedness is to create a unity that goes so much deeper than our differences! Every one of us has the power and ability to be healers of wounded persons, healers of broken spirits and broken hearts.
On this final Sunday of Easter, we are so very aware that pain and suffering are never far from us. But the Easter message of resurrection is that pain and suffering and death never need overwhelm us, never have the final word. Our identity as Easter people is to create new life together!
Come Lord Jesus! Amen.
1 All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Robert Fulghum.