Sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2016

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C
May 8, 2016
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

One with God.  Jesus prays that his followers may be one with God, because only in that way will the world know that God has sent him, and by extension, sent us, and only in that way will the world know that God’s love for the world is real.

One with God.  How can we be one with God?  We know too well the ways in which we fall short and miss the target – the actual definition of the word “sin” in the Old Testament.  And we all do fall short and we all do miss the target, and we know this all too well, and yet … we still strive.

We still strive because Jesus prayed for us that we might be one with God, and this striving comes from the faith that God has in us that we are meant to be one with God.  The faith in our ultimate union with God is God’s faith, and that means we can trust it, because God always keeps faith with us.

Sometimes, of course, we doubt.

We doubt even that God keeps faith with us.  Perhaps because God doesn’t give us what we desire, or stop our pain, or heal our infirmities, or release us from responsibilities!  We may doubt because we see pain in the world around us, we see brokenness, we see violence and anger and fear, and sometimes we are the ones who are in pain, who are broken, who are the victims of violence, or even the perpetrators, and sometimes we are simply scared to death of what might come.

So how can we trust that God will keep this faith in us?  How can we believe that God desires to be one with us, and desires us to be one with God, especially when we know we are not ready for that? How can we become one with God?

The first thing to remember is that wecan’t.  It is up to God to make this happen; this is the gift that God offers us, not something we earn or deserve.  We can’t lay claim to this gift by our own desire or by effort or action.  And yet, we can’t receive this gift without our own desire or effort or action.

It’s like a birthday or Christmas, when we are offered a package, wrapped in pretty paper and a ribbon, sealed with tape or ties or glue, closed and hidden.  What’s inside, we don’t ever know for sure until we accept the package, take it in our hands, remove the ribbons, tear off the paper, cut the tape, and open the box.  We have to desire to open the box, we have to put our effort into opening the box, we have to act to open the box.  Only then can we see what’s inside.

With Jesus’ prayer, we know what’s inside the box he offers – unity with God.  It’s too much to hope for, and yet that’s what we are given.

One with God.  One with the creator, one with the healer, one with the reconciler, the hope of ages, the lover of souls, the gracious giver, the source of abundance and all good desires.  We are invited, we are welcomed, we are given grace upon grace, we are loved more than we can imagine.

All this, all this, given into our hands and hearts. Words just can’t.

Now, obviously, becoming one with God is not so simple a matter as opening a prettily-wrapped gift box, or even a Wonder Box. When we desire to be one with God, it can be a frightening experience – it might mean changing things in our life we are already used to; the way things are could be utterly altered and made unrecognizable.  The desire may turn us around altogether – as only true repentance can do. “Turn and know that I am God.”

The effort we put into opening this gift, the ribbons we untie, the paper we unwrap, the tape we cut – this might mean taking apart our self-constructed world and life, re-examining our choices and decisions and making new ones this time, leaving some things and ways and habits behind, and taking on new ways and new ideas.

And when the box is finally opened, and we see the gift inside, we still have to learn what it means, and how it is used, and it can change us even more than we have changed already.

I mean, even so simple a thing as a new smart phone can change your life, as mine has mine.  But becoming one with God, is an even more substantial transition. 

You know it does; all you have to do is think about how a decision you made to join a worshiping community has changed your life, pointed you in some directions and away from others, added to your understanding, helped you grow in unexpected ways.

One with God. 

We don’t become gods – we become God’s people, and the way God acts in the world, the way God loves in the world, even the way God dies and rises to life again in the world.

Now there’s another aspect to this gift receiving I haven’t mentioned yet, which is this:  Christmas comes but once a year.  Birthdays come but once a year.  So we don’t get a new gift box every day, with something different in it.  But we can use the gift of God’s presence (yes, that’s a terrible pun, I’m sorry) every day; we can explore and learn about God’s presence every day (Okay, I’m not that sorry).

But sometimes the gift of God’s presence in our life involves waiting, even outright requires waiting.  And waiting is hard, as any child knows when Christmas is on the horizon, when the birthday is only a week away, when Pawpaw and Nana are flying into town.

In Advent, we await the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a messiah; after the crucifixion, we await the resurrection; and after the Ascension, we await the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Advocate, the Revealer and the Guide, the spirit of God in the world. 

So today, you may have noticed, the great, rough, wooden cross is no longer standing by the altar; this absence speaks to the absence of Christ in the world; and we are cast back into darkness again. God has been born to us, and has died, has come, and then departed.  Night has come again.

We are left with the single candle in this night, the light of Christ’s passion.  By that light, we can wait in hope, for it is in the night alone we learn that even single candle reveals a light that conquers all obscurity.

Come Holy Spirit.  Maranatha.  Come Holy Spirit, come.

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