Good morning and a blessed Seventh Sunday of Easter to you! I am Jim Jelinek, Interim Rector of Trinity Church, Newport, RI, with my colleague The Rev. Alan Neale. It is Sunday, so we are each offering a sermon for today.
I am going to trust that either Alan has included the text of the gospel for today or that you have your Bible handy and can look it up. The passage is found in the Gospel according to John, chapter 17:1-11.
This is a strange day on which to preach. In the disciples’ time, Jesus was not with them. We are four days after the Ascension when Jesus was taken up into heaven and they watched him go. That’s what the lesson is from the Book of Acts this morning. A part of me thinks we ought not even have a gospel passage in the liturgy on this day because Jesus was not there—at least not in flesh and blood. One of the central teachings about the Ascension is that Jesus was taken up so that he could escape from the limitations of time and space and be everywhere at once. We know that to be true because we each find him in our prayers, in our various homes and churches, and in the people we know. We have learned to believe that he is in those we do not know, even the ones we do not like. That’s something we may not want to believe, but we have heard it enough times that it is hard to escape from it.
The early Church first ordered the lectionary and chose readings for every day of the year. Other scholars revised it over the centuries and a little less than fifty years ago put the Sunday lections into a three-year cycle. My question to them, for which I am unlikely ever to get an answer, and I don’t think we could google it, is this: how did you choose a gospel passage for this Sunday? And for the other two years in the cycle?
In each of these years, the passage is some part of chapter 17 in John’s gospel, at the end of the Last Supper in the upper room. He has washed their feet, he has prayed and blessed bread and wine and described them as his Body and Blood, they have eaten and he speaks and prays with them in what is often called the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. The prayer goes back and forth and round and round in describing how Jesus has received these men and other followers from God, and that they are now in one another just as Jesus is with the Father and the Father is with him. He prays especially for them, that God may protect them in his name, the name his Father has given to Jesus, and his prayer sounds so simple but it is immense, “so that they may be one, as we are one.”
We are asked to believe every day that God is longing, that Jesus is praying, that the Holy Spirit is moving to make us all one. There are so many ways we (and our forebears in every generation), defiantly cling to some portion of truth, as if it is the whole truth. That makes it hard to believe that God is ever going to make us one. All we have to do is look at the polarization of the times we are living in right now. If we merely clung to our “little truth” rather than the whole, that would be bad enough. But we are so good at taking that little truth and then clubbing one another over the head with our “better than your truth.”
I am very cautious about using the word truth, for when we objectify it, when we make it a noun, we diminish something. I am much happier using the word true, for that is a descriptive word. We use it to speak of a bell or a crystal glass “ringing true,” meaning that there is no crack in it which might distort the clarity of tone. We speak of someone’s story or example “ringing true,” meaning that that experience is consistent with mine. We speak of a person being true because we find no duplicity in that person. Jesus describes one of the disciples as being true because there was no deceit in him. My predecessor as the first Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota, was renamed by the Native Americans as “Straight Tongue,” because he always told the truth, in sharp contrast to many others who moved into their territory whom they dubbed “forked tongue.” Today we say such a person speaks out of both sides of his mouth.
I do not know whether we shall ever do the truth together, because that would take endless talking about terms and meanings and nuances, harder than writing the Constitution. But I do believe we can be true together. Being true is about how we treat each other, how we show respect, how we honor other points of view without labeling or showing scorn. Being true is about sharing feelings honestly, but without an intention to call out blame or cause harm. Being true is about standing up for one another, standing beside one another, standing with one another. Of course, being true is about loving one another. That is what Jesus taught.
I am not going to be here in Newport much longer, as you all know, but I know I shall be hearing from some of you from time to time. You need to know that I will also be hearing about you from others. And there’s one thing that I will be listening for, eagerly waiting to be told, is that those visitors who encounter you the people of Trinity Church know you are Christians by your love.
Let us pray. [For the Parish, BCP, p. 817]
Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.