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That They May Become Completely One

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
in Charleston, South Carolina on May 8, 2016

That They May Become Completely One
John 17:20-26

Let me tell you about my friend Jesus.

Jesus was and is God.
In seeing Jesus, we come to know our Triune God more fully.
In Jesus life and ministry, we see God.
So let me tell you about my friend Jesus.

Jesus was born to a poor mama and poor step daddy. Jesus was a great kid, who grew up to be the man everyone wanted to hear speak. But Jesus was also born into the Roman Empire, so Jesus, the King of all creation, knew disrespect. Jesus grew up in a world that disrespected him at any good opportunity.

A good kid from a good family. A man who would change the world. But if Jesus ducked into a store catering to Romans to buy something for his Mama, he might have to wait a while. Standing there waiting for the others to be served first. Truth be told, the shopkeeper might act like he didn’t even see him until all the right people had been served first. They would not have seen the content of his character. One look at Jesus and they knew his kind could wait. That’s the world my friend Jesus knew.

And if anyone wanted to change the way the world worked, the Empire lined the roads with crosses. Get too far out of line, you would get hung on a cross as an example to the rest.

So what did my friend Jesus do?
He turned that world upside down every chance he got.

Oh the world fought back. The creation that had already turned its back on God always fights back against the way the world should be. But that kid from Nazareth conquered the Roman Empire and he has been conquering principalities and powers ever since. My friend Jesus sees the crosses, the beatings, the lynching trees, the electric chairs, the prisons full of lives of promise cut short. Jesus sees all the ways we put people down and it breaks his heart. Jesus sees the heart of every man and woman. He knows us, the good and the very bad, and he loves us anyway, completely, unreservedly.

As our friend Jesus tells us in our reading this morning from John’s Gospel, he and God the Father are one. He tells us that he is in the Father and the Father is in him and he wants us to be in them too. Our friend Jesus talks like that sometimes. Especially the way his Beloved Disciple John tells about Jesus.

Jesus wants us to know that before the very foundation of the world, God was in relationship. No I can’t describe it fully. The Trinity is a divine mystery. But Jesus wants us to understand something about the nature of God. Jesus tells us that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit were in relationship before the creation.

Somehow in God’s own being there was and is love. And when this Triune God did create, God created out of that love for love. Yes, it’s a mystery. No, we can’t fully comprehend it, but there is something to this Trinity of persons that is written in to the very fabric of creation. Everything is interconnected. All creation is meant to be in one harmonious relationship.

God did not create one kind of person just so another kind of person could put them down. God did not create some kid just to stand aside in a store unseen until all the right people bought what they came to buy. Sin created that mess.

God created a world out of love for love. God imprints on each human the very image and likeness of God. God sees us and calls us good. It’s sin that leads to world with roads lined with crosses and lynching trees.

In our reading from John’s Gospel, it is the night before Jesus is to die. He knows the Empire has a cross with his name on it. Jesus did not have to go looking for his cross. Jesus loved like there is no “us” and “them.” Jesus showed compassion to the lost and the left out. Jesus loved as God loved breaking down divisions among people. The cross found Jesus.

Jesus sees the crucifixion coming and he prays not just for his disciples. Jesus prays also for those who will come to believe. In this prayer, Jesus is praying for you and me too. John tells us that his friend Jesus prayed to the Father saying,

“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

The Holy Trinity is one and wants the church to be one so that the world will see and believe. Whenever the church is divided, it gives the people outside the church a good excuse to ignore Jesus. If we Christians can’t even agree; if we Christians can’t even love one another; if we Christians can’t live out this Good News proclaim within our churches, then the people who don’t yet know our friend Jesus can just keep on going about their business.

Jesus wants his church to multiply and his followers
have been spending their time on division.

Church history is a story of disagreements. There have been big splits like the churches we now call Roman Catholic and Orthodox breaking apart so that the church in the east and the west can’t agree. The Protestant Churches broke away when the Catholic Church found itself in a time of error. And we keep dividing into smaller and smaller sects even as Jesus still yearns for us to be one.

But we know St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is one church that worked hard for unity. There may be no harder fought struggle for unity than this congregation working steadily for recognition for 90 years. I enjoyed hearing an interview with Mr. Felder Hutchinson who was St. Mark’s Senior Warden in 1965. His two-hour oral history gave me one window into this church. But you know this history better than I do.

February 18, 1865, Union Troops occupied Charleston. Any of the whites who had someplace else they could be abandoned the city for the plantations. The churches where the free blacks had worshipped were closed. With the Civil War still winding down elsewhere, those free men born to families that came to this country in slave ships were small tradesmen or people of means. They had nowhere to go to church that Easter and so they petitioned City council for the use of the Orphan Chapel.[1]

The congregation that Easter day was comprised mainly of free black people who had worshipped at St. Luke’s, St. Paul’s, St. Philips, and Holy Communion. This new church was a blessing to the men and women who came together at its founding and the church would bless Charleston. Like most of what we would now call black Episcopal churches, St. Mark’s attracted many leading citizens of the city and they taught the faith and lifted people up. The Sunday School that met each Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. acted like a magnet drawing in people from Avery. St. Mark’s became a beacon for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the church grew and thrived.

This thriving Episcopal Church longed to be one with the Diocese. But the diocese told the leaders of St. Mark’s again and again that they could not have a parish with black Episcopalians united to the Diocese. St. Mark’s had other options. The Reformed Episcopal Church wanted St. Mark’s. But the leaders of this parish intended to be an Episcopal Church. They wanted recognition and they worked for 90 years, finally becoming a parish of the Diocese of South Carolina in 1965.

Our Gospel reading reminds us that division within the church breaks the heart of God.

As long as we are working on division, the church can’t multiply.

There are things that we argue about that Jesus does not care about at all. And there are problems in our world and in this very city that keep God up at night, but we don’t notice or if we do we take no action.

We fallible, fallen humans see the world wrongly
unless we see it through the eyes of our friend Jesus.

Today, we remember that on the night before he died, our friend Jesus prayed that we would become completely one as he and the Father are one so that the world might see and believe. There are people all around us who need to befriend Jesus. The woman behind you in line at the bank. The man in front of you at the grocery store. The jerk who cut you off in traffic. People you know well and people you don’t even notice are all fighting battles you know nothing about.

People you see every day are hurting, masking the pain in all kind of ways like alcohol and prescription drug abuse. They need the Good News that God loves them and offers healing, forgiveness, redemption, a new start, a clean heart.

The people who outwardly seem like they have their act together are just as jumbled inside as anyone else and they desperately need to feel God’s presence as you and I will in just a few minutes when we take our friend Jesus’ body and blood into our bodies and blood. Nurtured by Word and Sacrament, we will go out today empowered to see the world anew through Jesus’ eyes.

We are empowered by the love of God to make the wounded whole, to heal divisions. How do we do this? We don’t. Jesus does this work through us. We have been forgiven and so we can forgive others. We have been known and loved and so we can love as God loves. When we see someone hurting or we see someone we have hurt or who has hurt us, we don’t have to act the way rest of the world acts. Start with “Let me tell you about my friend Jesus” and the person you first need to tell about Jesus is yourself. All the forgiveness and healing we need flows from that relationship with him.

Amen.

[1] This is taken from an oral interview with Felder Hutchinson, who was the Senior Warden of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in 1965 when the congregation was admitted in to the Diocese of South Carolina. A transcript of this 1985 interview is online here: http://fedora.library.cofc.edu:8080/fedora/objects/lcdl:23398/datastreams/PDF1/content

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