On Dipping In
May 21, 2023
Psalm 1: 1-3
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
John 17: 1-11
After Jesus had spoken, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Today’s sermon is titled, On Dipping In.
Growing up in Durham, North Carolina I never thought much about where I was in relationship to the land. The land in central North Carolina is gentle and there are no mountains or big rivers as landmarks. When I moved out west in my early twenties, it was like moving to a different planet. Mountains and rivers defined everything. Only the big roads went up and over the mountains, always at the lowest point, “the pass,” it’s called. The other roads followed alongside the rivers in the valley bottoms. Where the river forked, the road would fork, too. I learned early on that when someone asked me, “Where do you live?” they were not asking for an address. I learned to say, “I live in the Little Applegate valley, just downstream of Glade creek.” Usually the next comment was, “Oh. So you live up at that there hippie commune then.” “That’s right; that’s the place,” I would reply, and then they would really size me up.
To get to my work at the Forest Service station, I went downstream to the main stem of the Applegate river and followed it until it ran into the Illinois river, 28 miles of road and never more than a quarter mile from the water. Living out west I became, for the first time in my life, hyper aware of the landscape I lived in and the landscape I traveled through. Whenever I left my familiar river valleys and ventured out and into others, I would find a place to dip. It was by dipping in those unfamiliar waters that I learned more about where I was. It was by dipping in those unfamiliar waters that I began to know a new place.
There are many ways we can get to know the culture and landscape of a new place. Even before we go, we can study maps and read books to gather a sense of what it may be like. But today, in this time we have together on this seventh and final Sunday of Easter, it is the landscape of God that we have a chance to explore, through the words of our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. His words are our map and what they reveal today will change our lives.
Our reading today from the Gospel of John has a name. It is known as the high priestly prayer. Each year, on the seventh and final Sunday of Easter, we are given a third of it to consider. It is called a priestly prayer because the pray-er, in this case Jesus, is praying for others. Priestly duties are those things done in service to others. In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays out loud for the people to hear. Jesus is praying for them. He prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Jesus’s followers need this ultimate blessing. Their teacher, in the coming days, will be tortured and executed. They have upended their lives to follow this teacher. They have witnessed signs too wondrous to understand. They have high hopes that Jesus will liberate them from Roman occupation and they will be sorely disappointed until he returns to them from beyond death.
I like to imagine the followers of Jesus in the weeks and months after Jesus’s death and resurrection as they surely began to remind one another of what Jesus had taught them. I like to imagine the conversations and the debates about what Jesus could have possibly been meaning to convey. I like to imagine they spent a good deal of time talking about the one line that stands out the most to me in this priestly prayer; “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God.”
Listen to what the theologian Frederich Buechner has to say about eternal life, “We think of eternal life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends. We would do better to think of eternal life as what happens when life begins.” How might we live differently if we could accept that we are one part of an eternal and everlasting whole? How might we love differently if we could accept that we are one part of an eternal and everlasting whole?
Last week we considered Jesus’s statement, “I am in my father, I am in you and you in me.” Jesus is telling us that we are already part of one eternal and everlasting whole and yet we have such a difficult time living as if that were really true. We humans are ultimately challenged to think very far beyond our lifetimes and the lifetimes of those we love the most. Certainly we want the best for children and grandchildren, but if we were living as part of one eternal and everlasting whole, we would be thinking about many generations beyond our present time.
The Haudenosaunee Indians we refer to as the Iroquois are credited with the “seventh generation principle.” In all that we say and do, we should consider the implications far into the future, for seven generations. Seven generations is roughly 200 years. If we could be so mindful of our responsibilities that we could consider the effects of our actions seven generations into the future, it would feel as if we were living an eternal and everlasting life. Imagine if we could be that mindful of our responsibility, making our decisions based on the implications 200 years from now instead of based on short-term profit margins. Imagine how our society could be transformed, over time, by the better choices we are making right now. As we turn to alternative energy sources, as we seek immigration reform, as we seek a living wage for all people, and a fair tax structure we have to think far into the future. This gives us a sense of eternal and everlasting life, acknowledging that what we do right now matters a great deal because we are part of one eternal and everlasting whole…we are one.
This was Jesus’s prayer, “Holy Father, protect them, that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus imagined the unifying force of God and the effect it could have on the future of humanity. When I look back at our sordid past and reckon with the countless wars fought (and still being fought) based on differences of religion, I find it difficult to believe that we can change. But then I remember that there is a great force at work in the world, a force that moves us towards freedom, justice, truth, sustainability, health, wholeness, and love. That force, I believe, is what we refer to when we use the word “God.” If we can dip into that great force and allow ourselves to change, allow our decisions to be informed, and allow love to guide us, the world will be changed, one person at a time. Perhaps in seven generations, the world we dream of will be realized.
In closing, I want to leave you with one other piece of writing from Frederich Buechner on what eternal life could mean. He writes, “…to live Eternal Life in the full and final sense is to be with God as Christ is with God, and to be with each other as Christ is with us.” So, Friends, welcome to life eternal. Let’s live and love knowing that what we are creating will be the foundation of a safer, more inclusive world in the future. Let’s live and love knowing we are connected to all things. And instead of just dipping into the eternal, everlasting love that is God, let’s immerse ourselves, completely, so that we become the answer to Jesus’s prayer. So be it. Amen.
God of loving kindness, I thank you for the gift of love. I thank you for the gift of prayer. Help us to allow your infusion of loving kindness to permeate our deepest sorrows, and our darkest fears. Remind us, Lord, to use the gift of prayer as a way to lift up ourselves and the rest of humankind so that we may all keep your holy light in view. Guide us through that light, heal us through that light, and when uncertainty threatens, turn our minds to prayer, especially these words that Jesus taught us… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from the 91st Psalm: “To his angels he has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways; upon their hands they shall bear you up.”