June 2, 2019: Oh The Places You’ll Go by Alecia Greenfield (John 17: 20-26 New Revised Standard Version)

“I ask not only on behalf of these,

but also on behalf of those

who will believe in me through their word, 

that they may all be one.

As you, Father, are in me

and I am in you,

may they also be in us, 

so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

 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. 

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me,

may be with me where I am, to see my glory,

which you have given me

because you loved me

before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you,

but I know you;

and these know that you have sent me. 

I made your name known to them,

and I will make it known,

so that the love with which you have loved me

may be in them, and I in them.”

Hello. It is a pleasure to be here today. I’m Alecia, and as we get going there are a couple things that might be helpful to know. First, I worship in the Anglican tradition, and those Anglican’s we’re big into the liturgical year, the church’s calendar, just a heads up. Also, I am a recent VST graduate and like every student totally into all that classroom learning right now. Today, it may be useful for you to know (or remember) that the Greek word John uses in his Gospel for the Holy Spirit is Paraclete. It is also translated as comforter or advocate. And equally important I am a classmate and friend of Frances Kitson who has been talking about you (this community) and how fabulous you are for years and so it is a such a delight to be here and finally meet you.

And now that we know we are all friends and disciples in Christ together, I can admit how I first read our Gospel reading today. You know how you can read the words but they don’t stick. It is my practice to read a passage three times, then reflect. So I read and then walked away and I realized I had retained nothing.

Which is disturbing. Because I believe the church has chosen a passage has something to say here in this specific (liturgical) time.

Today we have a passage for dangerous times. These are the words Jesus leaves the disciples with when he is on his way to arrest and death. And we hear them in the liturgical year in an in between time. This past Thursday was the feast of Ascension when the resurrected Jesus leaves the disciples. Jesus rises to glory. The disciples, they go to Jerusalem and wait.  Because Pentecost is coming, when the Holy Spirit comes and fills the disciples. But Pentecost is not yet; it’s next week.

And these were dangerous times, the empire gathers on the other side of the door. Just outside. In biblical times that looked a little Roman, like the random violence of oppression. It looked like crucifixion for gathering too many people who believed that their faith was more important than life or death.

But there are other ways to look at danger. Empire might also look like a corporation. Identity of profit that expands into our imagination and defines what normal, reasonable, appropriate might look like. I drove into Kelowna a couple weeks ago to visit Frances and couldn’t see the water, couldn’t see the hills for the billboards plastered on the roadside dictating my attention to the importance of new car tires and more gas. The corporate empire fills up my sight, dangerously.

On the other side of the Kelowna hills are stands of dead, burnt wood. Wildfire ravaged the region, the climate is changing, but through that change billboards blot out the burn site.

And into the waiting of change, the church gives us, gifts us, this reading. This is a prayer. This is what Jesus prays as he prepares to leave his disciples. This is a moment before faith and empire collide.  The chronicle of events is that Jesus prays these words, then goes out to get arrested, and Simon Peter cuts off someone’s ear with a sword. The disciples are preparing for danger – they are carrying weapons and they get- – –  this prayer.

*****

And I come back to hard to read. This is NOT one of those famous passages that we can recite off by heart. This is not what people read to rally the troupes for expeditions or to bless special occasions.

It’s not a story, it’s not a list, ten commandments to a life of righteousness, it’s not so beautiful that these words catch in our heart… And after spending all week waddling about in these words what catches my attention first is how much these words just slip through my attention. This is a hard passage to hold

I find, when I cannot easily understand or hold a passage – I turn to the community to help me read it.

“I ask not only on behalf of these,

but also on behalf of those

In the pattern of this passage I hear     

Dr Seuss.

What happens when we stop looking at the scripture with our most serious and most earnest faces and look instead for beauty? What happens when, inspired by Dr Seuss, we recognize both the danger and still look with a sense of adventure and fun? It’s partly in the rhythm, and partly in the imagination. But all of a sudden this scripture strikes a picture – we can ascend higher, we can fight the empire.

Lets look at it together. Remembering that when Jesus says disciples – in John, he means all disciples, including us.  So listen up! In the Greek it is even clearer –in this passage, when Jesus says they he is talking about us.

Jesus says:

that they may all be one.

As you, Father, are in me

and I am in you,

may they also be in us, 

Jesus prays for us to be one with God. Just as he is one with God.

That’s huge claim. When was the last time you walked into a room thinking – yup, here goes me and God, together, one. It’s so alarming that it is too scary to think let alone say- —- and still Jesus prays, for us, his disciples.

Next week in Pentecost we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples. They are filled with the Holy Spirit. Anglicans officially believe at baptism that we are filled with the Holy Spirit. I am filled with the Holy Spirit.     The trinity is IN me.    and I am in God. The trinity is IN us. And we are IN God. Take that closer. Jesus prays for you, the disciple. May you be one with the Creator.

And if I take that too seriously I lose all the mysteriously, I might behave all imperiously. But what if we step into this truth, poetically, playfully.

 Imagine, this is true. God is in you, right now. The Holy Spirit a flame, a wave, a dove, that wiggles and jiggles and tickles your insides. I don’t know why, but when we keep our eyelids up, we see it all, in the Gospel.

Except, when we think poetically, we can sentimentalize, we penalize the Gospel for our inability to imagine both earnestly, and playfully. Teachers like Dr Seuss sensitize our ears and hearts, to hear truth when we are frightened. Frightened by alarming claims, or frightened by dangerous times. Dr Seuss wrote about nuclear arms race, about Nazis and about environmental emergency.  And we can hear truth when we smile at the name of Yertle the Turtle and then remember that the turtle on top relies on the turtle on the bottom. Or read on despite despair guided by the rhyme of The Lorax.

And we too read on in our scripture, because this packed passage is in fact not done. We tracked one meaning but there’s more. Jesus prays for love,

Jesus says:

so that the love with which you have loved me

may be in them, and I in them.

In this one passage Jesus uses the word love five times. A poetic clue that this is important glue. Love and being one in God are connected.

So what about that? Have you ever walked into a room and announced you are one with God and that God loves you like God loves Jesus? What about walking into a room just knowing it? Tucked into your heart and showing in your posture, you actions, you are in God, and God is in you and Jesus prays that the Father might love you the way the Father loves Jesus. I guess, it’s a little easier to listen when there is no division, from love.  When our vision fills up with, with poetic prayer.

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And then, remember, this passage isn’t talking about the easy times.  These are the queasy times, when we have choices that are about more than our life and death. These are the times when it feels like Jesus has gone to glory, and we are surrounded by stands of dead burn sites and billboards.

And Jesus prays:

 The glory that you have given me

I have given them,

so that they may be one,

as we are one, 

In dangerous times, do you walk into the street, feeling all filled with up, complete with Paraclete? It’s no conceit. It’s Gospel.

As you, Father, are in me

and I am in you,

may they also be in us, 

so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

Gathering all these themes, a hard to hold passage, the guidance of quirky Dr Seuss, prayer in dangerous time. I add one more consideration. When our hearts fill with gloom. There seems like no room. Where our little action feels without traction. When we choose to do nothing because a little seems to small, that is the time to remember this passage. Jesus says we are one. Us and the Holy Spirit. One.

So let us get whimsical, lyrical, and a whole lot biblical. Let’s go into a dangerous time as poets.

Therefore I pray,

Creator, as we step into our dangerous times, when change is hard and scary and we want to stop and be all cautionary, help us to remember that disciples go about. This is not time to hideout.  Remind us we are never without Jesus’ prayer.

God be with us, God be in us. Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, wiggle and jiggle, and tickle our insides to shift us and shape us towards your love. Gather all our little actions, be one with you and your justice.