29 May 2022

29 May 2022

Text: John 17:20-26

Introduction

The theme for the National Reconciliation Week 2022 is, “Be Brave. Make Change.” It seeks to challenge all Australians — individuals, families, communities, organisations and government — to Be Brave and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation so we can Make Change for the benefit of all Australians.

This year’s theme builds on the 2021 theme which encouraged us all to greater action on reconciliation. This year Reconciliation Australia is asking everyone to make change beginning with brave actions in our daily lives – where we live, work, play and socialise.

BE BRAVE MAKE CHANGE.

What a wonderful theme. As I reflected on the theme, I thought we need this theme in MUC too. We need to be brave and make changes within MUC, if we want to continue to flourish into the future or have a future.

Let us pray…

The text I have chosen for us to reflect together this morning is John 17:20-26. In John 17, Jesus is praying for us! Jesus’ prayers radiate through the ages calling us to unity in a world of polarity. Perhaps, the author of John knew the threat of schism and division, of incivility, that is rampant today, religiously and politically. We are one in the Spirit, joining diversity with loving unity.

In John 17 Jesus is visualizing all who will come after his first followers and is praying that we be one with him, God, and one another.

Today’s readings describe our experience of God’s power and glory in terms of loving care.

I believe we can BE BRAVE in desperate times and respond to crises because God is with us, our deepest reality, inspiring and sustaining us, and calling us to align ourselves with the pathways of Shalom.

The gospel reading from today speaks of a divine unity. Jesus prays that his followers may be one as he and the father are one. Reflecting on Jesus’ prayer gives us space to examine what divine unity looks like, and what’s worth uniting around. This vision of unity is a powerful challenge.

In our shared world today, it’s easy to look around and spot disunity. It’s easy to point to the world, seemingly fracturing around us, and see only polarization, inequity, and asymmetry. One need only turn on the local or global news to be struck by a lack of unity, even among Christians. The damage of division is all too well known on individual and institutional levels.

Sad but true, schisms and separations have become a painful part of the story of the global Church. War and conflict have raged between groups of Christians. Where is the unity prayed for by Jesus? Have we as Christians simply failed to live out this unity imagined in Jesus’ prayer?

Throughout history, unity has been manufactured by power through coercion, propaganda, conspiracy theory and elimination of dissidence. We need to remember the unity that is born from God’s love is not about control but about liberation. God’s unity is not a top-down coercion, but emerges wherever it will. Divine unity is divinely other.

In other words, the unity that is born from God’s love and liberation is not human unity. It is transcendent. A divine unity rejects any and all coercive pictures of human oneness.

Unfortunately, throughout history, humans have leveraged tools like empire, invasion, and colonization to force a false unity upon others. The church has struggled with living out this divine unity for as long as the church has been around. Do you know how many denominations are there in the world? 45,000 globally.

Today’s readings from John offers us an important lesson on unity. God’s unity is not coercive. Unity is born of an invitation to love one another in a radical, sacrificial way.

Divine unity is not born of a focus on who belongs and who doesn’t. Christians are not one for the sake of being one but are united in the love of God. By creating a compelling invitation into a radically different and disruptive vision for humanity, the church lives out its ever-expanding call to love.

The gospel proclaims amazing grace, greater than our fears, that motivates us to join God’s cause of reconciling and healing the world. We are one in God’s grace, despite the incivility and polarization of our world. We need to claim and live out this unity, challenging divisiveness and seeking healing and reconciliation. The central concern is oneness, unity.

This oneness is multi-dimensional: oneness with God, oneness with others and oneness with creation. This unity is not any unity. It is not a manufactured peace or collaboration. It is rooted in, what Bishop Tom Wright and Archbishop Rowan Williams call the ‘event of Jesus.’ That life opened a window on God’s being. This oneness which John speaks of is a deep longing for togetherness.

I believe the church is a place of disruptive love. And from this radically different orientation towards the world, each other, and ourselves, divine unity emerges. Christian spirituality is, in its essence, surprising and countercultural.

It is also mystical in nature, opening us to deeper experiences of the Holy, from which we receive our life mission.

Christian spirituality challenges our self-imposed limitations, and seek to BE BRAVE and transcends any orthodoxy or behavioural expectation in its quest to be faithful to the “sacrament of the present moment.” (Pierre de Caussade)

The moment in which God comes to us in our world, giving us a larger perspective, inspiring hope, and energizing action.

Authentic faith breaks down barriers, goes beyond polarization, willing to take risk and be vulnerable and expands the circle of concern to embrace those who are different from us and as well as friends. 

I believe that way forward is to claim the “grace of interdependence” and recognizing that we are, even as agents with freedom to choose and change the world, utterly dependent on God and one another than just ourselves.

The “grace of interdependence” emerges from “leaning on the everlasting arms” and discovering that God’s mercies are new every morning. Remember God has an expansive and inclusive vision of unity, and our lives are part of an expansive and inclusive story. 

We can live affirmatively trusting God to supply our deepest needs and provide resources for confronting our disunity and the call to be ambassadors of reconciliation.

God is always reaching out to us, and we find wholeness is receiving God’s grace, letting it flow in and through us, and becoming instruments of the grace we have received.

The ultimate purpose of Jesus’ prayer in this passage is the effectiveness of the believers’ corporate witness to the world! Unity is not an optional extra. It is the essence of what it means to be Christian.

The oneness Jesus asks for here among those who believe in him is not an exclusive club, but an invitation to the world – an invitation for us to be always open, loving, inclusive and reconciling. Jesus’ prayer doesn’t stop with those seated at the table.

“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.”

Reconciliation Australia is inviting us to BE BRAVE MAKE CHANGE. Reconciliation Australia is inviting us to be one with the Frist Peoples in Australia in the journey of reconciliation. Reconciliation Australia is inviting us to walk with them as brothers and sisters and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation so we can 

Make Change for the benefit of all Australians. And if we want to do that we need to BE BRAVE and MAKE CHANGE.

Surely that deep longing for unity that we hear in the prayer of Jesus resonates today as we are surrounded by so much division. We all know families in which members treat one another with contempt or refuse to speak. We hear chanting “Go back to where you come from,” breathing threats to immigrants of colour. We see politicians stoking suspicion of transgender children and their families to score political points.

Far too often the powerful encourage division to secure or bolster their own might and play the game of divide and conquer.

BE BRAVE MAKE CHANGE.

How serious are we in our desire to journey with our First Peoples on the road of reconciliation? How many of us really share Jesus’ fervent desire to break down the walls that separate us?

Today’s Gospel reading challenges us to make this prayer our own— “that they all may be one” (17:21). If we who are disciples of Jesus can embrace the spirit of this prayer and open our hearts to be at one with those who are different or difficult, we can give witness to the life of the risen One within us, so “that the world might believe” (17:21) and the dream of unity can take root among people everywhere.

To do that we need to BE BRAVE MAKE CHANGE.

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