Sharing Our Faith Together

Worship for 16 May 2021

by Judith Neal 16 May 2021

Welcome to our worship this morning. We begin with the song, ‘All heaven declares the glory of the risen Lord.’

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We turn to the Lord in prayer using John 1:5-10 as our confession
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

You have given us a world of beauty, and we have spoilt it.
A world to feed us, and so many go hungry.
A world of riches, and we are unwilling to share.
A world to care for, and we think only of ourselves.
Forgive us, gracious God, for those times your heart is saddened by our selfishness.
For those times we have no thought for others, no cares but ours.
Enable us to see this world anew as a gift from you, to be shared and nurtured,
and those who live upon it to be loved and cared for.
We ask this that your name may be glorified, through the beauty of this world,
and the service of our lives.

Absolution. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Therefore to all who truly repent this is his gracious word. Your sins are forgiven. Amen

Lord, you have blessed us with such love and goodness. We wonder at the beauty of your creation, we thank you for the sustenance of food and drink and we cherish the love of family and friends.
Lord, we offer these gifts to you with thankful hearts and in joyous praise. As we give of our money and resources, we surrender our whole beings to you in worship and adoration.
Lord, may this offering extend the work of your kingdom in your church, your community and into the beautiful world which you have made. Amen

Reading: Psalm 1

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Prayers for Others
As you offer your own prayers, you may like to include some or all of the following subjects before concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.
1) Our Government as restrictions are gradually relaxed.

2) Local Government as the newly elected Councillors, Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners take up their roles.

3) Our own fellowship as people consider returning to worship at church.

4) The Church Council and others, as they consider re-opening to groups etc.

Reading: John 17:6-19

I have to admit to finding it difficult to find a starting point for this talk. We are part of the way through Jesus’ final farewell. John 17:6-19 is part of the larger unit of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples that starts in John 13 with the foot washing scene and concludes with Jesus’ prayer here in John 17. It feels a bit as though we’re meant to be experiencing a wonderful sandwich with bits of it missing. Last week we heard about Jesus preparing to lay down his life and calling us friends rather than servants. This week we hear about Jesus praying for protection from the world.

So, let’s start there. We live in a dangerous world. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. We read about the dangers of this world every day. We see the pictures on the internet and the daily news. Some of you may have experienced first-hand the dangers of life. If we read the gospel of John carefully we find that he holds a very dim view of the world.

The human instinct to danger is fight or flight. Neither one, however, really changes the situation. One adds to violence and increases the danger. Someone will get hurt, life will be lost.  The other creates and opens a space and a place for the danger to exist. Again, someone will get hurt, life will be lost. The events and circumstances that we perceive as dangerous are real but they really just point to deeper issues. They are symptoms of what is going on within the human heart. They reveal the wounds and brokenness that often stand in opposition to the life, love, and ways of God. This opposition is what St. John means by “the world.”

John is not talking about the created order, nature. That was created good and remains so. The world refers to the many different operating systems that we use, and have come to accept as normal, to order human life: our social, cultural, political, and economic structures. Far too often those systems both arise from and create fear, anger, division, injustice, and greed. That is the world into which Jesus sent his disciples and it remains the world in which we live and practice our faith.

Jesus knows that the human ordering of life is often contrary and even opposed to God’s ordering of life. That concern is the subject of his prayer in today’s gospel. It is the evening of the last supper. Feet have been washed. Supper is ended. The betrayer has left and it is night. The darkness has descended: the darkness of Jesus’ impending death, the darkness of not knowing the way, and the darkness of the world.

Jesus neither runs from nor fights the danger of the world. He offers a different way. He loves and prays. He lays down his life in love. He prays for us, the ones who will continue his life and work in the world. We live in the world but we do not belong to it. We belong to Jesus and the Father.

The real issue is not about what’s out there in the world but about what’s in here, in our hearts. What is our hearts’ orientation? How do we benefit from, participate in, and foster the systems of the world that oppose God’s life? Are we willing to change? Do we operate out of our wounds and brokenness: resentments, the need to win, looking out for number one, living with an attitude or scarcity, prejudice, fear, self-condemnation or hatred? To the degree we do, we deny God our life and contribute to the darkness of the world. That is not God’s desire or hope for our lives or the world.

We are creatures created by God and placed in his world and we must note that Jesus doesn’t ask for his followers to be taken out of the world but asks for their protection. We have to be in the world but we are called to be other to the world.

Jesus’ words underline a huge problem:  Jesus is no longer in the world, but we are.  We wish Jesus' body were still on this earth--but then this very wish gets transformed into our vocation, our commissioning.  Jesus' body is no longer here, but Jesus' body is very much here.  We are the body of Christ.  Teresa of Avila said "Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world, yours are the feet with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now."

That’s a tall order and frankly I would ask Jesus what he thought he was doing leaving things up to us because, let’s face it we’re a bit rubbish at doing what he asked. We’re just ordinary people in a world that is sometimes confusing and difficult.

So we will be "of" the world, sadly but hopefully, until we are no longer "in" the world.  So what do we do in the meantime?  Jesus prayed one more intriguing phrase:  "Sanctify them in truth."  Truth is elusive in our day, and then sanctification!  Sanctification is one of those religious sounding words that people in the church use, but may not understand what it means. In its most basic sense, to sanctify something is to set it apart for God's special use and purpose. Therefore, God's people are sometimes said to be sanctified because they are set apart for God's special purposes in the world

Holiness can feel smug, stuffy, or like some rigid fossil from our religious past.  Lots of Christians do believe that faith should impinge on the real world and change us--but we focus almost exclusively on missions.  We'll give a cup of water to the thirsty, we'll serve food at the shelter, we'll send teams to Haiti, we'll contribute to a fund for homeless children--all very good, except atheists do similar things; and maybe Jesus was praying for the disciples to be holy, not do-gooders, but holy in their souls, in the privacy of their minds, in their habits.

However, we do find ourselves falling into a trap if we’re not careful. We do a lot of ‘doing’. We see a problem and rush to solve it without actually understanding what the problem is. We don’t properly listen, learn and understand because we, in our arrogance and ignorance, have all the answers to solve all the problems. Problem solving is a displacement activity that stops us from being ‘with’. I am reading a book by Samuel Wells who is an Anglican priest and theologian and the premise of the book is this. We should stop doing and start being. I haven’t got to the end of the book yet as it’s extremely long and technical but I think that he is right. We ask why people don’t come to church when I think we should be asking why we aren’t being with people, properly learning, listening and understanding people. Just think how difficult it is to be with someone who we don’t understand at all and even worse, who we actively dislike. It’s difficult and it’s draining, time consuming and worst of all we can’t get to the end of a year and look back and say, oh that project worked well aren’t we achieving things? Being ‘with’ is not quantifiable but it’s a realistic call for us as Christians.  I digress; let’s get back to the passage from John for this week.

Jesus was talking to his disciples at the very beginning of their journey with him. They were about to encounter disaster and chaos. They were about to completely misunderstand what Jesus was all about and how his talk of a new kingdom would come about. And so, Jesus asks for their protection.

Protection, also a tricky thing but let’s have a look at that too. Jesus didn't ask God to protect us from evil or to protect us from bad things happening.  We're not so good at identifying what's bad and what isn't bad anyhow, but I think it's important to think about this issue of God and whether we're protected from bad things happening, or even whether God causes bad things to happen.

Understandably, we want everything to go smoothly for us and others, and we associate God with all that is good.  But God is the Lord of everything, and in the shadows of that very dark room where Jesus prayed by flickering candlelight for his disciples, we realize he was about to suffer, and the ones he prayed for would suffer too, as all of us face difficulties, some are manageable, some are overwhelming.  But Jesus did not promise or even pray for a bubble of safety to envelop us.

The theologian Karl Bath says, ”Creation has not only a positive but also a negative side. In creation there is not only a Yes but also a No; not only a height but also an abyss; not only clarity but also obscurity; not only growth but also decay; not only beauty but also ashes; not only beginning but also end.  In the existence of man there are hours, days and years both bright and dark, success and failure, laughter and tears, youth and age, gain and loss, birth and sooner or later, death.”

I think that we are not very good at being holy, but we can love, and wherever we find ourselves as individuals, and as the Church, the body, we can say, "In this place, Christ is loved, and you are loved."  We can say to people that we rather feebly reach out to your wounds, and we get it, for we are wounded ourselves, and we touch, and we pray, although our prayers may avail little, we know that Jesus prayed so the disciples could see him pray, and he still prays for us now, right now, in heaven, and that is the truth that sanctifies, that is our vocation in the world we are in, and of, but maybe not so much of as we might be. Amen.

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Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour everyone; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with us always.