Sermon Seeds: Know God
Sunday, May 29, 2022
Seventh Sunday of Easter or Ascension Sunday | Year C
(Liturgical Color: White)
Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21
Psalm 47 or Psalm 93
From the Tomb (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
“That they may all be one.” (v. 21) The words are found anchoring the crest of the United Church of Christ and point to the fullness of this week’s gospel passage. It is situated within what is commonly known as the Priestly prayer that Jesus lifts in the garden. It certainly wasn’t unusual for Jesus to remove himself in order to commune with the rest of the Triune God. We don’t typically have access to the content of those prayers. In John’s account, this prayer time precedes his entry into the garden on the night of his betrayal. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. This prayer, while lifted to God, is contained within the Farewell Discourses. The prayer does not deviate from or pause that activity; it approaches it from a different perspective and transitions from the farewell (preparation) to the beginning of Jesus’ passion (departure).
It should not surprise us that Jesus marks that transition with prayer. In fact, we might even consider these words more in the form of commissioning than intercession as has traditionally been the case. The Priest is needed as an intercessor because the people are not equipped or sufficiently prepared to approach the Holy One. That does not describe the position that Jesus has placed his disciples. He’s spent all the time they have had together preparing them to assume the work and to continue the mission. As his closest companions, they have enjoyed full and intimate access to the divine. At the point of his death, the veil in the temple will be rendered in two. That place where only the priest may enter will be dissolved.
That imposed separation between the people and God no longer has its power. But that isn’t what Jesus prays about. Jesus expresses concern about potential walls that may emerge between his disciples–among themselves and with the world. His prayer is not for the to be reconciled with the Parent, but rather for them to enjoy unity for and among themselves.
This unity is special. In fact, it may most properly be described as glorious. Just as we often substitute a diminutive version of peace for God’s vision of shalom, our concept of unity can benefit from re-evaluation. In some ways, I think our view of unity is similar to that of peace. If peace is the absence of conflict, then unity is the avoidance of it. Yet, we can note instances, during the passion particularly, where Jesus and the Parent experienced some conflict. We have to turn to Luke’s account for his plea in the garden to be relieved of the terrible cup that awaited him. We have to read the accounts of Matthew or Mark to hear Jesus cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We also aren’t privy to the conversations that Jesus held among the Triune God when he retreated in the wilderness or any number of times when he went off in solitude.
It’s clear that Jesus did not avoid the conflict. He addressed it–with the source–squarely. He demonstrated that in his interactions with his disciples, his birth family, and religious rulers. Even in encounters with strangers like the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus responded in a forthright and transparent manner and remained true to his integrity. He prays his disciples will do the same:
Jesus does not ask the Father to provide the disciples with metaphorical biohazard protection suits, so that they may remain unaffected and untouched by the problems of the world. Instead, Jesus asks the Father to ready the disciples for mission and engagement so that they will be equipped to bear witness to Jesus despite the conflict that this will provoke. At the same time, even though the disciples will remain in the sphere of the world, living within the political and cultural context of a world system that does not acknowledge the sovereignty of God, their primary allegiance has shifted. Thus, Jesus’ prayer for the disciples is not intended to introduce an “absolute cleavage of communication” between the disciples and the world, but rather to strengthen them to live counter-cultural lives of mission.Kate Tyler
At the same time, unity does not mean uniformity. It connotes deep connection and mutual reliance. It’s helpful to consider this prayer for unity in light of the vine and branches imagery of John 15. In his teaching, Jesus declares the branches are connected to the vine. That is secure. In his prayer, Jesus prays for the branches to maintain and sustain their connection to one another. That is in his last expressed concern before his passion begins.
Church history would bear out that concern was warranted, and Christian unity remains elusive today. With the progression of the United Church of Christ alone, we can affirm our history as a united and uniting church, but much of that union has been marked more by dissonance than harmony. True and lasting ecumenism clearly exists only among denominations with shared history and theological leanings. Even those relationships are limited in scope and nature. We struggle to agree on issues of doctrine, praxis, and theology. Our beliefs about what it means to be Christian are so divergent that some Protestants still express surprise that Roman Catholics are also Christians. Some fundamentalists Christian sects discount anyone who does not hold their exact same views. The branches are separated, which means the body is broken.
This witness to the world distorts the vision of unity Jesus describes. This unity comes not from adherence to a set of rules or even beliefs. When Jesus called his disciples, he invited them to be in relationship with him, to be his companions on a journey, and to be immersed in his mission. Yes, he taught them but the fullness of his revelation comes at the end of their journey…after they have gotten to know him:
The prayer comes to its conclusion by Jesus extending it beyond the immediate group of disciples to include future believers. In this section it is clear that Jesus’ desire for unity is not an end in itself, but is a critical aspect of continuing his mission in the world.26 The union of “I in you” and “they also in us,” is “so that.”27 The union Jesus prays for has a purpose. Jesus can only be the true revealer of the Father because of his union with the Father and it is from this dynamic unity that he can make known the essence of God. Similarly, if disciples are to continue Jesus’ mission and reveal God, then they too can only do this from within the union of Jesus and his Father. Jesus’ desire that they all be one, in him, in the Father and among themselves is for the purpose of the mission. The revelation of God cannot occur from the outside, but only from within the Father-Son-disciples relationship. Being one in God is the only way to reveal God.Mary L. Coloe
As we consider what it means to be part of the body of Christ, it seems to me that we can be caught up in knowledge that is quantifiable. We attempt to teach about God rather than introduce people to a God who will take them on their own journey of discovery, calling, and relationship. Kate Tyler asks a significant question that frames the challenge this understanding of belonging can present:
[block quote] In a context where Christians are seen as socially compassionate volunteers at best, or as brainwashed and intolerant at worst, how might the church respond in a manner that continues to proclaim God’s gospel-faithfulness, and yet does not alienate those who do not identify as members of the Christian community? (Kate Tyler)
Tyler’s query illustrates the peril of faith communities that create students rather than apprentices. Jesus declared that the work of their followers would bring glory to God. Yet, the public witness of Christian communities often attempts to impose adherence to their particular beliefs despite the spectrum of beliefs held among the diversity of Christianity. The debate over abortion demonstrates the point. Rather than impose one’s views on abortion on those with different views, Christians who want to elimiate abortion could support and advocate for actions that have proven to reduce abortion, such as expansive sex education, wide accessibility to a variety of birth control options, and collective care including child care, parental leave, and programs offering economic stability. What if that was the public Christian witness rather than one that insists on birth but abandons those in need as soon as the baby emerges from the wound?
Francis of Assissi said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” That reflects the demonstrated ministry of Jesus, who even told stories when responding to questions of doctrine. The Protestant Bible has sixty-six books, and only one of them is filled with rules. Most of the Bible is story. These stories paint a picture of life with God, other human beings, and creation. They reflect the joys and cost of discipleship, the struggle of finding your place in the world, and the grace necessary, given and received, to carry you through it all.
Jesus knew that a path similar to his own awaited his close companions and friends. He understood the magnitude of the challenge they would face. He recognized how essential having companions for encouragement and support had been for him and would be for them.
God created us for relationship. In community, we find ourselves and we find God. God reveals themself by coming into the world as Jesus Christ but also through those who make God’s name known. We can only share who and what we know, so as Jesus prays, he emphasizes the unity of the Triune God as a model of knowing. This knowing does not come from memorizing verses of scripture devoid of contextual understanding. This knowing is not enhanced by rigid adherence to a set of rules without tethering that behavior to maintaining communion with the Holy One.
This knowing comes from embracing the identity of the branch. This knowing is built and sustained on connection that only increases, strengthens, and grows over time. This knowing has roots that run deep and is regenerative. This knowing blooms, produces a fragrant aroma, and colors the world in beauty. This knowing is awash in love so that we might even paraphrase the greatest commandment based on the prayer Jesus utters in this text.
Know God and know your neighbor as yourself. May they all be one. Amen.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“Unite My Brothers and Sister”
Here we are on distant shores
Searching for love ones lost
Knowing their pain and suffering
Was an ocean of love lost.
Cant you see the sun is shining
Bringing energies of love all
Come my people unite together
Wake up stand up be the love for all
The bells are ringing it is time
To answer the call of one
Get together my brothers and sisters
It’s time you must unite as one
Unite Unite it’s time it’s time
You must unite as one
Hold together brothers and sisters
It’s time to unite as one.
by Sonia Dixon
For further reflection:
What is the impact of knowing one another and God on unity with one another and with God?
“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” ― Gwendolyn Brooks
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one” ― John Lennon, Imagine
“We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that all colours and all cultures are distinct & individual. We are harmonious in the reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity. We don’t share blood, but we share the air that keeps us alive. I will not blind myself and say that my black brother is not different from me. I will not blind myself and say that my brown sister is not different from me. But my black brother is he as much as I am me. But my brown sister is she as much as I am me.” ― C. JoyBell C.
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Invite the congregation to consider their planned activities for the week. Ask them to identify how they will demonstrate their union with the mission of God through one specific scheduled event or errand. Alternatively, if there is a community event in which your faith community participates, you can frame the announcement of that event in terms of our witness to the purposes of God.
Coloe, Mary L. “John 17:1-26: The Missionary Prayer of Jesus.” Australian Biblical Review 66 (2018): 1–12.
Tyler, Kate. “In, Not of: The Theological Task and the Mission of the Church.” Missiology 46, no. 4 (2018): 320–32.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21
Psalm 47 or Psalm 93
16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
1 The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him,
and consumes his adversaries on every side.
4 His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
and all the peoples behold his glory.
7 All worshipers of images are put to shame,
those who make their boast in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before him.
8 Zion hears and is glad,
and the towns of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O God.
9 For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
10 The Lord loves those who hate evil;
he guards the lives of his faithful;
he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light dawns for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!
Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21
12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
16 “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 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. 24 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.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 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.”
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
1 Clap your hands, all you peoples;
shout to God with loud songs of joy.
2 For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,
a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5 God has gone up with a shout,
the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm.
8 God is king over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted.
1 The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
2 your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea,
majestic on high is the Lord!
5 Your decrees are very sure;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore.
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.