Sharing the Divine Life (May 13, 2018)
Today, in the first reading from Acts, we heard the minutes of the very first church meeting in history. Peter gives a report about what’s been happening. Then they get at the business of this meeting … to select a 12th disciple to replace Judas. They cast lots … which means they threw the dice or flipped a coin to make the choice. So9unds to me like an easier way to choose a priest … or elect a bishop.
All of that got me thinking about the Synod Anne, Gwen and I attended a few weeks ago. I emailed our reports to you this week, and I know you’ve all read them thoroughly, marked them, learned them and inwardly digested them.
As I reflected about the Synod meeting, I suddenly had a thought—“it was a good weekend.” Now, that’s a weird thought for me to have. I hardly ever think about a weekend–long meeting as “a good weekend”. Often, the business of such long church meetings is frustrating, tedious, mind–numbing and bum–numbing.
But it really was a good weekend. It was good to be with our Diocesan family. There was a good spirit throughout the meeting. Worship was good. The music was good. It was a good weekend.
I came out of that meeting hopeful. We are about to enter a new time in the life of our Diocese, and Archbishop John has left a good and strong legacy from his ministry among us. I believe he has strengthened the Diocese, encouraging and challenging us all to be active in our ministry as God’s people in the different places in this Diocese.
The final example of John’s legacy is the new priority which our Diocese set at the Synod meeting. We are going to spend the next 4–5 years engaging in a process of honest self–assessment and discernment. What are the gifts God has given to us as a church? Where are our strengths? Where are our weaknesses? What can we build on? What do we need to build up?
Now a cynical person might see that as the church engaging in another example of navel–gazing. But I don’t think so. The purpose of this process is to nurture faithful communities. And the purpose of faithful communities is to be fully engaged in the life and ministry of God in the world.
We’ve been doing some of that work here at Christ Church in the last few years. We’ve developed a Mission Statement which guides all that we do. I know you memorized it—after all, I asked you to do so, right?
“Christ Church Anglican, a progressive, inclusive and vibrant community, follows Jesus compassionately and faithfully. All are welcome!”
This says something about who we are and who we long to be. We are progressive—we are rooted in the past and always looking to the new future which God gives us, finding new ways to express and live out our faith. We are inclusive—we try to be a large tent which embraces all who wish to be part of us. We are vibrant—like a violin’s string, we pulsate with the music of God’s love, and our joy is palpable in our worship, our fellowship, our gathering together and our ministry in the world.
As a Vision Statement, it charges us to keep checking to see that we follow what we discern to be God’s call to us. In a previous church, I remember someone yelling at me in frustration and anger, “You’re always looking for new ways to do things. If it ain’t broke, preacher, don’t fix it.” And for once, I had the right answer at the right time. I said to him quietly, “Theologically, at some level everything we do is broken.”
We need to keep checking up on ourselves. We need to keep engaging in a process of self–examination. We always have to be asking if we’re being as faithful as we can be. We always have to look for something more.
It strikes me that this is what Jesus is praying for in today’s gospel reading. These are Jesus’ last words in the Gospel of John. Let’s stop there a moment.
The very last thing Jesus does is pray for us. This is the incredible love with which we are held. Jesus prays for us. His last thoughts are not for himself, but for us.
And what Jesus prays for us is that God might protect us.
And why should God protect us? So that we may be one with God and with each other, as Jesus was one with God.
To be one is only partly about unity. More importantly, what John means with this phrase is that we might share the divine life. It has to do with wholeness and integrity and deep fellowship. Being one with God means to love others with the same self–abandoning passion which God has for us. Being one with God means to set God’s gospel values as our first and highest priority. We share the divine life.
When we share the divine life, when we understand that God is within us and we are within God. We know that Jesus is in us — and that’s the protection for which Jesus prays. God’s life is within us. God is at work within us.
That means we can take risks—the same kind of risks which Jesus took in the name of love. We don’t try to stay safe at all costs. We don’t look for the easy way. We don’t take care of ourselves first. We don’t try to avoid the risky and costly business of bearing our cross.
When we share the divine life, then we can live and work in the world as God’s faithful people, because we know beyond a doubt that God’s loving and guarding presence surrounds us and is within us. When we share the divine life, then we can dare to live in ways that are different from the culture around us, because we know that God’s love holds us. When we share the divine life, we can dare to engage this broken world with the good news of God’s healing grace.
When we share the divine life, it means that we will also share the life of the world. We can get deeply involved and immersed in the mess of this world in the same way Jesus did. We can step out boldly in our God–sized mission and know that we are not alone. We will go into the world, living out God’s gospel purposes, with a full and deep trust in God’s abundant provision for us.
That applies to so many things. It applies to how we use our time and energy. We can get involved in the lives of others. God renews us day by day.
It applies to how we use our money and resources. We can be generous people. We know that all that we have belongs to God, and we are called to render to God what belongs to God. We can live out of the certainty that God’s abundance continues to fill our lives, and we need not worry.
It applies to how we view the world in which we live. The whole world belongs to God, not to us. Our lives belong to God, not to us. Our families belong to God, not to us. Our very being belongs to God, not to us.
And if that’s true, if we really dare to believe that, then we will become the courageous and hopeful people we long to be. We will be the vibrant, inclusive and progressive community we long to be.
Sharing the divine life is a challenge. There’s no easy way to do this. I have looked for easy ways all my life. Believe me, I have tried. But I can’t find it. If we want to be followers of Jesus, we need to walk in the way of the cross. We need to learn to get out of the way of God as God works through us.
Other things will take care of themselves. “Follow me.” That’s the invitation. And now, as he prepares to die, Jesus asks God, “Protect them. Keep them safe. So they may be one as we are one. So they may share the divine life a we share the divine life.”
Now what I’ve just said probably sounds so very strange to most of us. Why would we give? Why would we give ourselves in this way? Why would we put ourselves and our families second?
There’s only one reason. We have experienced God’s love, and we want to be God’s people. That’s it. There’s no easy way to do that. We do our bit in such a way that God can do his bit through us.
And that, dear friends, that is the way of abundant life. It is the way of grace and compassion. It is the way of wholeness.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
May 13, 2018 (7th Sunday of Easter)
John 17: 9–13
Acts 1: 15–17, 21–26
1 John 5: 9–13