John 17: 20-26
A Liturgy is also available
YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT! WE ARE ALL CONNECTED
I remember the first prayer I was taught by my mother. A ‘going to bed’ prayer.
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul will take.
I prayed it every night - just in case!
Part of today’s gospel story is about a prayer.
A prayer which is a bit difficult to follow, I admit,
because it seems to ramble all over the place.
Indeed, according to John, Jesus prays a prayer that is something like
the next bit of the ‘going to bed’ prayer I was taught:
“God bless mummy and daddy.
Bless my brother except when he fights me.
Bless our cat because he’s not feeling well.
Bless my bike.
Bless Aunty Ann and Uncle Herb.
Don’t let grandpa forget my birthday present tomorrow...”
And I would fall asleep. All had been said and done.
While it’s hard to know what John’s Jesus is saying,
because John’s Jesus is always saying long and complicated stuff,
whether its prayer stuff or story stuff,
I still reckon Jesus’ prayer was something like my ‘going to bed’ prayer.
Or to put it is general theological terms…
There is a generosity based on a simple and inclusive understanding of faith.
We are all connected, and that we should know it and live by that truth.
Mum and dad. Aunt and uncle. Brother and cat. Bike and presents.
Stepping into our time now – the early years of the 21st century –
where is there a need to think and act generously and inclusively,
acknowledging all things connected?
Let me explore through suggestion only, three possible senarios.
• We - all living things - are connected by nature.
More and more we are learning how physically interconnected we are.
That in nature we form one ecology.
We belong to a complex chain of events.
Jesus would remind us of that fundamental one-ness.
• We are connected through our common humanity.
We are one in Creativity God.
That is enough.
It does not allow for prejudice, racism, or bias.
• We are connected through grace.
God lurks and lures behind everything in this world.
We live in a grace filled world if we would recognise it.
And when we do, we know that we are embraced by a common Spirit
that infuses all things.
We are one in nature, so we must reverence our world.
We are one in humanity, so we must respect one another.
We are one in grace, so we must acknowledge the Incognito God.
Over 55 years ago an American theologian called Bernard Meland
wrote some words which have always tickled my fancy.
And please excuse the gender specific language... they were written in 1953:
“Man is not fashioned in a mechanism, a world-machine; he is cradled and nurtured in a creative community of love which extends beyond the visible bonds of human relations” (Meland 1953:10).
Our life experiences certainly occur within individual lives.
But they are never simply an individual, subjective event,
but a happening within relationships
that take on public character with social consequences.
Our life experiences are always experiences we have, in community.
We are connected!
Former British prime minister Margaret (Maggie) Thatcher was dead wrong!
Years ago, when I was a wee strap of a theological student in Melbourne,
my visiting New Testament professor at the time, was
Eduard Schweizer of the University of Zurich.
Some time prior to that Schweizer had made an intensive analysis
of the patterns of community structure and life in New Testament times.
His conclusions were that the style of the early communities was elastic,
and varied considerably from place to place.
Communities or groups were linked, but loosely so.
They had a common movement founder in Jesus,
but there were not uniform rules or creeds for the way a congregation
should be governed, or what it should believe,
or how it should celebrate.
Alas, that all started to change in the 4th and 5th centuries.
Creeds were written which set limits to theological thinking,
thanks to the political designs of Emperors Constantine and Theodosius.
The contents of the Bible, especially the Christian scriptures,
began to be codified, with many gospels excluded.
Right thinking (orthodoxy) rather than right action (orthopraxis) took control.
All in the name of unity. And all the name of oneness.
Which is one of the reasons this John story is used during Christian Unity Week.
But I dare to be different.
I reckon John’s Jesus prayer is not about unity or sameness or church union.
Neither is it a Harry Potter-style magic where
you say certain words and specific things happen.
Nor is it Santa Claus–style… Be good and you get what you ask for.
Be bad and you don’t.
What I do reckon it is about, is re-imagining.
Re-imagining the world:
where sharing instead of hoarding is the norm,
where enough food even for a day is better than no food,
where harmony instead of dischord is healthy,
where peace instead of war is a reality.
The prayer prayed by John’s Jesus was an invitation
for John’s congregation to be inspired, to re-imagine.
And the signpost for us listening now?
Our lives and our world are porous to new and creative re-imagined possibilities.
So prayer ‘works’ not because of a so-called all powerful, supernatural being
who just happens to be listening. It ‘works’
“on our own hearts, calming us enough to hear our own wisdom, to reroute habits and habitual responses, to help us adjust to and find good in all that we can not change, and see the light in each person, no matter how difficult they are, in our lives” (C Robinson 2007. First Unitarian, Albuquerque).
Re-imagining the world! Re-imagining our relationships!
And now for a prayer story with a fang in the tail.
An immigrant from Russia was telling his children and grandchildren
about life in the Old Country and told a story about his father.
One winter's day, his father was away from home
with his horse and sleigh, when a terrible blizzard began.
Soon, the man could no longer see through the storm.
He was lost and afraid and cold.
The wolves howled.
It looked like he might not make it home.
He thought he might die.
The man slackened his hold on the reigns,
letting the horse find the way home. And he prayed.
The horse took off.
The wolves seemed very close.
On went the horse.
Eventually, the man realised that the looming shapes ahead
were his house and barn.
He leaped out of the sleigh,
led the horse in to barn,
ran to his own house,
and fell to his knees in thanksgiving to God for his deliverance.
As his descendents sighed a sigh of relief in the warmth
and comfort of their New World home,
the youngest child whispered to her cousin,
"He should have thanked the horse."
We are one in nature.
We are one in humanity.
We are one in grace.
This morning, let us remember and celebrate that.
Especially as and when we pray.
Meland, B. E. 1953. Faith and Culture. New York. Oxford University Press.