There is a great deal before us in the words of Jesus’ prayer before us now. While there are a number of directions one could go, this section seems to be building t the same point as the following one: the unity of those who follow Jesus. Indeed, it seems to me this unity finds it’s root and source in the sure sense that first and last, we belong to God. And now and then, if we are so blessed, we get a vivid sense of the vast multitude of who that includes and just what that means.
For instance, along with some of you, I spent the last week in Minneapolis at the Festival of Homiletics. If you have been to this event before, you know first hand what a blessing it is to simply sit and receive the gifts of some of the best preachers and teachers imaginable, not just once, but over and over again. I have to say, though, that it was also something of a wonder to do so alongside people who traveled there from such varied places. Preachers were there from all across the United States and Canada. And more than that, we came from different denominational homes. Indeed, I couldn’t tell by looking at our name tags whether you call your home a manse or a parsonage, whether your leaders call themselves a church council or a session, whether you will soon gather in a synod assembly or a general convention. It simply didn’t matter. If you were there, you know it was really something to sit in a sanctuary filled with thousands who would return home to the same sort of deep joys, profound struggles, and mundane tasks which mark my every week. Oh yes, it was a kind of wonder as together we experienced a kind of unity as we erupted in laughter at a turn of phrase which said it better than most of us could ever hope to, as we held our collective breath at something which hit home, and to rise as one to the rhythm of a local Gospel choir.
I have to say I found it a little disappointing, though, that I seemed to find so few opportunities for conversation beyond those I came already knowing. I really wanted to know who some of those gathered were. Oh, it doesn’t help to be innately introverted, of course, and it struck me that many of those gathered might claim the same trait — or maybe we just arrived in that place stretched thin and exhausted and unable to extend ourselves for one more minute. For even as I tried to connect with those I had not met before, it wasn’t so easy. I seemed to manage this only briefly — as I sat next to a stranger and waited for a workshop to begin —- or a while later standing in line to check out at the bookstore. It should not have been surprising, I suppose, that we would seem to cluster with those we already know — or in this day of constant connection and communication, in otherwise unoccupied moments, that we would pull ourselves off to a space apart with our nose in our smart phones tending to email, texts or Facebook posts.
Something happened, though as I was driving home. I got myself well east of the Twin Cities before stopping for lunch. I made my way inside and decided to make a trip to the restroom before placing my order. As I reached for the door handle, it swung open from the other side, and I found myself face to face with the woman I had shared peace with at worship just a few hours earlier. She drew her breath in sharply, smiled and then quickly moved past me. A few minutes later I sought her out in the dining room where I caught her in the middle of a bite into her hamburger. She seemed shy to be interrupted and so I only asked where she was going and then wished her safe travels home to Chicago. I retreated then to my own table and looked around the room and wondered about how many others there had just come from the same place I had just left. I wondered at how many would claim the unity Jesus prays for today as their own — a unity which ties us to each other because we all belong to Jesus. Indeed, as I read the Gospel for this week, the common thread seems to be that you and I come from the same place and we are blessed with the same destination and in this meantime — in this world where Jesus knows we need protection — and sometimes the greatest blessing we can have is each other.
I witnessed a reflection of this kind of unity again Saturday afternoon.
We had come from different places, seven of us, to visit my Aunt Viola. Viola is the oldest surviving sibling of what were once the nine children of Avery and Mabel. She has kept moving all of her 93 years — until Mother’s Day when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In hospice care now, her four children have arranged a schedule so one of them is always with her and the rest of us are doing what we can to get there when we can. Yesterday I drove my mother, her sister, up to see her. My cousin, Teresa, drove Aunt Carol there as well. So there we were — three sisters, three daughters, a son-in-law and a grandson — all caught up together in this odd and wonderful and interesting and oh so tender space in time between diagnosis and the inevitable future which is quickly bearing down. We spoke of mundane things like the wonderful cookies that were always available in the lounge and of beautiful things like the amazing array of birds which came to eat at the feeder just outside her window. An old photo album was pulled out and the three sisters leaned in, identifying those behind the black and white images there. Pretty soon though, Teresa, leaned in and asked, “So who have you seen? I understand you have been seeing people. Who have you seen?” And Viola replied, “Oh, everyone.” Indeed, my cousin, her son, had earlier shared that her dreams, her visions of loved ones gone before, have been so vivid, that she awoke worried that she wouldn’t have the type of coffee which one of them favored.
And so I think of yesterday afternoon and I know that we are all bound up together. In this case, of course, family ties us to one another. We may not see one another or speak to each other for months or years on end, and then we can find ourselves comfortably sitting together in a small room talking about cookies and ultimate things in consecutive breaths. We may not know the texture of each other’s days, but we know that we are part of each other and always will be. Tied to one another not only by Avery and Mabel but by the one who claims us as his Own. Both here and now and in the future Jesus is preparing for us.
And I think of this last week as I gathered with all those other preachers in Minneapolis, and I know, too, that we are all bound up with one another. We may not know each other’s names, or what home called to us as we went our separate ways on Friday. We may not have paused to hear what we had brought with us when we came or what we were taking with us as we left. Even so, we were, we are sustained by the same Word, fed by the same Bread and Wine, and lifted up in praise and lament, struggle and hope as we voice our heartfelt longings to the One who makes us One. Just knowing this, now I wonder if I’ll find myself every time I stop for lunch, with my eyes peeled for others who belong to Jesus. They are there, of course. All over the place. And yes, all of us, all the time do find ourselves in that oh so tender space in time between diagnosis and the inevitable future which is quickly bearing down. Oh, I do wonder how this certainty changes my encounters with all the world? Might I be even more likely next time to strike up conversation with a stranger — whether I sat before her in worship a few hours earlier or not — and wish her safe travel home? I hope so. I really do.
- When Jesus says, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine” he is laying claim to us. What does this mean to you? What difference does this make to you that these words are also spoken about others you encounter in your day? That this claim has also been made on countless ones you may never meet?
- How have you experienced ‘unity’ in these past days? In your experience, what binds us to one another?
- It strike me that this unity is especially resilient because it finds its root and its source in Jesus. What do you think?
- How does it change everything that all of us, all that time, find ourselves in that oh so tender time between “diagnosis and the inevitable future bearing down on us?” What difference might it make to live in that kind of awareness all the time?