A couple of weeks ago I walked into a conversation I wasnâ€™t supposed to hear. Everyone immediately stopped talking. Some were embarrassed. One tried to change the subject. A few gazed up to heaven â€” not unlike the disciples on the mountain of Christâ€™s ascension. One managed to stammer out â€śhello.â€ť In my youth, which I realized ended sometime last summer, I too would have been embarrassed by the situation I inadvertently put these good people into, but now in middle age, Iâ€™ve drop all pretense of passivity. â€śYou knowâ€ť I said, â€śanything youâ€™re saying to each other, you can also say to me.â€ť
Today through the Gospel, we have walked into a similar situation: Weâ€™ve stumbled into a conversation that Jesus is having with the one he calls â€śFather;â€ť a conversation about us. As usual in the Gospel, Jesus invites us to enter that conversation; to say to each other everything he is saying about us to God. â€śI ask, Fatherâ€ť Jesus whispers, â€śthat they may all be one so that the world may believe that you have sent me.â€ť And then turning to us eavesdroppers he says, â€śTalk among yourselves.â€ť
So howâ€™s that going for you?
Itâ€™s not an idle question, especially for folks like us who are anxious to share our faith and excited about inviting others to join us in this community. Not an idle question, but my reverent best guess is that our response to that question; our response to Jesusâ€™ invitation to talk among ourselves â€śso that the world may believeâ€ť is pretty much the same as the one I experienced two weeks ago. Some of us are embarrassed. Some of us want to change the subject and some us think gazing up to heaven is not a bad idea. And, while all of those responses are understandable and any of those responses are okay, the risen and ascended Lord is also not particularly passive; Christ continues to be persistent in his praying for us and for our oneness â€śso that the world may believe.â€ť Jesus, it turns out, will not walk away from us but is committed to staying and conversing with us â€” and praying for us â€” so that we actually have it.
How are we going to have that conversation today? As a favorite Lenten hymn puts it,
â€śWhat language shall we borrow? â€” Especially since so many of the words we once used have become tainted and been given diametrically opposite meanings from what we originally intended?
As many of you know, my wife loves John Wayne movies and, in one of her favorites, an old and obviously side-lined Sioux chief excitedly greets the Duke with these words, â€śHo, Nathan, I am a Christian! Hallelujah!â€ť Have you started a conversation by identifying yourself even remotely like that lately? I think not. Even if itâ€™s only in our New York â€“tainted imaginations, weâ€™re mostly convinced that if we say weâ€™re â€śChristian,â€ť someoneâ€™s going to translate that into â€śChristian Right,â€ť which means we are anti-everyone! So, precisely because we take seriously Jesus intent â€śthat the world may believe,â€ť weâ€™re embarrassed to make that baptismally-sealed self-identification.
Or take the word â€śLutheran.â€ť Weâ€™ve got the President of Lutheran World Relief with us here this morning and, if we let him, he could tell you about what Lutherans really do that is
positive in the world, especially in emergencies anywhere and consistently in the developing world:
â€˘ Serving nearly 8 million people in 35 countries through 189 projects in 2012.
â€˘ Winning the battle to eradicate malaria;
â€˘ Improving the quality of and access to clean, fresh water;
â€˘ Reducing climate related disasters;
â€˘ Addressing issues of global warming; and
â€˘ Educating and organizing marginalized people to effectively engage with civil governments.
He can tell you that and make you proud about what us people of faith do, but weâ€™ll probably hedge a bit when making that confession self-identification because the word â€śLutheranâ€ť has been tainted, most recently and most publicly by the President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synodâ€™s public rebuke of one of their pastors for taking part in an inter-faith service in the aftermath of the slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut. In order to get to Jesusâ€™ purpose â€śthat the world may believe,â€ť most of us begin our confessional self-identification with
the words, â€śWell, not those Lutherans,â€ť which does its own kind of damage to Jesusâ€™ prayer â€śthat they be one.â€ť
You get the point, which is why weâ€™re struggling here to square who and whose and what and why we are at Saint Peterâ€™s with the very words we have used to describe ourselves but have meaning that our now tainted. Weâ€™re having that mission conversation, as is our synod, as is the whole ELCA because Jesus and the one he calls â€śFatherâ€ť are having that same conversation and are constantly inviting us to join them in it â€śso that the world may believeâ€ť that God has sent Christ to save, heal, renew, welcome and embrace them and not, at least according to Jesus, â€śto condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through him.â€ť
â€śThat we may be one so that the world may believe.â€ť Identity. Ministry. Unity. Mission. Howâ€™re we going to do that? Where is the matrix, what are the benchmarks, what is the program to get the best results? One might expect that somewhere in this chapter, Jesus would give us some direction.
Well, it turns out that he does exactly thatâ€¦..by continuing the conversation with the one he calls â€śFatherâ€ť and by continually and consistently inviting us into it. â€śI ask, Father that they may all be one so that the world may believe that you have sent me.â€ť Talk among yourselves. Join in, keep up and continue the conversation, sure and certain that the one Jesus calls Father and Jesus himself are talking about and listening to us.
Oh yes, thereâ€™s one more thing. This conversation has a context. You know Jesus, heâ€™s always got a context, and itâ€™s perpetually the same: A meal, the Passover meal; the last supper, to be precise; this meal, to be contemporary; the Lambâ€™s high feast that is already and yet to come.
Some may get embarrassed. Some may long to change the subject. Some may still gaze up to heaven. After all, thereâ€™s apostolic precedence for that one!. But Jesus prefers us to join the conversation between him and the one he calls Father. With him and the Father and all of us. Join the conversation and of course, eat.
That, in the final analysis, is where identity and ministry, unity and ministry can always be found. Not just in heaven, but here where God dwells among us.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia.