Sunday 16th of May 2021
7th Sunday of Easter
Rev Dr John McCulloch
1 John 5: 9-13
St John 17: 6-19
Let us pray
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you, o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
In our lectionary epistle reading from 1 John 5, we read these words in verses 11 & 12:
And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son of life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
We are living in a world where the forces of death and hatred are out to dehumanise, kill and destroy. For all of us living here in Israel Palestine, we have been shocked at the levels of violence. We have seen how communities are tearing themselves apart, through a spiral of communal and internecine hatred not witnessed in this way for many years.
The words we have just read from 1 John 5 come as a comfort to us at this time. They bring us hope, for they remind us that we worship a God who is love, and the possibility of love, in such a world as ours.
God has placed eternity in our hearts, the hope that in the end the forces of death and destruction will not have the final word. We read that ‘whoever has the Son has life’. But this is not a just a promise for a distant future, but a reality to be boldly embodied and brought into being now.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who stood up to the Nazi regime in 1930s Germany and ended up dying in a concentration camp because of his stance, said that the testimony of God; that is, the way in which God is revealed to our world, is in weakness. And yet it is this weakness that shames the strong. It is through weakness of the cross, where the victory of outpoured love reaches out to embrace the enemy as friend, showing us that a different world is possible.
God’s incarnation into the frailty of human flesh. His death at the hands of those who crucified him on a Roman cross, and his rising up from the grave which we are reminded of during this season of Eastertide; remind us that the way of love is the way of the cross. Jesus came and laid down his life, reaching out across the divisions and hatreds of the day, loving his enemies, blessing those who cursed him, forgiving those who crucified him.
He came to show us a new way of being in the world.
Theologian James Jennings writes these words about the passage we have just read:
The Son who drank our dirty water, walked our dusty roads, and slept where we sleep, needed the testimony of God. The Son, whose witness was challenged, contradicted, and judged, depended on God’s confirming testimony. Jesus lived our human weakness, and from within the realities of our weakness he prayed, believed, and sought the vindication of the God for his life.
How we need that today, with all that we have witnessed this week.
Some days ago I was on the phone with Bishop Alexius in the Gaza Strip. He has been serving there for many years, and back in the 2014 Gaza War when the city was under heavy bombardment, he opened his church doors to 2000 Muslim women and children, knowing that they would be safe in the church compound and not bombed. What a witness of Gods love!
When I spoke with him a few days ago, and asked how he and his community were doing, he said ‘we have the hope of the resurrection. We are here in Gaza, living with the hope of Jesus Christ’.
A day later I was on the phone to a a Jewish friend. On a Friday evening, I frequently attend the synagogue with her and her husband and children, and we enjoy Shabbat dinner together. I spoke with her and she was in tears over what is happening here, at how communities are tearing themselves apart. She and her husband have tried to build bridges, send their children to a mixed Jewish and Palestinian school so that they can understand that Jews and Palestinians are brothers and sisters. She told me o f her despair of bringing up children in a context of suspicion, hatred and endless conflict.
I reminded her that her family were such a beacon of hope in this place, embodying the love and compassion that reaches out beyond the hatred and division.
We are to live in this world as a witness to hope. A witness to love and compassion that reach beyond the walls and divides, for the love of God breaks down all barriers.
In our gospel reading from John 17: 6-19, we read in verse 6 these words:
‘I have made your name known’.
This week we have witnessed unprecedented violence between communities here.
Done in the name of hate.
In the name of violence
In the name of racism
In the name of scapegoating.
In the name of fear.
Communities all around us have become enslaved to the cycles of violence and hatred.
Our world needs God’s message of love and forgiveness like never before.
We, Christ’s church, his body here on earth, are entrusted to make his name known.
And in verse 11 we read ‘protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one’.
The reign of God’s kingdom yearns for us to be one, for we are all made on the image of God.
And a little further on in verses 15-18 we read:
‘I am not asking them to take you out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world’.
Theologian Thomas H Troeger says about this passage:
‘Christ reminds the church that the pattern of his own life was not to escape from the world but engagement with the world, with all of its distorted powers and pressures […] Christ’s presence will allow us to live vitally and faithfully in the world, not owned by it, but fully engaged with its needs and wounds and energised by the truth of God’s word, by the truth who was sent into the world that we all might have a more abundant life here and now’.
May God grant us the grace and the power, to live in this world but not of it. Ushering in the kingdom of God, where love overcomes all fear, reaching out beyond the walls of hatred and division, to embrace the Other as our brother send sister, made in the image of God.