Sermon Archives

Sunday, May 8, 2016
The Seventh Sunday After Easter (Year C)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
God's Dream

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last Saturday was President Obama’s last speech at the White House correspondents’ dinner. During the first part of his speech, he reflected on the course of his presidency and on his experience of winding down his time in office. He also joked about the changes that he will experience come November this year.

He said: “In just six short months, I will be officially a lame duck, which means Congress now will flat out reject my authority, and Republican leaders won’t take my phone calls. And this is going to take some getting used to. It’s a curve ball. I don’t know what to do with it. Of course, in fact, for four months now congressional Republicans have been saying there are things I cannot do in my final year. Unfortunately, this dinner was not one of them.”[1]

The Presidents’ remarks underscore that we live in a divided time. We are inundated with examples of political division and responsibility is certainly not reserved for one party alone.

But our world is also rife with divisions that extend beyond the political, such as divisions based on religion, economic status, race and gender to name a few.

Jesus’ idealistic prayer for unity and love stands in stark contrast to the disordered world that we live in.

Our Gospel passage brings us to the end of Jesus’ farewell discourse to the disciples, just before his betrayal and arrest. We have been working through Jesus’ farewell speech for a few weeks now. It began with instructions, and ends with a prayer. A prayer for unity and love.

The Gospel writer lived in a divided time – a time when Jewish Christians were going through a bitter breakup with the Jewish community they were part of. Jesus lived in a divided time – a time when various Jewish movements had their own action plans to survive despite Roman domination.

In fact, I can imagine that even the disciples, who were gathered around the table at Jesus’ last supper, probably did not feel like a cohesive group. They were frightened, insecure, scrappy and squabbling. Peter was anxious, Judas was plotting, and James and John were probably still jockeying for promotions.[2]

In the midst of this turbulent transition, Jesus summarizes the main takeaways for the disciples … and then he prays. 

Our reading today is not an instruction manual to create community; it is not Jesus’ strategic plan for those who will be charged with being his body in the world; it is not a motivational speech to rally the troops; nor is it even a sermon exhorting them to unity. It is his prayer.

What makes prayer different from those other forms of communication is that prayer intentionally seeks to encounter God. When we are able to enter God’s presence in prayer, we step into a vast and beautiful landscape. We are invited into a landscape so spacious that it can hold all that we are – all our hopes and dreams and our wounds. We can present it all to God who will receive our offerings with grace and hold them with her love. In prayer we encounter God’s depth and expansiveness.

Prayer doesn’t have to be cut down to size; it doesn’t have to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic or time-bound.

The world needs to be assured that there are spaces that are big enough to name dreams of unity, justice, peace and love. In prayer, we find space to give voice to big dreams that may not be achievable in the same way that smaller goals might be.

The challenge in being ‘effective’ or seeing ‘impact’ does not make these dreams any less important. In fact, if we settle for committing to things only because we can see results, we might be settling for smaller goals and abandoning the larger vision. The great work that God calls us to, are works in which we cannot possibly be ‘effective’. We cannot check them off our “to do” list.

God prays these big dreams for us, and plants the desire for them in our souls. In listening to God’s prayer for us and faithfully working towards these dreams; to love one another, to be reconciled, to be the beloved community, we allow God to craft who we are. And as it turns out, the sort of selves that God is shaping us to become is the finest contribution to the establishment of God’s kingdom in this world.[3]

Jesus’ prayer for our unity is rooted in the love that is shared between the Father and the Son. It is a prayer that finds its hope in the love of this relationship. Five times within these 6 verses, Jesus uses ‘love’ as the key word describing divine relationships. This is God’s working tool of choice. This is the plow that God uses to till the ground. God uses love to nourish us, to shape us and to drive us.

After graduating from my undergrad in Montreal, I lived for about two years in small towns in Quebec. I loved my time in these communities. However, it also raised a lot of questions on identity and belonging. The towns that I lived in were pretty racially and linguistically homogenous. As a visible minority and an Anglophone, sometimes people weren’t quite sure how to relate to me. I remember trying to describe my experience as a person of colour in these small towns to one of my closest friends there.

She could not believe that my experience would be any different than that of a white person. She had also grown up in a small town in Quebec. She said that in her class there was a black child and he was not treated any differently than any other kid. I asked her if she had ever asked him how he felt about his experience living in that community. She replied that she hadn’t, but she was convinced that he would agree with her. This conversation pretty much shut down this part of our relationship. We had brushed up against a wall in our friendship.

A few years later, a variety of life circumstances led her to adopt a child. The child that she adopted was from Africa. She and her daughter moved to the small town in Quebec where my friend had grown up.

Two summers ago, I went to visit them and we unpacked her experience of raising a black child. She described various instances of her daughter being treated differently than other children, not maliciously, but in ways that were frequent enough and concerning enough to wonder about her daughter’s sense of connectedness, belonging and identity. She described posts that she saw on Facebook from acquaintances that included negative comments on race that she had not really paid much attention to before.

Her awareness of her daughter’s experience shifted her own experience of the world. Her overwhelming love for her daughter plunged her deeply into the reality of another. 

Love is a powerful force of transformation. It can change the way we see the world; it tears down the walls that we erect to divide us from one another. It frees us from our prisons and breaks open our hearts in ways that we never could have imagined.

Love is God’s plan for the restoration of the world.

[1][1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/reliable-source/wp/2016/05/01/the-co...

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1637

[3] Palmer, Parker J. The active life: A spirituality of work, creativity, and caring. Jossey-Bass, 1999.