God reveals god’s own self to us in myriad ways - in creation, in Scripture and Sacrament, and in the Spirit revealed in and through others and to us. And the gospel of John reminds us that Jesus prayed for us before he left, that all the events and moments, joy and struggle of our lives is covered in prayer. Therefore we are never truly alone. (RCL Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-21; and John 17:20-26)
God reveals god's own self to us in myriad ways - in the beauty of squalls of rain and rainbows, in the smell of burning leaves in autumn and the new growth of spring, in the sound of loved ones on the telephone and in the sounds of beautiful church music and live bands down the local tavern, in the words of our favourite psalms and our grandchildren reading their homework, in the rapturous greeting of our faithful animal friends and random meetings with strangers that bring news of difference and encouragement – in all the myriad ways life and love announces itself to us in places, events and in people.
In our creed we declare this in a more systematic way. The creed reminds us that God is revealed as creator, redeemer and as spirit and in the life of the church. In two weeks time we will explore God’s revelation as creator, redeemer and spirit on Trinity Sunday more fully. But given our readings this week it is timely for us to reflect on how God reveals god’s own self in the church and through us to others. The gospel reading we have from John’s gospel is known as part of the farewell discourse – that is the last words of Jesus to his disciples. The portion we hear today is a prayer that Jesus utters for his disciples in the flesh and all those, including us, that would come afterward.
Just pause for a moment and realise that every thing about our lives, from the time we were conceived to our first breath on our own, to our last breath, is all covered by Jesus’ prayer for us! All the happy moments, all the hard times, all the boring bits, all the despair, joy, pride, shame, hope and hopelessness – all covered by prayer. Nothing in our life is beyond the awareness and loving attention of Jesus and therefore nothing is outside the reconciling healing love of God. This means that our prayers are only ever an Amen to the prayer of Jesus that has already been prayed for us. It is still very important that we pray – not because God is unaware of what we need but because prayer is good for us – it opens the heart and the mind and makes room for the spirit of God to dwell within us.
In holy Scripture and the Sacraments our experience of church, of being part of the Body of Christ, reveals that God is all about relationship and communion – of the intimate relationship of Father and Son and Spirit into which we are invited. Relationship is always with one another as well as God. Sometimes we might wish that we could just commune with God on our own and that others are a distraction. For some of us it is the absence of others with which to share our faith that makes our journey lonelier and harder.
The prayer of Jesus reminds us that we are always being called into communion with God as individuals and as community. That we need to spend time as individuals in prayer and study, in reflection and that personal walk. And that in responding to the invitation of God we enter into a world wide forever community. Such a belonging crosses normal social and physical barriers. Such a belonging connects us and stretches us. Such a belonging calls us into a unity that is a foretaste of the new creation and demanding and elusive.
From the very beginning the apostles of the new church saw things differently to one another and yet always there was a point of connection. Many of us are painfully aware of how divided we the faithful are and even within denominations and particular communities we have deeply felt differences. How do we honor one another while protecting the vulnerable and ourselves from being overwhelmed by the loudest voices rather than the most loving ideals?
For in the story of the daring and dangerous exploits of Paul and Silas we realise that we are revealers of God to others, bringers of hope. Now most of us do not aspire to be quite as daring as Paul but our actions and what we choose not to do are revelations of God - as individuals and as the church. Which is a wonderful opportunity and a terrible responsibility. And quite frankly as church we haven’t always done very well.
Church history is in some ways the terrible story of what we have done to one another within the church and that the church has done to others in the name of God. And many of us cringe as we hear the modern church named as perpetrator in the unfolding horror story of abuse and neglect. But church also has at different times of history been at the forefront of welfare reform and peace making and certainly individuals of faith have been renown for their generosity and courage and preparedness to imagine and make real a new world. The revelation of John reminds us that just as we are called to drink deeply from the river of life so we are called to invite others to partake.
I think there is a lot to celebrate. We as individuals of faith and as gathered peoples of faith are able to offer hospitality and encouragement to our local community and peoples far away. We do this through prayer, through donation of funds and other resources and through our own involvement. For many of us are I believe called to the ministry of neighbourhood – of attending to those who are our near neighbours and responding when we can to those who are far away in the awareness that they too are our neighbours in God.
So whether we are remembering our extended family and neighbours in our morning prayers; or giving money to support and protect refugees or for the protection of wildlife; or knitting beanies for the seafarers mission or premature babies; or delivering casseroles to our friends after surgery or volunteering with our emergency services; or telling stories of hope to our grandchildren or listening to our elderly tell their story; or helping in our neighbours garden or working our farms in such a way that we honour God’s creation: whatever we do with heart and soul reveals God’s good self through us to others. Again and again in slightly different ways Jesus tells his disciples that this is their job – to proclaim the good news of God’s love. And the quality of our loving for one another will be how others decide if our words of love are to be listened to.
Now our deeds may not be as daring as Paul but knowing that the all of our life is covered by the love of God become human we can see our lives as being as urgent and important as Paul’s was. We may not be imprisoned and then set free by earthquakes but we can aspire to be faithful in whatever situations we find ourselves in, to be compassionate whenever we find others vulnerable, and so too might lead to our neighbours finding freedom and new life.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come and reveal yourself to us and through us.
You may wish to read a blog on the Ascension.