Posts Tagged ‘farewell speech’

One with God or with each other?

May 27, 2017

Easter 7 – 2017

John 17:1-11

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who calls us into union with God, with Jesus our Saviour and with each other. Amen.

In the wrong hands the Bible – indeed any religious texts – can be dangerous. This is blatantly obvious at present as we live with the consequences of Islamic extremism. No faith is exempt from the misinterpretation or misuse of its holy texts. We have to acknowledge that over the centuries even Christian texts have been used in ways that are punitive and even abusive. Passages from the bible have at times been used to limit and oppress rather than to liberate and make whole. Witness for example, the centuries during which it was believed that the inequitable distribution of wealth was God’s design. The poor were poor because that was how God ordered the world – not because kings and nobles taxed them beyond their means. For centuries it was taught and believed (at least by some) that the bible sanctioned violence against women and that women who were beaten by their husbands should not only endure such violence, but that they should also forgive the perpetrator thereby being forced to collude in their abuse.

In the case of today’s gospel, the final half sentence: “That they may be one as we are one” was used as a weapon in the debate about the ordination of women. Those who supported such a move were accused of being divisive and of wanting to destroy the church. Indeed the insinuation was that in seeking change they were going against the express will of Jesus in John 17:11. It was both a powerful and a manipulative strategy, designed to unsettle those who supported the ordination of women, to appealing to their core beliefs and making them feel guilty for daring to suggest change. (Interestingly, the opponents of the ordination of women did not believe that by refusing to accept change it might have been they not the others who were causing division.)

John 17:11 has been used to support unity within the church and between the churches and a quick look at the website textthisweek suggests that this is the most common interpretation of this verse and the most common theme of sermons on this passage. However, if we examine the verse in its immediate context and in the context of the gospel as a whole, we will recognise that the prayer is slanted somewhat differently.

As we saw a number of weeks ago, a key theme of the Johannine gospel is that of the unity of the Father and the Son. Over and over again, the Johannine Jesus states that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. The union between Jesus and God is such that to know one is to know the other. Now we learn that Jesus is sharing with the disciples the union that exists between himself and God. Jesus prays that the lives of the disciples will be indistinguishable from that of the Father and the Son.

Chapter 17 is a part of Jesus’ farewell speech in which he prepares the disciples for his departure and for life without him. After announcing that he is going away, Jesus encourages the disciples to live in him (as branches attached to a vine) and he promises to send them the Advocate – the Spirit of Truth. Now he prays – for himself and for them – beginning with an appeal to God that his role may be brought to completion. In John’s gospel the cross is not something to be avoided but to be embraced. It is on the cross that Jesus will be glorified, because it is here that his complete submission to God will be demonstrated, it here that he will be lifted up and from here that he will be able to hand over his spirit to his followers.

Death is merely the fulfillment of his mission: “Glorify me,” Jesus prays “with the glory that I had before the world existed”. As we learn in the very first verse of this gospel, Jesus and the Father have been united since before time began. Jesus continues by praying for the disciples. He prays that they union that he shares with God will not be shared with those who believe in him.

That Jesus is praying that the disciples will be one with himself (and therefore with God) is confirmed if we read to the end of the prayer. In verses 21-23 Jesus prays again: “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” The prayer concludes: “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” If the disciples are united to God in the same way that Jesus is united to God then, God will be known through them as God was made known through Jesus.

At the end of the Farewell Speech, Jesus commissions the disciples to continue his work in the world. As God sent Jesus into the world, so now Jesus sends the disciples. As Jesus revealed the Father, so now the disciples have the responsibility of revealing both the Father and the Son. They cannot do this if they insist on asserting their individuality and on going their own way. The only way that the disciples can achieve union with God is if, like Jesus, they hand themselves over entirely to God and submit themselves completely to God’s will. By subsuming their own needs and individuality into the Godhead, they will allow God to be made known through them. Their union with God will in turn lead to unity with one another.

It’s all a matter of what we take as our starting place. If we begin by believing that God is insisting that we live in complete unity, we can end up chasing the wrong goal – focusing on ending our internal divisions rather than focusing on our union with God. If however we make it our primary goal to seek union with God, the end result will union with one another – in our Parishes, in our Dioceses and with the members of other churches.

 

Never alone

May 20, 2017

Easter 6 – 2017

John 14:15-21

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who is with us and in us even in the moments of our darkest despair. Amen.

(Imagine the preacher bursting into song)

“Hallelujah! not as orphans,

are we left in sorrow now;

hallelujah! he is near us,

faith believes, nor questions how.”

 

For reasons unknown, this half verse of the hymn “Hallelujah! sing to Jesus”, resonated with my childhood self. While I knew all the words to “There was a green hill far away” it was the line “not as orphans” that would come to mind at unexpected moments and take me back to the safety and security of the gathered congregation of my youth and the experience of the assurance and comfort of my faith.

I have no idea why these words had such power. I was not (and at 60 years old am still not) an orphan. My life has been extraordinarily blessed. Even now I can say that I have known very little of the sorrow and loss that is an inescapable part of life.

So why, I wonder, did I feel such a strong connection with those words? I suspect that the answer lies in the very negative images associated with being orphaned. It conjures up images of children bereft of love being raised in children’s homes or worse seeking out some form of living on the streets. The phrase “being orphaned” leads us to imagine a life without the security of home and family and having to shift for ourselves with no protection from the harsh realities of the world.

So even though my family remained in tact, the promise of the words has given me the assurance that no matter what happens I will never, ever be alone. In all the circumstances I can have confidence that Jesus will be with me and will never abandon me.

No doubt this was Jesus’ intention when he spoke these words to the disciples when he prepared them for his departure. As we saw last week, the disciples are troubled and confused. They seem to be uncertain as to what they might do if Jesus leaves them. In response Jesus assures them that the connection that they have with them will not be broken even if he is not physically present with them. In today’s gospel, Jesus extends this idea by promising them that they will not be alone when he goes. He will send them the Spirit. Just as he (Jesus) abides in them, so the Spirit will abide in them. It will be, he promises, as if they never separated.

It is in the midst of this, the second unit in Jesus’ farewell speech, that Jesus assures the disciples that they will not be left as orphans. For Jesus’ listeners this would have been an emotionally charged statement. Orphans and widows were the most vulnerable members of Israelite society. There was no social welfare. There were no children’s homes. Widows and orphans were completely dependent on the goodness of others or entirely reliant on their own resources.

The strength of Jesus’ statement is increased by its position in this section of the speech. These seven verses have been structured in such a way that the short sentence about being orphaned falls right in the middle. What is more the sentences either side repeat the same ideas in reverse. That is, there are three ideas that are presented in parallel around the central idea that the disciples will not be abandoned[1]. (This is typical of the Farewell Speech in which the various units are made up of a “spiral of thought” in which the last idea is similar to the first and so on.)

In other words the section looks like this. It is framed by the notion that the love of Jesus and keeping the commandments go hand in hand (14: 15, 21). Within this frame is, first of all the idea that the disciples will be connected with Jesus forever (14:16 – through the Spirit, 14:20 – through the mutual indwelling of Jesus and within that again, the concept that the world will not be able to receive the Spirit or see Jesus (14:17, 14:19). Then in the very middle of this cluster of ideas is the promise that the disciples will not be orphaned.

The sub-text is clear, do not be afraid, do not worry, you will never, ever be alone.

In the midst of the trouble and turmoil of this world, we are promised – not that we will never come to harm – but that in our darkest moments, at the times when we feel that God is far from our reach, we have not and will not be abandoned. God is with us – Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, Father, Son and Spirit. No matter what life throws at us we will not face it without God by our side.

“Hallelujah! not as orphans,

are we left in sorrow now;

hallelujah! he is near us,

faith believes, nor questions how.”

Words of comfort and security for a child, that remain a promise and assurance for the adult I have become. May they be for you a reminder of God’s presence that will never be withdrawn from you.

[1] John 14:15   “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18   “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

 

Being truly whole so that we are wholly free to love.

April 23, 2016

Easter 5 – 2015

John 13:31-35

Marian Free

 

In the name of God whose love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave[1]. Amen.

She loves you

She loves you

I can remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, the Christmas that I received my first ever record. It was the year that the Beatles had come to Brisbane and I was nine years old. Even though I didn’t listen to the radio and my parents did not own a TV I was caught up in the hype that surrounded their visit. One of my classmates had even taken the day off school to line the street to the airport and welcome them to the city. Another friend used to sing the song: “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you”, the song with which a popular TV show of the day concluded. My nine-year-old self knew that she had to be a part of this phenomenon. So when I was asked what I would like for Christmas, there was no hesitation: “I would like a Beatles record.”

My mother and I went into the city to a record shop. In those days the counters were about four-foot tall so I had to stretch to see. “I’d like a Beatles record please,” said my mother. “Which one?” the assistant replied. Mum looked at me, I looked at her. I had no idea that there would be a choice. Helpfully I replied: “One with ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ on it.” So that is how I came to own this – an EP with ‘She loves you’ on one side and ‘I’ll get you’ on the other. I’d have to say that the lyrics of these and many of the early Beatles songs are not particularly edifying. ‘She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah’, and, ‘Love, love me do, you know I love you, so please, love me do’ and yet another, ‘Love is you need, love is you need, love is all you need.’

Love was in the air in the 1960’s and 70’s. Flower children preached it, bumper stickers proclaimed it and popular music extolled it. The problem was that the atmosphere of the day made love sound all too attainable and all too easyms – the answer to all the world’s problems.  Love was not enough to stop the Vietnam war or to bring an end to apartheid and global poverty.

In today’s gospel Jesus enjoins his disciples to love one another in the context of his farewell speech. This includes instructions and warnings, the promise of the Holy Spirit and prayers for the disciples.  The tone for a future without Jesus is set right at the beginning: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

As I have loved you. If love was all that we needed, why do so many relationships end acrimoniously and why are so many families torn apart by disputes? The answer is that while there are good reasons for marriages to end – domestic violence being one – many people have a simple and idealistic notion of love.  Some expect love to fill deep needs of their own, others confuse love with control and its opposite subservience and there are those who expect that the simple fact of being love will ensure that their story will be happily ever after.

Jesus apparently has no such illusions, which is why he adds the rider: “Just as I have loved you.” As I have loved you. This is very different from the commandment that asks us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus’ command forces us to consider his life and example and to model ourselves on him.  I quote: “Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, nor wealth, not anything whatever before love of our brothers and sisters.” (Cyril of Alexandria)  In a culture in which honour meant everything, Jesus mixed with the disreputable and the outsider, chose poverty over wealth and acted as a servant to his disciples. Though he was divine, Jesus allowed himself to endure all the indignities of being human. In other words, Jesus’ love was a love that thought not of himself, but only of others.

The love that Jesus insists that we show to others is the sort of selfless love that enables us to give up all thoughts of our own needs and desires – for recognition, comfort, satisfaction and instead to ensure the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What this entails in practice is being at peace with ourselves and God, being so sure of our place in the cosmos that we do not need to compete with others in order to feel good about ourselves, recognising that we do not need the world’s approval in order to know our own worth, that we do not need to measure ourselves and our worth according the standards of those around us, but  to only according to the standards that Jesus modelled and that Jesus encouraged. For some of us, this means first of all letting go of our own baggage, seeking wholeness and healing for the hurts we carry and the insecurities that drive our behaviour. In some instances it may mean that we take advantage of professional help to lay aside fear, resentment and anxiety or to let go of our sense of inadequacy because ultimately, we are only able to love selflessly from a position of confidence and strength, from a place in which we are completely free of restraint and in which don’t need others to affirm us so we are free to affirm them.

Only when we are absolutely confident in our own worth can we affirm the worth of others. Only when we are completely sure that we are loved and love

able can we selflessly offer love to others. Only when we are truly whole can we wholly give ourselves away.

“Love one another as I have loved you” – it makes the rest of the commandments look like a walk in the park. First of all we have to do everything in our power to accept Jesus’ love and then we have to do all that we can to give that love away.

 

 

[1] Song of Songs 8:6

Peace the world cannot give

May 4, 2013

Easter 6  – 2013

John 14:23-29

Marian Free 

In the name of God in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.

We prepare for all kinds of things in life: weddings, holidays, the birth of a child, moving house, entertaining and so in. In many instances we don’t have to start from scratch. Instructions abound. One can download detailed wedding plans and buy any number of books on child-birth and child-raising. Some recipe books will even give you a helpful timetable so that you don’t have to be overwhelmed when catering for a big event. As a result, I suspect that most of us are not too bad at planning for the expected and preparing for something that we have chosen to do or that we expect to be enjoyable. On the other hand, most of us are not so good at planning for disasters or for the unexpected. Floods and earthquakes often find us rushing to the shops for such basics as water and batteries for our radios (that is if we have been sufficiently prepared to have battery operated radios).

Preparing ourselves and those whom we love for our eventual death is something that some of us find easy and some of us do not. There exists a kind of superstition that suggests that even writing a will or planning a funeral might in some way be an invitation or  encouragement for death to overtake us. Some people don’t like to talk about death because they find it distressing, or because those with whom they want to share their thoughts cannot bear to discuss the possibility of their absence. This can leave family and friends unprepared both for the reality of loss and for the responsibility of continuing life without their family member or friend.

Old Testament figures had no such scruples. It was not uncommon for a father, before his death to give each of his sons a blessing. At the conclusion of Genesis for example, Jacob blesses each of his twelve sons and through that blessing indicates the future he sees for each of them. He has given instructions about his burial and can leave this life confident both that he has left nothing undone and also that his children can move forward with their lives after he has gone, equipped in some way for what lies ahead. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses does something similar. He reminds the Israelites of their history and of their covenant with God and gives them instructions on how to live in the promised land. Moses himself will not lead them into Canaan, but he prepares the people as best he can for a future without his leadership

This practice of a Farewell speech is well-attested in ancient and first century writings which means it is no surprise that John uses it as a template for Jesus’ farewell speech to his disciples. Our Gospel reading today is a small part of that speech which, in John’s gospel, replaces an account of the institution of the Eucharist and extends from the fourteenth to the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel.

Jesus knows that he is “going away” and that his death will mean that his disciples will be left leaderless and without direction. They still do not fully understand who he is or what he is about. Without Jesus to guide and teach them there is every possibility that they will return to what they were doing before – as indeed they do – if briefly

On this, his last night with them, Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for his departure. He does this in a number of ways. He begins by telling them that he is going away and that he is going to the Father. Then he assures them that he is going to prepare a place for them and that he will come back for them. The disciples’ distress at his going can be tempered by the knowledge that they will be together again. Thirdly, he promises to send the disciples the Holy Spirit. This means that even in his absence, they will not be alone – the Holy Spirit will be with them. What is more, the Holy Spirit will continue Jesus’ teaching because there are things that they need to know, but are not yet ready to hear. The Spirit will guide them in the truth and testify on their behalf. There is no reason for the disciples to be concerned about their ignorance or failure to understand what Jesus has taught them. It is in fact to their advantage that Jesus goes away, for only if Jesus goes away will the Holy Spirit be able to come and to empower them with the truth.

Jesus not only prepares the disciples for his imminent departure, he also tries to give them some guidance for their life together once he has gone. This includes instructing them how to be a community in his name, providing an insight into what the future might hold for them, and giving them some tools for living in the world without him. Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment – to love one another. He hopes that their community will be recognisable to others by virtue of this love. He encourages the disciples and builds their confidence by telling them that not only will they continue his work but that they will do greater works than he himself has done. Aware of the hostility that he is about to experience Jesus also warns the disciples that those who have rejected him might also reject them. Finally he prays for them, asking for God’s protection for them and for those who will believe as a consequence of their work.

By preparing the disciples for his departure, Jesus gives them hope for the future, a task to complete, courage to face the difficulties that might lie ahead and the assurance that they will never be alone.

Words that are centuries old, continue to challenge and reassure us long after Jesus’ death. Thanks to Jesus’ farewell speech, we know that we are not alone. We are challenged to be a community that loves each other. We depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth and we understand that our faith in Jesus might lead to hostility from others. There is no need for us to be afraid in the present or worried about the future because we know that Jesus prayed for us and that he has a place prepared for us. This is Jesus’ gift – a gift for every age – a peace that the world cannot give, the assurance that, whatever storms surround us, we are safe and secure in God’s love, supported by the Holy Spirit and awaited by none other than Jesus Christ himself.


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