SERMON: 7 Easter C 6 2 19
Acts16:16-34; Ps97; Rev22:12-14,16-17,20-21; Jn17:20-26
I am not the walrus. I came to this brilliant insight because I was exploring what has been written about the Beatles song "I am the Walrus," and the opening lines of today's Gospel. I know, I know. It's a stretch. But I hope you find it worth the exercise.
The Gospel language I mentioned is in two parts. The first is, "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 second is "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..."
Who finds this a little confusing?
By comparison, the song, "I am the walrus," opened with this line: I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together..."
The purpose of the popular song, judging from what I found online, was to confuse people. The rest of the song was gibberish which John Lennon wrote to compare his song lyrics with those of others whose work he did not admire. Yet the song became a huge hit. Not least, I have always thought, because it sounds a lot like the opening lines of the Gospel today. Back in the day people familiar with the Bible recognized the similarities between the song and the Gospel language.
This is but one example of John Lennon making biblical references or analogies. But I think it is the most compelling. Because both the Gospel and the goofy pop song are trying to intertwine the lives and histories and images of everyone. Each seeks to be globally inclusive, the pop song in ridiculing humanity and Jesus in drawing all of humanity to God and to himself.
I guess it's obvious, given how I opened this sermon, that I am intrigued by the linkage. By far I am more interested in Jesus' plan to bring people together (also referred to multiple times in Beatles songs). His intention is that we would so thoroughly absorb his teaching and way of life that we would manifest it in our daily lives and we would transmit it to those we encounter so that it would spread around the world. We use the phrase in one of our prayers "that all might come within the reach of his saving embrace." This is what Jesus wanted and he wanted it for us.
There is a bit of desperation in Jesus' tone in today's Gospel. That is because he is about to be taken prisoner and interrogated, tortured, tried and executed. He knows it. He has told his disciples all about it. They don't quite grasp the seriousness of his perception of his earthly fate. So Jesus is trying to tie together the God-Father-Followers intention of his earthly life so the disciples will remember it when Jesus is no longer with them.
This particular Gospel selection was chosen by the lectionary editors explicitly for today. It is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the Sunday before Pentecost and the Sunday after the Ascension (which we celebrated at St. John's Church on Thursday). In terms of what was going on then and, by extension, what is going on for us now, this is a rather sensitive and critical moment. Once again, at the Ascension, Jesus has departed from his followers. As noted, his plea to God in his prayer was that we would be connected forever to him and God. One reason--obviously--is he will not be around to counsel and lead them.
Jesus knows how distracted his disciples get in his absence. Therefore he has again told them he is sending the Holy Spirit. So they have some hope of continuity in leadership and inspiration. But for a few days there will be a vacuum. Or at least that is the way it will seem to those who just got the word from Jesus that he was not going to be with them much longer.
For those who have been paying attention, this is a cycle we re-live in our lives, not just in church. Sometimes we're completely together, hitting our stride, riding the wave, if you will. Sometimes, to continue the surfing analogy, we're mired in seaweed. The free-and-easy option is ours when we are connected spiritually, when we are communicating in prayer and meditation with God and with Jesus and when we know, if we can't figure out how to deal with something or can't get a clear spiritual answer right now, one will be ours shortly. It is comforting to know that and to believe that. And that's how we have come to handle these moments when Jesus is no longer on the scene but we remember he will (actually, he did) send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.
The seaweed option is to struggle, to flail, to wonder how we ever got in such a predicament. This is what it is like when we've lost touch with Jesus, the guide and friend who repeatedly says, "Peace. My peace I leave with you."
It's an easy choice to make. The spiritual answers come if we are patient. Not so much if we are anxious or stuck in seaweed.
In our reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles we see this approach practiced perfectly. The backstory is a really interesting one because Paul and Silas have gotten in trouble for helping someone. Invoking the name of Jesus they freed a slave girl from a spirit that enabled her to tell fortunes. This was likely a relief for her, but it decreased her value to her owners who expected her to earn money fortune telling. So the owners had the disciples arrested for depriving them of their income.
In jail Paul and Silas were praying and singing songs of faith when an earthquake hit. They were remembering their faith and invoking the name of Jesus. They were in jail but they were not afraid. They knew what was important to them and they stuck with it.
When the earthquake knocked down the walls and blew out the bars of their jail they stayed put. Their jailer, believing they would escape and he would be blamed for their escape, set out to take his own life. But the disciples assured him they weren't going anywhere. Amazed by their steadfastness the jailer asked Paul and Silas what he should do to be saved and they said, ""Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
The jailer cared for Paul and Silas and he and his household were baptized. We can infer from this that the steady calm with which the disciples responded to their situation was made possible because of their faith, a faith that survived even the doubts between the Ascension and Pentecost.
It's not that often that you and I find ourselves in jail for helping someone. Or in jail when an earthquake hits. Or in the company of a suicidal jailer. But this story and the understanding we have of the times demonstrate the applicability of these faithful actions in all kinds of situations, not just biblical ones.
When Jesus asked God to bless his followers it was with this kind of confident faith Jesus prayed we would be endowed. Jesus wanted us to rely on him in all situations. The examples we have of those who have done so are both historical and personal, immediate and long ago. This faith is depicted on the cover of the 10 am bulletin, showing the Holy Spirit--our faith--rising from the bloody crown of thorns at Jesus' crucifixion. It is through our faith and our willingness to describe it and its healing effects on us that we share the Good News. Especially as we await the arrival--again--of the Holy Spirit next Sunday. Amen
A sermon preached on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 2, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY, by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector.