Lake Hart, SA, 2016

Torn Apart and Joined Together

Sunday of May 12 - Easter 7
Gospel:  John 17:20-26

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,23I 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. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.

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If anybody is going to join anybody, Henry, the Methodists are going to join us. Bishop Hever to Archdeacon Blunt, All Gas and Gaiters

If there is a fundamental experience in my life, it is that of being separated; of being alone. If there is a fundamental desire, it is the desire to be connected. Yet my greatest fear is to lose myself; to be subsumed. So if anybody joins anybody, Henry, you will join me. Perhaps it is not so strange that is this which is almost the only line I remember from a TV comedy of 40 years ago.

I wonder for a moment if these feelings are the consequence of being very introverted. Then I remember four young women, decidedly extrovert and excited, on the train one evening. All four were talking to the other three; no one was listening; they too, were afraid of not being autonomous, a law unto themselves.

I realise am talking about the human condition, not me alone.

In the final words of his last will and testament, so too is Jesus.

‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,23I 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. (John 17:20-23)

God reveals God's very self to us through Jesus so that we may be one, and so that the world may know that in this oneness it too can see God. We can be "in God," and in this oneness, is our final end and healing.

I fear I have no idea, really, what Jesus was talking about. I fear that I only know too well what he was not talking about. I know about the kind of oneness which is an abuse: we are one because you agree with me.

This is not one. This is me maintaining my autonomy, being a law to myself, while subsuming you for my benefit. I am using you.

The psychology of this kind of abusive domination, disguised as unity, is this. Because I have (under the table) forced your agreement with me, I feel better because
a) I am not quite so alone—you "agree" with me, therefore I must be right—and because
b) I am still me as I was, still a law to myself.

Of course, I have to keep preaching this unity and forcing it to grow, because if I stop to think about it, I may notice that, actually, I am unchanged, and no closer to God.

You do not love me with the unconditional love of my mother; that loss from which I have never quite recovered as I grew up and became my own self. Instead, you fear me. In your own loneliness and separation, you fear me casting you off and leaving you even more alone, without even the little faux community that we have.

So I am, still, fundamentally alone, even though I have co-opted you, and subverted you from the possibility of a better healing.

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I remember visiting a "charismatic" church in my denomination.  The word around the theological college was that this place was 'on fire;' it understood what it really meant to be church. They received us with unstinting generosity.

And on the Sunday, the preacher outlined some of the vision of the eldership. He said, "This is our vision, and if you will not agree with us, we would really rather you went somewhere else."

I can exclude myself from the oneness which God offers, but where, and what, is the thing that means it has all changed to you excluding me? The only thing I know for certain is that Bill Loader's remark about the reading is probably correct.

It is arguable whether these writers and their communities practised what they preached and what they prayed [about being one.]

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Richard Beck has amazing words from Stanley Hauerwas on his website.

To learn to follow Jesus is the training necessary to become a human being. To be a human being is not a natural condition, but requires training. The kind of training required, moreover, has everything to do with death. To follow Jesus is to go with him to Jerusalem where he will be crucified. To follow Jesus, therefore, is to undergo a training that refuses to let death, even death at the hands of enemies, determine the shape of our living.

--Stanley Hauerwas, Working With Words (p. 78)

I read this alongside John 10:10. Jesus Christ said I have come that you may have life, and have life in all its fullness.

Life in all its fullness would surely involve being connected; being one; not being alone; being loved. And—I am sure of my instinct here—life in all its fullness means dying. It means losing my self in some way; even before I am dead.

Full disclosure: I fear the connection of "being one" more than I fear death itself. Even as I lie dying, it will be me who is dying, I tell myself. I will still be me; my self; in control to the last. The thought that I might lose my self to you—as opposed to the false unity of you idolising me—is utterly terrifying.

And then I am asked, "So losing your self to God in your dying will not terrify you?"

Professor Beck has another post on his blog.

What does it mean to give your life away in order to give life to others? What does it mean to say that love is sacrificial, a taking up the cross, a form of self-denial?

In trying to puzzle this out I've meditated a great deal on this quote from Arthur McGill:

 The way of Jesus is the way of self-expenditure.

 Is that hyperbole? Dysfunctional? Is it suicidal? A thirst for martyrdom? 

I don't think so, but I do think there is a martyrological sensibility to all this. This is what I think:

Love is the allocation of our dying.

Life is a finite resource always slipping away. Every minute that passes is a passing of life, a movement toward death. Every moment we are being expended and used up.

But we have some choices in how we are expended. We can allocate our dying. We can specify the times and places of our dying. 

Life is all about learning to die. The "central concern" of Jesus which his prayer shows us, says Bill Loader,

is oneness, unity. It is multi-dimensional: oneness with God, oneness with others. Its foundation is that divine glory is to be seen and shared in Jesus. ‘We have seen his glory’, the prologue stated in 1:14. ‘Glory’ was a way of speaking of God’s being. The unity is not any unity. It is not a contrived peace or collaboration. It is rooted in the event of Jesus. That life opened a window on God’s being. To use the imagery which John favours, Jesus was God’s envoy and ambassador. It was not that Jesus came offering new information. Rather his life is to be seen as an offer of relationship, a hand stretched out from God. (My italics)

When I began, I was not me. I was a part of my parents. I was, literally, a part of my mother's body. When I was born, and as a little child, I was still a part of them, not really knowing my self. One day I persuaded them to play "Hide and Seek" with me; a new game I had discovered somewhere.

They ran off to hide. And then I searched for them. I found them together under the clothesline, just outside the house yard, embracing and laughing. And I was torn apart from them with a tearing far greater than the tearing of birth, and leaving a raw wound that still bleeds, that has never healed.

I can hear myself wailing. And I have known almost since that very day as a five year old not yet at school, that I was not crying because they had won the game. It was not because they had reached "Home" before I found them. It was because I was alone. I was being born, torn apart, thrust into the world, and left only with my self.

To become my self meant not to be a part of something greater. I was removed from my mother and father, I became a law to myself; autonomous, and therefore, alone.

Jesus offers me Life, something far greater than my first community, but I am terrified by the wound. All I can remember is being torn away. I cannot hear that he is offering relationship; not tearing, but healing. Instead, I am remembering my loss, and fearing more loss.

But life is slipping away. Life is a finite resource always slipping away. Every minute that passes is a passing of life, a movement toward death. I cannot preserve life. I cannot keep my self. I can only allocate my dying.

In the past months Wendy and I have allocated our dying to keeping someone else alive. sometimes it felt like it was destroying me. It made me incapable of work. The wider Uniting Church has allocated some of its dying to keeping us alive; the Beneficiary Fund has paid our stipends. In other situations we would be destitute now; incapable of work, and with nowhere to live. It has been traumatic; our doctor, our counsellors, our colleagues and our parishioners, all talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I sometimes wonder if I will ever be anything other than exhausted and non functional; if it will ever be that more than five minutes with people will not utterly drain me.

But there is another side to all this. The world has seen something of the One. There is an astonishment, and quiet admiration, that the church pays two ministers their stipends for almost six months of 'non work,' subsidises their health care, and continues to do so even though the end is not yet 'in sight.'

The world, which has unanimously said we must somehow get out of this situation, and give it to someone else to protect ourselves, nonetheless admires what we are doing. It is seeing something more than usual. I heard from someone a fearful longing for the authenticity of the life we were in, despite all its pain.

And in the strangest way, I glimpse in myself a healing. In some bizarre way this accelerated loss of my self, this increased dying, has being doing me good. I am closer to my church and to my God. I glimpse something of the One.

This is a statement of unusual trust—what John would call "believing—" on my part. I am not always able to see it, or trust it. But if I have learned anything, it is that where I allocate my dying has a fundamental effect on my life.

And yesterday, I limped back into my congregation for the first time in five months and three weeks. I watched us over morning tea, a limping, fractured, and partial unity. Being one, and finding The One, is worth it.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

Trish Lear 06-05-2013
Thanks Andrew. What a challenge to be one with our Lord and Saviour and His will in our lives. Appreciate you sending me your sermons.

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