Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter

That They May Be One
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

In today’s Gospel lesson we are overhearing Jesus praying to God.  Once again, as in these past weeks, Jesus is with his disciples on Maundy Thursday, shortly before he will be captured, tortured and killed.  St. John spends many verses recording what we call Jesus’ “Farewell Discourses” and this prayer is the capstone of these recordings.  Soon after Jesus prays this prayer, a portion of which is today’s Gospel lesson, Judas and the soldiers arrive and Jesus is taken away.  And we know what happens next.
 
 
This prayer includes the wonderful words of Jesus, foundation words for Christian cooperation around the world, when Jesus prays that all people “may be one” in Jesus’ name, in God’s name, just as Jesus and God are one.
 
 
The modern ecumenical movement, the formal and informal cooperation and connection among Christian denominations and groups around the world, is founded on this verse.  Jesus prays, “that they may be one.” And this prayer grounds our relationships with Christians around the USA and around the world.
 
 
As I reflected on these words this week, I thought, “well, how is that going?”  And, quite frankly, it was not a good week for Christianity or organized or even disorganized religion in general:
 
• A bomber blows up children and adults at a concert in Manchester, England, perhaps/probably guided by extreme Islam.
 
 
• Christians are attached, again, in Egypt.  This time terrorist gunmen attacked a busload of Christians and killed them all because they were Christian.
 

• Two young Muslim women are attached on a Portland train and their attacker, screaming anti-Muslim rants, then kills two strangers who stepped up to protect the young women.
 

• And then there is a candidate for Congress who drapes himself in extreme, toxic Christianity who attacked a reporter and even FOX News says the attack was unprovoked and the police agree, and still he wins the election!
 
 
I could add more examples.  So could you, I bet. 
 
 
No wonder the largest or second largest “religion” in the USA is now “no religion!”  When Christianity or Islam or any religion is associated with violence and extreme behavior or views, it is no surprise that people are turning away from religion!
 
 
In the face of all of this, it is very easy to get depressed, very easy to say “woe is us” and even “woe is me!”  I know far too many pastors who are discouraged, even despondent, about the direction of our nation and the future of our church.
 
 
And, yet, Jesus prays that we all “may be one.” 
 
 
FredRogersI did not know Fred Rogers, the Mr. Rogers “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on Public Television, but I know several folks who did know him.  And all those who knew Fred Rogers have told me that he was the “real deal,” as they say, Fred Rogers was the man he portrayed on television.
 
 
So, it was no surprise that one of my favorite Fred Rogers’ quotes was widely shared on social media this past week.  It even made the CBS Evening News on Friday evening.  Here is what Mr. Rogers said to his audience about  terrible tragedies in the news:  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
So, this week, I decided to look for the helpers.  And it did not take too much effort to find them!
 
 
• On Thursday night, several of us from Mt. Olive were honored to be part of the Bruin Shelter’s end of the semester banquet for their volunteers here at Mt. Olive.  And I must tell you that there is no way you can feel “down” about this world and its future when you spend time with the students who make our student-shelter here at Mt. Olive a reality.  They are bright and committed and really kind.
 
 
Look for the helpers.
 
• On Tuesday I shared with our Seniors the work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the Augusta Victoria Hospital.  Every time I think of what our Lutheran sisters and brothers are able to do every day in the West Bank, I am inspired – the hospital and their schools and so much more and all in the face of life-situations that would overwhelm most of us.  Just sharing their ministry and stories gave me hope once again.
Look for the helpers.
 
 
• I often think of all that we do together as Lutherans in the USA and around the world through our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  How the hungry are fed and disasters are responded to, how the Good News of Christ’s love in Jesus Christ is shared with people near and far.
 
Look for the helpers.
 
 
Perhaps the “oneness” of the Christian Church and/or of faith in general is not a physical oneness but a oneness in the ministry we are able to do together and even separately, a oneness in the love of God for people.
 
 
Some years ago I was in northeast Tanzania on a Sunday morning.  Our hosts took me out in to the countryside. The highways soon became dirt roads and then even paths.  After what seemed to be hours of travel, we came across a very large Lutheran Church with hundreds of people waiting for worship to begin.  The worship was full and lively and truly inspirational.  There was piano and organ and even a brass band.  Two huge choirs sang in several different languages.
 
 
A highlight for me was the offering when all sorts of “offerings” were brought forward – fruits and vegetables, carried atop people’s heads, and then pigs and chickens and goats.  I wondered how the congregation would deal with such offerings and soon found out – As soon as worship ended, a farmer’s market auction began on the church’s large lawn.  Soon the congregation had cash income for their ministries and the people had low priced fresh food for their week.
 
 
And this congregation was and is one with us in the Lutheran church.
 
 
Some months ago there was an online campaign by a group which calls itself “Decolonize Lutheranism.” Their campaign theme was, “You might be Lutheran if….”  They began this campaign in reaction to some online “memes” which featured traditional Lutheran connections to Germany and Scandinavian nations. 
 
 
In response to these traditional “Lutheran” images, the decolonize Lutheran folks came up with many new images, representing the wide variety of Lutheran backgrounds in this country and around the world, traditions and backgrounds that go far beyond our German and Scandinavian heritage.
 
 
And they were wonderful.  “You might be Lutheran if” images included urban and rural scenes, foods of all kinds and all ethnic origins, people from nations around the world, people of all races and ages. They even had one image that noted, “You might be Lutheran if…” these are in your backyard and the photo was a group of elephants since we certainly do have Lutheran congregations, like the one I visited in Tanzania, with elephants in their backyards! The point was that our Lutheran church, especially when viewed through a global lens, has long moved past its traditional roots in Germany and Scandinavia.
 
 
We, as Lutheran Christians, are one with Lutherans and Christians throughout the world.  One in Jesus Christ and one in God’s love.  This “oneness” is not dependent on actual organizational unity.  This “oneness” transcends our ethnic roots.  It is not defeated, it is never defeated, by hatred or extremism. 
 
 
Our oneness is in the love of God in Jesus Christ, which, as St. Paul points out in the book of Romans, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
 
 
Jesus prayed that we might all be one.  And it is oneness in God that cannot be defeated, that will continue forever, even in spite of our human frailties and failures.
 
 
We are one in God.  Thanks be to God.
 
 
Amen.
 
 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
May 27 & 28, 2017


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