Sermon: Breaking Chains

Breaking Chains
John 17:20-26

For days, I have been thinking of what I would say this morning, and I have been staring at a blank page for days. So many times before this, I have stood in similar places, wondering what to say to make sense of what has happened. How can one make sense of the brutal murder of innocent children and their teachers? How can you make sense of politicians who offer prayers and wring their hands but will do nothing to change the situation?

Oh, sure, people will claim that our country is a mess, and sure it is; it has always been, for we are an imperfect people. We live in a country built on diversity, and we should not be afraid of that diversity. In our founding documents, we claim liberty and just for all, but do we practice liberty and just for all? There is a claim that we are a Christian nation. Well, I have not seen that take place anywhere. Jesus commands us to love all equally. He called us to welcome the stranger. He commanded us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and all the rest.

Rather than doing all that Jesus has commanded, we worship individual rights and guns. I am all for people responsibly owning guns for hunting and other sports but, and let me make this point clear; there is no reason why a person needs to own a semi-automatic rifle, a high-capacity magazine, and 10,000 rounds of ammunition! And no one that is not in law enforcement needs to own body armor, no one.

Change does not come overnight. Change comes very slowly. But change needs to come before more innocents are slaughtered.

Jesus prayed that we would all be one, not in the sense of conformity to some belief or ritual but one in spirit. Today’s passage from the Gospel of John is called the High Priestly Prayer and is like High Priestly Prayers from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jesus’ time with his disciples has come to an end. This past Thursday, we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord. The day we believe Jesus rose from earth to be with his Father. We now enter a time of wandering as we wait for the promised Spirit that will come at Pentecost. But before he goes, Jesus has this last prayer for his followers.

This prayer of Jesus is not some ritual or liturgical celebration, but it is personal and from his heart. This prayer comes from the depths of his soul and is a prayer in anticipation of loss and suffering but also of joy and gladness.

Jesus prays for his friends. Not just those there with him but all of humanity for all time. Jesus prays not to himself but to the father, the creator of all that is seen and unseen. The Greek word used here is pater, which is not in a patriarchal sense, but it is used to mean the source and giver of life. Jesus does not use this in the male sense of the word, but as Abba, the life-giving source, and that source is love.

And Jesus prays for the world. The created world and all that has been and will be created. But Jesus does not pray that the world turns from sin but rather that it turns from selfishness and towards oneness as it was in creation.

But as I said before, this oneness is not sameness, and it is not even a prayer that all denominations or expressions of faith somehow come together as one. Through this prayer, Jesus is expressing his desire for his friends; remember that although we are different, we come from the same Source. Humanity shares the likeness of Abba, the one who has given life to all. The one who, at the moment of creation, breathed his breath, his spirit into humanity. The very breath of God is what animates us and is what makes us human. There is the belief that this is when the soul enters the body, when we breathe and become fully human.

Jesus is desperate for us to believe this. Our oneness, our solidarity, brings us closer to God. When we forget that we belong to each other, we live in fear of the other and sometimes resort to violence. To believe means trusting, holding dear, and giving our hearts. This is what Jesus believes and prays for, that we trust one another. This is what Jesus came to preach and teach that we love one another. But before we can love, we have to trust.

To do this, we need to heal the hurts of humanity. We need to be able to look past race, gender, and social class to build God’s kingdom here on earth. When we look at another human being, we need to see the image and likeness of God in them. We need to be able to see the breath of God, the spirit of God that is in every human being. This is the glory of God and makes us fully human.

But the problem is prayer is not magic. I think sometimes we believe that if we pray, God will somehow snap his fingers and make things better. That, my friends, is not how it works. We pray, and then we do.

I refer to things I see on Facebook a lot. I mean, it is the center of truth in the universe. However, sometimes there are nuggets of wisdom there. For example, there is a photo floating around of Jesus and another person sitting on a park bench; perhaps you have seen it. The person asks Jesus why he allows wars, gun violence, starvation, illness, and a whole host of other problems. And Jesus responds, “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

Humanity has the capacity to fix every problem that exists today, what we lack is the desire and the trust to do so.

In Judaism, if you say a prayer over something and then fail to do the requisite action that follows, like blessing bread and not eating it, it’s a Bracha levatla – a sinful act. So, likewise, it is sinful if we pray and then do not act.

My favorite book in the Bible of the Letter of St. James. It is a short work and often goes unnoticed, but it is the bedrock of faith for me. In the second chapter of this letter, we read:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

Faith alone is not enough; we must do something with that faith. If our faith does not force us into action, it is dead; it is lukewarm and not faith at all.

We have a responsibility to care for each other as human beings. Out of our abundance, we must share with those who have little or nothing. We cannot sit by and watch another person starve to death without doing something, anything. Write a check, cook a meal, and yes, pray for that person and others.

You have heard me say this before, being a Christian is not easy it requires a lot from us. We can no longer think only of ourselves and our families. Still, we have to think of and have concern for all of humanity regardless of race, social status, legal status, education level, political leanings, or who they choose to love. Loving all means just that, all.

What can we do? How do we change the world? We start by changing ourselves. Want more love, be more loving. Want less anger, be less angry. Want more generosity, be more generous. Focus on changing what is inside, not what is wrong with others, another’s sins but on our own sinfulness. Change comes from within, not from without.

My prayer is that same prayer of Jesus that we all may be one. So let us strive to be one, one with each other and one with God.


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