Introduction and Call to Worship
This Christian Aid week 2018, we read in today’s Gospel how Jesus intercedes for his disciples, praying that they may be God’s holy and united people in the midst of the world. As we worship our risen, Ascended Lord of life today, may our hearts be opened to the transforming power of his words – through prayer, that his Kingdom may come.
First Reading Acts 1:15-17. 21-26
Matthias is chosen to fill the gap among the apostles left by Judas. Their full number is therefore restored for the task of witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus.
Second Reading 1 John 5:9-13
God gives eternal life to those who believe in his Son – ultimate unity with the Trinity in his Kingdom.
Gospel John 17:6-19
Jesus prays that the disciples will be kept in unity, filled with joy and sanctified in the truth.
HOMILY “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18)
In today’s Gospel Jesus is on the point of “leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28). His ministry of love and prayer has built up to this moment. He has taught his followers to love each other and to pray for His coming kingdom. Knowing his betrayal and death are imminent, Jesus prepares his followers for what lies ahead, summing up the meaning of his ministry in his farewell discourse (as Andrew explained last week) and now praying for them, committing them to the Father. Although Jesus has just told his disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit, that comforting promise must not mask the central theme in today’s Gospel: Jesus is going away – he will leave them, as indeed he did at his Ascension into heaven which we celebrated just last Thursday: Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is no longer “in the world” but the disciples will be (v. 11). Like them, we are in the world and vulnerable to the power of evil which can cause us to be disunited and lack loving kindness – not least in a world-wide context. Yet the Kingdom we pray for is absolutely about unity with the Trinity of love itself!
Essential to this being in the world is the Church, which is Jesus body - today. Here we glimpse a foretaste of God’s Kingdom – one such example of that was our prayer day yesterday as we joined with other Christians at the start of Christian Aid Week to pray “Thy Kingdom Come” and experience different forms of prayer. By sharing in this corporate experience of prayer – which our daily parish calendar of prayer emphasises, we demonstrate our unity as one body, although we are all very unique and wonderful individuals! Unity is highly prized by many and pursued by all kinds of human organisations, but it is utterly central for Christians because it reflects the love of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Baptism we are initiated into this very union of love. Later in our Lord’s prayers for his flock, Jesus touches on how the attractive power of this unity can draw the wider world to God (vs. 20-23). The New Testament scholar C.K. Barrett suggests that: ‘The world is to be invited, through the witness of the Holy Spirit and of the disciples, to enter this circle of prayer and love.’
The disciples’ unity is bound up with their mission: They, like we today are sent to share God’s love and to pray! And Church is the place to which we return to be resourced and built up, fed both physically (note the tea this afternoon!) and spiritually for the task of being disciples in our daily lives. We are to be in the world, but not “belong” to the world, witnessing within it to the truth of God as revealed by Jesus. Worship on a Sunday morning is important, but it is only one aspect of our commitment to be Christians in the world which requires a life-long service of love for others.
It may well have been a similar motivation that resulted in the sealing of the Magna Carta some 800 years ago, just along the banks of the Thames at Runnymede. The Great Charter led to unity among people who would otherwise have been divided. Just as the Magna Carta stands for unity, so does the Christian Faith, and it is that very unity that Jesus prays for.
The Church is called to unity in its mission, despite its diversity, and it can never be a case of either/or. This unity requires us to accept difference if we are to truly welcome all in the love of God as Jesus prayed. One of the liberating truths about the Christian faith is that we don’t always have to agree with each other to be one in Christ. Surely, the unity of the Church derives from the unity of God, as revealed in the Trinity – the unity of love endlessly going out beyond itself. So perhaps Christians who sometimes feel the pain of disagreement, like the King and Barons at Magna Carta, can most effectively recover an attractive unity not through introspective self-analysis or agreed rules that limit us, or even a single approach to the reading and interpretation of the bible, but through cooperation in outgoing love, acceptance of difference and mutual prayer. We are indeed called to pray “Thy Kingdom Come!” and we must continue to do so.
As Christians, we should focus on the tasks of mission in the world – such as our new initiative, Café Church, which seeks to offer just two hours of additional welcome on a Saturday morning every week. Could you not support our outreach project once a month – just for an hour as part of your commitment to be a disciple in the world today? Demonstrating our love in action is absolutely at the heart of discipleship and there is no room for protectionism here! There is only room for mission and sharing the Gospel and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us. So please pray for Café Church and more ways of engaging in discipleship as Church, today in Thorpe.
Today’s Gospel also points to a challenging paradox about Christian mission. If God “so loved the world” that he sent his only Son, surely, we must imitate God by displaying a similarly committed love, taking us deep into the needs of the world? But today’s Gospel also reminds us that “the world” is in opposition to God and that there is a proper attitude of Christian detachment from it. We need a centre of gravity outside our daily hubbub – Church – here at St Mary’s, our spiritual home of prayer and renewal. It is here we are fed spiritually and physically, at the very least once a week. Yes, I’ve said it, at least weekly worship! Friends, we need the Church – St Mary’s Medieval Church! We cannot be truly Christian without a root in a church family, a community engaging passionately with the world but motivated by a vision, an energy, and above all a joy from beyond the world – a Kingdom to come. Jesus prays that this may be so in us that we will share in the love of the Trinity of unity. May your reply be “Amen” to His prayer!
1. As Jesus leaves his disciples in the world, he prays that they will be protected by the Father. He prays for His Kingdom to come and we echo that prayer this Christian Aid week.
2. The disciples are to be united as the Father and the Son are united: a unity which is bound up with their mission. We need to be rooted in our family of faith: St Mary’s Church, as we live in the world without being of the world. We pray, ‘Thy Kingdom Come, Lord.’
3. Prayer is essential to our well-being and growth in faith. It is also essential for the continuing mission we have to the people of Thorpe – not least Café Church which we pray will grow and flourish as our outpouring of love and welcome to all.