That All May Be One
A sermon by Ted Virts
June 1, 2014
From a Country Overlooked by Tom Hennen
There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water.
Scripture: John 17:1-11
“Holy Father…protect them…so that they may be one, as we are one…” John 17
I find it touching that we are the people that Jesus prays for. I love it that the writer of John’s gospel understands that those who have known Jesus in his earthly life have a led us to believe in ways come from their faith, just as future believers come to believe through our faith.
It is good to be back. I am continually grateful for Loretta’s grace and skill in preaching in my absence. As you know this is the next to last of the sermons I will give as your pastor. And though I am not Jesus and am not headed to crucifixion (far from it!) John’s gospel today is part of what are called Jesus’ farewell discourses, and include this touching concern for his disciples and for you and for me. A little later in this scripture from what Rich read today Jesus prays, “I ask not only on behalf of these [his current disciples] but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that 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…” (John 17:20) It is nice being the ones that Jesus prays for.
My farewell sermons will not carry the same impact as Jesus’ words, but I do want to summarize over these next two weeks some things that have carried me about God, and about us as a church.
I am captivated by the worship theme today as an expression of the Christian message: “there are no creatures that you cannot love” And beyond the critters and nature that Tom Hennen describe are the people we live among. The work of the Christian journey is to remember that truth – there are no creatures that you cannot love-, and to practice it. It is work because sometimes the truth about loving folks is easy to see, and sometimes it is hard to see. It is the difference between the world’s way and Jesus’ way: The world’s way of judgment, and the Jesus way of love.
In my years in ministry I have become convinced that Jesus came to show us a glowing world we can delight is sharing.
John’s gospel in Chapter 14 quotes Jesus saying
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.(John 14.27)
Jesus says – don’t be afraid or troubled because the truth is that we are often troubled and afraid. Fear and worry are the world’s way. We see in in the headlines, and in our hearts – striving, fighting, rage versus kindness, cooperation, compassion and forgiveness. We see it in the ongoing difference, more times than not, between what we say and what we do.
There are no creatures that you cannot love…
This is the faith struggle: It is the paradox of living. It is two truths at the same time. It is both/and. Tender and tough at the same time. Love and caution. And it is life-long work. Because the more you see, the more you see – like mold in the closet – things can look pretty good until you get a better light, and then what you thought was great, well, still needs work. The more you know, the more you know that you don’t know. And this struggle of paradox, of seeing and knowing yields surprising results.
Here are some words by David Budbill about “the Ubiquitous Day Lily of July” that I like:
There is an orange day lily that blooms in July and is
everywhere around these parts right now. Common.
Ordinary. It grows in everybody's dooryard—abandoned
or lived in—along the side of the road, in front of stone walls,
at gas stations and garages, at the entrance to driveways,
anywhere it takes a mind to sprout. You always see them
in clusters, bunches, never by themselves. They propagate
by rhizomes, which is why they are so resilient, and why
you see them in bunches.
There is an orange day lily that blooms in July and is
ubiquitous right now. The roadside mowers mow a lot
of them, but they don't get them all.
These are not the rare and delicate lemon yellow day lilies
or the other kinds people have around their places. This one
is coarse and ordinary, almost harsh in its weathered beauty,
like an older woman with a tough, worldly-wise and wrinkled
face. There is nothing nubile, smooth or perky about this flower.
It's not fresh. It's been around awhile and everybody knows it.
As I said, it's coarse and ordinary and it's beautiful because
it's ordinary. A plant gone wild and therefore become
rugged, indestructible, indomitable, in short: tough, resilient,
like anyone or thing has to be in order to survive.
I like this poem because it mentions rhizomes – (and I had to look this up) Here’s what rhizomes do (and I suspect what faithful churches are like) “if a rhizome is separated into pieces each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant…The plant use rhizomes to store nutrients which become useful when new shoots must be formed or when the plant dies back in winter (becomes dormant).
And I like the poem because the day lily describes us – tough, resilient and worldly wise, rugged, and indomitable, and I would add tender and compassionate as we look out for each other – both within our church and beyond.
Jesus prays that we might all be one, and the sharing of the common meal describes this well. We share the common meal, but with uncommon stories. We have attained our balance of tough and tender in many and differing ways, and yet we are brought together by the common story of a God who would have us notice the grace and beauty that surround us, that would remind us that there is on creature that we cannot love. And who gave us bread and life that we might remember each other, and remember the Grace that abounds.
The Divine Image
by William Blake
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
[from the worship theme:]
May you be comfortable in this spot, so full of grace and being that it sparkles like jewels spilled on water…May you be one in Christ, one in God and one with each other.