Sunday 16 May 2021: Seventh Sunday of Easter, Sunday after Ascension
Being sent into the world
Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; John 17:6-19
Context: Sunday Eucharist in an urban parish congregation of about 85 people.
Aim: to reimagine Christian discipleship as an encounter with the world, rather than a retreat from it.
John records Jesus’ high priestly prayer as an intercession for the disciples and the world. In his prayer, Jesus models to his disciples what it means to abide in God the Father and to do his will. Jesus underlines the importance of being sanctified by the Holy Spirit in truth. Looking towards his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus prepares to hand over his authority and responsibility to his disciples, modelling faithful discipleship in the world.
ABIDING AND BELONGING IN CHRIST
The principal message of John is an invitation for a continual intimate relationship with Jesus, who abundantly manifests the character of God. By dwelling and abiding in God we let our life be shaped by that same relationship. The invitation to abide in Jesus is imperative to following him and being sent by him. By sharing their life with Jesus, the disciples were also sharing their life with God. Therefore, abiding in Jesus means being rooted in the wellspring of life in God and not being defined by the world. By abiding in Jesus, disciples benefit from God’s provision and care that empowers them to lead a holy life in this world. Of course, this puts them in conflict with the world and the necessity to engage with the ordinary and mundane.
As God indwells in Jesus, the community of believers and disciples also share in the same relationship to the Word (v 10-11), giving shape to organic unity, amid division and fragmentation. The community of believers is relational. The Trinitarian relationship becomes the foundation for the relationship between God, Jesus, his disciples, and the world. Building on the intercessory model of Jesus, the community of disciples is called upon to heal the broken relationships caused by exclusionary structures and unjust practices and build a new community mirroring the relationship between God, Jesus, and themselves. In a prayerful community, conflict is transformed by conversation and alienation is changed through collaboration. A community that dwells in Christ is mutually encouraging, equitable and non-hierarchical, creating a safe space for all disciples to flourish and have life in all its fullness.
BECOMING THE WORD IN THE WORLD
Jesus’ prayer for his disciples is that they may continue his work in the world. The unity that Jesus prays for in John embraces unity not only with God, all Christians, and all people but also all creation. This is an invitation to rethink our faith in the light of fragmentation and polarisation within our society, as well as the impending ecological crisis that is endangering our planet. The disciples have been set apart, made holy, sanctified by the truth to bring the good news to the hostile world. Having been sanctified by the truth, we must take a prophetic stance in speaking truth and unmasking evil forces that take life and dignity away from people.
The primary call of discipleship is for solidarity with the most vulnerable and destitute in our midst. We need to look out for aspects in our community that divide us, create divisions, and alienate our brothers and sisters. Deepening social inequalities, growing racial injustices, intensifying global warming and other discriminatory practices are having a visible impact in our local communities. As a church, how might we explore pathways to support local initiatives to eradicate food poverty, homelessness, and greater economic equity? Acutely aware of our privileges, how should we work towards embracing diversity and inclusion as the norm? How might we find ways to make our worship places carbon neutral and invest in ethical funds? By abiding and belonging to Christ, we can model and embody a new relational community that offers hope, justice, peace, and reconciliation.
DISCIPLESHIP AS ENACTMENT OF PRAYER
The Word that came from God and was given to us by Jesus Christ is the truth, a source of our sanctification in this world. If we envision discipleship as a prayer for this world, it offers us a fresh perspective. Jesus’ prayer is a re-presentation of what he was doing, inviting the disciples to partner with him and carry on his words and deeds guided by the Holy Spirit. In a society defined by division, injustice and apathy, our natural tendency in a state of exhaustion and despair is to retreat and remove ourselves from difficulties and distress. Instead, God sends us right back to the world with the promise of Christ’s life-giving presence with us, to become the Word in the world, that brings life, healing, and restoration. As the Word was sent to the world, we are being sent into the world, so that the world might be sanctified.
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