On 8 May, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 97, Acts 16:16-34, John 17:20-26.
“It’s not what you know, but who you know that matters” according to an oft-quoted piece of wisdom. If something is to get done, it can be very useful to know someone who has influence, or even someone who knows someone who has influence! There is a chance that someone might be able to “put in a good word for you”, “pull a few strings”, “tip you off” or provide “inside information” or who “knows a man who can”. Any of these might provide a slight advantage and lead to success. In a competitive world, any advantage is worth striving for.
Imagine what might happen if you knew one of the direct reports to the company owner where you wanted to work or already worked. Assuming that person was amenable to helping you, you would have a way to access the top person. The new job or the promotion you desired could come your way more easily as a result.
As Christians, we have someone available to put in a good word for us, not necessarily to get us a new job. Jesus is the Son of the owner of the universe and you can’t get anyone closer than that. The gospel passage for today records a conversation between God and Jesus and it’s about us. We get a chance to eavesdrop on the conversation.
This little section from John’s Gospel comes right at the end of Jesus’ final conversation with his disciples before the drama of his arrest and execution began. Jesus had told his disciples many things which distressed and confused them but which they needed to hear. Finally, he turned to prayer on their behalf. After that he prayed for those who would believe in the future as a result of the work of the disciples, “those who will believe in me through their word” and that of course includes us.
The issue on Jesus’ heart was unity, “that they may all be one”. This wasn’t just a nice, cosy idea. Unity has a vital purpose. Only through unity will the world be brought to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus and the Father experience mutual indwelling and Jesus prayed that we in turn will dwell in them. Here are echoes of the vine and the branches which Jesus talked about earlier in his final conversation. Unity comes by being attached to the central stem of the vine, Jesus. As Christians we haven’t done a brilliant job of being unified. We have split into smaller and smaller groups over single issues, over music, ways of worship, and probably over much sillier things. Work has gone on to try to bring various groups together, with some success. While that continues, we can still fulfil what Jesus prayed for us by all relating to Jesus, whom we have in common. This is something I think we do well here among members of Anglicans of SL. We know we differ on some things, but we emphasise what we have in common.
Jesus confirmed in his prayer that we are not left to manage this unity by ourselves. Jesus has given his glory to all believers and his very self to live in them to bring about unity. He wanted the love of God himself to be in each of us. Our own love is of fairly low quality but Jesus has prayed that we have God’s type of love in us, as only that way will the world have a chance to understand that God is love. The quality of our love for Jesus and for one another is the best way to demonstrate the Father’s love to anyone who observes us.
St Paul is a wonderful example of how Jesus’ love, his very self, living in someone through the Holy Spirit can transform a person and draw people to Jesus. It didn’t seem to work very well initially with the people of Philippi as they were very angry at their loss of income. However, as the story in our passage from Acts unfolds we can see how the love of God flowed out of Paul and Silas. Even though they had been badly beaten, they sang praises to God which must surely have impressed the other prisoners who were listening. Paul’s love and concern for the welfare of the jailer shines through also. By Paul’s actions, a death by suicide became a chance for new life for the jailer and all his household as they came to faith and were baptised. The whole household was then filled with joy.
In this period between Ascension Day and Pentecost we are remembering how the disciples waited for what Jesus has promised them. For a second time Jesus had left them, first when he died on the cross and then when he ascended into heaven. However, he had said that if he went away the Holy Spirit would come to them. And so they waited, as instructed, for power from on high.
As we think about that time of waiting, it’s an opportunity for us to bring our prayers in line with Jesus’ prayer for us. We can pray that we experience unity through being securely attached to Jesus, the true vine. We can confirm that we want Jesus to live in us, to love through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
These days between Ascension Day and Pentecost are a time in the church year when believers around the world pray that the Holy Spirit will descend on them once more.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor