It takes a great deal of courage and humility to acknowledge differences between one another and to be able to sit with differences, let differences exist and not be frightened by its implications.
Generally, our response to such fear and evidence of difference is to try and make others become like ourselves, to get them to do what we want, to behave in a particular way, believe what we believe and if they don’t after we have been so generous to offer them the opportunity to join us, then to exclude, shame, punish and push away.
When you think about the things that make you angry, I can remember arguments that keep running like an illness, never cured, resolved or finalised; bitter words that are spoken in the heat of the moment because you just have to say them to make sure you get your point across and which then cannot be taken back; accusations that have never been proved but you are certain of the righteousness of your position; deliberate alienation from people whom you despise. The list may be long; yet all these things add up to a lack of peace or Shalom, a lack of unity and a lack of love in our hearts for one another and as in this example, a lack of love for God.
We start conversations with the poorly disguised intention to make sure the other person or group is made to move to our way of thinking and behaving. We don’t go to listen and be persuaded. We go to stamp our authority and our terms on the other person or group.
Differences frequently become magnified and overwhelming. We become so fixated about our own position we do not want to listen, hear, understand the other person’s point of view and we certainly do not want to be persuaded by them.
One of the things I find most frightening and potentially evil is when someone is absolutely certain they are right. Their certainty does not allow for any discussion or disagreement. No shifting of opinion is possible, there is no sense of being open to another perspective. Their certainty is so strong it can kill others, metaphorically, emotionally, spiritually, physically and very brutally. The saying ‘the way to hell is paved with good intentions’ is based on this reality.
In the Gospel, Jesus talks about ‘metanoia’, a change of heart, of mind, of life, of belief systems and world view. With such behaviour how do we ever imagine God changing us. What role do we allow God or give permission to God to change us? Maybe none.
Saul’s certainty about the righteousness of his position before hearing God was absolute, to the point he was ready to stand over people and see them killed, such as Stephen, who was stoned to death.
Jesus’ gift of peace, love, unity and of sharing life and trusting each other and God was radical, subversive, generous and overwhelming.
And very scary to those who prefer judgement, certainty, rules, authority, and privilege. It was and is very scary to those of us who like the safety of rules, of knowing where the right and wrong of a matter is so we can always be right.
Jesus’ abundant love takes us to the limit of our fear. How can I be sure of the righteousness of my position if God loves you when I hate you? Maybe my God is a judgmental God, a God whose mercy falls where I think it needs to go, whose peace is a peace where I feel safe and in control, whose love has limits that match mine.
If you stop and think for a moment about the radical nature of the idea of God being love, it immediately calls into question some of our daily behaviours, beliefs and certainties.
If I understand God’s love for us being present ‘because God loved you and I before the foundation of the world’, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, is presently being breathed into us, surrounding us, and is waiting patiently for us to open our hearts to God as it has throughout all eternity. It means Jesus’ next words in John’s Gospel are truly startling.
I ask…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 you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-24)
Righteous Father the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (v25-26)
This relationship between God, the Creator, the incarnated Son and the Holy Spirit, is woven into the very fabric of our being in the world and in God. We are invited into being together in community in God.
We experience God’s love through our experience of living with each other. We cannot choose to live in isolation, we experience God in community. This week the Anglican Communion has been praying for reconciliation, with each other, across nations, races, faiths and with each other.
If disunity, distrust and unkind motives are the things that drive our minds and hearts, then the God you believe in is not the God I believe in. A God of love does not set out to hurt, shame or dishonour others. Our community with God cannot be one of unkindness and rejection.
And it is interesting the reference to Righteous Father is the only time this title is used in the Gospel. The prayerful hopes of Jesus, guiding and encouraging his disciples and us brings to mind a God who is engaged in true justice through unity, love and community, humbly, trustingly and lovingly.
Jesus’ experience of rejection by the authorities, the community and his disciples, his humiliation, torture and death on the cross are borne in love for us, God’s love that was present before the foundation of the world as we were loved into existence.
Our fear of others who are not like us, is our fear, not God’s. God created the cosmos, this earth, and all that is in it. Our hatred, rejection, misuse and abuse of God’s creation is based on our fear, not God’s.
Jesus’ prayer to the ‘Righteous Father seeks to open up our hearts to God’s understanding of us, our vulnerability, brokenness and fear, and to enable us to experience and accept God’s love.
The ‘Righteous Father’ recognises God’s consistent justice and mercy and shows us, the way through our fear and mistrust of God and each other is through God’s love of us and for each other. Jesus offers us human and divine mutual love and mercy standing in stark contrast to a world that will and does crucify anyone, including God’s son who stands differently, speaks differently behaves differently and refuses to give in to fear, hatred and judgement.
Jesus said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’.
Jesus points to a way through abiding in God, through the experience of God’s love with the Holy Spirit gifted to us, the advocate of peace, trust, love and hope. This is not a way, truth or life based on fear, rejection of difference, or on rules that judge and exclude to benefit us.
Jesus’ final prayer ends their last meal together when he says to God:
‘I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out to the garden of Gethsemane. He suffered betrayal, arrest, trial, judgement, torture, abandonment, and death on a cross, yet his final words were of love.
As we pray for reconciliation and prepare for Pentecost, we recognise the gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s love poured out on us abundantly. May we abide in God’s love.
The Lord be with You.