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5/24/09 Sermon at Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Placentia, CA
This opportunity with Fr. Greg celebrating his first Sunday mass, and the Bible propers lining up quite extraordinarily, gives me my chance to use the concluding prayer at the end of the Eucharist and one particular part of the prayer of consecration for my theme -- which is Unity in Christ -- our personal, individual Unity with Christ, and then, in Him, our Unity with each other.
And why does Jesus thinks that our unity is so important?
We read in the Gospel, "Jesus prayed for His disciples, saying, 'Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one." That is an astonishing prayer. Jesus prays to the Father that they (meaning all of us) may be one "even as we (the Father and the Son) are one."
And then, in the next two verses after our Gospel lesson, Jesus continues His prayer: "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word." Jesus was praying for us here this morning. And then He continues... "that they all may be one; even as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."
We here at Blessed Sacrament are to have a unity among ourselves something like Jesus has with the Father. That is what Jesus was praying for. And why was Jesus so profoundly interested in that? Well, first because it is the very meaning of our salvation. It means first our having that kind of closeness with God, with the Trinity, living in the glory of God, living in the abundance of His majesty and power and glory. "Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and Glory!" we pray. Yes, Yes! But we are to live in that Kingdom, Power, and Glory. Not just admire it from a distance. That is our inheritance!
But what does that mean for us? What is the cash value of that? What do we get out of it? Well, sometimes we get persecution out of it. When was the last time you thought of laying down your life for the person five pews behind you, or in front of you, or for that person in the back whom you have never met. Sometimes we get persecution out of it -- but in the midst of that persecution, we may discover that we have lost all fear of death, that we can risk our lives knowing that we are safe, no matter the outcome.
Making our lives available for one another is the kind of unity for which Jesus was praying for us. He wants all barriers down, He wants us to live in the light with one another, to know and be known by one another. He wants us to come to the place where we have no secrets, where we can be as Adam and Eve, naked and unashamed. It has not to do with clothing, but with defensiveness, emotional and spiritual hiddenness, being unavailable for each other.
We have a long, long way to go. But that is what Jesus prayed for.
The early Christians, not all of them, but enough to make a striking difference, had that kind of unity. When plagues came to town, anyone with any worldly sense got out of town. But the Christians stayed and helped one another, especially those who had no other place to go. No villa in the country side, just a hole in the wall in Rome for their dwelling. They ministered to their own, and to the pagans.
The pagans noticed that. One emperor told the pagan priests to get their people to do the same. It never happened. The pagan priests had no concept of forming a community of loving persons. That was not what they did. Loving one's neighbor makes no sense in the pagan world. They might admire it, but without the law and grace of God, it makes no sense. The pagan priests, I suppose, got out of town with the rest if they could.
Jesus prayed for unity among His people because He knew that that kind of unity was something which pagans and secular people cannot produce. They are incapable of bonding at that depth for any length of time. Many pagans became Christians because they said, "If having Jesus in your heart gives you that kind of love for one another, I want Jesus in my heart."
The same thing happened in our own time. Mother Theresa was attacked by some Hindus in India. She was told to get out of town and take her hospital with her. It is not in the Hindu mentality to help the outcasts because that is really to hurt them. Outcasts are supposed to suffer so that they can earn their way up the ladder of karma. But the local authorities saw something good in what Mother Theresa was doing, and told their Hindu priests to get Hindus to take over Mother Theresa's hospital. No one showed up. It made no sense to them.
So Mother Theresa was allowed to stay and run her
hospital. Unity-- life-sharing unity, life-giving unity -- "...so that the
world may believe that Thou has sent me!" Many of the pagans understood that
anyone who could show that kind of
life-devoting unity had to have had the help of God. Jesus must have come from the Father.
Until we live like Christ, the pagans have little reason to believe that the Father sent His Son.
Jesus knew when He prayed that that was the case, but He also knew that pagans who were open to the truth about life would see what was happening.
So what has all this to do with the mass?
We pray in the prayer of consecration, the first version of Rite I, "And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice..." The mass is about the "full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world..." which Jesus and only Jesus can make. So what is this business about our making a sacrifice?
It is the nature of personal relationships that you get out of the relationship only to the depth that you put yourself into the relationship. You can receive from God only with that part of yourself which you have given to him. That is true of any personal relationship. It is true of marriages and friendships. It is true of parent-child relationships. It is true supremely of our relationship to God.
We symbolize a part of that with our offertory. We bring up the bread and wine we have produced or purchased, along with our monetary offering. But then we bring ourselves up to the altar, not just because that is a convenient way of receiving the bread and wine, but because we must bring ourselves -- a living sacrifice to receive what Jesus has sacrificed for us -- Himself. We meet Him there -- or nothing happens.
Buddhist teachers use a thing called a koan, an absurd and self-contradictory bit of nonsense to help break their student's reliance on logic, to get them to transcend logic, as they say. They might, for example, say, "Listen to the sound of one hand clapping."
A sacrifice of Jesus without a corresponding sacrifice from us is the sound of one hand clapping. It is nonsense. It does not work. It produces no serious salvation. It is just a pretend holiness.
If I do not make my body, myself, a living sacrifice to Jesus, His sacrifice for me will have been in vain, and I stand a chance of hearing Him say to me on Judgement Day, "Depart from Me, I never knew you." It is that important. Will I honestly and openly make myself known to Jesus? Will I have that open relationship with Him which He will have with every disciple? Will I accept His offer, "Come, let us reason together...?"
Please understand that spiritual growth is rarely an explosion, rarely a sudden leap into maturity. Most of us grow incrementally, slowly, sometimes painfully We have reversals, back-slidings. . The question is not whether you "have arrived", but whether you are seriously on the journey. Are you, first of all, a truth-seeker? Are you willing to have open, honest conversations with God, bring to Him your real questions? Are you willing to challenge God with your doubts and fears, and are you then willing then to give Him equal time and hear His side of the story? Things happen only when the real you meets the real God. That is the sacrifice -- on both sides. It cost Him the crucifixion. It will cost you the crucifixion of your sins. God is already doing His part, are you willing to respond in kind?
I must make myself known to Jesus, and to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and to the world around me. I must come out of hiding and be open and free to be my real, God-given self. That is making myself a living sacrifice -- to take off my suit of armor, to make my life available to my neighbor, to live in the light with him, to draw my neighbor into the circle of the blessings which God has given me, to make myself vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune of a world which leaves town, disappears when trouble happens. Or attacks you for your openness, and for loving your neighbor.
In the closing prayer, we thank God "that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom."
What is this mystical body but that company of those who have made themselves a living sacrifice, who have dared to live in reality, openly and honestly, speaking the truth in love? What is that mystical body but those who are always faithful, always loving, and always hopeful -- these three endure, says St. Paul.
And then we pray that "we will continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in..." Why do we pray that we will continue? Because we wander and lust after the things of the world rather than pursue the way God has prepared for us. As soon as we walk out the church door, we can begin to lose our focus. Not usually in some big, noisy manner, we just drift. We wander. We look in the mirror and then forget what manner of persons we are. "I'm supposed to be running for home plate! What am I doing out here in left field???"
The changes sometimes happen literally at the altar. Often they happen when you are wandering out in the world. Something happens and you begin to be honest with yourself and God. You begin to risk making yourself a living sacrifice, living in reality, taking that awful chance....
Mostly it happens, I suspect, right in our Christian relationships, within the mystical Body of Christ, when we begin to take seriously the enormous consequences of what Jesus has done for us, and want to respond with the whole of ourselves. We do that poorly on our own. We need each other.
The mystical body of Christ is those who have received and accepted the crucifixion sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, for the gift of forgiveness, for the gift of restored stability of being and of righteousness restored. It is those who have come to the altar and given themselves back to God to receive Him into themselves, so that we can walk out the door with Him upholding and directing. It is all about personal relationship. God in us and we in the world is the result of the mutual sacrifice of God to man and of man to God.
You are not a passive recipient in this business of salvation. You are required to invest the whole of your body, mind, and soul into this mystical body of Christ, as He has invested the whole of His divinity and manhood.
The prayer of Jesus for our unity, "that the world may believe that thou hast sent me", is the best answer to those who think you can be a solo Christian. We are in this together, or we are not very much in it.
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