Life Together: A Reality, Not a Dream - John 17:6-19
A flying saucer landed at a gas station on a lonely country road. The two space aliens inside seemed completely unconcerned about detection; in fact, the letters "UFO" were emblazoned in big, bold letters on one side of their shiny craft.
As the station owner stood and gawked in silence, paralyzed with shock, his young clerk took their money and waved to the two aliens as they took off.
"Do you realize what just happened?" the station owner finally uttered.
"Yeah," said the attendant. "So?"
"Didn't you see the space aliens in that vehicle?!"
"Yeah," repeated the attendant. "So?"
"Didn't you see the letters 'UFO' on the side of that vehicle?!"
"Yeah," repeated the attendant. "So?"
"Don't you know what 'UFO' means?!"
The cashier rolled his eyes. "Come on, boss! I've been working here for six years. Of course I know what 'UFO' means-- 'Unleaded Fuel Only.'"
We've been on thus journey now for seven Sundays. We know by now that living in a Christian community such as we have here is a gift from God. It is a pure act of grace that we need to cherish and honor.
We realize that a humble attitude in which we realize that we are not better than one another and we are willing to bend in service to one another.
We've also discussed how crucial that forgiveness is to this community, realizing that we are all sinners and fallen short of the glory of God, and that we need to forgive one another just as God, through Christ, has forgiven us.
Love is central to this community, as we are created in the image of God, and we know from 1st John that God is Love. We know this love is an unconditional, self-sacrificing love, reflecting the love of God seen in the cross.
We've acknowledged that accountability that offers correction through love and support, as opposed to condemning judgmentalism, is a characteristic of a Christian community.
And last week, we talked about the need for us to seek to live in peace with one another, not arguing with one another over things that are not essential to the faith.
After all these weeks, some of you may want to say, "Preacher, that is all nice and a pretty utopian picture you are painting, but we have to live in the real world. We can't do those things, we'll end up crucified."
First, those who say we have to live in the real world are right. We do have to live in the real world. We are expected to live in the real world. Jesus, in His prayer, acknowledges this: "...I am not asking you to take them out of the world...as you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." We are expected by Christ to be living in the real world. However, we are expected to be in the world in the same fashion that Christ was in the world.
We are expected to be in the world, but not of the world. Remember the conversation between Jesus and Pilate when Jesus had been arrested and was on trial and Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom was from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over...." In His prayer, Jesus says, "they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world."
We are supposed to live in the real world, but we are not supposed to be of the world. We are to live by a different set of standards than the real-world lives by. We may live in the real world, but as Paul puts it, echoing Christ's worlds to Pilate about His kingdom, our citizenship is not of this world, our citizenship is a heavenly citizenship.
Back in 1989, Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas (a now retired United Methodist Bishop and a professor at Duke University), wrote a book addressing the idea that we are called to live in the world, but not being of the world. They said we should understand ourselves as resident aliens.
Think of it this way...as Americans, if you were to go on a trip and temporarily take up residence in Canada, Mexico, France, or Australia, you wouldn't be citizens of those countries while you were visiting. You would be an American living in whichever country you were visiting. Well, my brothers and sisters, as Christians, we are citizens if God's Kingdom temporarily living in this world, and as the song goes, “I’m going home." We are not home, we are on the way home. In that sense, if you want to really push deep, those of us here who have experienced the waters of baptism are not American Christians, we are actually Christians who happen to live in America.
Jesus says he has sent his disciples into the world just as he was sent into the world. We know from the Gospel of John, that God sent Christ into the world not to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him; we know that Jesus was God incarnate, the Word made flesh; we know that Jesus is the living water that will quench all thirst; we know that Jesus is the Bread of Life; we know that Jesus is the Great Shepherd; we know that Jesus willingly gave up His life for ours. And, my friends, those are the things He sends us, as the living Body of Christ, to be as we are living in the real world. If we are living in the world and of the world, meaning we are being like everyone else in the world, we cannot be water, bread, a shepherd, or the Word made flesh.
There are so many people out in the world that are hungry and thirsty. I am not talking about a hunger or thirst that can be sated with a meal from Seaside or Fish Hook. I am talking about that deep down hunger and thirst that comes from the soul…the hunger and thirst that without Christ, is always causing an ache down deep. My friends, if we as a Community of Faith, do not offer something different that what the world offers…if we offer the same arrogance and grudges and bitterness that the world offers, then how are we going to lead them to the One source that will fill that void. We have to be in the world to reach them, but we have to be different from the world to be water and bread.
There are so many others in the world who are lost and confused and need guidance from the Great Shepherd. We cannot guide them to the Great Shepherd if they encounter in His Church the same hatred and judgment that they find in the world. We have to be in the world to reach them, but we have to be different from the world to be a shepherd.
Those who do not know what our God is like, need to be able to see Him. They need to see the Word made flesh that came to dwell among us. They need to see the Living God in action…and yet, if they look at His Body—the Body of Christ—and see chaos and conflict instead of peace and reconciliation—are they seeing God or the world? We have to be in the world to reach them, but we have to be different from the world to be the Living Body of Christ. And we are called to be the Incarnate presence of the living Christ to the world. Christ sends us, just as the Father sent Him…God sent Christ into the world to reveal His loving grace…His very presence…so too are we to reveal God’s loving grace and His very presence.
Secondly, if Christ is not central to our lives, His presence marked by the things we have talked about, humility, forgiveness, love, accountability, and peace, then we can't call ourselves a Christian community. Without these we are no different than any other social organization or country club.
Our Life Together has to reflect to the world what it means to live with Christ as our Lord and Savior…to live life with God. It has to show that we gather because what is here is better than what the world offers. If it is not different, if our relationship with Christ has not somehow made us different than the rest of the world, if citizenship in heaven is no different than citizenship in our society, then why be here? There are waters to be fished, golf balls to be hit, recliners to be reclined, and even money to be made. The truth of the matter is that our Life Together is a calling to be different…so different that the fish, golf balls, recliners, and money aren’t the most important thing in our lives…God is.
Finally, for those who say that living as citizens of God’s Kingdom in the real world…living a life of humility, forgiveness, love, accountability, and peace…will get you crucified. You are right again. Living Life Together as we ought to will get us crucified, either figuratively or literally. Jesus tells us as much: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”
Before Jesus goes to the garden to pray, he tells the Disciples: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me….”
We remember Stephen was stoned for his Life Together as part of the Christian Community, and his refusal to stop testifying for Christ. We remember that Paul and Silas were thrown into prison and flogged for refusing to consider the money folks were making off a poor young girl possessed by a demon. We remember that James and John were put to death by the sword on the orders of Herod, because of their Life Together proclaiming salvation in Christ.
Life Together in our real world, today, will most likely not end in stoning, flogging and imprisonment, or death by sword…at least not in the society we live in currently. It might mean that someone makes fun of us. It might mean that folks take advantage of us. It might mean that we get publically ridiculed or embarrassed. It might mean that we don’t have as much as the next guy or gal. It might mean that some folks will not have anything to do with us. Christ promised us that living for Him would not be easy…and if it does seem easy right now, then we have to ask ourselves are whether we are living as residents of the real world or aliens in a foreign land.
So if Life Together is this tough, how do we do it...what is on our side?
We remember that our Life Together is an act of God’s grace…a gift from God…and God only gives good and perfect gifts.
We remember that Christ is praying for us: “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one….”
We remember that Christ said, “As the Father sends me, so I send you…” and then breathed upon the Disciples the Holy Spirit. We remember that same spirit was poured out upon the whole church on the Day of Pentecost. It is that same Holy Spirit that is our Advocate, Comforter, and the One who will give us the strength to live our Life Together in the world, but not of the world…to live Life Together as a reality, and not simply as a dream.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.