Sunday Service 29th May - Unity and Glory
Unity and Glory
Reading John 17: 20-26 Margaret
Hymn760(MP): When we walk with the Lord (Trust and obey)
Hymn 37(MP): As the deer pants for the water
Welcome to our reflection for 29th May.
It is the end of May; the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, that annual meeting where we look at how we are doing and reflect on what we need to do is just finished.
We have heard of church closures, or shortages of ministers, of ministers going into fuel poverty and having to move out of the manses.
It feels like the church is in freefall.
We are far from the glory days of the past when churches were packed and it took 15 buses to take the Sunday School out on their trips.
And maybe after all we have faced in the last few
years we feel our own life is in a downward spiral as well...
That we are far from our glory days.
Well maybe today has a message for us, as Margaret leads us in a passage that talks about God’s glory.
I have been at the General Assembly this week; well I have been online at the General Assembly this week.
And the General Assembly is a weeklong committee meeting where we get insights as to how the Church of Scotland is doing.
I think we can safely say that the church is struggling.
We have ministers facing fuel poverty and how we cope with that.
We have all the readjustments and organising the removal of a quarter of the church buildings and all the grieving and loss and fears that go along with that.
We have ministers struggling with huge changes at a time when expectations have never been higher.
We are supposed to be training our congregations to take on more tasks whether those individuals wanted to do those tasks or not,
at the same time as ministers will be increasing their workload between churches that have been put together hurriedly without much consultation or even their consent.
And in the midst of this we have a reading that talks about oneness and glory.
If only we could be united as a people.
If only we could be one in vision and direction all working together for a common goal...then we would be successful, then our churches would grow, then we would be glorious. Doesn’t that sound ideal?
I think we are meant to be united; I think we are meant to be glorious.
But I wonder if we have the right definitions of these things in our head.
I think we read passages like this in the Bible and we imagine what they were like in those days.
We know certain things.
We know that he church grew and grew into such a force that it took over the greatest military empire of its day.
We see some of the churches built at that time and they are gigantic feats of architecture. They are statements of just how much power and influence and sheer size of numbers the churches had.
We talk about how the original disciples, this band of frightened men in an upper room, went out and changed the world.
But the truth is that the church was always divided;
between those in the church that were influenced by Greek culture and those influenced by Jewish culture,
between those that were slaves and those that were free,
between those that were rich and those that were poor,
between those that were men and those that were women.
Any reading of the New Testament and especially Paul’s letters to the early churches shows a church divided and a church unsure. So maybe we are more like them than we would like to admit.
And maybe the message of today is as much a message to us as it was for them.
So glory; when were you at your most glorious?
Is that not a tough question?
I am sure that if I was to go round the church and ask that question of any one of you, most of you would be struggling to think of an answer.
Jesus showed God’s glory, and Jesus is meant to be in us so we are meant to show God’s glory.
How can we do that if we don’t even know what it means?
So I had a think of my own glory.
When was I at my best...would it be my academic awards?
I remember the first time I had to sign on after I had finished my probationary training.
I went along to the unemployment office and was given a form to fill in and on it had a section asking me to list my qualifications.
And I asked them which ones.
And they said all of them.
And I said, ‘You have a pockey wee section for qualifications of two lines. I can’t fit my qualifications into that.’
And she said, ‘What have you got?’
And I said, ‘8 O grades, 7 highers, an A level a sixth years study and two degrees.’
If you were to ask me when I was at my most glorious I would have said a few weeks ago when I was competing for the Bridge of Allan squash tournament in the venerable category. That is for people so old that they shouldn’t be able to play squash any more. That is for people so old and decrepit that by the time they have finished the game they have forgotten what the score was anyway.
And after all I have been through in the last five years, through all the world has been through in the last two years, I won. (though it was more by two falls and a submission as I broke my opponent rather than beat him.)
I remember sitting with an old woman who was dying. I held her hand as I watched her take her last breath in this world, and her first breath in the next. I wonder if God would say that was when I was at my most glorious?
And if you think I struggle with defining glory that is nothing with the struggles I have with unity.
I have spent more time this year in discussions with other churches about the future of those churches; half the time I am struggling to agree with them, half the time I am struggling to agree with myself. If I am struggling to work out my own way forward how am I supposed to work out how I can be united with other people as we go forward together?
‘I gave them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, just as you and I are one; I in them and you in me,
so that they may be completely one,
in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.’
What was Christ’s glory?
It wasn’t the church because that didn’t exist and hadn’t even started at that time.
It wasn’t his teaching or his miracles.
Many believe it was the cross, and often Paul in his letters will talk about the cross being the sign of Christ’s glory.
Though I suspect it wasn’t the cross in itself, but the vulnerability that Jesus showed on the cross.
This was the level of his love for us, of God’s love for us, that if it was to cost him his life, then so be it.
How far would God go to save us?
How far would Christ go to show that he trusted his Father’s plan?
For God to be in true relationship with us he has to trust us on our side of the relationship, he had to be vulnerable. How vulnerable? If it was to be a true relationship then completely vulnerable.
The glory God offers us is vulnerability.
That is the glory that Christ had.
He lived a vulnerable life in relationship with God, in relationship with us.
He could have come as an invincible warrior to conquer the world; that could have been his glory, he didn’t.
He could have come as the wisdom of the ages, a sage that wrote books that changed the world; that could have been his glory, he left no written testament.
He came as a babe, a refugee, an outcast, rejected by many, refusing to seek power but giving power away, willing to suffer for others, willing to die for others.
That was his glory; he was willing to become vulnerable so that we could see the love that God has for us.
And that is the glory that he offers us, not that we can be powerful or successful, not that our church is packed so that they can’t close it down; but that we can be vulnerable to others, show them that in our weakness God loves us, so that others in their weakness can know that God loves them too.
And that is our unity, not that we do the same things or believe the same things.
Not that we all sing the same hymns with the same enthusiasm or agree that a sermon was wonderful and awe inspiring.
Our unity is that being vulnerable; we live life together, together with others, together with God.
The church was at its strongest when it was vulnerable.
When they didn’t know all the answers then they could share their uncertainty together, and together, with the spirit they could find meaning and a way forward.
When they were poor and didn’t have enough they could meet together and share what they had, and as community they were stronger together, God inspiring generosity within those that had, for those that had not.
We are one in our vulnerability, that is not only our weakness, that is our strength,
for when we are honest in our vulnerability, it opens us up to the help of others,
for when we are honest about our vulnerably, it opens us up to the strength of God.
We are only truly loved when we are loved by those who know us as we truly are,
when we know others have accepted us completely, with all our strengths and weaknesses.
And that is scary because we don’t like being vulnerable.
Weird as it may seem, when we are open to being vulnerable...is worth it.
It is worth it because we can be true to ourselves.
That was Christ’s glory, being vulnerable being true to himself; helping us to see him as he really was, as God really was.
How important was it?
It was worth the life of God’s son.
It is worth everything we have.
Let us pray
Our world is a world of shifting sands.
Our world is a world where we need to be strong to survive.
And if we can’t be strong, we need to pretend to be strong.
Or so we think.
We create walls to protect ourselves, and instead we find those walls keep those who can help us far away.
We create battlements to put fear into those who would hurt us, but instead it hides us from those who would comfort us.
We put down strong foundations hoping to build a fortress that can survive any storm that may come, and instead we build a prison that isolates us from all who would share a wonderful life with us.
Help us to trust you, to be open about who we are and the struggles we face, to be vulnerable.
Help us to be true to ourselves, to admit that we are the beloved child of a God who cared so much he gave everything for our chance of a meaningful life. And in our vulnerability, may we reveal the love God has for others, as he has for us.