University Congregational Church
Sept. 13, 2020
Be the Bridge: A Posture of Humility
John 17 excerpts
I want to start this morning by telling you a story. Once there was a preacher who was trying to plan a fall sermon series during a pandemic. She and her loyal Associate Minister had spent the summer preaching uplifting sermons about Reigniting! lives by having/keeping faith, finding joy, being creative, exhibiting kindness, modeling hope, and so on. When they were considering what kind of topics to cover in the fall as an important election was upon their country, they wondered aloud what their congregants might want to talk about. They settled on an intriguing book entitled “Be The Bridge; Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation” by Latasha Morrison.
As they discussed how to model their sermons, they agreed that they didn’t want to specifically speak each week about racism, but use the ideas in the book to talk about a variety of issues and what the congregation could learn about reconciliation. In other words – how to be a bridge in a time of division. Jesus calls people to unity and to oneness. They agreed that any number of divisive social issues could be used as illustrations, but that the book might offer some suggestions about the healing division and reconciliation taught by Jesus.
The congregation is an open minded, progressive place where justice is valued, and the healing of divisions is treasured.
Today we embark on a new sermon series on that same book “Be the Bridge”. It is not a book about de-construction so much as it is about re-construction. Another way to say this is that it observes what is and goes about considering how to move forward to heal the broken and fractured places in society. This brings us to our traditional text for today.
Before I read this text, I need to put it in context. John 17 is the final scene of Jesus’ farewell meal with his disciples. Many of the patriarchs gave farewell speeches that end with prayer. Moses ended his farewell speech with a hymn of praise to God, for example. This prayer is a moment of intimate communication between Jesus and God, however, that the disciples and the readers are overhearing. Jesus is speaking to God on behalf of the faith community. In the prayer, Jesus is placing the church’s future in the hands of God. Let’s listen in…
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you…
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….
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also 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 that 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…
“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.” John 17 excerpts
Jesus’ final prayer was oriented around a vision for unity, and he commissioned his church to be the healing agent that brings a ministry of reconciliation into broken and fractured places in society. He acknowledges that God sent him into the world as God’s very presence – and that when he leaves, that incarnation is only present in the faithful if (and only if) the faithful act as he acted. He asks God to empower the faithful with the same holy love so that we – the faithful – will also be God’s incarnation.
How are we doing? Have we come to grips with our role in creating the divides in our world? Most importantly, do we recognize our responsibility and the empowerment to do something about it? Pick any index – education, economics, health, environment, gender, ethnicity – any entrenched lack of justice in our society, and the people of faith have a calling to be a bridge to healing the division! Jesus invites us in this prayer to be the bridge and reach across the chasms we see to reconcile our differences and be a unifying presence in our world.
I was ordained and continue to hold credentials in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). This is a denomination that is primarily in the United States and Canada. The first sentence of our identity statement reads “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” The denomination truly works at being a reconciling church. Here are some examples…
• We regularly publish curriculum and train leaders on anti-racist actions and have been doing this for decades. We hired the first African American woman to lead any major denomination.
• We hired the first female to lead any major denomination.
• If you go to an international gathering of the Disciples of Christ, you will experience worship with multi-language readings and prayers, musical processions of native dress and dance, music from various cultures and traditions.
• The new church initiative in 2000 was to start 2000 churches, 80% of which were ethnically diverse… and it was a successful campaign started with dollars from the denominational system.
• Children sit in the middle of the convention hall with 7,000 – 8,000 adults around them. The children are welcomed and are an essential part of the worship experience. They have activities, stories, movement, and service projects to do while in worship right there in the middle of the worship service.
• Youth activities are prioritized as part of the convention. Youth are encouraged to attend every event, speak up, vote on business items, serve communion, and be an active part of the church.
Let me tell you that these initiatives are not always comfortable, and they require an amazing amount of nimbleness and humility on everyone’s part. At the last Assembly I attended I heard my own voice complaining that I did not feel comfortable in worship because I didn’t know all the hymns and I didn’t like all the liturgies. And then I realized that being inclusive of others means I do not always get to have my preferences!
The ultimate measure of reciprocity is the love of God. Jesus’ last words in the prayer leave no doubt about the defining role of love our relationships as a bridge. If we come together in the posture of humility, we can start to bridge the divides of marginalized voices. God is inviting all of us to be active participants in reconciliation.
Love is not simply an affective category – it moves to the heart of the character and identity of God. The love of God for Jesus will continue in the life of the faith community. As Jesus was the incarnation of God for us… we are the incarnation of God for one another. We are the love of God to one another. We are the love of God – the bridge – across the many divides. We are the love. We are the incarnation. We are the bridge.
Morrison, Latasha. Be The Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation. Waterbrook, 2019
Penguin Random House LLC