Sermon for Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2021
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Acts 1:15–17, 21–26 | 1 John 5:9–13 | John 17:6–19
“If one completes the journey to one’s own heart, one will find oneself in the heart of everyone else.”
What do you picture when you hear the word “world”? (Blue planet, countries, people, nature?) What perspective do you picture it from? (Way or a little above, standing on the ground?) So, I’m thinking “world” is the word for the day because it occurs 10 times in our reading today. It’s helpful when we read the gospel of John to pay attention to those words about common things that awaken understanding (Jesus says things like, “I am the bread of life, the living water, the light of the world etc.), particularly on a day like today when we can get a little lost in all the connections and repetition in the text and what we want is to experience the gospel, or good news deeply.
So, the word “world” in Greek is “cosmos.” Now I don’t know about you, but I immediately think of Neil deGrasse Tyson getting in his virtual “spaceship” as the host of the PBS show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey as if we are actually going out there to explore all the strange and wondrous things in the universe. The sense of “cosmos” as it was once used, however, was not so much about all these far-away things that the ancients knew little about—but it was about—as the word literally meant to them: “Something ordered." So, yes, that’s a way to describe the stars and planets as they saw them from the earth: patterns, movement, constellations. And for us, it’s the vast reaches of space that we now know contains other galaxies and solar systems; nebulae, black holes, dark matter. “Something ordered” was also used to describe the earth along with all the things set upon it (“adorning”). This would have been natural features, buildings and humans with all their creations: The ways that people live and organize and interact: Worldly affairs. Now this last meaning for “cosmos” may not seem very ordered where humans are concerned, but there are patterns for sure: For good or ill.
It begs the question: WHO orders things and what do we allow?
This is the “world” that Jesus weaves his prayer around: An understanding of the complexity of them being part of all these things: Being literally made of the same elements that are all over the vast galaxy; and ALSO a specific creation on this planet—among many; and finally part of a vast network of human systems that order things; for survival and safety, affection and esteem, power and control: systems that may nurture or oppress—or often, do both all at once! Jesus reflects that his disciples are from this world, or “cosmos” and this presents certain challenges to them because—as we hear at the end of the prayer—he is sending them back into the world. He asks for protection for them, including from an “evil one”—which is literally the “one of destruction, ruin, loss.” He even says they don’t “belong” to the world. Apparently, this “world” is problematic and being in it carries a certain amount of risk. This, after all, on this eve of his own betrayal and arrest—and so he prays for himself first (the verses immediately before) and then for the ones who have known him and will carry this knowledge to the world.
The thing is: They have experienced the world as it God means to order it: That is, the ordered world, as it was intended to be ordered. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world (cosmos) that he gave his only Son” and whoever “believes’ —or better, trusts—that is, lives as if this is true—will have eternal life. While this may sound like a magic key to heaven, it is really a recipe for life NOW. It’s a call to the order that God intends; to the “truth” as we hear in John 17. And because the “world” does what it does, his disciples (and us by extrapolation) will feel forces that draw away from the best and deepest life to which he call us—because it’s just hard to swim upstream—and anchors them in the gospel truth that will challenge the way humans order things. In knowing God through Jesus, they will recognize when they do or don’t see something that is of God.
Now, in the midst of this big idea of “cosmos,” there is a very specific comfort. And that is one another. Jesus asks also that his disciples know themselves as being “one” just as he is with God. This might sound like we all have to agree on everything all the time, but it’s really about understanding that we are already one. It’s the benefit of thinking about the world in terms of “cosmos”—broadening our perspective so we can come back down to ourselves and see what’s really important; what matters in everyday life; how we can be a part- individually and as communities of faith especially—of a cosmos shot through with God. How we love one another matters, in other words. How we know that we are beloved matters. To quote Fr. Thomas Keating: “If you complete the journey to your own heart, you will find yourself in the heart of everyone else.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.