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Sermon ~ One with Us

Content

Acts 1:15-17,21-26 (Matthias chosen in the place of Judas)
One with Us (John 1,20)
20 May 2012
UCSA Glengowrie

1.

“They will be one with each other, just as you and I are one.”

The prayer of Jesus —— at the end of his life as a preacher, healer, teacher. A sad prayer, if you are aware of what’s happening next to him, yet also an optimistic prayer and one which I am not sure that I could say myself.

 

They may be one with each other!

When my wife, Liz, and I were first invited to preach in your church here last year, we were amazed at the fellowship, the friendship and the compassion that you showed to us, but also amongst each other. For me, being amongst you for worship, felt like being home. I hope you are not offended when I say it was like visiting my grandmother’s house, with her big kitchen where anything and everything happened; with my grandfather’s big old armchair where he smoked his cigar after a day’s work as a tailor or in the garden, and on the kitchen table the “Streuselkuchen” or crumble cake, as you would call it.

This is where I felt I belonged; here I was at home.

On Saturday noon, I would ride my bike to our vegetable garden at the edge of Frankfurt City, Germany, with a stop over at my granny’s place. Fetch a bucket of coal for heating from the cellar, do some work in the little garden behind the house, sweep the street, and then keep on going. Late in the afternoon on my return trip I would pass through again, with some vegetables or fruit from our garden patch, or to just sneak a piece of the “Streuselkuchen”. In wintertime, I would ride to granny’s house to shovel snow.

Of course, “at home” was the apartment of my family in another part of Frankfurt, but this is where I felt “home” … welcomed, included, nurtured, at ease and at peace. My grand parents made me part of their life, included me. “Belonging” is what makes you feel at home.

 

“That they may be one …”

Some of you may know a little bit about my story here in Australia since 2006. After a life of working with the protestant churches in Germany in roles that the Uniting Church here call the Ministry of Deacon, I had married Liz in 2005 and joined her here “Down Under” in October 2006. I enrolled in an English Language course in 2007 that hopefully helped to improve my English somewhat. And I tried to establish contact with the Uniting Church to find a fellowship for worship, a “Place to Be”, is the title for the Church Internet website, and a community that would sustain me in my further ministry.

I found a worshipping community at Scots Church Adelaide, in the city centre. But I have failed completely in being accepted by the Uniting Church as a base for my ministry in the role of a Deacon. It was a painful process. At the end of it, one of my friends who had tried to mediate, as he holds an important role himself within the Uniting Church, put his observations into the following words:

In the present context, I get a picture in my mind of the church (the UCA) being like a big circle, and you are standing just outside the circle saying “Here I am, you stretch your circle a bit to include me”, whereas I think you need to say “Here I am – what do I need to do for you to be able to let me in?”

It was an appropriate picture: Standing outside, asking to be let in, but the circle never opened, no hands were stretched out to invite and welcome me in.

 

2.

“(22) … they may be one with each other, just as we are one.
(23) I am one with them, and you are one with me,

so that they may become completely one.”

Our bible text this morning is amazing, as I have already said a prayer that I could never speak. As with so many texts in the Gospel of John it is dense. The words are interwoven like a carpet, or like a fisher net. Cut a string somewhere and the hole will widen quickly. This is why I have read the whole of this prayer by Jesus as quoted in John chapter 17.

In terms of theology, these words about the relationship of God, Jesus and mankind are of the utmost importance. In these few lines, Jesus touches on so many issues that I would have to preach for a whole day to cover them all: Creation and Eternity; Trinity, or Jesus and the Holy Spirit (though not mentioned here); the likeness of God and us humans; being part of the mission of God, and the struggles we may face; being sent into the world, and being set apart for it … and so many more issues.

And it is a prayer that has touched my soul deeply. It speaks not only to my own longing for a spiritual home, as a stranger in this part of the world here in Australia, but also my own life from birth to death, and the ever-after you and I are heading for.

 

This morning, however, I would like to focus on one tiny little word in our bible text: “IN”.

For our readings I have chosen a translation that I prefer as I hope it makes the text easier to understand, i.e. the “Contemporary English Version”. I don’t know what Bible translation you normally use in your church or at home. Many of you may use, or are perhaps familiar with, the old King James Version of the bible. Whilst they all work with the same Hebrew, Greek and Latin source texts, their emphasis in theology, and thus in translation, may vary.

Consider the lines in verses 22 and 23 that I have just quoted before, in the translation of the King James Version:

(22) … that they may be one, even as we are one:
(23) I in them, and thou in me,
that they may be made perfect in one;

Whether Jesus, or rather the author of the Gospel of John, plays with words in this passage does not really matter. It is the picture created by these words that is important.

If you read the Greek version of the Gospel of John and are not familiar with the language, you may be easily fooled. The Greek words for ‘one’ and ‘in’ look almost alike, spelt with the same letters: en. But the accents make the important difference, and actually create the two distinctively different words: HEN and EN.

However, as I am currently working with linguists at the University of Adelaide, without being a language expert myself, I would assume that both words have the same origin. And it makes sense: “One” can only be what is “in” with each other. If you can see (or sense) two parts of the one thing — well, it’s not one, is it?!

 

3.

Martin Buber, a famous German and Jewish philosopher and theologian in the first half of the 20th century, published in 1919 a little book called, in German: “Ich und Du”, or “I and Thou”. Buber has published, before and after, many other books on theology, philosophy and even politics, many of them quite sizeable volumes. But this little booklet may be the key to his thoughts, and I have to admit, it is hard to understand!

But if you ever have a chance (and the patience) to read it, go for it. It is amazing.

In the first instance, “I and Thou” seems to be bluntly simple. It is what you promise in every marriage, friendship, or to business partners. The basis of it is trust. I assume you are honest to me — always! The wedding ring on our fingers, the sharing of a secret between friends, or my signature underneath a contract — they all testify to it. If I breach it — well, I’d be in for some hiding!

But Buber wouldn’t be the Jewish philosopher if that was all there was to it!

He argues that for most of our relationships, as intimate as they may be, there is almost always an “IT” that links “you to me”: If not the wedding ring, the secret, the signature — it is at least something like trust. “I” and “Thou” in human relationships are almost always sealed by an “it”. It brings us together into a close inter-relationship, true, possibly like a baby’s first touch: You hold a finger, and the tiny little hand will grab it, not knowing what and why, but trusting.

What makes this little booklet so famous is Buber’s attempt to describe the relationship between God and Man. God is the One, whom Jewish people would never address by name. And how can you speak about the Eternal, the One who says of himself to Moses at the burning bush near God’s mountain of Horeb that

“I AM THAT I AM;
and He said,
Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel,
I AM hath sent me unto you!”

(Exodus 3,14, in the King James Translation).

It is the long version of the famous tetragram “YHWH” for “I Am Who I Will Be!”, the letters used in Jewish and Old Testament writing to avoid spelling the name of God in vain!

But there is more to it. Indeed, like Moses, how can I put into words the “Eternal One”, who has been before and will be long after all our lives on earth have ended, and in the cosmos?

A German philosopher of Jewish descent, Martin Buber attempted to describe the relationship between God and me by another picture: Imagine you hug a tree. You feel it being alive. There is nothing else that can indicate its being alive to you other than what you see, i.e. the green leaves … and what you feel.

So you sense God being with you. There is no mediator, no “IT”, nothing you can put into words, signs, or any other form of expression: You know intimately, immediately, directly. You are one with God, as he is one with you — “in” you, with you, around you, and who carries you in his hands.

 

4.

Jesus prays to God as his father. But his prayer is what we call an intercession, or in German more aptly a “Fürbitte”, the prayer for others … He prays for us, for you and me, for his followers.

He has taught us all what he knows so that we may be one, and that the world will thus learn about Him. In his prayer to his father, Jesus places us in an intimate linkage through him with God the father and creator. We are not only followers of Jesus on earth, set apart from the world (for which the Uniting Church uses the term “Ordination”). We are not only people who will be despised by the world for our conviction and mission, as it happened to Jesus himself. We are not only to be a fellowship of likeminded people.

We are seen as much more: Jesus places us as the descendants of his life on earth. As He is in the Father, we are to be in Him. As Jesus and God are ONE, so we are to be one with him, “to be made perfect”, as the old King James Version translates the Greek origin.

And like Jesus was part of the Mission of God for his creation, so we become part of this Missio Dei:

(25) God Father, the people of this world don’t know you.
But I know you, and my followers know that you sent me.
(26) I told them what you are like, and I will tell them even more.
Then the love that you have for me
will become part of them,
and I will be one with them.

 

Amen.

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