We began this week with a senseless killing of a man on a subway many of us use, going to brunch, which many of us do. It continued with the murder of young children and their teachers in a school in Texas. This is after the racially motivated killings in Buffalo the week before and the background violence of the suicides of working-class white men and gay teens of all colors. There is a dispiritingly futile debate on why this is and what can be done. Can we as Christians add something beyond echoing the horror?
I think we can, and St. John today shows us both what we have to offer and why we may not do it. But before we get to St. John, let us look at St. Paul and then what we mean by love.
St. Paul emphasizes that we are part of the body of Christ. It not as a metaphor but a description: our bodies are Jesus’ presence in the world. I love this image because it tells us that we accomplish this not by being cells with each person – the same as everyone else – but as organs and limbs, each different, each necessary to the others. I need you to be the person God has made me to be and you need me
Now look at love. Not what you think about love or what you have been told love should be but how you experience love. Two things emerge, love is more than an emotion, it is actively willing the good of the other person, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. Loving also makes the other person who he or she truly is and in loving we become our best selves.
St John joins these together. Jesus prays today:
Holy Father, so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
All Jesus tells us about his being is that he is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit and they with him. When he says that God is Love, he is revealing that this is what unites them so perfectly: that they are one being but also makes them unique as well. We see this dimly in our own loving, we are never closer to another person but never more ourselves.
John is telling us that the Body of Christ is not a sociological reality but a spiritual one, based on the nature of God himself. We are the Body of Christ, not the idea of Christ, because our humanity requires that we have relationships with people. Jesus tells us that he shares his glory with us. Glory comes from the Hebrew word for weight. It is physical and must be felt to be real. When our presence is not felt, when we are not God’s glory, we are his disgrace.
Our experience shows us that love makes us who we are and because God is love, love reflects ultimate reality. The consequences of this are what we have to offer the world, especially our country in this time of peril.
The passage we have just quoted continues:
that the world may know that you sent me.
This is so important that he says it again a few verses further and continues:
that you loved them even as you loved me.
We know that we are truly Jesus’s body and are making an impression when through us others know that they are loved. This may of course occur with individuals and any group, religious or otherwise. We as Christians offer the knowledge not only that it comes from God but is an invitation to share the life of God. No idea, experience or power is greater and all that is good reflects this basic reality: God is love and he wants to share his very being with every one of us.
This destroys hate and banishes despair.
When I look at young men who are attracted to white supremacist ideology in a county once called a nation with the soul of a church, (G. K. Chesterton) I must ask why did they not seek Jesus? When I see men who have worked their whole lives think themselves worthless because they are unable to find meaningful employment, or a teenager so scorned for his or her sexual orientation that they are swallowed up by despair I must ask where were Christians?
Where was a Chrisitan presence or in John’s language why did no one communicate that God is love that I know that he loves me and that he loves you, whoever you are, as well.
We can easily put the blame on the institutional church. This week the Southern Baptist Convention joined us Catholics in infamy. The sex scandals have played a significant part but also the seeming identification of Christian churches with sectarian politics.
Serious indeed, but this does not let us as a parish or as individuals off the hook. Do people experience Jesus when they enter this church or meet you or me in our daily lives? This is not a question that we often ask but it is one which Jesus in St. John’s gospel demands that we answer.
Jesus’s presence in the world is not by angels but you and me. A soul so lost that white supremacy seems an alternative worthy of dying for will not meet a fiery presence in the night but you or me in Key Food. A despairing person will not have a vision of celestial light but will come to church perhaps preparing for something catastrophic and final. Will they leave enlightened.
There are no simple answers to the problems raised by our persistent gun violence and many groups will play a part. Let us take from St John today that the church must be one and seen to be one to be any part of making our world whole.