John 17:20-26

Acts 1:1-11

Those of you who have taught children, you know some of the apprehension that can come at the end of a school year. (I know, there’s usually also a lot of relief as you anticipate actual free time, but let’s stick with the apprehension for now.) Our Sunday School teachers probably have a lower level of this than do teachers who see their classes off to the next grade level, because our Sunday School kids will presumably all be back next fall. All except for the graduating seniors, of course; we’ll send you off with our blessing later in the service.

And that’s just it: the blessing and the hope help us cope with the uncertainty of the future. You’re going off to new schools, or new grades, or just a summer of activity, and we know we don’t get the same kind of contact time we had before. So we’ll bless these graduating seniors as they get ready to venture out into the big wide world, and we’ll pray our hopes for how they will live with themselves and others. We want them to recognize the joy and beauty that live within them, to feel the deep connection they have with the Rhythm of the Universe. Toward their own souls and toward the souls of others, we ask them to do us proud.

Isn’t that what Jesus was doing in his final prayer for the church before he was “taken up”? He prayed for himself, for his disciples, and for all who would follow him through their witness, and this was his prayer: that the glory of God would be made visible. That the depth of self-giving love would be revealed to all the world, starting with Jesus himself and ultimately reaching “to the ends of the earth.” Jesus is ready to go away, but he wants to reinforce the great lesson of his life, the Good News, one more time. The Good News is that the glory of God lives in us, because our lives are united with God in the love that gave us life in the first place.

I should say that again, shouldn’t I? This is Good News: our lives are forever united with God, because God’s love is what gave us life in the first place. Forever united. Nothing we can do, nothing we can fail to do, nothing anyone else can do to us, can cut off the fundamental connection – the fundamental unity – between us and the source of our lives, whose name is God and whose essence is Love.

Jesus calls that kind of self-giving love God’s “glory” in John’s gospel. In the beginning of Acts, he calls it “power” that the Holy Spirit will share with them, a gift that God has promised to the disciples. Love is how the church displays the reality of God, and it’s the animating force that keeps us moving, living, serving. Love that unconditionally seeks the best for each person, love that would rather give ourselves away than take away from someone else, is what we’re made of. The church is made of a love that sees clearly that we’re all made of the same thing.

I’ll be the first to say that our unity isn’t always obvious. Well, Jesus will really be the first. After all, what he’s praying for in John is the revelation of our unity, and something that isn’t hidden doesn’t need to be revealed. But when we’re honest, we know that we often hide our unity from the rest of the world. We draw lines around who describes God in the right way, or who reaches out to the right neighbors in need, or who voted for the right presidential candidate two years ago, and we pretend that we’re the church apart from “those people” who don’t belong with us.

But we’re not apart, we’re not separate. If we can’t be separated from the love that unites us with God, then we can’t be separated from the love that unites us with each other. Even if we complain that something keeps us separated, we never are. Jesus isn’t praying that we would figure out how to become “all one,” he’s praying that we’ll truly learn that we already are all one. We are one church, we are one people of God, whatever we call ourselves (or each other!), and even our utter failure to believe in our own unity can’t change that.

But wait, that’s a Pentecost sermon, isn’t it? You’re all checking your bulletin covers to make sure you haven’t missed a week, or you’re wondering if I’ve overdone it on working ahead (answer: no). Isn’t Pentecost the holiday of the church’s unity, in the midst and because of its unbelievable diversity?

Yep. And we’re not there yet. But Jesus knew we weren’t there yet. That’s his prayer in John, his command in Acts: learn that we are truly one..

My friend, Rev. Mark Davis, has pointed out that Matthew’s gospel isn’t the only one with a “Great Commission” (“Go, make disciples, baptizing them and blahblahblah…”). Luke has one, and since he has two books, he actually says it twice. Here’s the version from Acts: “Wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised. . . . when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Whereas Matthew – at least in the part that gets quoted (not often by us) – is all about going and doing, Luke’s commission is all about sitting and waiting. Jesus commissions the church to go wait for the Holy Spirit to show up.

Go and wait. Go and wait? Why would you just sit and wait for things when you can go get them, do them, buy them! Even the Church tends to agree. We love Matthew’s commission, or at least the energy behind it: our role is to go do things. Ideally accomplish things with measurable outcomes, but do anything. Ask me how I’m doing, and I’ll say, “Busy.” Ask me about the church, and I’ll try to tell you what programs we have going on right now. Busy, programs, activities, doing!

Okay, I’ll admit, there is one weekend a year when the Church goes and waits. Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen, and this is Fishing Sunday. So those of you who have been out yesterday or early this morning, what did you do? You sat and waited. You know that fishing doesn’t happen at a pace we dictate, it happens when we slow down to the pace of the fish. The best you can do is to go where the fish are, but you can’t make them get in the boat with you. And we don’t mind that, even we of the full-to-the-gills schedules. Many of us are more than happy to just sit in one spot, for longer than we’d be willing to sit just about anywhere else, waiting for something to show up.

Whether or not we catch our limit of walleye, one thing that often shows up when we wait is the Spirit of Love. Jesus promises this Spirit to the Church forever, even though his physical form is going to be gone for the time being. But the Church has learned from the very beginning that we aren’t in control of how that Spirit works. We don’t get to know the days and times when God’s promises will come to light, and we don’t get to control whom the Spirit calls us to love. What we’re called to do is what Jesus invites his followers to do: to go and wait for the power from on high to fill us. We can’t force the Spirit to arrive, and we sure can’t guarantee what it’s going to look like when it gets here, but we can go where the Spirit is and be present to the new reality that’s already among us.

Is the Spirit here yet? Have we received the dynamic energy that Jesus promised? Perhaps you have. Some of us haven’t. It’s not like the Spirit isn’t with us in these days before Pentecost, but this week is an invitation to pause, to sit and wait for something new to arrive. It’s a chance not to act, but to receive the great love of God poured out in the eternal life of Christ. That’s a love that gave you your life, and that love is the life of everyone and everything you see. The beauty of this invitation is that the love is already there, and we’re simply invited to experience it.

As the Spirit comes closer, as the revelation of God’s glorious love comes clearer to us, we start to see the unity among us, the unity of all people and all of life, despite and within the great differences between us. What a joy it is to rest, to take in the Spirit again, and to recognize the God who is always and everywhere with us.