Toorak Uniting Church

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Invited to join the dance of love

John 17: 20 – 26     Acts 16: 16 – 34
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
23 May 2004

The passage we read from John today comes from the prayer that Jesus says, in the gospel of John, at the end of the last Supper. In this prayer Jesus first of all prays for himself (17: 1-5): He asks if the crowning act of his earthly ministry may indeed lead to the glorious conclusion which God has intended. He then prays for his disciples (17: 6-19): that they may be protected and upheld in their mission which is the continuation of his own. The last part of the prayer is for the church of the future (17: 20-26) focusing on the overriding need to maintain unity.

Apparently this was something that was necessary, even then at the very beginning of the life of the Church: Discord threatening unity from the very beginning but viewed by Jesus as absolutely essential. "Let they all be one", he prays, "as we are one, you Father in me and I in you, may they be likewise in us, so that the world may believe."
The credibility of the message of God’s love and mercy, which is coming to us in Jesus Christ, considered to be dependent on the response of his followers. Only through them will the light of God shining in Jesus Christ find its way into the world.

Words seem to fail John when he tries to describe what that means: The unity of God with Christ, the unity of Christ with us, the unity of us with God and Christ, Christ in us, we in Christ, God in Christ, God in us, we in God, we in Christ, Christ in us. He seems to go round and round in circles trying to formulate the inexpressible: The unity of the Father and the Son embracing us and inviting us to become part of that unity in a mutual and intimate back and forth of relationship.

It is almost too much when you read it. Layer upon layer of mutual closeness called for by a passionate prayer of the one in the middle, Jesus Christ the son, one with God and one with us, his followers. Part of the Godhead as well as, and at the same time, more deeply human than any of us could ever be.
It would take centuries for the Church to chew over this concept until they came up with the Nicene creed, trying to formulate the profound mystery those words leave us with.

Luke, in a completely different way talking about just this when he tells the story of the liberation of a slave girl from her captivity by an evil spirit by Paul and Silas.

Paul and Silas on their way to prayer, disciples of Jesus, people taken by the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ, moved by the Spirit, spreading the gospel of unity and joy, living out the good news of God’s salvation. God in them, they in God, one with Christ, Christ in them. The Spirit moving through them in such a way that even their annoyance comes up with amazing proof of God’s closeness and God’s power to save.
The Name of Jesus, spoken in irritation rather than from a desire to heal, breaking the hold evil has on this girl.

A healing, a liberation that lands them into trouble. They find themselves abused and detained without trial. Money and other interest deemed more important by the authorities than justice, wholeness and the healing of a rather insignificant member of society. They’re accused of disturbing the peace!

In prison another miracle happens. Another liberation from captivity takes place. Paul and Silas hold on to their unity with God in Jesus Christ through prayer and praise and the Spirit moves with power and determination opening doors and breaking shackles in the middle of their night.

And a third person finds new life in Christ, the jailer who for an instant thought death was awaiting him. Church is born where he dresses the wounds of Paul and Silas and has his whole family baptised in the Name of Jesus Christ.

It is like a dance: A girl comes begging for attention, even the evil spirit in her confused mind revealing the truth to her: "These men are servants of the most high God, bringing salvation for all". Paul crying out in frustration bringing salvation in the Name of Jesus Christ. Counter forces joining the dance, trying to break in and counter act the movement, but taken up in it and becoming the basis for another miracle and another, put to shame when confronted with the earth shaking power of Gods love and mercy.

A movement we are invited into like Paul and Silas were. To become in our turn part of the trinity and have the creative power of the Father, the redemptive power of the Son and the moving power of the Spirit move in us and through us.

Opening an art centre is part of our attempt to give shape to that calling, that invitation. To let the Spirit roam and give space to Gods creative power to find expression, to share of the good news about Jesus Christ we received and whose life and example we are trying to follow.

It is good for us to realise that we are part of a movement and that being part of that movement of God means we will forever be challenged to move ourselves. God not a static entity but a hospitable unity inviting us to join and be part of it, and actively seeking to be part of the creative and redemptive work of God in Christ, and more passively prepared to let the Spirit work its miracles through us, bringing the light of Christ to the world. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004


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