St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (May 17, 2015)

Liturgical Color: White

Marissa Tweed, Pasoral Intern


One Human Family

In our Gospel reading for today Jesus is praying for his friends. It's the night before his death and Jesus is praying for those most dear to him. He's asking for quite a few things on their behalf, but most prominently he's asking that they be one: united in love for God and united in love for one another.

What's interesting to me is that in Jesus' very next sentence (in verse 20) he says he's praying this not only for his current followers, but for all those to come — that they may all be one. Jesus might as well be praying this for us right now: to be united in love for God and united in love for one another, all for the sake of making Godís love known throughout the world.

In Hebrew, one way to translate the phrase 'to know' is 'to become one with.' So, to know God's love is by definition to become one with God's love. We know also from the overarching narrative of scripture, and I'd bet from some of our own personal experiences too, that God's love includes both a vertical dimension (God's love for us and our love for God) and a horizontal dimension (God's love reflected in our relationships with others). Our relationship with God cannot be separated from our relationships with each other.

In other words, to know God is also to know our fellow human beings. So, to become one with God is to become one with our fellow human beings. When we make personal, intentional, human connections with each other, when we take the time to know each other, we are sharing God's love as one united family...as one human family.

Have you ever heard that slogan, One Human Family? If you have, do you know that it's the official philosophy of the city of Key West, FL? The motto was first crafted onto a bumper sticker in the year 2000 by artist JT Thompson and it took off like wildfire from there. One Key West resident describes the philosophy like this: "One Human Family means we work together as one. Do good to one another and to the people that came before you and the ones to come after." JT explains, "One Human Family is not about any one group. It is about everyone supporting equal rights, dignity and respect for everyone else. Everyone has a stake in that goal."

Just add the phrase We do this because of God's love and I think our Key West friends have summed up what may be at the heart of what Jesus is praying for in this gospel lesson: Jesus is praying that we may continue to know, experience, and share God's love through deep connections with each other. When we take the time to truly know each other, to share our common humanity together, we become one with each other, and we come one step closer to being the human family God created us to be.

In today's day and age there are so many ways that we are disconnected from our fellow human beings: glued to our devices, ticking away at our to-do lists, overscheduling our calendars, just getting one more thing done, or one more errand out of the way, so focused on doing-doing-doing... going through our days with "too-busy-blinders" that interfere with our ability to notice members of our human family around us.

I know it happens to me. Around this time last year I needed to buy a gift card for a friend and I had very little time to do it. I jumped in my car, raced to Starbucks, parked my car in a non-parking zone, ran into the store, made a bee-line for the cashier and said very quickly, "I need a $10 gift card!" And the cashier looked at me and said, "Well hello to you too." Of course I was embarrassed, and apologized, and sheepishly asked if I could start over again, but I needed that reminder: The Starbucks barista wasn't simply the means to a transaction, she deserved to be the means for interaction. She was a human being to notice and greet, and to make a connection with, and to appreciate.

One of the many things I learned and loved about our friends from Guatemala was the way that they greeted one another. They say, Ma sasa la'chol? Not simply how are you, but how is it with your heart? There is a similar greeting in Arabic, Kayf haalic? - How is the state of your heart in this very moment? These greetings probe for more than a simple "I'm fine." They seek to make a human connection. They seek to know how a fellow human family member is doing in this difficult, yet beautiful gift called life. They seek to connect and to relate; there are parts of the lived human experience we can all relate to, both of inexplicable joy and of devastating loss.

We've all heard about the earthquake in Nepal. When volunteer nurse Elise Ellers flew to over there this month as a part of an earthquake-relief effort, she mentally prepared herself to help victims who were burned or wounded. But the toughest part of the job for her turned out to have nothing to do with the medical workload.

She says, "The biggest challenge is the same everyday: seeing and talking to all the patients and families at the hospital and hearing their stories of loss. Loss of homes, of lives, and loved ones, of income, food, animals, all belongings...everything."

Elise's specific job involves managing the recovery room where patients are taken after surgery. One burn victim in her care was 21 yr old Mamta. She was cooking when the earthquake hit and her clothing caught fire, causing burns on 35% of her body. After she had skin-graft surgery, Elise was responsible for changing her dressings — a very painful ordeal.

"The sounds of her cries of pain were nearly unbearable." Elise said, "I had tears in my eyes the whole time. I wasn't sure if it was from the pain I was feeling for her or if it was from watching the way her husband was lovingly holding her hands, caressing her face, and whispering in her ear."

As humans we yearn for connection and we find significant meaning when we experience it. That connection is the love of God which threads all of us and all of our relationships together.

We are connected not only by our cellular make up, or genetic sequences, or emotions or behaviors, or hopes and dreams - we are connected by the living, breathing Spirit of our loving God. A God whose love transcends boundaries, whose love repairs relationships and restores life, whose love redeems the lost and raises the dead to new life. Unstoppable, unifying love that ripples throughout all time and space, large enough to include all of creation yet personable enough to call us by name.

You, child of God, are beloved. You and me, and your families, and your neighbors, and your coworkers, and your friends, and your enemies - we are all a part of this human family united by the love of God. We don't deserve it and we can't earn it. It is given to us out of God's grace alone. We can only receive it and live in response to it and pass it on by the ways we interact and seek connection with each other.

For us as Christians, we are strengthened to do this when we gather around the Lord's Supper. Holy Communion is a visible, tangible way we are united as the Body of Christ. It energizes us to work for justice on behalf of our entire human family, and to deepen our relationships with others so that we have human connections rather than human transactions. We are all a part of this one body — this one human family, knit together and united by the love of God.

So who are the members of God's family you see on a weekly basis that you know of, but may not know well? The grocery cashier, the bank teller, your mailperson, the clerk behind the desk, etc. What would it feel like to deepen those relationships with our fellow human family members?

Perhaps learning one new thing about them the next time you see each other. Perhaps asking them in your own words ma sasa l'chol? How are you really doing today?

Maybe try it out the next time you buy your groceries or get an oil change or go out to eat. Take the extra time to truly ask, "How are you?" It might take a few tries before your fellow human family member catches on, but keep trying. See if you can make a deeper connection with another member of God's family, seeking to truly 'know' each other, and sharing together in the uniting love of God in the process.

It may be one step closer to the fulfillment of Jesus' prayer for us today.

Amen.

 

 

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