May 13, 2018 7 Easter B
Acts 1:15-17,21-26; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This morning we hear the clear words from Jesus that we, as his disciples, are sent into the world just as he was sent into the world. We are to be in the world just as he was. As the incarnate word of God, Jesus is sent here to be in the world but he is not of the world. He is of God, born in the spiritual realm, and now in the world of the physical. One of the purposes God has for us is that we too would be in the physical realm but of the spiritual realm. We are not here to escape the physical realm but to live in it in such a way that it becomes more like the spiritual realm, to be of God in such a way that we are in the world more fully.
We are called to be in relationships with other people but not of those relationships. We are called to be in families but not of those families. We are called to be in circumstances but not of those circumstances. We are called to be in pain and conflict but not of such pain and conflict. We are called to be in joy but not of joy.
In relationships, I must be attentive to the struggles of the other. I must be aware and empathetic. I must reach out when the other is hurting and celebrate when the other is joyous. Our lives are intertwined and I am called to be in relationships, to be intimate with these precious and brief relationships, to be connected to these gifts of humans to me. Yet my relationships are seriously threatened when I am of the relationships. When my wife’s happiness determines my happiness, I am of the relationship rather than in it. When my children’s success determines my well-being, I am of the relationship rather than in it. When my parents’ approval determines my decisions and my sense of self, then I am of the relationship rather than in it. I am to be in relationships but I am not to be determined by them. I am more than my relationships.
I am called to be in circumstances but not of those circumstances. My current circumstances are most pleasant: I am rector of what must be one of the most wonderful parishes in existence; my health is good; my family is exciting; my tennis game is pretty good. I may even be in the prime of my personal and professional life. Yet those are my circumstances; they are not me. They are what is happening to me. I am much more than these circumstances. To be in the world is to appreciate the circumstances but not be determined by them. Circumstances are fickle; they change with the wind. If my grounding as a spiritual person changes with the wind, the truth of life will be elusive. I am called to be in circumstances, not of them.
I am called to be in pain and conflict from time to time but not of such pain and conflict. If I have an illness, I am not to become that illness. If I have gone through a divorce, I am not to become that divorce. I am to be in that pain and conflict, not of it. Victims of child abuse often become victims for life. They must learn not to allow that abuse to determine their lives. They must learn to see themselves as God does, not simply in terms of the abuse they have suffered.
Even with matters of joy, I am called to be in joy but I am to resist being of joy. All too often we approach worship and spiritual growth more in terms of the happiness we can gain from it than we do the more central matter of relating to God as the ultimate. The ultimate for most of us, probably all of us a good part of the time, the ultimate for us typically is joy and happiness. When I have joy, I am okay. When I don’t have it, I am not okay. In such we come to worship joy rather than God himself. And so we are of joy. Joy is to be embraced and celebrated but not clung to and worshiped. We are to be in joy but not of joy because God is with me even when joy is not.
Hopefully the point has been made. We are in the world, a world of relationships, pain, conflict, joy, disease, health, all matters of circumstances. But we are of God. God is the ultimate reality, not the variety of things which occur in the world. Today, as you come to the altar to worship, what is it you worship? What is it you cling to? If it is anything worldly – relationships, families, pain, conflict, circumstances, joy, even being alive – if it is any of these things you cling to, that is what you have come to worship.
Worship the Lord above all these things. There, true joy is to be found. That joy is not fickle, rising and falling with the wind, but sure and sound in the solid ground of the almighty God. The more we come to worship God regardless of what is happening to us, the more we will be in the world but not of the world, the more we will know our true place as children of God.