Easter 7C’19
2 June 2019
John 17.20-26
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

O God whose undivided Kingdom will have no end: Grant us your grace to take the high road of unity which is the way of your Kingdom both now and forever, in the Name of the Holy, and undivided Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sister Ellen had to take a vow of silence before she would be allowed to become part of the community of the Convent of Silence. The Mother Superior said, “Sister, this is a silent convent. You are welcome here to live and serve as long as you like, but you may not speak until directed to do so.”

Sister Ellen lived in the convent for five years before her mother superior said to her, “Sister Ellen, you have been here for five years. You may speak two words.”
Sister Ellen said, “Hard bed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” the superior said, “We will get you a better bed.” 
After another five years, Sister Ellen was summoned by the mother superior. 
“You may say another two words, Sister Ellen.” 

“Cold food,” said Sister Ellen, and the superior assured her that the food would be better in the future.  

On her 15th anniversary at the convent, the superior again called Sister Ellen into her office. 
“You may say two words today.” 
“I quit,” said Sister Ellen.  

“Well, it’s probably for the best,” said the mother superior. “You’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.” {pause}

Our friend and departed parishioner Annie Lea Shuster when asked how she was doing after moving into an assisted living facility, said that she “wasn’t exactly happy,” but quickly added, “but I’m content.” She then expressed her gratitude and talked about “how blessed” she had been over the years. Now at the latter stage of her life, with her health failing, and having to give up driving, and living in her own home, she was able to say she was content. This is the spirit that is developed within the followers of Christ who seek God’s kingdom first. That spirit that Annie Lea had is what our world needs so much more of.

I recently watched the documentary on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and I would highly encourage you to take the time to watch it. One of the statements made in the trailer that got my attention was this, “Apollo 11 the last time America was all one.” That has the ring of truth to it. Everyone back in 1969 was glued to the television in their homes, their schools, or at work, and thousands gathered with lawn chairs or sat in in their cars in Florida to watch the 300-foot rocket lift off. We were all rooting for the same thing, that our that our beloved countrymen,
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins would make it to the moon, and then to return home safely. It was amazing to see once again how many hundreds of people it took working together to make the mission to the moon a success! But the seeds of division were being sown even then.

C.S. Lewis wrote in his book the Screwtape Letters, an imaginary account of two demons discussing their strategies to bring about the downfall of humans: “Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them…” Although an imaginary account it clearly points to the true goal and plan of the dark side to bring division. The Greek word for Devil is “diablo” which means to come between, or to divide. The split into factions and the language of “us” and “them” are sure signs of the presence of darkness. To “divide and conquer” is a very old and effective strategy. Our country has not been this divided since the Civil War. What are we to do? Stay in our bunkers surrounded by people who think just like we do and harden our “us” positions against “them”? What “us” and “them” need to remember is that there is a “they” who desires nothing more than to see our complete separation and ultimate destruction.

Now this is where those who are following Christ and seeking first God’s kingdom and I dare say the Episcopal Church have some potent gifts to offer to our world. These gifts are deeply rooted in our history as Anglicans, they are the “three-legged stool” of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, and something called “the Via Media.” The divisions after the reformation in England were so great, they led to a civil war. The political factions also represented religious factions between the Puritans and the Roman Catholics. The Puritans believed that the will of God was determined by “sola scriptura” by scripture alone. The Roman Catholics believed that the tradition of the Church was what was paramount. The Anglicans were able to offer a via media, Latin for a “middle way” between the extremes of the Puritans and the Roman Catholics. It was the third leg of the stool, Reason that made this middle way possible. Is it not reasonable that both sides may have important truths that can be embraced and a lot of middle ground on which all could agree and come together? Through Spirit guided reason there was a way through the divisions of “us and them” and this middle way led to a rediscovery that there was a “we.” I believe the middle way acknowledges that we are all right about some things, and are all wrong about others but as baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” From our Christian faith that main thing is the thing that Jesus talked the most about in all four gospels, “the Kingdom of God.” Our conduct in the Kingdom of God is based on the sermon on the mount and our ultimate Creed is God’s unconditional love for all. As Episcopalians our Baptismal Covenant makes it even clearer where we commit ourselves to proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ by our words and by our deeds, we commit ourselves to seeing Christ in others and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. These principles of Christ’s kingdom are what we are called to. Christ’s kingdom is the higher road and goes beyond our partisan politics of “us and them”, and doesn’t give us the option of demonizing those we disagree with.
Laurie Beth Jones in her book Jesus CEO shares a story from the special Olympics that sums up well the lesson we are all trying to learn: “One young man, set to run in the 100-meter race in the Special Olympics, had trained for months and months. But when the gun finally sounded and he leaped out in front of the rest, it seems the excitement of the race overcame him. Each foot went in different directions, and the well-meaning athlete came tumbling down right in front of the starting block. The other racers, each as eager as he was to compete in this great event, nevertheless stopped running their own race and turned back to help him. The crowd came to their feet as his competitors lovingly lifted him up and then walked arm in arm across the finish line together.” Those Special Olympic athletes have taught us “that nobody [truly] wins until we all do!”
Life on the high road of the Kingdom of God is not a spectator sport there is a position for all of us on God’s team of Love.