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Sunday 8:15 a.m. Holy Eucharist Rite I
Sunday 10:45 a.m. Holy Eucharist Rite II
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Wednesday 12:00 p.m. Eucharist

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The Grace Church nave is located at the corner of Washington Street and Boulevard in Gainesville, Georgia.

The parish office, open Monday through Thursday from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, is located at 422 Brenau Avenue. Come to the red door that faces Brenau Avenue and ring the bell for access.

Mailing Address: 422 Brenau Avenue, Gainesville, GA 30501
Phone: 770-536-0126

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Date Posted: May 30, 2022

That we may all be one: are we willing?

It has been a while since I typed out a manuscript for a sermon. These days, I usually reflect on the text and (try to) listen deeply, then I stand and share what is on my heart. Given where we are, this week it was helpful for me to pay even closer attention and spend time gathering thoughts and feelings, and putting this into some form that may be meaningful.

Yet again we find ourselves gathered in a moment of pain, like so many before. 

And we hear Jesus’ own prayer speak out through time, flowing straight from his heart to our own: that they may be one.

It is no small thing to reflect on the deepest essence of who we are, yet we fail to pay attention most of the time to what matters most.

We will never understand ourselves–never even catch a glimpse of who we truly are–unless we nurture an awareness of our union with God and one another. 

Especially in splintered times like these, we need to pause and sit still long enough to notice the depth of things, beyond and underneath the superficial which catches our eye with sparkle but can never quench our thirst for wholeness.

Those with loud voices around us seek to tell us what is most important, yet they seem to focus more on themselves than on the healing that is needed. The story is always the same.

Some call for “greatness,” a return to some time when, in their imagination, things were more certain or sure, or comfortable. But this is an illusion not meant to support our life but their ambition. We need to speak the truth.

We are splintered by factions and groups pitting causes and claims against one another, and it is so easy to give into despair, to lose hope.

But again we hear Jesus’ own prayer flowing from his heart into our own, yearning for wholeness, that we may all be one.

Behold what you are, the Body of Christ. May we become what we receive. Perhaps we catch a glimpse of the true meaning of this as we gather around the altar to be nourished, yet again, on Christ’s very Body, on God’s very Self.

This week, again, we mourn. We say we cannot imagine what this must feel like, but the truth is that we can imagine it and that is the reason we struggle. We know what it feels like to hold our children, and we know what it feels like when fears slip into our bedroom late at night–the “what if” that catches us off guard and sends chills down our spines. 

Our high schools now practice mass shooter events, and they are a regular part of preparing for the year, like going to the dentist. Teachers from elementary and middle schools have to be trained, to prepare themselves.  This is surreal and it is horrendous that this is acceptable to us as a society.

Fifty or so years ago it was another set of folks’ turn with nuclear drills that sent children hiding under wooden desks–as if they could protect against the annihilation that threatened to rain down. But you all needed to do something to feel like you were doing something. You yearned for social change and for the government–yes the government–to do something on behalf of society to change things. We understand. We feel that way too, and we hope for someone to do something.

But things feel splintered, with intractable political agendas. And yet, in the middle of this, can we hear Jesus, standing there in his groundedness, offering this prayer:

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Do we dare even pause long enough to let Jesus’ own prayer stir in our hearts? A part of us knows that, if it does, we will need to change our behaviors and that will ask something of us that maybe we are not willing to give. So, we are the ones to close the door. 

When we experience tragedies, how easily we slide into postures, called to take a side to begin laying out the well-rehearsed reasons that this or that cannot change. “We cannot possibly,” “What about,” “if we give that, then…”.

We are the ones who close the door.

We remember that Jesus knew something about empires and how they work–or do not. He knew the way people struggled within systems of oppression that saw them not as bearers of light but as means to an end, not as the beloved of God but as consumers in a system that fed those “in power” on the backs of others’ toil. Jesus knew this very well. He knew about powers and principalities and what happens when we yield to the temptation of “being in control,” of “having power,” of seeking prestige. 

He knew how the rulers used the celebrity culture as an anesthetic, and he knew well how the culture employed bread and circuses as a means to numb and distract the masses so that so-called society continued moving forward. He knew this very, very well.

And in the midst of the pain of his own human life, he had the vision to voice this prayer: that they may all be one.

Jesus always calls us back to the heart of things, to the center of our own being–which is His own being too. Jesus calls us beyond the superficial into the deep waters, but he does not drag us into those life-giving waters. He invites us to plunge into them, and he believes that we can recognize the changes we need to make so that we can be healed. It seems we need a certain level of pain to help us wake up and realize we are on the path of death, so that we are shaken out of our stupor and self-obsession. But Jesus believes we can always hear the call of the Spirit. 

Imagine that: Jesus believes in us.

Maybe I am naive, probably so, but I keep wondering if we could actually let these events, these tragedies, break our hearts–if we just let them break our hearts open and feel the pain of all this–maybe in that space that is broken open, the seed of transformation could actually take root and life could grow in us. 

If we had the spiritual courage to pause and truly feel the pain rather than immediately grasp onto some political position or slogan out of our own fear to use as a leverage point, what might happen? What might happen if we stopped being obsessed with winning politically and focused on living faithfully?

Yes, what might happen if we stopped being obsessed with winning politically and focused on living faithfully? That is a question I want to hold close.

Jesus met people where they are and he continues to teach us that in emptying ourselves of our agendas and grasping we are filled with the Spirit’s healing presence. That is a vulnerable place, indeed, to empty ourselves, but I believe it is the only space that will offer honest healing. Such a space of being broken open can nurture the seeds of awareness that we are actually one, that we are actually united within God. This awareness, I believe, is the space of saving grace, and it is a practice that I have given my life to.

Yes, we have hard questions to ask ourselves, and I wonder what it means that, at this point, the seemingly opposite “sides” of the spectrum are all using the rationale for their positions: “It is my choice, and I have a right.” 

Whether we are talking about wearing masks or reproductive decisions and pregnancy, we hear the same refrain. Alarms go off for me, because if this is our only rationale, that “it is my choice,” where does that leave us as a community, as a society? Have we become so obsessed with ourselves that we are completely blind to our union with one another, that our lives depend on one another?

What we are in effect saying is that our decisions don’t concern anyone else, that we are the center of our own universe. I am all that matters here, our culture screams, so let me buy what I can and consume what I can. Such a posture is a lie and it is sinful, yet it seems to be the basis of where we are.

And our souls are starving, because this is not sustainable. We all know this, every single one of us, but the pinch comes because we know that we all must make changes in order to reorient to a healthier space of wholeness. There is the rub: are we willing? 

Our lives will not change, this pain will not stop, these tragedies will not cease until we move from the posture of “I have a right” or “It is my choice” to asking ourselves “does any current right I claim actually support our common life together?” Does the claim I hold actually nourish my soul and our common soul?

Can we look upstream and see where the actual source of our actions lie, where our motivations are grounded? Do we dare look?

Jesus prays that we all may be one, and we are convicted by our actions and behaviors, with the platforms that have gathered so much momentum that they seem to have taken on a life of their own. Powers and principalities.

These are universal and deeply human questions, because they are questions of the soul. As the fifteenth century Persian poet Kabir says

The world staggers

From delusion to delusion…

The One is in all things,

Acting from all sides

In all ways at once.

Realize the One

You’ll grow perfect vision.

The drop sees the ocean

With the ocean’s eyes (Harvey trans.)

To nurture our awareness of this union is to nurture the possibility of hope and release from our sinful, self-obsessed delusions.

Yet we feel overwhelmed and all the camps have lined up responses. For every desire anyone dares to say, we are countered by a “well what about” that seeks to knock our feet from underneath us. So, what if we dared to put it all on the table. What if we took a breath, reached out, and put the “cause” we grasp tightly and set it alongside the others that have our attention. What if we dared to share a grand conversation on life.

This would be an embodiment of Jesus’ own prayer that we may all be one. Let’s stop with the “what about” and put everything out there and actually see how everything is actually linked.

Could we name the need for limits and boundaries around weapons in a world that is ill and a culture that is obsessed with violence? In families with an alcoholic uncle, you don’t surround them with liquor in your house and then tell them “it’s your choice whether or not to drink.” That is cruel and negligent.  You recognize they are ill and you place a limit to support them for the wellness of the entire community. In this case, we are all ill, our culture is ill, and even though our culture seems to abhor limits of any kind, we must be honest about our collective illness. And if we can tolerate limits on the amount of Sudafed we can buy in the store, can we dare to imagine what might be possible?

Could we name our obsession with violence in video games and movies? Do we dare look into the mirror here and how we occupy our time and what we consider entertainment?

Could we name our need for a true and honest conversation around reproductive health? And could we place this conversation alongside one on the death penalty since we are talking about a concern for life? Can we see how protecting life is much wider than some platforms claim?

Could we support our children once they are born, with food and education and healthcare? Could we talk about what is really needed with families in these challenging times?

Could we honestly talk about what we need in our education systems rather than picking a contrived topic that we can manipulate for political gain while our teachers and administrators deal with unbearable pressures?

Could we honestly talk about racism and poverty and healthcare in our broader society? Can we please talk about mental health concerns and recognize how all of these facets are interconnected in a culture that is very ill?

Could we honestly talk about the need for a heart-centered conversation around the dire situation of young men? Could we talk about the need for initiation, mentors, support structures, and meaning in a world that only wants them to consume things? Could we talk about how all of these shootings are done by young men whose souls have become detached from the deeper meaning of life?

Could we honestly talk about the need to care for the world we all share and the challenges of climate change and put a stop to arrogant and short-sighted political posturing?  

And could we honestly talk about the toxic environment of social media, which is, in many ways, the bread and circuses of our day, anesthetizing the masses and distracting us all when we need to be focusing our energy on our shared healing.

Can we talk about it all, because it is all linked. Let us stop with the “what abouts” and look at our hearts and put it all on the table.

If there is something that you don’t want to put on the table, you have just identified something that has become an idol for you. Jesus prays for oneness, and this means that everything is included and must be evaluated through the lens of Jesus’ prayer for oneness. And when Jesus prays for oneness, he is not just praying for oneness among the community, perhaps he is praying for a oneness within ourselves, for a healing of the parts of us that are suffering, that need wholeness. 

Jesus says, The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus yearns for our wholeness, which includes every aspect of our lives. No longer can we divvy up which side will emphasize which “issue” as a way to leverage and gain votes. That cynical behavior must stop, because we are in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death.

Friends, this is our purpose, as the Church, to focus on what Jesus says and how we are challenged to live more faithfully. We are in the conversion business, if you will–not to judge others but to begin by examining ourselves and asking how our lives need to be reoriented. So much of our spiritual practice comes back to the question of our willingness. Are we willing to place ourselves–all of ourselves–before the cross of Christ and see our decisions and actions through the call of his grace and sacrifice? Are we willing?

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham
May 29, 2022