from the service of worship at Warragul, 22 June 2003


Towards the end of his ministry, Jesus began talking with his disciples about his coming death.


They reacted in different ways, according to their personalities and life experiences.


Peter tried to prevent him going to his death in Jerusalem, and earned a sharp rebuke from Jesus; “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  (Matthew 4: 10, Mark 8: 33, Luke 4:8)


An unnamed woman came and poured costly ointment of nard over his head, and Jesus said when some bewailed her “waste”: “Let her alone; why do you trouble her?  She has performed a good service for me.  For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”  (Mark 14: 3, compare Matthew 26: 7 and Luke 7: 37)


And Judas betrayed him.  At the Last Supper Jesus said to Judas, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”  (John 13: 27)


In each of these responses, I seem to hear an echo of the intense struggle Jesus was going through as he tried to come to terms with his coming death.  Soon he would have to leave these people who had each become so dear to him.  Yet growing within him was the conflicting conviction that only through his death could the Holy Spirit of God’s presence be released amongst them.  He had to leave, in order to be with them in a new and more powerful and reconciling way.  Only by crucifiction could resurrection come. 


Our reading, from the last of the Biblical Gospels to be written, portrays Jesus as having reached a peaceful resolution to that internal conflict.  Listen now and you will hear a little of the continual communication that went on between God the Father and God the Son, as the author of John’s Gospel believed it took place on that last evening while the disciples shared their final meal with their Lord:


JOHN 17: 1-11


Yes, the prophets who led us into the Uniting Church 26 years ago today pointed to verses 6-26 as the basis for our coming together from the Congregational, Presbyterian and Methodist traditions.  Jesus’ prayer that “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” (verse 23) was the basis of their call.


We are still on the way to such complete union with one another and with God. 


Sometimes it seems to me we have travelled a long way into unity from those first tentative but hopeful steps 26 years ago.  We have learnt from each other, wrestled with each other about property, church politics and polity, the way things should be organised or different theological interpretations, and even about different styles of worship and service.  But on the whole, we have stuck together and grown together and worked for God’s glory together.  New people have heard of God’s love through our witness, and have become members.  It is great that Elisabeth will be confirming her faith today, and other people who have moved to Warragul will be having their membership transfer recognised.


But sometimes it feels as if we have hardly moved at all.  Dreams given of ways we could enhance our ministry together have barely begun to be fulfilled.  There are many reasons for this, but perhaps one of the reasons is that unlike our Lord Jesus Christ, few of us have been willing to embrace the pain of crucifiction in order to move through to the glory of resurrection.  So on this Sunday as we celebrate both a Confirmation and the Birthday of the Uniting Church, let us focus on the first eleven verses of Jesus’ prayer.


Jesus prayed:  “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.”  (NRSV)


There are many sermons which could be preached on those few words.  Today let us explore just one word, the word “glory”, and one relationship, that of unity. 


Here the Father-Son imagery of John’s Gospel reaches a climax.  Jesus is portrayed as praying almost as if the crucifiction had already taken place.  He seems to have reached a place where he can look over the pain and degradation and leaving, to the glory and unity of the resurrection.  The two become one, the light overcomes the darkness, and only the union with the father and the disciples is to be seen.  Jesus, the divine Son, dwells in the Father, the same yesterday and today and forever.  The love between the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit, which was before the world existed, is to be fully released in history through the crucifiction.  There, where humanity did its worst, condemning all goodness and love to a criminal’s death by torture, God in Christ sees that nothing can destroy love.  Love must and will triumph.  Glory will shine forth.  Jesus’ death will be his return to the Father, his glorifying of the Father and glorification by the Father, the manifesting of the Father’s love for “his own” and forming them into a life-giving community. 


Here we are faced with the mystery and the majesty of love and death.  Love is stronger than death.  Yet death is the gateway into fullness of love and unity with love. 


Today, as Elisabeth confirms for herself the promises made for her by her parents at her infant baptism, she will accept that death of Jesus, that resurrection love of Jesus and that unity with the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit, for herself.  You can imagine the imagery of adult immersion baptism.  She is taking upon herself that leaving all behind to follow her crucified and risen Lord, as many of us have already done.  In the joy of confirmation the pain of leaving the old life behind is covered over with joy, but the pain is still there.  Jesus, inspite of the exultation portrayed in this prayer, still suffered the agony and the terrible aloneness of the cross.  “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”  We can pray that when the times of testing come for Elisabeth, as they come to each one of us, she will be able to remember this day and link herself to her crucified Saviour.  He knew that in the crucifiction the glory of God, the unity of love between Father, Son and disciples, is most clearly seen. 


May we also know that truth.  Our society cries out for quick fixes for its pain.  People look to prescription medicine or a psychiatrists couch or alcohol or loud music or expensive possessions or insurance payouts to instantly take away pain.  Jesus accepted the cross, seeing in it the glory of God.  If we want to help to fix our society, we must first ourselves be willing to accept the pain of dying, the cost of working though love to renewal.


If we want the Uniting Church to be a place where people can discern the Body of Christ, we must be willing to learn from our past, but then leave it behind.  We must be willing to pass through the agony of farewell involved in crucifiction, in order to enter the resurrection of unity and love. 


What new things is God wanting to do amongst us in 2003?  What things must we leave behind, in order to be free to move through crucifiction to resurrection?


When Jesus whispers to us that it is time to again leave all behind to follow him, what will our response be?


Will we like Peter reply, “There must be an easier way, Lord!”  Remember Jesus’ rebuke to Peter?  I hope none of us invoke that response, but remember, for Peter that was not the last word.  He the impetuous one became a great leader in the early church.


Sadly, some of us may sometimes like Judas deny our Lord.  But Jesus still loved him.  Always, like the Prodigal son, we can return to our loving Father, and surely he will embrace us.  Love always has the last word, and God is love.


But hopefully we will more and more learn to respond like the unnamed woman, who poured out her alabaster jar of costly perfume on the Lord’s head, anointing him for burial, doing what she could, giving her all. 


If in each congregation of the Uniting Church we encourage each other to make such rash and overwhelming gifts of love to those in need, the dying, the hungry, the imprisoned, the despairing and alone, we will be giving to our Lord.  In our unity God’s love is seen and we are blessed.  In our unity and love people will indeed see in us the Body of Christ.  We will be those living stones built into a temple of the Holy Spirit and with its cornerstone being Jesus that the young people have been working on to show us. 


To God be the glory and the praise.  AMEN.