SERMON 5/16/21 Easter 7B St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Enid, OK
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19
One day (pre-Pandemic) a group of friends was shopping in a local mall. It was a normal day of crowded walkways and loud noise; just another day. As the group stood at the edge of a large, open space near the food court, the PA system began playing an upbeat dance tune. Suddenly, two young women ran into the middle of the crowd and started dancing. Within five minutes, two dancers became ten, then ten became twenty and then, the whole space was filled with dancers who were working together, energized, joyful, and they were inviting others to join in with them. The group of friends out for a stroll in the mall suddenly became witnesses to what is known as a “Flash Mob!”
“Flash Mobs” were a phenomenon that developed a few years ago. A group of people (sometimes as large as 100+ dancers) all of a sudden would show up in the most unexpected places to dance, to perform, to create a shock factor for those witnessing the spectacle. The carefully disguised mobsters, who appeared as a part of the crowd, suddenly became unified around a common mission and together, they stepped out to bring about an outrageous feat into a mundane afternoon. For a Flash Mob to be effective, you of course, had to have dancers, but there must also have been spectators, who were regular folks enjoying a regular day, and then suddenly, they found themselves watching something happening around them.
In the midst of a Flash Mob, the folks in the surrounding crowd may do nothing but watch. Alternatively, some may tap their feet and clap, and then there are some, who might even join the dance. Can you imagine the practice, collaboration, and unity necessary to bring as many as 100 people together for such a feat? So what in the world does a Flash Mob have to do with the Gospel?
High Priestly Prayer
Today’s gospel reading is often referred to as Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” and in it; unity and mission are at the heart of this prayer. Mission: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18 NRSV) Unity: “so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11b NRSV) Jesus’ ministry was the incarnation of God’s perfect love among us. Jesus was sent into the world to bring the experience of God’s love to us present in himself.
Likewise, Christ sends we disciples out, in order to carry forth that mission of love and reconciliation to the world. In a peculiar way, Jesus sends us out to be like a “Flash Mob” of Gospel proclaimers, sharing good news in the unexpected and unlikely lives of the people whom God loves.
“So that they may be one, as we are one.” If you ever have the opportunity to watch on YouTube video of old “Flash Mobs,” you will notice that the dancers are all in step with each other. They have a common purpose, and they have a team-based goal. Like those dancers, the church has common purpose and a clear mission, which is to be gathered into unity, so that we might carry forth Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. However, we sometimes get distracted.
Challenges to the Gospel Flash Mob
Dean Lueking wrote an article in Christian Century a few years ago, that describes the problems the church distractions cause and yet, he calls us back to our mission. Lueking asserts, “The blight . . . of power games, and the obsession with always being right still throws up huge, offensive roadblocks against Jesus’ prayer. Such sin drags us back to the Upper Room . . . to the grief of our Lord over our tearing apart the seamless robe of unifying love in which he would wrap us.” (2) When we lose sight of our mission, our purpose as witnesses of the gospel in the world fails, and the world around us is unable to come to know the love of God. We must live in unity in Christ in the church, so that others will know that same unity. For us to accomplish our mission, which is “to bring all people into unity with God and each other in Christ,” (BCP p. 855) we must seek our common purpose, and a mutual ministry together. We must dance the dance of love together.
Unity in mission is a reality if we first dance the jig of love of God in community. We must never forget that our gathering together each week and more often is not merely for our benefit. In today’s Gospel, “Christ prays ceaselessly for and through the church to the world—that they may be one, as we are one.”(2) “For God so loved the world” does not say that God so loved the church. Now, that may be hard to hear, but the mission of God requires the church to go out, so God’s mission continues. God “seeks to reclaim and redeem a world gone astray from that love, and to draw that world back into the sphere of that love.” (1)
When we come together, it is not merely so we might be at peace, without strife, but so that our mutual life together becomes a visible sign that challenges the world to embrace and follow the Way of Jesus. Because “if Jesus was sent into the world as one who sanctified himself for the sake of his followers, so that they might be sanctified in truth, and if they are sent into the world as he was sent into the world, does this not raise the question of the purpose of our sanctification.” (1)
Sanctification is about being set aside for a holy purpose. We are sanctified, we are set apart, and our purpose is to witness to life! In Christ, we live as witnesses to life in the midst of tragedy, life in the midst of death, and life everlasting. Our hope is in Christ, in God’s promise of love, in which we will never be abandoned. Our lives are changed by this kind of faith, and it will change the world that is, if we but recognize the gift and give it away. With that kind of good news in our lives, we must share it.
We the church are brought together to learn to live the life of reconciliation together, but not for ourselves alone. It is by this communal dance of mercy, grace, reconciliation, and love that takes place among us, that we can go out and share it with the world. We are sent out to invite others into this dance.
We are called to be a “Flash Mob of the Gospel” showing up in unexpected places and situations: in coffeehouses, stores, and restaurants; showing up with the sick, poor, downtrodden, and the hopeless; and we just show up everywhere God sends us. We are unified in Christ, sanctified by love, and sent out into a hurting world. With joy, exuberance, energy and the support of the Holy Spirit, we are called to dance the jig of resurrection, of new life, of everlasting life in Christ, not just here, but out there.
When we show up out there as agents of Our Lord, everything changes. We meet people where they are, just as Jesus did. We dance and people watch then, suddenly people on the margins of the dance begin to move, some join in and dance beside us, and maybe others just tap their feet, and yet they hear the song. The song of God’s love plays loudly as we dance together. So here we are, taught, fed, strengthened and sent out. However, as you leave these doors today, it is time to for us to go dance. After today’s sermon, the Eucharistic meal, the dismissal, the postlude, and coffee hour, “Go out into the world together. Go everywhere and go announce the Message of God’s good news to one and all.” (Mark 16:15 The Message) show up in the unexpected places, unified in your common purpose. Go, dance, and invite others to join with us.
1 Janzen, J Gerald. “The Scope Of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer In John 17.” Encounter 67.1 (2006): 1-26. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 14 May 2012)
2 Lueking, F Dean. “That They May Be One.” Christian Century 114.14 (1997): 407-22. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 17 May 2012.)