Consecrated for mission

This sermon was given on the feast of consecration (annual celebration of the dedication of the parish buildings to God).

In many ways, what we experience when we come to church is completely foreign to the world of the Bible.

What I mean by that is, most of our readings today mention and reflect on the Jewish temple; but a church building today is not the temple, and does not have the same purpose, structure or functions as the temple did.  So we can’t read about the temple and kind of mentally apply those readings directly to our beloved little parish church.

Rather, we have to realise that the reason we have a church building at all, and the reason we use it in the ways that we do, are very different to anything the Jews knew, and very different even to the experiences of the early church, who had no specific church buildings and met in homes.

And so I put it to you today that the church – by which I mean the community of believers in a particular place – creates and maintains the buildings which enable the church – the community of people – to fulfil our purpose and mission.

We have these buildings, and we continue to invest in these buildings, because they are the tools and equipment we need for the work that we do.  (Sometimes people kind of get this the wrong way around, and think that our purpose is to serve the buildings by preserving a treasure from the past, or building a statement for the future; but neither is true.  The buildings are here to serve us).

So I wanted to take a few minutes today, on this feast of consecration, and reflect on the ways in which the buildings we have serve the church community, and help us to fulfil our purpose and mission.  I’m also, as we go along, going to suggest some questions which it would be good for us to reflect on, individually and as a community; and so that you don’t have to try to keep them all in your memory, they’re printed in the pew sheet for handy reference later.

So, how do our buildings help us in our purpose and mission?  First, they make us visible.  That might seem obvious, but I remember hearing one former dean of Melbourne, when he was speaking about the value of the Cathedral (and its placement opposite Flinders St. Station), as being that it helped us “keep the rumour of God alive.”  As long as Christians are a visible presence in our community, that helps us to proclaim our shared belief in God.

In this day and age, in fact, our online presence may be even more important in that regard than our bricks and mortar; and we need to remember that our welcome of people needs to start when they google.  But it’s still true that while we have a physical building taking up space, which people see and walk past and come to with their various community groups, it’s impossible to ignore that here is a community which orients its life in response to the good news of Jesus Christ.

It’s also worth pointing out that people who encounter our buildings for the first time will – consciously or subconsciously – draw conclusions from what they see, about how we understand ourselves, and how we understand God.  It’s worth sometimes looking at our buildings and asking ourselves,

If I had never been in church before, what would I learn about God, and about being a Christian, from what I can see? 

Are there creative ways in which we can enrich what we present to people who are not members here?

And in a way that leads me to my next point, because this is also the space in which we worship; and our experiences of worship shape our beliefs, our thinking and our actions.  I have no doubt that the choice of such a radical building design (for  its time), and a self-consciousness about this parish as a progressive community, go hand in hand.

And we can look at where the font is, and instantly understand the point that a previous vicar was making about the centrality of baptism to Christian life!

So it’s worth looking at our buildings and asking ourselves,

What is nurtured in me by what I see and hear and encounter here?  What does it teach me, about myself, about God, about Christian community?   How does it form my character?

Are there creative ways in which we can enrich our own growth as Christians by how we use the buildings?

It’s also the case that the buildings meet some very practical needs.  The kitchen, hall and barbecue areas are great for social times and community building.  And having a physical space gives us a base from which to coordinate things like charity collections or engage in practical service activities (I think of the trivia afternoon we had last year, to raise funds for Orange Sky, and the time we spent packing safe birthing kits; which would have been much harder if we’d had to do them in someone’s living room!)

After all, we’re meant to be a community of people who exist for the sake of the wider community, reaching out to them with God’s love and care; so having built environments – and garden and even parking space – which allow us to do things which meet the needs of others is a great thing.

So I suggest that we ask ourselves,

How do we currently use our buildings to respond to the needs of the local community?

Are there creative ways in which we might be able to do so more or better?

I’ve already touched briefly on the part of our identity as a parish that has to do with social justice; but last year we made a point of being (quite literally!) noisy about that, as we rang the church bell in protest of the detention of refugee children.

We also have a long history, in particular, of involvement in the reconciliation movement in Australia.  But we would, if we were being honest, probably have to admit that we have been doing less in this area than we have in times past.  So another question for reflection is,

How do we use our buildings to seek to transform injustice, to challenge violence, and to pursue peace and reconciliation?

Are there creative ways in which we might be able to do so more or better?

There is also one thing which we probably should be doing but which, I would have to say, we have largely ignored, at least certainly in the time that I’ve been vicar; and that is doing what we can to protect the integrity of our environment, and to contribute to sustaining and renewing our local ecology.

In our design principles, our energy and water use, our paper use, our maintenance of the garden, there might be plenty of scope for being more intentional in that regard.  So my final question for reflection is,

How do we use our buildings (and land) to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth?

Are there creative ways in which we could take better care of our local environment?

Those of you who have heard me talk about mission a lot, will realise that I’ve structured my comments today, and my questions for reflection, around the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission; which give us some handy reference points as we think about why we exist as a church at all, what we’re here to accomplish, and what we ought to be using our buildings for.  If you haven’t heard me talk about the Marks of Mission before, don’t worry, it’s not the last time I’ll ever mention them!

What I’ve been doing today, as we come together to celebrate the legacy of so many people before us who have lovingly and faithfully built up what we have, is to encourage us to think about what we should be doing with what we’ve been given.  The buildings are here to serve a purpose, just as we are here to serve the purposes of God; and it’s good for us sometimes to stop and reflect on just how we’re doing that.

I hope that what I’ve said today, and the questions I’ve given you to ponder, are not the final word but the beginning of a conversation; over brunch and over the week ahead and as you think about these things, do talk about them with me and with one another.  Because the mission of the church belongs to us all, and the only way we will be faithful inheritors of what has been given to us is to be effective in that mission.


Some reflections on power

This reflection was given at an evening prayer service, following a talk on the prevention of domestic violence.

What we’ve been talking about today is challenging for us.  It’s challenging not just because it’s a sensitive topic, but because sitting beneath its surface are some realities which often go unnamed, and with which the Church has struggled.

Take power, as an example.  Without power – and an imbalance of power – there can be no abuse.  But over the years I’ve been involved in the Church, as an enquirer, a member, an ordinand and then a member of the clergy, I’ve observed that the Church has a massive blind spot about power.

We don’t like to think about power.  We don’t like to talk about it, and we often struggle to recognise the way power dynamics – formal and informal – shape the life of the Church, and the lives of people in the Church.  I suspect it’s because, you know, we’re supposed to love one another; and after all, if we’re loving one another then power shouldn’t be a problem.

I also suspect it’s because we worship a God we proclaim as all-powerful, and it can be quite easy to make the mental slide from worshipping an all-powerful God to worshipping power for its own sake, and not realising the shift we’ve made.

Now, I’m not saying that power is bad.  Power is how stuff happens.  Power is the power to love and create joy and build peace and all of those good things.  I’m saying that power has potential to be creative or destructive, though; and often we’re naïve about that destructive potential.

Here’s an example; my mental image of power in a relationship is a bit like having a really big dog; say, an Irish wolfhound or the like.  Big and strong and exuberant.  Now, that dog can do lots of good things; it can be trained to rescue, it can guide and protect, it can comfort and be a companion.  But left untrained, or frightened, or the like; a dog like that can do real damage, cause serious injury, or even kill a person.

The only way to be safe with that dog is to acknowledge its destructive potential, to put in place measures to prevent it from being destructive, and to be vigilant about what it does and how it behaves.

It’s the same with power between people; we need to acknowledge that that power exists, acknowledge its destructive potential, and put in place preventative measures and ongoing vigilance.

It’s so easy to get this wrong.  In my first year as a curate, the parish where I was also had a theological student; who wanted me to write a recommendation to his bishop that this student should be ordained.  And one day when he was mucking around, without thinking about it, I jokingly threatened that if he didn’t behave better, I’d write him a bad recommendation.

It was only later that I realised that I had held my power over him and used it to try to control him.  That was an abuse of my power.  So easy to do without thinking; and then I had to go back and apologise for what I had said, and explain that what I wrote to his bishop was not going to be contingent on the degree to which he let me control him.

That’s a small example of a moment where my own power was in my blind spot; but if it had stayed in my blind spot and I’d acted on my threat, I could have had a serious negative impact on his life.

Thinking about all of this, it seems to me that in our households as much as in the Church, we have to learn the habit of turning to look into that blind spot.  Where is the power in this relationship?  In this group of people?  How is that power being used, constructively or destructively?  Do we need to think together about how we prevent that from going bad?

These are not easy discussions to have, especially when things are going well and we don’t want to think about how they might go off the rails.  But I’d suggest that it’s much less unpleasant to do some of the preventative work, than deal with the mess – and the personal costliness – after things have gone wrong and abuse has occurred.

Power shouldn’t be taboo, at home or at Church.  Physical power, force of personality, economic and social power, institutional power, spiritual power… these are realities we have to be able to name and to discuss openly, as part of how we learn to keep everyone safe.

I do appreciate the irony that it’s an expression of my power, here and now, to encourage you to create a culture of transparency about power.  But the reality is we’ve been very bad at that, and all of us have seen some of what comes of a terrible lack of transparency.  Let’s use what power we have, to do better.

A God of relationship

This is a sermon for Trinity Sunday.

A bishop was at a parish for a confirmation, and decided that he would quiz the teenagers he was supposed to be confirming.  So he asked them, “Who can tell me what the Trinity is?”
They all looked at their shoes, in that way that teenagers do.  So he called on one young man, who mumbled a reply, in that way that teenagers do.  The bishop said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that.”
The boy sighed, in that way that teenagers do, and replied, only slightly louder, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  The bishop, wanting the boy to speak up so everyone can hear him, said, “I’m sorry, I still didn’t understand.”
And the boy, rolling his eyes, in that way that teenagers do, said loudly and clearly, “You’re not supposed to understand it.  It’s a mystery.”

I know it’s not just teenagers in the church who kind of go along with a Trinitarian framework, without being able to articulate why that should matter.

There’s a temptation, I think, when confronted with the idea of the Trinity – especially if, like me, you don’t find it an easy thing to get your head around – a temptation to decide that what we think about the Trinity doesn’t really matter.  But it does, and I want to focus on just one aspect of that this morning.

If you think of God as being not a Trinity, but One person, there is one thing that that God does not have which the Trinity does; and that is relationship as part of God’s very nature and eternal reality.  A God which is not a Trinity must create others – the physical world, angels, human beings – with whom to experience that relationship, and those relationships are always profoundly unequal; the worshippers and the worshipped.

In contrast, if we believe in a God who is a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all uncreated, each eternal – we believe in a God who is intrinsically and eternally in God’s very nature a relational God.  In the relationships within the Trinity – says the Creed of Athanasius – “none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another.”  But these three are united in purpose and perfectly cooperative in action, each contributing their part in submission to their shared dream for creation.

And here’s the important bit about that, for us in our everyday lives.  If this is how God relates within Godself, then this is the model for ideal human relationships.  Within the home, within society, and within the church, we are given a model for relating to one another in which position and hierarchy are suspect; in which power is relativized, and in which the importance of shared vision, shared purpose, and mutuality in taking up the work involved are set forth as the highest possible example, and we are shown our opportunity to reflect and even participate in the divine glory.

What I’m suggesting is that “the Trinity” shouldn’t just be an idea, or a set of ideas, for us; but should be a template, should give our attitudes an orientation, which will be practically expressed in the way we behave.

And this Trinitarian orientation of our attitudes, this way of relating to one another, is important because people are important.  The Trinity – like the home, like society, like the church – is comprised of persons in relationship.  True healthy, Godly relationship will build one another up, creating unity which celebrates our diversity, never impoverishing us all by marginalising or reducing to silence or stillness people who are an integral part of who we are.

Here we have a stark judgement of our continuous failings; because in the light of the Trinity, we have no excuse for any domination of one human being by another, or of one group of human beings by another.  No excuse for war; no excuse for economic exploitation; no excuse for leadership structures which silence the voices of the powerless; no excuse for patriarchy; no excuse for racism; and so on.

In particular, an understanding of the Trinity as a perfect relationship of equals undermines the patriarchal view of marriage put out by some Christians, who say that in the Trinity, the Son is eternally submitting to the Father.  But when we know that Jesus’ submission was not eternal, but part of the cooperation of all the persons of the Trinity to achieve their will for creation, then we cannot use belief in the Trinity to argue that it’s God’s will that wives be doormats, but have to acknowledge that the ideal set before us is one of unity, cooperation and mutuality.

I’m not saying that there will never be leadership and authority exercised by some in the home or anywhere else (I’m a parent, after all!); but it’s about how that is exercised, with reciprocity, consensus and concord, in a spirit of humility and service.

This understanding of God also calls into judgement our individualism and our consumerism; our belief that fundamentally, we stand alone in this life, and our tendency to relate to one another for what we can get out of it, rather than who we can be to, for and with one another.   How we relate to one another shows clearly how deeply we have been shaped by the worship of a God of perfect relationship.  This vision of God as Trinity challenges directly each of us who, consciously or unconsciously, perpetuates division within ourselves, and between ourselves and others.  We all have our share in the making and the perpetuating of these wounds.  There is a need for the healing of these rifts; a healing which for us, lies in our Lord and God whose inner life of loving relationship overflows into and renews the life of the church.

All of us are here today because something about God has been attractive to us.  The deeply creative, loving, overflowing life of God comes to live within us; to show itself within us, and to work through us to take hold of others around us.  Our life as a community should mirror something of the inner life of God; a life in which hierarchy and ego is not at issue; a life in which each is willing to be involved in work that is costly; a life which is not closed off and turned inward, but looking outward in overflowing abundant generosity, love and joy.  God’s love has been poured into our hearts, and we can hardly remain unchanged after that experience.

The Lord, the giver of life

This is a sermon for the feast of Pentecost.  The Scripture it references is Acts 2:1-21.

Today is Pentecost. That’s a rather dry name for the fiftieth day of Easter, but the event we remember today isn’t dry at all.

You know the story. Jesus’s disciples and others were gathered in an “upper room” in Jerusalem after Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension. He had told them to go there and wait to be “endued with power from on high” that would then make them witnesses to him throughout the world. As they were gathered there, celebrating the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon them “like a rushing, mighty wind” and “tongues of flame” appeared over their heads. Then they spoke in tongues—foreign languages unknown to them. Apparently people from the area—gathered from all over the Roman Empire to celebrate Pentecost–flocked to see and hear this phenomenon and heard the gospel of Jesus Christ being preached in their own languages. They thought the disciples were drunk which indicates they were very excited.

So, that’s the story in a nutshell. That event marks the beginning of the Church as a recognisable entity; as a group of people with a sense of their own identity and purpose. But how did that happen? Christians have understood that the Holy Spirit was for the first time given to people as an indwelling gift. The Holy Spirit, who before had been a somewhat elusive presence and power of God descending on prophets, suddenly came to dwell within Jesus’s followers.

Beginning on this day of Pentecost, God’s own Spirit came to indwell, unite, energize and send forth the new people of God, the church.

Who is this “Holy Spirit?”

In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit is hardly distinguished from Yahweh God, the Covenant Lord of Israel. Yet, there are hints here and there, especially in the prophets, that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person of God. The Holy Spirit came and went, occasionally descending on a prophet to reveal truth or to work miracles. But no prophet before John the Baptist was “filled with the Spirit.”

The New Testament has so much to say about the Holy Spirit it’s impossible to even touch on it all in one sermon.

Jesus promised the disciples that after he left them he would send “another Comforter” or “another “Advocate” to be with them and in them—to represent himself to them and to lead them into all truth. The Holy Spirit plays a prominent role in the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostle Paul mentions the Holy Spirit often and urges God’s people to “be not drunk with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” He say that the Holy Spirit helps us pray, when we don’t know how to pray. He mentions several “gifts of the Holy Spirit” and “fruit of the Spirit.” There is no shortage of “talk” of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

And there are some key things to take away from that New Testament picture.

First, the Holy Spirit is God. On one level we know that, but lots of Christians have the habit of saying “God” and really meaning “the Father.”  But any time a Christian says “God” we have to mean the Trinity, the Father and the Son and the Spirit, working together.  Anything less than that, for us, is a deficient picture of God.  (More on that theme next week!)

Second, the Holy Spirit is a person, not an impersonal force or power like electricity. The New Testament tells us that the Holy Spirit speaks, comforts, convicts, and can be grieved. An impersonal force or power cannot do any of that.  (As an aside, the Hebrew word for spirit is feminine. So there’s no reason, really, to only say “he” when referring to the Holy Spirit).

So the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead—equal in every way with the Father and the Son but sent to us by the Father through the Son.

But, as with any sort of theology, the most important question is, so what?  The Holy Spirit is God; the Holy Spirit is a person and relates to us personally.  So what, for us, today?

First, the Holy Spirit is fulfilment of a promise. Jesus promised that his leaving the disciples, a thought that deeply discouraged them, was actually a good thing. It was a good thing because he would send someone else to be his presence within and among them carrying on his mission. In other words, his no longer being bodily present among them was not, he said, something to be dreaded. The coming of the Spirit from him would more than take his place. He even said that they would do “greater things” than he did among them because of the Holy Spirit whom he would send to be in them and with them.


And we remember also that the Hebrew prophet Joel promised that “in the last days” the Spirit would fill God’s people in a special way never experienced before. The apostle Peter interpreted the Day of Pentecost as the fulfillment of that promise.

And the Holy Spirit is the person of God who is most directly present to and with us. Unlike in the Old Testament where the Holy Spirit “came and went,” since the Day of Pentecostal all who truly follow Jesus, who have put their trust in him and embraced him as Lord and Saviour, have the Holy Spirit enlivening us. The Spirit is God’s personal presence within us.

And the Holy Spirit is power. Jesus promised the disciples the power they would need to be his witnesses throughout the world and they did go on to turn the world upside down, because they were enlivened by the Holy Spirit and given the Spirit’s power to witness. Although the Spirit is a person, the Spirit is also God’s power in us and among us.  Power to do what? To live Christlike lives, to show forth the grace of God, to point people to Jesus, to be the people of God.  The Holy Spirit gives us passion for the lost and dying and for peace and justice.

And that power of the Holy Spirit is productive; leading us to live in a way which makes a difference in the world. The New Testament lists two special things the Holy Spirit produces when the Spirit is present within us and among us. The first are gifts of the Spirit. The second are fruit of the Spirit.

Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, gentleness and self-control. These are the evidence of the Spirit’s presence. Wherever the Spirit is present these characteristics should be evident; and more to the point, a Christian’s growth in maturity should be visible by their growth in these virtues.

Paul lists the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12: faith, prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, words of knowledge and wisdom, etc. Like the fruit of the Spirit these are supernatural, not natural abilities. Left to ourselves, without the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, we could never have these gifts.

While Anglicans haven’t historically emphasised these gifts of the Spirit, it would be a mistake to think they should be absent from the life of our community.

So, if we want these evidences of the Spirit’s presence and power in our lives, in our church, what must we do?

The first part of the answer has to be that we must take baptism seriously.  It’s in baptism that we turn to Christ and that the Spirit comes to enliven us.

But more than that, given what we’ve said about the Spirit being a person and the Spirit’s presence in our lives being relational, we ought to realise that that relationship will develop and grow over time.  That relationship should deepen and expand the extent to which it transforms our character and our lives.

A fair reading of the New Testament pushes us to realize that, although the Holy Spirit is already within us and among us, if we have faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit always do more and take us further; transforming our lives both individually and collectively. When that happens the fruit of the Spirit grows and the gifts of the Spirit open up. The result is holiness of life, power to witness, and mutual blessing of each other and God.

American Methodist minister and poet Jan Richards wrote about this presence of the Holy Spirit in these words:

This is the blessing
we cannot speak
by ourselves.

This is the blessing
we cannot summon
by our own devices,
cannot shape
to our own purposes,
cannot bend
to our own will.

This is the blessing
that comes
when we leave behind
our aloneness,
when we gather
when we turn
toward one another.

This is the blessing
that blazes among us
when we speak
the words
strange to our ears,

when we finally listen
into the chaos,

when we breathe together
at last.

On unity.

This reflection was given at an ecumenical Eucharist during the week of prayer for Christian unity.  The Scripture it references is Ephesians 4:1-16.

In the reading we just heard from Ephesians, Paul called us to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Unity – oneness – is a wonderful ideal; but whether it was the identity issues of Jews and gentiles in Paul’s day, or the denominational divides (or indeed divisions within denominations) in our own, it’s something with which Christians have always struggled.

And it is, if we’re honest, something which we don’t always want.  When you talk with Christians about ecumenism or unity, there are often concerns about loss of identity, about compromise, about watering down the truth.

So I wanted to reflect, for a moment, on what making every effort towards unity might mean for us.

I believe that ecumenism is important, but by that I don’t mean boiling everything down to the lowest common denominator or one (or both) sides compromising until their integrity is compromised (if you’ll pardon the pun).

It’s important to listen to one another, to try to understand one another, to impute the best possible motives to one another, and to seek to appreciate and learn from one another. What we must not do is abandon our own clear convictions in that process.

It’s important to pray with and for one another.  What we must not do is disparage the liturgical and prayerful practices of others, or to demand that they must pray just like us; nor should we abandon the treasuries of prayer in our own traditions for the sake of doing something together.

It’s important to work together for the sake of the reign of God; to support one another in proclaiming the good news, nurturing believers, responding to the needs of the vulnerable, transforming injustice and so on. We can be and do more together than we can apart, and there’s no reason why (for example) people of different denominations can’t work together to care for the vulnerable and needy in their local community. What we must not do is see that as the only important thing, and think that therefore our institutional churches are irrelevant or meaningless.

What I’m suggesting is that the quest for unity, for us, is a matter of finding the creative point between the things which divide us, and the Spirit’s pull towards an ultimate future in which we will know perfect unity.  We are not free to violate our consciences, which is why we have such disunity in the first place; but neither are we free to reject our brothers and sisters in Christ.

(You’re stuck with me, I’m afraid, whether you like it or not!  Or rather, we’re stuck with each other.)

We know that when we are gathered around the throne of God at the end of time itself, there will be no divisions between us; in the meantime, Paul reminds us that we are literally God’s gift to one another, and that if we refuse to share our lives together, all of us are diminished by that.

This is not always an easy thing; not always a comfortable thing, this challenge of unity.  Paul said it took humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace.  Fortunately those are the fruits of the Spirit at work in our lives, and so as we yield more and more to the Spirit, we should find ourselves growing closer together as well.  Thanks be to God!

Obedience and Peace

This reflection was given as part of the daily Eucharist in an Anglican convent.  

Today we remember John XXIII, Bishop of Rome and reformer; the Pope who called the second Vatican council and brought so much change to the Catholic church.  It seems apt that we should remember him in this week of prayer for Christian unity, as he did so much to build positive relationships with other Christian churches, rather than seeing us as enemies or competitors!

What really struck me as I read about him, though, was that he had taken as his personal motto, “Obedience and peace.”  You might expect someone with that motto to follow what had been done before; to be bound by tradition, and definitely to avoid rocking the boat.  Yet in the few short years he had as Pope, he found his own way forward, was a sympathetic critic of tradition, and didn’t just rock the boat, he extensively remodelled it.

Just as one example, it’s recorded that in the days following his election as Pope, he made pastoral visits to the hospitals and prisons of Rome; the first Pope in nearly a century to do so.  He told the prison inmates that he had come to them, since they could not come to him.  His actions caused a sensation even internationally.

And of course, there was the second Vatican council, which while it brought much hope, also brought much conflict into the church, which continues to this day.

How did he get there from a starting point of “Obedience and Peace”?

I suspect he knew that peace is not just about avoiding conflict.  Pope John worked for peace by confronting the problems of his society, his church, and his people; by saying that we shouldn’t be satisfied with half answers or half measures when there is the possibility of more; more grace, more freedom, more human flourishing.  Obedience for him wasn’t about stubborn loyalty to what others had done, but about allowing his whole life to be given over to a vision of God’s goodness.

It’s a take on “obedience and peace” which has something to offer all of us, whatever our own situation!

Love is power

This is a sermon for the seventh Sunday of Easter.  The Scripture it refers to is John 17:20-26.

Knowledge is power.  Money is power.  Force and violence are power.

We know these realities and how they shape human relationships; some of us all too well, from having been on the more powerless side of the equation.

Power has different dimensions, though.  Often we think of it in terms of control; one person’s or one group’s control of another.  (And if you’ve been following what’s going on with various American states and legislation regulating abortion, there’s a fascinating case study there in questions of power-as-control).

At its most basic, though, power is about creating change.  It’s about using energy to move or shape or somehow change the quality of the recipient of that power.  In that sense, it’s value-neutral; the work done could be good or bad or indifferent in what it causes to happen.  But when power is expended, something happens.

Jesus knew about the kind of power that makes things happen, that creates change. And today’s gospel reading, in its way, reflects on some of the same themes; but Jesus puts it in terms that might need a bit of unpacking.  So let’s take a few minutes to do that.

This section of the gospel is John’s record of the prayer that Jesus prayed for his disciples just before he was arrested.  It’s the conclusion of the long section that started with Jesus washing his disciples’ feet; then he gave them some instructions, and then finally he prays for them, and this is part of the prayer.

And what I want to notice today is the way that this part of the prayer interweaves mentions of love and glory.  “The glory that you have given me, I have given them… so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved also me.”” I desire those… to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me…” “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

When human beings experience the glory of God, they experience the presence and the power of God.  And for John, the presence and the power of God are inseparable from the love of God.  To know God and encounter God’s glory, God’s power and presence, is to be loved.  They’re different aspects of the same reality which we encounter.

Or, to put that another way, when we experience love, we experience something of the power and the presence of God.

This is why the love that the disciples show one another and the world allows the world to recognise something of God; because it is in loving another human being that we make God’s glory – God’s power and presence – real and active and effective in the world.  To love is, by its very nature, to make something of the reality and character of God visible and tangible to those who see that love.

Jesus is, in effect, saying that love makes stuff happen.  It’s not just a feeling, an attitude.  It’s the cumulative weight of all the actions we take which make God’s presence real; which accomplish what God would choose for us, in God’s perfect love.

It’s love which makes the news about God good news; because it proclaims a God whose attitude towards us is always goodness.  It’s love which offers agency and dignity to “the poor.”  It’s love which releases us from the evils which bind us.  It’s love which gives us clarity of vision by offering us the truth.  It’s love that seeks human flourishing as its most treasured goal.

Love does stuff.  It makes things happen.  It changes lives, transforms despair, nurtures human potential, responds to our deepest needs.

Love is not, in the way that John is talking about it here, an internal experience on the part of the one who loves.  It’s attitude with its sleeves rolled up and elbow-deep in the stuff of life, lavishing energy and care on a world which has too often known only love’s absence.

Love is, in this view, the dynamo which will drive the transformation of the world.  Not money, not knowledge, and certainly not force-as-control (although money and knowledge might be useful tools).   But the world will be made new by the same love which created the world for the sake of the goodness of creation, lived out and made known in the ways which we care for and serve one another.

And here Jesus prays that we would know this; that we would grasp the dynamic potential of the love that existed before the creation of the world, and choose to participate in that dynamic.

And, of course, we do this.  It’s love which provides for the needs of the desperate folks who come to the vicarage door.  It’s love which assures an abused person that what has happened is not their fault.  It’s love which walks alongside someone who is grieving, that they need not be alone.  All of those things I’ve seen happen in this parish this week, and there are many more ways love has been at work in our midst.  There’s even love at work in the tedious work of policies and compliance – source of endless complaints in the life of the church – as we seek to proactively protect people from the things which could possibly inflict harm we never intended.

So it’s not that we don’t know anything of the kind of love Jesus talks about here.  But reading it again invites us to go deeper; to be more intentional; to plan our days with an eye to a to-do list, to be sure, but perhaps with another eye to the human needs we’re likely to encounter, and our own potential to be a force for good.

And more than that, it assures each of us that we have the ability to participate in the glory of God.  That the power and the presence of God can be known in and through us and what we do.  Love doesn’t necessarily demand great heroics; patience, kindness, encouragement, humility… none of these things are beyond any of us in how we interact with others; and all of these things invite the people around us to have just a glimpse of the character of God.  Making God known in the world can be as simple as courtesy with sincerity.

Love is powerful.  Love changes the lives of the people it touches, bringing them that much closer to God.  And Jesus prayed that we would know that love, and that it would shape the way we live, and navigate the world; so that the world may believe.

May it be our prayer as well.