The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s166g13  Seventh Sunday of Easter, The Sunday after the Ascension  Ellesmere  12/5/2013
'I in them .. that they may (be) one'  John 17.23

Do I acknowledge Jesus as my personal lord and saviour?   Do I claim to be a follower of Christ?   Well, these words tell me that if I do I am also one with others.  

Now my personal experience in the church is that a lot of energy is expended by christians attempting to make others one with them - to get people to believe like them, worship like them, pray like them, read their bibles like them, live their life in a manner which doesn't confront any of their prejudices, indeed to work tirelessly to perpetuate their particular and personal edifice.   Newcomers are welcome to church as long as they don’t change anything, their children don’t make a noise during worship, and they don’t sit in ‘my’ pew!

Jesus' statement: 'no one comes to the Father but by me' becomes: 'no one comes to the Father but by my personal interpretation of who Jesus is'.   It is but a short step from this to be saying: 'no one comes to the Father but by ME'!

A number of things soon become apparent.   Firstly discipleship is actually about attempting to lessen the effort I have to go to love the other.   If they become as identical to me as possible it will be a lot easier for me to love them.   But secondly, the effort I have to go to, to try to make other people like me is huge.   Assuming that this was the case, it doesn't sound like good news to be commanded to change each and every other person!  The god that demanded this of me hardly loves me!   The third observation is that our christianity is about us on our soap-box telling others what they have got to do to earn the grace of God, the sacrifices others have to make.   We have chosen our sacrifice, to rant on our soap-box.   We don't give others any choice in terms of the sacrifices they have to make.   A fourth observation is that this makes christianity into others agreeing with me, liking me, obeying me.

Well, this sounds all a bit delusional to me, but perhaps I'm strange!   Delusional - especially the bit about others both liking me and obeying me!

And if it is Christianity, what has happened to ‘do unto others ..’ and ‘the measure you mete out ..’?

And I have to say, in the end, the effort we might expend in accepting people as they really are, is actually minuscule in comparison to the effort we might expend making everyone else to be like us?   This is, as they say, a no-brainer!

I recall observing many years ago those who disapproved of the ordination of women were expecting women who felt called to the priesthood to change their gender, which is, as I would say, a big ask.   Changing one's mind is certainly easier, but perhaps equally as unlikely.

I note that Jesus never attempted to get the Pharisees to love the Sadducees and vice versa.   Jesus called both them and all people to lift their sights from eternally trying to convert others, to actually affirm and include others.   Jesus called them and all people to forget trying to atone for sins, to get up off our knees and become part of society.   When people did this, when they left their family and spiritual holy huddles, flocking to hear the good news, Jesus baptised them, a sign of the forgiveness of sins that comes from incarnation into society, and fed them all indiscriminately, no matter how many turned up and whoever they were.   All anyone had to do was to leave their holy huddle, no matter what the holy huddle stood for and who it included, because that implied others were excluded.

And it has to be said in no uncertain terms that Jesus sends us to affirm and include those who are marginalised, alienated and excluded and especially those who are marginalised, alienated and excluded on RELIGIOUS grounds.   In Christ no one is marginalised, alienated or excluded.

Any faith that excludes others on religious grounds is idolatry, sorcery, adultery and fornication.   It is how St Paul describes the faith he held prior to his conversion: 'For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness SUPPRESS THE TRUTH.   For what can be known about God is plain to them, because GOD HAS SHOWN IT TO THEM.   Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.   So they are without excuse; for THOUGH THEY KNEW GOD, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.   CLAIMING TO BE WISE, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.   Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because THEY EXCHANGED THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever!   Amen.   For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions.   Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.   Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.   And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done.   They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice.   Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, INVENTORS OF EVIL, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.   THEY KNOW GOD'S DECREE, THAT THOSE WHO PRACTICE SUCH THINGS DESERVE TO DIE - YET THEY NOT ONLY DO THEM BUT EVEN APPLAUD OTHERS WHO PRACTICE THEM.'   Romans 1.18-32   How's that for a rant!   The harm done by 'the old boy's networks' no matter how orthodox and devout - like rejecting Jesus and having him killed - is infinitely greater than two people of the same gender expressing their intimate affections.   And they say behind all successful men are powerful women.  

Saul was on his way to Damascus to continue to marginalise, alienate and condemn others and the Risen Jesus stops him in his tracks.   ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ says the Lord.   Saul is astonished: ‘Who are you?’   The Lord who met him on that road is lord of those persecuted for religious reasons, an entirely different ‘lord’ from the one Saul knew and was instigating the persecution that he was undertaking.

Indeed the horror of following the gods of the nations the ancient people of God dispossessed only makes sense in this light, though we shrink from the violence perpetrated.

But the other thing about trying to make other people identical to us is that it elevates the ministry of preaching and the status of the preacher above all else.   Other ministries, like caring for the sick, administration, trying to live in an environmentally sustainable way - become second-rate and unspiritual.   We demean others rather than sharing with others the glory of the Father that Jesus passed on to his disciples.

No, when we are in Christ we are at one with others, affirming and including all people as they are, and if we are not at one with others, affirming and including all people as they are, we are not in Christ.