Sermon for Seventh Sunday of Easter – Year C

John 17.20.26

Preached on 8th May 2016

Against all the odds they did it!

Leicester City Football Club are the Premier League Champions for 2016.

What were the chances of that happening?

The bookies thought the chances were pretty remote.  You could have placed a modest bet of £10 with odds of 5000:1 and had you done so you would have £50,000 richer today!

If you’d been a bit more daring and adventurous and placed a bet of £25 you’d have had £125,000 to put in the collection plate this morning!

I don’t know why this story has caught my attention and imagination.  I’m not a fan of football and I haven’t supported a particular team since I was at school and George Best was the hero of Manchester United!

But there’s something exciting and compelling about this story of transformation ending in a triumph which confounded everyone’s expectations!

The theme of transformation has been with me throughout this Easter season.

We’ve heard stories of people whose lives were transformed in an encounter with the risen Christ and I’ve found myself wondering about possibilities of transformations in all sorts of situations and for all sorts of people, including myself.   And I wonder whether when we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost next week we will find ourselves being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

I hope and pray that this week we will prepare ourselves for that possibility, opening our hearts and minds to receive the transforming power of love and grace.

But back to this week’s Gospel reading which, in my mind, I’ve been holding alongside that story of Leicester City’s triumph against all the odds.

Jesus says:  “Holy Father, I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”

That’s us Jesus is praying for – you and me and all our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Jesus is praying that we may all be one.

What are the chances of that happening?

Would it be against all the odds?

My train of thought led me to a set of intercessions for Good Friday written by John Pritchard, a former Bishop of Oxford in which are these words:

“Lord Christ,

On the cross, on the nails,
you loved beyond reason
and forgave beyond measure.

you gave the forces of evil their notice to quit.
you soaked up this world’s sadness
like a sponge in vinegar.

you lost – and won –
in a single, glorious throw of the dice.
On the cross, on the nails.”

You lost – and won- in a single, glorious throw of the dice.

That idea of God risking everything in a single glorious effort to redeem humankind reminded me of another story.

It’s an old one and I don’t know where it came from originally but it’s the story of Jesus arriving at the gates of heaven after his ascension.  He meets the Archangel Gabriel who asks him what plans he’s made for his ministry to be continued in the world he’s just left, how will other people come to know the good news of salvation?

“Well” says Jesus “I’ve left that to Peter, James and John, Martha and Mary and all my other close friends who will tell their friends who will tell other friends until the whole world has heard that good news”

Gabriel looks worried, “But what if Peter is all caught up in his fishing nets and forgets; what if Martha is so busy with housework and cooking that she doesn’t have time;  what if everyone gets pre-occupied and distracted — what’s your Plan B?”

Jesus answers quietly, “I have no Plan B”

God risks everything in one glorious throw of the dice and he relies on us to share the good news of salvation – he has no Plan B.

We are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to live as he commanded us to live – loving one another as he loves us.

What are the chances of that happening?

A couple of weeks ago Maureen invited us to write down names of people or situations which we thought needed an outpouring of love – the people we find difficult to get on with or the people we think don’t like us.

Let’s just pause and think again about those people and situations.

Now let’s ask ourselves some questions:

“Am I doing anything to bring God’s love into that situation?”

“Do I offer love to the person I find difficult, to the person I don’t like”

“Am I doing anything to bring God’s love into my relationship with those people?”

“Am I ready to welcome and forgive?”

“Am I ready to say sorry for causing hurt?”

Those are the loving things we are commanded to do.  And loving in that way might well be costly – God’s single glorious throw of the dice cost him more than anything we can imagine.

Some more words from those intercessions by John Pritchard:

“Through the sweat, through the blood,
we see the eternal face of a suffering God.

we glimpse the anguish of the crucified Creator.

we begin to believe the impossible is happening.

we begin to know that our God loves and saves
to the uttermost – and then beyond.
Through the sweat, through the blood.

In the darkness, in the darkness
all our prayers have died, save this:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.”

In a church where I once worshipped – a long time ago and in another diocese – there were two people who could not get on with each other – in fact there was real enmity between them which was very destructive and divisive.  One Sunday one of those two said to the vicar “I didn’t take communion today because (other person) was chalice assistant and I won’t receive from her”.  I’ll never forget the vicar’s reply: “May I suggest you go and kneel at the foot of the cross and tell that to the crucified Christ.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.

Well, my train of thought has travelled quite a distance from the triumph of Leicester City!  But here’s a quote from the Club’s vice-chairman:

“Leicester City’s Premier League title has set a new standard for the whole of football and provided inspiration for the whole world”

And our Easter story of Christ’s resurrection and victory over death is a triumphant one, a celebration of life and love in the face of everything the forces of evil could throw at them.  The example of Jesus sets a new standard for living and provides inspiration for the whole world.  So, let us follow his example and obey his commandment to love one another as he loves us so that we may be where he is and see his glory.

To him be all honour, glory and power for ever and ever.  Amen.