“Living in Unity”

A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Easter
Preached by The Reverend Doctor Gerard R. Gaeta, Obl.S.B., Priest Associate
Trinity Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
May 13, 2018


Living in Unity

This is a portion of Jesus’ prayer offered the night before his crucifixion.
We are listening in on one of the most precious texts in Scripture.
Here, Jesus prays for us.

He prays that we find joy in overhearing this prayer of our behalf.
He prays that we be protected so that we will be able love as we are empowered and commanded to love.
He prays that, so loving, we are drawn into union with one another in his love for us.
He prays that we show that love to the world to which we are sent just as Jesus was sent by the one in whose love we dwell.

For me, the center of the prayer is this:
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one, as we are one. (Jn 17.11b)

Receive the following as parables – or, just so funky illustrations

Homestake Mine, Leeds, SD

In 1967, my first assignment was to serve at Faith Lutheran Church, Portland, Oregon.
That was 2500 miles away from our Seminary in Columbus, O.
My wife and I drove much more than the predictable straight line as we zig-zagged through States to our destination.
We took time to see as many national parks, famous cities and towns, as well as the fabulous scenery as we headed west.

On our sojourn through the Black Hills, we happened to drive through Leeds, S.D.
I don’t recall that we even stopped in Leeds for a meal, but we did catch sight of this sign that read:

“The Homestake Mine of Leeds, S.D. may soon not be profitable due to increased costs. Closing the mine is an option.
The Board of Directors has decided to keep the mine open for as long as possible because the Community of Leeds, S.D. depends on the salaries earned by our miners.”

For the sake of the community, the mine remained open.
The solidarity was stunning.
I checked…the mine finally closed in 2002.
But, for 35 years, something other than profit governed the decisions of the Board.

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one, as we are one. (Jn 17.11b)

Saturday, Sept 19 1981 – Simon and Garfunkel Central Park Concert

During my seminary years, the folk-rock duo of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, who started together in 1963, were shooting up the charts of popularity.
Many in my seminary class as well as Jane and I heard them as the prophets of the 60’s

Some who recall their lyrics might not feel so enamored.
Let me suggest that you listen again to songs such as “The Sound of Silence,” “The Boxer,” “America,” “Mrs. Robinson,” or “Bridge over Troubled Waters.”
And those just for starters…

Well, during early 1981, we learned that Simon & Garfunkel were to give a concert in Central Park, Manhattan, in mid-September.
We checked our diaries and cleared everything so we could attend.
My wife reminded me that I announced to the Congregation that emergencies were not permitted on that September date.

We tried to get some of our friends to join us, but to a person they agreed that we were both out of our minds. Fine – we went anyway.

The City’s Parks Dept. anticipated some 200,000 – 250,000 might attend.
They seriously misjudged the draw of these two lads from Forest Hills, Queens.

The day of the Concert, folks began arriving at dawn to set up blankets and picnic baskets. By the time we arrived with our blanket & basket in mid-afternoon, we were much further from the stage than we hoped.
Even the gigantic Monitors placed for folks further back from the stage were far away from us.
But, it didn’t matter for from the first song, “Mrs Robinson,” we joined in the dancing and sang our hearts out as the duo shared their repertoire with the nearly 600,000 of us crammed together around these two.

Nearly 600,000 of us gathered around these two, celebrating, singing, dancing.
It was fabulous.

Oh, yeah, and my wife and I were at Paul Simon’s Central Park Concert 10 years later in August 1991.
Since our daughter, Sue, couldn’t be with us and our son was in the military, I got a shocking pink poster on which I wrote “Hi! Sue!!!”
A fellow next to us asked who Sue was. I shared that she is our daughter. He asked how old she was. When I said “19”, he turned to his friends and said, “Hmm…would your parents attend this thing?”

This time the Parks Dept. didn’t know what to expect – there were over 600,000 of us.
The joy, the peace, the sense of being together at both events was palpable!

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one, as we are one. (Jn 17.11b)

Passing the Peace –
Fordham Lutheran Church, Bronx
Holy Trinity Church, Central Park West

I’ve already shared that one of my assignments was as the Coalition Director for the Lutheran Coalition in the Bronx, NY. As the Director, rather than parish responsibilities, I worked with the clergy and leaders of the 21 Congregations of our Coalition. Not having specific parish responsibilities on Sunday mornings, I would worship with one of our Congregations.

Fordham Lutheran was the first Congregation with whom I worshiped.
Touching base with the Pastor before worship, he clued me in on what to expect during the Passing of the Peace.

Now, some among us might remember what it was like when Passing the Peace was first introduced in the liturgy back in 1979. If you were like Lutherans, you neither moved nor touched others and were barely able to say “Peace be with you” to your own family members let alone to the folks around you. Most folks didn’t get what the gesture meant and would end up saying “Good morning!”

But, at Fordham Church, folks not only ‘got it’, but they celebrated the opportunity to share the Peace of God with one another. And it was a good thing the Pastor gave me the heads up. I’d never experienced this.

Folks went around the nave sharing the Peace of God with everyone they could.
I overheard folks share that they’d prayed for someone’s concern and hoped God’s peace was evident. I heard folks share their love for one another in commitments to visit, to bring a meal, or to babysit so the parent could go on an errand.
It went on and on for over 20 minutes.

By the time folks finally returned to the pews the spirit of Christ-love in that sanctuary was palpable. It was love…the love of Christians for one another.

Here’s an addendum…
At the parish Jane & I attend in Manhattan, Holy Trinity on CPW, there is a woman who is clearly into this sense of sharing the Peace.
Florence Agnes begins from the front of the side aisle working her way all the way around the nave making sure she shares the Peace of God with each one of us.
Florence Agnes, now in her 80’s, lives alone in one of the housing provided by the City.
She told me that she’d not worshiped at Fordham Lutheran.

We are of differing cultures, political, persuasions, econ, educational backgrounds.
Yet the primary truth is that, by the grace of the Spirit, we are one in Christ.
This is the unity for which our Savior, Christ Jesus prayed.

And, this is the witness we bring to the cities, towns and villages around us.
This is the witness by which we live.
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one, as we are one. (John 17. 11b)

In the Name of the Christ.