Last year during my annual trip to the beach with my husband, a hurricane was forecast to make landfall at the exact location of our oceanfront rental cottage. We watched the progress of the hurricane all week with worried eyes. We wondered if we would be evacuated. Our friends sent us messages and called to make sure we knew the storm was headed straight toward us.
Fortunately, by the time the hurricane approached our area, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. The eye of the storm was expected to make landfall on our last full day at the beach. So we battened down the hatches, bought some candles, moved the car to higher ground, and prepared ourselves to ride it out.
As the storm came crashing against the land, we began seeing small pieces of something grayish white, tiny bits of some unknown substance, blowing through the air all around us. The stuff was hitting the house. It was hitting my car. It was collecting in piles on the grass and the porch. It was thick and expansive as it swirled through the air.
We tried to make sense of what we were seeing through the glass windows of our beach house. Was it perhaps the seeds of some beach plant, like the seeds and seed hairs of the cottonwood trees back home that let loose on an annual basis and fill the air with swirling tiny white bits of fluff that resembled what we were looking at now? Was it hail? Should I run out in the storm and move my car under shelter so it would not be dented? Was it the result of a spill of some kind—detergent or chemicals or oil—that, when subjected to the swirling seas had caused a froth to emerge like some kind of giant washing machine agitation cycle? Because of the limitations of our own experience, neither of which included ever having lived in a beach community, we simply had no idea what we were looking at or how to respond.
As it turned out, we were witnessing seafoam hitting the sand dunes, blowing apart into bits and blasting up into the swirling air. The entire beachfront was bursting with millions of fragments of seafoam!
As a result of that experience, I have a newfound appreciation for seafoam. I am drawn not only to its multiple forms, but to its color—so much so that I have painted several rooms in my house its particular shade of grayish-greenish white.
Each one of us, no matter how hard we try to expand our horizons, is limited to some degree by our own perspective. I can see the world only out of the perspective of my own eyes—the eyes of a middle-aged southern, liberal, educated, economically privileged feminist Caucasian woman. Because of the limitations of my life experience, I can look at a swirling mass of fluffy stuff in the air and interpret what it is only from what I know, from what I have seen before in the places I have lived and worked and visited in my lifetime. I couldn’t see seafoam because I have never lived by the sea.
Likewise, each of our ministries—from our interpretations of the gospel message of Jesus Christ, to the things we hold as most critical in our discipleship and mission—is limited to some extent by our own limited vantage point. Particularly, those who have not spent much time outside of their communities of origin, and who have, intentionally or unintentionally, restricted themselves to engaging primarily with those whom they share a similar worldview or culture or political perspective or life experience, may have a very limited view of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in the world.
We are limited as individuals in ministry. We can see only what we know and what is familiar. We recognize only the things we are looking at out of what we know from our experience.
This is why it is critical that as leaders in the church and as disciples of Jesus, we seek to understand and work hard to respect the viewpoints of others. Especially, I believe, we are called to be in relationship with disciples of Jesus Christ who hold viewpoints that are different from our own.
We can expand our own vision of discipleship only with the help of others. And it is only when we do that, when we expand our vision to include the perspective of others among God’s people, that we become able to look at the world through the eyes of Christ. This is why it is critical not only that we be one in ministry with other people who share our faith, but that we seek to be one in ministry with people who have a different view of the world than our own.
Because it is by the unity of the Spirit that we are made one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry, in order to take the good news into all the corners of the world.
Today our conversation around a table with Jesus and his disciples comes to an end. And as with many sacred and difficult conversations, Jesus closes this time together with a prayer. Even though he is facing a very dark hour, Jesus does not ask for prayers for himself. He prays for his disciples. He prays for the people God gave him from the world. He blesses them and commissions them to carry on the work that has begun in him, but which will now be in their hands to continue.
The disciples were not Jesus. They were flawed human beings with limited perspectives. The ministry Jesus blessed them to carry on was placed in the care of people—men and women who could not possibly see the world from the perspective of the One who was sent by God, the One who was of the very same substance—homoousios—and of the very same perspective as the creator of the world. The disciples would not individually be able to do what their master had done. Only together, with the wisdom and perspective of one another to help them as individuals, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, could they continue the ministry begun by Jesus.
The good news is we are not Jesus either. Just like the first disciples, we are flawed human beings with limited perspectives. But God has not left us alone to do the work of discipleship. God sent Jesus to teach us and to draw us into unity with him. God sent the advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be with us in our work. And God has given us others to help us see what we cannot see on our own.
- God has given us helpers to assist us with that which we can’t see fully through our own two eyes.
- God has sent us people from other places, people with completely different experiences and opposing viewpoints to our own, to enable us to see what we can’t even see fully through the eyes of all the people in our congregations.
It takes all of us, the entire body of Christ becoming one in ministry to see the world and God’s people with the eyes of Jesus. And so, as we complete our time around the table with our Lord and Savior, his prayer for his disciples is his prayer for us too.
At this point I encourage you get up from your chair and invite the congregation to stand and join you in raising your hands to heaven. Ask them to keep their eyes open and look up to heaven, as you pray in Christ’s name for them:
Will you stand and lift your eyes and hearts and hands to heaven as we go to God in prayer.
Gracious Lord God, by the power of Christ, your name has been revealed to the people you have called from this world to be in mission and ministry. We are yours, and you have called each of us by name. You have embraced us to be your disciples—and we have kept your word.
Almighty God, we know that everything you have given to us in our Savior, Jesus Christ, comes from you. We believe that the words Jesus spoke are your words, and we are committed to listen to your words revealed in Scripture through him. We truly do know that he came from you, God. And we believe that you sent him not just to the first disciples, but to all disciples, in every generation, including us.
And so it is in the holy name of Jesus that I pray for all of us. I’m not praying for the general population. I pray for these brothers and sisters that you have called, that we may be one in ministry together for this time and place. You have called us to minister together. We are yours.
Bless us, that we be open to the vision that Christ has given not just to those in this place, but to those in other parts of your body—those ministering in your name in other places, in other nations, and in other denominations. For we know that everything you have given through Christ is yours, and everything Christ is, came from you. For in Christ, you have been glorified.
I pray that the fullness of Christ may be glorified in all of us. Holy Father, watch over us in your name, the name you gave your son Jesus, that we will be one just as you and Christ are one. In the name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.
(Prayer paraphrased from the words of Jesus as recorded in John 17:6-17, and written by Dawn Chesser.)