Who are you?

Mary Magdala Community

Who Are You?

Thoughts on Christian Unity Sunday, January 21, 2018

by Rev. Jim Ryan,  jimryan6885@gmail.com

Christian unity is the name we give to an effort that is marked with a lot of hand-wringing and agony over the actual disunity among the followers of Jesus.  Unity being ever elusive, to celebrate unity in a liturgical way is to invite again a reading of Jesus’ prayer that we all may be one – more as accusation than endearment.

In our corner of the world (that is, our Mary of Magdala community)  our anxiety is soothed somewhat with our connection to our host congregation.  Our joint Ash Wednesday service is coming up.  PB&J Saturdays (our folks and their folks make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for folks on the street) are a very practical activity of uniting around very specific skills.  And, going forward, we hope for additional ways to act in unity.

There’s no question that centuries of separation require Christians to apply ourselves to reconciliation and union over the long haul.  There is no magic wand of a solution to a separation which has occurred because for so long people and institutions wanted to be separate.  Disputes and differences are encrusted, concretized, even fossilized.  Liturgical practice and doctrinal substance have been used, too often, to keep people separated.  And I ask, “For what good?”

I suggest this morning that questions are the key to this quandary of separation.  This morning we raise perhaps the biggest question of all, which is  “Who Are You?”

Isn’t it true that it first takes questions to set us on the path?  Don’t parents get excited when their child asks questions which show that they are interested?    (Unless, it’s just an outbreak of the Terrible Twos)  And, with the questions don’t we commit ourselves to the journey?

In this technological age when solutions last only until the next solution, when the things we’re certain of regularly give way to new certainties – it’s the inquiring spirit that matters.

It is the question that unites, that enjoins us on the search.  And the motive behind the question is often so much more important than even the solution which is likely to change soon anyway.

This morning we’re considering the question, “Who are you?” and three facets of the question.  First, we look into this conversation between Moses and God on Mount Horeb (Exodus 3:11-14).  Isn’t it fascinating that Moses’ authenticity for leadership is based upon knowing a name?  In fact, Moses’ question, “Who shall I say has sent me?” is really asking, “Who are you?” in another way.  God’s response is about being.  The answer is the revelation to the people that Moses acts in God’s name, on God’s behalf.   Here we see that the purpose of the question, “Who are you?” is to reveal.

A second, contrasting purpose in asking, “Who are you?” is to confine, to restrict, to limit, even to forbid.  This was the motive behind the interaction between the temple priests and other leaders with Peter in our second reading from the Book of Acts (4:1-11).  The interrogators of Peter presumed they already knew the answer to the question and they didn’t like it.  They tell Peter that he may not preach and heal in the name of Jesus Christ.  After all, they were certain that they knew who Jesus was and they prevented the threat he posed, so they thought, by executing him.

This contrasting motive and purpose behind settling the question, “Who are you?” is to conceal.  To reveal or to conceal – that’s the fundamental choice behind the question.  We Christians – regardless of denomination or stripe – are on the path of revelation.  And we get there by honestly searching.

Finally, we followers of Jesus share the same curiosity of the two disciples in today’s Gospel reading, who asked him, “Where do you stay?”  Isn’t this just another version of “Who are you?”  Especially since Jesus responds with, “Come and see.”  In this brief exchange lies such assurance, such connection.  People invite other people to their residence to become more familiar with them, with who they are..

“Who are you?” is what joins us in unity.  It is the vital question for the journey as it forms the bond between all Christians of this connection with Jesus who reveals all.  I don’t know about you, but I am happy to celebrate this united search.

A Prayer  (JR)

At your invitation, all-loving One,

this time and space is holy for us.

We are free to ask, “Who are you?”

And you reveal to us integrity and depth.

Our prayer for unity is to trust the questions,

to acknowledge your guidance,

to be grateful for the authenticity of your path.

May we ask only to reveal and not to conceal

so that our questions will serve to connect us

with you,

with each other, and

with all your creation.

We pray in Jesus’ name.    Amen.

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