This Can Happen Anywhere. Not Everything Is Lost.
May 11-12, 2013
Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet who was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother. A few years ago, she wrote a poem entitled, Gate A-4:
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed for four hours, I heard an announcement: "If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately."
Well--one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. "Help," said the flight service person. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this."
I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly. "Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit- se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the next day. I said, "No, we're fine, you'll get there, just later, who is picking you up? Let's call him."
We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to her--Southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee, answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies--little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts--out of her bag--and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo--we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.
And then the airline broke out free beverages from huge coolers and two little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend-- by now we were holding hands--had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi- tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate--once the crying of confusion stopped--seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost. In the midst of a difficult situation, a group of strangers brought together by the winds of chance somehow found unity in their shared humanity. They never stopped being who they were. The Palestinian woman was still a Palestinian woman, the kids were still Mexican American and African American, the Argentinian woman and the folks from Laredo and California, they all remained very much who they were to begin with. But in a series of acts of hospitality, while they remained individually who they were, they also together became something else: a community. From the airline representative’s call over the intercom, to the narrator’s choice to respond to the call, to the narrator’s compassion, to the woman’s sharing of the cookies, to the children’s distribution of beverages, to the laughter, to the smiles, there were many separate small acts of hospitality and service that together helped bind these travelers together.
I cannot think of a better picture of what it means to live out our unity in Christ.
Listen again to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading. He’s in the middle of what’s known in the Gospel According to John as the high priestly prayer, which he prays right before he leaves his disciples for the last time before his arrest and crucifixion. Jesus prays, “”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
First of all, notice something very important in this prayer. Jesus here is praying not only for his disciples, but he is also praying for you. Jesus prayed for you. Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, said a prayer for you. He said that he was asking on behalf not only of these—his disciples—but also on behalf of those who will believe in him through the disciples’ word. My friends, that’s you and me.
Now listen closely. What was it that Jesus prayed about on behalf of you and me? What was it that he was asking? That they might all be one. In verse 22 he goes a little further—that we might be one as Jesus and God the Father are one.
Okay, now this is getting interesting. Jesus wants the same unity in us that exists in the very nature of God. Let THAT sink in for a moment. So what does that look like?
Holy Trinity Sunday is still a couple of weeks away, and I hope I’m not stealing any of Pastor Tobi’s thunder ahead of time, but this is big. Really big, and important to help us see how amazing this gospel text is. We worship a God who has been revealed in three persons. We call those persons the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three distinct persons, but not three Gods. There is only one God. God’s very nature is unity, but it is a unity that is found within diversity. One God, but a God in relationship with Godself.
Now look at us, children of God, created in God’s image. Different nationalities, different cultures, different ages, different histories, different stories in our present, different ways of seeing the world, different political and social views. All this rich, beautiful diversity, but still one. Still one body of Christ. United by our need for God’s grace, united by the hope we have found in the cross and the empty tomb.
We are like a tapestry…one that is woven of billions of individual threads. But it is those threads…which never cease being what they are individually…that together create this incredible, rich picture of the kingdom of God. That’s what the poem I read was about. That’s what Jesus prayed for.
The Holy Spirit weaves our lives together by using acts of hospitality and service that are born out of love. We see this with Jesus in the events of his life directly surrounding our Gospel reading. He washed his disciples’ feet. He broke bread, poured wine, told them, “this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed FOR YOU.” And then he went to the cross. Hospitality and service born out of love for humankind.
And that’s where we find our unity. It’s when we follow the way of the cross, when we live lives of hospitality and service born out of love, when we experience glimpses of the kingdom of God through the bread and the wine, through loving God and loving our neighbor, when we in all our diversity are one as God is one. And the purpose?
That the world may know. That the world may know the glory of God the Father. That the world may know that God sent Jesus not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. When we as the church choose unity—not uniformity, but the unity, the community that is created through acts of hospitality and service born out of love, that is the greatest single witness we can have about not only who we are, but whose we are.
In the closing words of the poem, this can happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church