As you saw in the video that we showed during the announcements, we just got back from our Hi-C retreat this past Thursday. It was another special retreat for all of us. We had a chance to welcome our grade sevens into the Hi-C and to bless the grade nines who are going into high school, as well as the grade twelves who are heading off to university. It was also Pastor James’ first retreat with the Hi-C and as the new pastor on the block, he was showered with claps and cheers during the introductions on the first day. Me on the other hand, this was my third summer retreat with the Hi-C and it proved to be the most memorable one so far because when Caitlin, our exec was doing the introductions and called my name, the students collectively booed me in unison. They even gave me the thumbs down. And I think this is the first time in the history of St. Timothy, I see that a pastor has been booed by the youths. And last but not least, this was the last Hi-C retreat for our beloved Reverend Simon who served and cared for our students for the past three years. So we took the opportunity to thank him and bless him for his time with the Hi-C. He finally let go of the well of tears that he had tried so hard to contain over all these years. So overall, it was a special and memorable time that we had spent together.
The theme of this year’s retreat, as you saw, was So That We May Be One. It came from the reflections that the pastors and the Hi-C execs had on Jesus’ farewell prayer in John 17, a portion of which we read today. Jesus prayed this prayer because he knew that he would no longer be with his disciples. They had spent three years together almost every day and their time was slowly coming to an end. Jesus knew that there was going to be this change, a change that was going to break up the oneness that he and the disciples shared for a very long time. Throughout his entire prayer, Jesus often repeats this phrase ‘so that we may be one’. As pastors and leaders, we recognize that Hi-C is a group that frequently experiences this loss in oneness. Each year, we work tirelessly towards building that connection and relationships with each other, but in the end, we always have a group that’s leaving, and another group that’s coming in. This constant change affects all the students and this year was no different. So going into the retreat, we all felt this fear and anxiety, and we also felt confused and lost over the uncertainty that lay ahead of us.
But I realized this is not something that’s just specific to the Hi-C, but to all of us. Change is unavoidable. This change is something that all of us who are in relationships with others, whether it be friends or family, all face from time to time. In fact, I see that this is the reality of the church. Life happens. And with everyone being in different stages of life, our paths end up crossing and separating over time. There are those of us here today who have been a part of this community since the very beginning, but there are those of us who have moved on for different reasons and are no longer with us. And there are some of us who are relatively new and still trying to find our place here in the church. It is a constant cycle. So the question that I’d like us to reflect on today, which we also reflected on at the retreat, is in the midst of all of these changes and transitions that we face how do we remain as one?
Oneness With God
In fact, what does it really mean to be one? That’s what I would like to reflect with us today. Becoming one, I realized, it just doesn’t naturally happen. It takes time and work. It takes intent. In other words, being in oneness takes that commitment. And this is a use a word that we used a lot throughout the retreat. And you saw in the video too, that commitment. But it’s not just about committing to be one with each other. We often think of becoming one as only a horizontal thing, but it’s not. It’s also vertical. Becoming one first begins with our own personal commitment to God. It begins with putting our entire life in God’s hands. It comes from the place of our oneness with God. And that’s what Jesus showed us.
Everything that Jesus ever did, especially in his three years of ministry, was rooted in this personal connection to God. God was the foundation of his life. And throughout the gospels, we often see him finding a solitary place to pray. This was not to show how religious he was, but it was his way of being connected to God and finding that connection. It was in times like these, that he came before God as he was, laid down the burdens of his heart before God, and sought God’s will for his life. And it was his commitment to God that gave him the confidence to face the challenges of life, especially as he faced the end. He even told us disciples, this, he said, “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” There was a sense of oneness that Jesus shared with God in spite of his life circumstances.
Personal Connection with God
Committing our lives to God is easier said than done. In practice, trying to control our life often seems like the easier, and perhaps the most realistic thing to do. You don’t want to make that leap of faith unless we are perfectly certain of how things will turn out. So in a way, making the commitment seems like a foolish thing to do. What good is faith really if we want to know everything for certain beforehand? A few weeks ago, Reverend Kim mentioned in the sermon on faith that we persevere in faith in spite of the result, because we see something greater than the result itself. And for us, that something greater is God’s promise of abundant life that he has offered to us.
So on the second night of the retreat, we challenged our Hi-C students to confront their fears, their worries, and their concerns on their hearts and take that leap of faith and fully commit their lives to God. We usually have the students pray for one another, but this year we knew that it was necessary to start with a time of personal prayer. The journey of becoming one had to begin with a commitment between each person and God.
Even though it was a time that was meant for our students, it also ended up being a time for me personally, to address my own fears, worries, and concerns of heading into the new chapter of my life in ministry. I had known of my transition into this role of sole pastor for the Hi-C since earlier this year. But the reality didn’t really fully hit me until I was at the retreat. I didn’t expect it. It just came out of nowhere and it hit me. I felt more anxious than excited all of a sudden. I felt somewhat lost and confused. I felt I couldn’t get my bearings around things. And I was full of doubts as to whether I could really guide lead and care for this group? Especially apart from my partner in crime, who I’d had been working alongside for three years. So it also became a time for me actually to recommit myself and the future of my life here in God’s hands.
Oneness With Each Other
Once everyone had made their individual and personal commitment to God, it became clear to everyone that we were now ready to embark on the next part of becoming one, committing to each other. When it comes to becoming one, I believe that our commitment to one another directly flows from our commitment to God. Life of love can only flow from life with God. It is only through that, we can truly connect with those around us, not just on a superficial level, but on a much deeper and personal level; when we ourselves connected to God. That is what Jesus also told his disciples. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them“. When we experience God’s grace in our life, we are then able to love those around us. And when we truly love one another, God’s spirit dwells among us and makes us one.
This was the love that led Jesus to pray for his own disciples, which we read today. We’ll read it again. And this is what he prayed, “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one“. Jesus knew that his disciples would no longer be together. He knew that their future was totally beyond his control. And as he had predicted, all those disciples were ultimately scattered. And yet, before any of this ever happened, he still prayed for their wellbeing and unity. So when I reflected on this, I realized that unity is not necessarily something we can see touch or feel. It is much greater than our own physical and geographical boundaries. It transcends those limits and boundaries. I realize as much of the times, we base our understanding of unity on what we can observe with our own eyes. If the group is together, we think they’re one and getting along, we think they’re one, but when they’re not, we don’t think they are one. But I realized unity is what God brings into our midst when we love and intercede for one another in prayer,
That is what I believe is to be made one. Being united in God’s spirit through love, regardless of where we may be in life. Later on in his prayer, Jesus, even prays for those who will come to believe in him through the words of his disciples. His prayer wasn’t just limited to his the disciples, but even beyond that. The disciples were scattered, but with their scattering came the birth of the church. Today, even though we have many churches around the world, we say one church, because we believe that God brings us all into unity.
On the last night of the retreat, our Hi-C students made their commitment to each other, by sharing, praying together and blessing one another. They offered words of comfort and encouragement to each other. And they did so knowing that they will all be in different places in September with some being farther away than others. And it was through their sharing of love they first experienced in their connection to God that they were able to become truly one with each other. And by the last day, when we were going around and sharing how we’re doing the students spoke about a feeling, a sense of peace within their hearts. Some of them felt ready to face the changes in their lives.
Some of those students are not here with us today. They’re away from their home and their church. They moved into their university residence, preparing to start a new chapter in their lives. We may notice or feel their absence, including some of the parents here. It may not ease the sadness or the melancholy that we feel, but we believe in faith that we are and still will be one. On the other hand, those of us that are here now are in different grades, in different groups, and in different places in the church. We may still feel the sense of newness and uncertainty from the things that have changed in our lives. But we believe in faith that we are and still be one. None of us, none of this, will be possible apart from our own commitment to God and to each other. God makes us one, God brings us the unity, but we are called to do our part. We are called to love. We’re called to fulfill that calling. So my prayer for us today is that we will be a community of people who love and intercede for each other in prayer, as Jesus did and has shown us. Like the new year, the month of September brings changes. We may not feel ready for it, but those changes come. May we not be anxious or grow easily discouraged, but instead let us wholly entrust our lives and those of each other to God, all so that we may be one.