Today our gospel reading is a portion of what is called Jesus’ High priestly prayer. It is the final discourse of Jesus in the gospel of John before his Passion. It is a long discourse in which he addresses God and calls God to protect those who have followed him.
The particular portion that we have today is on unity. He prays that those who follow him might be one. I must admit that I have found this particular passage very difficult to preach on at the moment. And when I find difficulty in preaching on it, I know that God has some real meaning to impart to me or to people who are to hear this sermon. It is at times like these that being obedient to the lectionary requires more attention and trust that God’s word will be heard, not my particular feelings about a passage.
What we find in today’s reading is not just a mere sense that we should all think the same. What I hear loud and clear is that God is calling us to a kind of unity that we would rather not deal with. That I am here to preach in a communion not my own says that there is something amiss. That we even have different denominations says that something is amiss. God wants us all to be the same, some would say. But I think that is far too simplistic a rendition of this passage.
John has brought together the whole life of Jesus to this discourse. The words of Jesus have been redacted more in John than in any other gospel, but that does not damage the message that God would have humanity be one---not in our thinking, not in our opinions, not in even our actions but in our love.
And I would suggest to you that this passage in John while very beautiful and wonderfully poetic is perhaps the hardest to live. It stands on the premise that because we can see God in the person of Jesus, we can then see God in one another because of Jesus. It is the hardest part of being a Christian there is. All the rules of being a good Christian are enveloped in this one statement. It is why the Golden Rule is so difficult, because all too often we cannot see the Christ in one another.
Jesus says “The glory that you have given me I have given them , so that they may be one, as we are one, I 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.”
Now usually John refers to Christ’s glory as his passion. And Jesus knows that God has given us a passion to live through so that we may be made one. And isn’t it the truth that when organization, families have to go through tough times, they are often brought closer together.
I hope and pray that this is what is happening in my own denomination. I pray that the fighting that is going on in the Episcopal Church will make us stronger and faithful even though it is seems to be tearing us apart. But what does that say to us, here at St. Luke’s? What does it mean when an Episcopalian talks of her church among a bunch of Lutherans? Does it heighten or soften the anxiety of our separateness?
Do we find Christ in this exercise or not or do we merely wipe the sweat from our brow and say “there but the grace of God goes the Lutheran Church”? Are we really one or not? Can we find in one another the Christ, the passion of the Savior, that draws us mightily together so that we too can pray this prayer?
Can we find in our own journey in faith the sense of unity despite different customs, liturgy, even how we understand what bishops mean, to find the Christ in one another to bridge the differences between us to make a common journey?
I believe that in this 21st century we are going to see a total realignment of churches if not in the whole world, at least in the US. I see a reconfiguration of Christianity based less on protestant and catholic norms but based more on how we understand Scripture and the difference between truth and fact. I see a reordering of church communities based less on ethnicity and more on how we live out our baptismal vows. We will find commonality less on creedal statements or liturgy and more on how we understand the relationship of the Divine in the lives of people. And please God we will be known less for our rules and regulations, or even our creeds, and be known by the love we show one another in healthy and holistic ways.
I believe that is what Jesus is teaching us in this prayer today. I know that I have to listen to this prayer intensely so that I can remain in my own communion. I must be willing to see Christ in my bishop even if he has a hard time finding Christ in me. I know that you need to listen intently to this prayer that you may address the issues that face this parish. We are called to know that God’s name has been preached among us. Each of us has been called to honor that name with our lives, our actions, the way we treat one another. Our Lord prayed that we be loved with the love that God loved him and that it may be in us.
These are not just nice poetic words—they are powerful words that work in us that for which they were prayed. Loving others is not just something nice—they are passion. They are words calling forth a willingness to endure the passion our Lord endured. It is the willingness to lay down our lives for one another, not in battle, but in surrender to love. It is far easier to lay down our lives in battle than to lay down our lives in surrender to love, I can assure you.
God has loved us before the foundations of the world. And even though we make a mess of the world, we stand forgiven before God washed in the mercy of Divine forgiveness. All of us---ALL OF US stand in that mercy no matter what we have done. And because we all stand in that mercy, none of us have the right to hold judgment against another. We by rights have only one attitude, to be in holy relationship with one another. It is what communion is about. It is what Scripture is about. It is what life is about.
We are one.
But that does not mean that we are the same. It means that we must find the Christ in one another despite the idiosyncrasy of the other, the strangeness of the foreign, in that which is different from each other. We do not have the right to malign others because they are different. We may not find evil in the actions of others just because they do not fit our norms. ( I do believe in evil but it is rare.)
This is the message that we as Christians all through the ages have always found so difficult—that people who think differently can be one with one another. It is why we have orthodox, catholic, reformed and evangelical Christians of so many stripes. It is why we have had holy wars over who believed what. We have had splits and holy and unholy alliances throughout history. We often confuse politics with theology. We often carry more ideology than faith when we come to the altar and kneel in humility before our God , we often exclude those we don’t understand from our midst.
But Jesus prayed that we all might be one ---those who had seen him and those who had just heard of his love. Jesus prayed that God’s love might be in us, that we might be known by the way that we shared that love with others.
Let’s make St. Luke’s a center of loving for the people of Sidney and the area around here. Let’s find in one another the image of Christ and trust that each other’s faith is given by God just as surely as our own has been given. It doesn’t make us feel very righteous. It is hard to point to how powerful we are. But I believe that it will draw others to know of the faith who have not heard the gospel of Christ’s love. And if we are not about that, we have no reason for being here.
Faith in Christ is not about being good. It isn’t about being holier than others. Faith is about being willing to love.
A very timely and beautifully worked sermon (timely for me, even though I'm reading it a week late!). Thank you, Lauren.
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