We Are One, John 17:20-26
First United Methodist Church, June 2, 2019
Pastor Toni Carmer
It’s an unexpected sermon title, isn’t it?
Maybe I inhaled too much anesthesia in April; maybe its effects are still impacting my brain, because “We Are One” sounds really good, but it’s a bit of stretch, don’t you think?
It seems there are always forces pulling us apart. There are all kinds of things that separate us. Sometimes the differences are unexpected. Often, it’s just a matter of time. The differences are bound to be come out, eventually.
A friend shared about a longtime member of her congregation who was a great supporter of her pastor and who would do just about anything for her church. When something was going on at the church she’d be there, and by the way, this woman made the best pies in the world. After my friend had been appointed to that church for about 9 months, the Pie Chick (which she was lovingly called) told her pastor, “You know, I haven’t heard a word of criticism about you!”
“Give it time,” my friend said.
About 2 years later, the Pie Chick came to my friend and said, “Well, they’re talking about you now.”
“Told you so,” my friend said.
Give it time; whether it’s your marriage and you adore him but he’s getting on your last nerve because those stinky socks just never quite make it into the dirty clothes hamper, or you’re trying to plan a family gathering but your two favorite brothers in the whole world have refused to be in the same place at the same time for reasons that you’re not sure even THEY remember, or, 2 families are about to leave the church because they prefer a go-with everything basic beige sculptured carpet for the fellowship area but the trustee subcommittee decided on an easy care wood-look laminate floor…
Make us one. Really? We’re all so different. Isn’t that a request that’s too much to ask?
The scripture we’ve read this morning are the last words of the farewell prayer Jesus offers for his original disciples, and amazingly enough, the prayer is for us, as well.
The evening had begun as expected: in chapter 13 of the Gospel of John we read how the disciples had gathered together to share the Passover meal, but Jesus had unexpectedly gotten up in the middle of the meal, and began washing his disciples’ feet. None of them were comfortable with what was happening, but Peter was the one who had the courage to say something. Jesus responded, making it clear that he was setting an example: as he was washing his disciple’s feet, so too, were they to wash one another’s feet. They were to humble themselves and to serve one another.
If your Bible is a red letter edition like mine is, the next several pages taking us from chapters 13 through 16 are almost entirely written in red, as Jesus teaches his disciples, warning them about what’s ahead, offering them words of comfort and encouragement at the challenges that are about to unfold, and promising that the Holy Spirit will come to them. The disciples listen carefully, they ask questions, they try to understand as best they can. They are as convinced as they ever have that Jesus is from God, that his words are momentous. They’re convinced of this. They know something important is happening, they trust him, they’re doing their best to understand, to take it all in…
Jesus then turns from teaching them to praying for them. But he prays not only for these first disciples, he prays for all of who will come to know him through them. He prays for each generation, for every man and woman, for every teenager and every child who will come to believe, who will be a part of the faith community from that time forward.
On this night before his death, Jesus doesn’t pray to God to save his own neck. He prays to God for the disciples, and on our behalf. He prays for us! That we might be one. Verse 21: “I pray they may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…” Verse 23: “I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one.”
I can’t help but think it’s significant that this is the last thing Jesus prays for before his arrest. Like maybe he knows this is going to be a tough one for us. Like maybe he knows that unity will be something that we’ll struggle with, from that day forward. Like maybe he prays this for us, because he knows we’re really going to need his prayers.
Maybe it’s important at this point to note that Jesus doesn’t pray that we all think and act alike. He doesn’t pray that we all agree or that we ignore injustice or whatever bad things might be happening in the world along the way that his disciples will experience. He prays for us to be one, as he and the Father are one. He prays that we will be in relationship with one another…even though that won’t always be easy.
What do you suppose that’s about? Why is “being one”/why is unity important?
I think it has to do with our witness. How people see us.
There’s a joke I’ve heard about a woman who was pulled over while she was driving. Apparently she was being impatient at stop lights, making hand gestures and shouting things that weren’t particularly nice. The police officer who stopped her said he did it because he thought that perhaps her car had been stolen because surely this driver of the vehicle wouldn’t have a prominently displayed bumper sticker advertising her church and saying something about loving people all printed out in big letters for all to see. (Yeah, welcome to First Church where we Love God, Love Others, and Serve Others—now get out of my way, I’m in a hurry!)
Unfortunately, this one isn’t a joke: A number of years ago there was a report that noted that in the hotel where some kind of an ecumenical youth worker/youth pastor convention was being held, there were record high rentals of online porn in the evening. Really? Now that’s a great witness for people of faith, thank you very much.
What we do, the way we treat one another, the way we care for one another, the way we respect one another, makes a difference. When we gather together, whether it’s right here on North Michigan Street, or when we come together for meetings or Annual Conference or General Conference, our behavior makes a difference. The things we say make a difference. A huge part of my disappointment with what happened at our special session of General Conference this year, is that I was so hoping that we would be a witness to the church and to the world that we can disagree but continue to show love and care for one another. That we can remain connected because of the vital pieces of who we are: primarily, the love that’s been offered in Jesus Christ, but we weren’t able to do that. Our differences were displayed much more prominently than were our similarities. The things that bind us together took a back seat.
It’s interesting, I think…so often, it’s not our theology that separates us. It’s not what we believe about God, what separates us is more about how we want to live with each another. I can’t tolerate the color of this carpet. Every time I look at it, it just makes me mad all over again. A girl pastor, really? What is our superintendent thinking sending her here? I don’t like the way we take communion. I’d prefer it be brought to me, or I like those tasteless little wafers. Or, can you imagine him/or them, attending here? What do you think about that?
Whatever. We disagree about all kinds of things.
Unfortunately that isn’t something new. In the 4th Century, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, paraphrased Jesus’ prayer, saying that if the disciples would but keep the peace among themselves that they had learned from him, the people around them “would know the teacher by his disciples.” He went on to suggest pointedly that the quarrelsomeness of those same disciples would cause others to “deny that they are the disciples of a God of peace” and that Jesus, not being peaceable, surely could not have been sent from God. (Peace be with you, the resurrected Jesus said. Really? Have his disciples been listening?)
One hundred years later, Origen of Alexandria, bringing together Greek philosophy and Christian faith suggested that church unity would precede the future unity of all humanity. 2300 years later, we’re still working on that one, and it doesn’t seem that we’re doing so well…
And yet this prayer that Jesus offers is encouraging to me. I love knowing that Jesus prays for us. I love knowing that he was so committed to his mission that he (#1) gave his life up for it, and (#2) wanted to be sure that his disciples/that we would have what we need to continue the work after he would no longer be physically walking alongside us. Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit (and we’ll celebrate the receiving of the Holy Spirit next Sunday), and in his prayer, entrusted the future of the faith community into God’s hands. That’s important, I think…in his prayer, Jesus didn’t entrust the community to itself, but to God. So, his last minute instructions aren’t to the community about what it/what we should do in his absence, instead, he turns the future of the community over to God.
To me, that’s a “thanks be to God” kind of thing, because we haven’t done so well. But thanks be to God, the church is in God’s hands, and God continues to love us and care for us, and continues to urge us to step up to the plate, and to be the people God has called us to be.
I want to close with some questions for you to ponder… I’ve typed them up for you and laid them on the rail and you can pick them up when you come forward for communion in a little bit. I’d really like for you to think about them…
How does it feel to know that God prays for you/for us? What difference does it make?
How does it feel to know that God is in charge and that God’s will will be done (not mine or yours)? What difference does it make?
How does it feel that our unity is a witness? What difference does it make? Is that encouraging or frightening?
How does it feel to know that we’re all welcome at Christ’s table? What difference does it make?
As we receive this morning’s scripture and this morning’s prayer from Jesus, I challenge you to pray for our church. To pray for First United Methodist Church. For our denomination. For the church universal. And I challenge you to consider what you might do to contribute to the unity that Jesus is praying for.
May we pray these things together in Jesus’ name. Amen.