Text: John 17:20-26
I love roller coasters—the anticipation as we climb up to the top of big hills and the rush as we roll down them. We were climbing up during lent to Easter and now our 50-day Easter journey is nearly complete with Pentecost next Sunday. In today’s gospel, Jesus is in his last days with his followers before his crucifixion. I feel a bit in this text as if we’re in a figure 8 section of the roller coaster ride with all the pronouns and prepositions. And just when we think we’re coming out of the last curve and into the straightaway, it’s back to prepositions and pronouns
So let’s get ready for this ride and see where it takes us…
If we throw in some other phrases along with the pronouns and prepositions, things become a bit clearer:
…that they may all be one so that the world may believe…so that the world may know… the world does not know you, but I know you.
Now as much as I like roller coaster rides, eventually if we stay up there, we’ll get hungry, thirsty, maybe even dizzy, so let’s leave the roller coaster and check out an artisan at work weaving and knitting together these words that we have so often taken as a command,
that make us either accuse others
or bring us guilt because we’re not one as we think we should be.
Jesus said we should be one!
We heard him say it, but who was he talking to?
He wasn’t speaking to his disciples or to us, but to the Father about his disciples then and about us, his disciples now. We just happen to be within earshot.
What were those pronouns again?
We hear him pray you most frequently (meaning God the Father), then I (Jesus). Then disciples then and NOW and then back to Jesus (me).
The Son is praying to his Father for us.
He is not asking US to do anything.
I came across something this week that made me rethink this text. Sarah Dylan Breuer writes:
We forget amidst those sighs that the words of this Sunday's gospel come not as marching orders delivered by Jesus to disciples, but as a prayer of Jesus to the Father. In other words, the unity -- the communion -- that we share is God's gift. Jesus asks God to grant it, not us to create it. If we doubt our own abilities to achieve unity with one another in Christ -- and well we should -- we can be confident that God will answer Jesus' prayer. Unity in Christ is not a medal to be won, nor is it a negotiated settlement achieved by some at the expense of others. It is a gift flowing freely to and through us out of God's grace.
What we have here is an invitation to participation.
We have an invitation to relationship.
We have an invitation to join in the life and love of the trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
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…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… that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
God is doing the work of weaving together the unrelated, contrasting, conflicting strands into a tapestry.
This piece of embroidery (I don't have a picture of it here, but it was a visual aid at church) wasn’t much when I started it. I had the cloth I would embroider, the pattern, and the skeins of thread. It didn’t look like these colors would work together with this pattern, but here is the finished product. We may not see Jesus prayer perfectly embodied in this life, but in the life of God we are one.
Individually we as the strands may not look like much. And we wonder about the colors right next to each other, we might doubt about some of the choices.
That person isn’t very spiritual.
That one sings the loudest and most off key of all.
And then the other one is just plain unfriendly and doesn’t want to join in anything.
But then God works at placing them/us together in just the right pattern. God is creating a thing of beauty if we let Him.
This does not mean we are all alike.
Unity does not mean uniformity. We have disagreed with one another and will likely continue to disagree. We may have disagreed with the Churchwide assembly decisions of last August. How can we have unity with such sharp divisions?
Unity is our shared witness together, not intellectual agreement (Debra Dean Murphy).
Just because God is doing the work doesn’t mean we have no part to play. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together, expressed our role in this way, “Christian unity is not an ideal which we must realize [actualize]; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
How can we participate?
We are united when we participate in prayer.
We are united when we participate by spending time with God.
We are united when we participate by reading the scriptures.
We are united when we participate in fellowship with each other.
We participate by God’s means of grace.
We have all been united in the cleansing waters of baptism.
We are all united when we come to the table to receive the bread and wine.
When we let God work this love in our lives, people notice. People see how we are different from others. And that’s how God draws the world into this love life of His. This is a love affair that has been going on, according to Jesus’ prayer, since “before the foundation of the world.”
Listen to the words of the song “Bind Us Together”
Bind us together Lord
Bind us together with cords
that cannot be broken
Bind us together Lord
Bind us together Lord
Bind us together with love
There is only one God
There is only one King
There is only one body
That is why we sing
1977 Kingsway's Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used By Permission.
Thanks be to God. Amen.