We Are One
Passage: John 17:1-11; 20-26
Date: May 04, 2008
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
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If I asked you to look around, and then to tell me how many people there are in this sanctuary, what would you say? How many people are there? Anybody? Would anyone answer my question by saying "one"? One - anyone?
Could we - be one?
‘Unity' is such a familiar word. To many people ‘unity' sounds like it might be a pretty good thing. But there are probably others who get a bit nervous about ‘unity' if it means that we all have to be alike. Which by the way, I'm not sure is what it means.
Can we be different - and be one?
Could it be - that being strong individuals - is the KEY to being one?
Could difference be the key to unity?
But then, if we are all just different, and that's ok, then IN WHAT is our unity?
At that point - what does unity - even mean?
Well, I probably will NOT answer all these questions in the next 10 minutes to the satisfaction of everyone in the room. I'm not sure that's my role anyway. I bring these questions up because of the Biblical text today. They are in response to Jesus' prayer, in John chapter 17. And the words of that prayer can be a bit confusing on the first read through. So if you are a bit confused at first, then actually I may have successfully communicated the text! What do you think of that?!
I think: No - that's too easy.
But - it is why I haven't read the text yet, and I intend to read it at the END of the sermon, rather than at the beginning.
So to say that it's a confusing text, so my job is to confuse you is, as I said, too
easy an out for me. So, how about this:
This text is truly a text to ponder and contemplate. It contains in it something of the mystery of God, and of our relationship to God. This is one of the key texts to understanding the relationship between God and Jesus, or between the Father and the Son, two of the three persons of the Trinity. This text is pivotal to understanding the debates that surrounded the formation of the Nicene Creed - so these issues are ancient. Pondering and contemplating it will take us toward an understanding of how God can be both plural and singular, both three and one. AND it will take us toward understanding the relationship between God and humans. Could it be that God intends human community to be - a mirror of Divine nature? Could it be that the "we" in this room, who are "one" are a lot more like God than we ever imagined? Could it be that when we strive to affirm our differences, while holding tenaciously to our unity, that we are imitating God and God's very nature? Could it be that staying in relationship - is God's intention for us - above all else?
In partial answer, look at TWO verses from John chapter 17. Just two verses.
John 17:22-23 As I read it, remember that this is Jesus praying to God. So ‘thou' or ‘you' is God, and ‘me' is Jesus. OK? [ read it ]
Jesus is praying for all who believe, past present and future, and saying that his prayer for us - is that we might have a relationship to one another, that is like his relationship with God. He prayed: "...that they may be one even as we are one".
One thing that strikes me about this verse is the word "may".
There is something future oriented in this text.
This is Jesus prayer for the future.
And maybe our unfinished work, the work to which we might dedicate ourselves today, is the work of seeking some sense of unity, and to live in an urgent concern for the unnamed children of our future. In some small way, that is what the capital campaign is about. It is in some sense that drives all of our mission work.
Now I don't know any definite clear way to the future that Jesus intends for us. But in this text I can begin to receive a vision of that future. And maybe having a vision of it - is MORE important than knowing the exact way to it.
In Indonesia, there is a word, "Belum" - which Americans don't have in their vocabulary. It means, "not quite yet". The writer Robert Fulgham has pointed this word out as an answer to many of our dilemmas - as a call for dedication and patience, and persistence. So...
Do you know the meaning of life?
‘Belum' - - not quite yet.
Are you a poet or a musician?
‘Belum" - - not quite yet.
Is this the best of all possible worlds? (Belum)
Is the world coming to an end? (Belum)
Will we live happily every after? (Belum)
Can we live without the weapons of war?
Can we be one - in the way that God and Jesus are one?
As we move toward Memorial Day in a few weeks, I find myself wondering about all the things that stand in the way of the world being one. But as I read the Bible, God's intention is the salvation of the world. Not personal individual salvation, disconnected from and sense of one-another, but rather our personal salvation bound up in the salvation of the world. And so I wonder about what stands in the way.... What about the violence and separation that keeps us from being one?
As a hear the words of Jesus prayer, first for his disciples, and then later for all who will come in the future, and I set that next to the coming Memorial Day, and the unfinished violence in the world, I think of a roll call of soldiers names. Listen first to Jesus prayer, "I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me..." so he prays first for the disciples, and then, a few verses later "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one".
Now listen to this poem by Nathaniel Graham Shepherd, from the Civil War period, called "Roll Call".
"Corporal Green!" the orderly cried.
"Here!" was the answer loud and clear,
from the lips of a soldier who stood near -
and "Here" was the word, the next replied.
"Cyrus Drew!" - then the silence fell,
this time no answer followed the call.
Only his rear man had seen him fall,
killed or wounded he could not tell.
There they stood in the failing light,
These man of battle with grave dark looks,
As plain to be read as open books,
While slowly gathered the shades of night.
The poem goes on to end this way:
‘Twas victory, yes, but it cost us dear.
For that company's roll, when called that night,
Of a hundred men who went into the fight,
Numbered but TWENTY that answered "here".
So as I consider the past and the future, and our hope that all may be one, I find my self thinking of the costs. The costs of unity. And the costs of victory.
To call a person's name I a powerful thing. Someone might call your name in love, in prayer, to honor your unique identity, or to call you accountable, or to accuse.
In the scripture reading for this morning, Jesus is praying a prayer without names. His prayer is a prayer for people in the future. A prayer for those yet to be named. A prayer for children yet to be born. A hope for a future "Belum" unity.
This prayer is the last thing Jesus prayed before he was arrested. It is his farewell prayer. It is a long prayer, and it starts out with prayers for the disciples, followers of Jesus, friends, people whose names he knows.
But then, later, Jesus prays for the future. He prays for the church in the future. And in a way, this is Jesus prayer for us. We who were the future of then, look to our future now. And maybe there is in Jesus prayer, something of a prayer for us to make our own.
We gather here today, on the verge of a lot of changes. The strong congregation that has knit together over the past 18 years is beginning to move toward another chapter. And as Jesus prayer is about all those future generations, for whom his present disciples would give so much, maybe Jesus prayer can serve us in TWO ways:
May we can both receive it as a gift for ourselves, and then pray it as our gift to those yet to come. That is my hope today, at least in part.
My hope is that we could receive, and give: that we could receive some part of this prayer of Jesus, and that we could also pray some part of it.
I know that the questions of life are not all neatly answered.
I know there is unfinished business in this dance between "we" and "one".
And I know that Jesus hope is found at least in part in the future oriented word:
May it be so...
Hear now a reading from John, chapter 17...