“That They May be One” Scripture reading John 17: 17-23 17 When Jesus finished saying these things, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that the Son can glorify you. … 6 “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 17 Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth. 20 “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. 21 I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. 22 I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. 23 I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.
I am deeply moved by the way our community responded to Thursday’s storm. I have seen amazing generosity and kindness shown to one another by the residents of our city: (Anyone experience kindness?) Let me tell you my story: Jenny and I were out walking around Hillside Park on Thursday afternoon – at 5pm (I know – we thought that we would have time for a walk before the storm arrived). We saw the cloud and turned back home – and the siren went off. A group of students opened their door and invited us to shelter inside of their home
This weekend I saw a City where people worked together to make life better for everyone. No division, no one demanding to be helped first – just people helping people. And here is the sad thing – the fact that I am struck by the human co-operation is a comment on how we have become as a society: Sadly, the Pandemic seems to have bent us out of shape. We have become distant from each other / individuals have allowed themselves to say offensive things on social media / and we have begun to see division and meanness as a normal way of life. But this past weekend has shown me that deep down, we are better than this. And I was reminded of the prayer of Jesus in John 17: What we have is a summary of what was on the heart of Jesus : here is the most important thing that Jesus wished for at the end of his ministry: And Jesus says these words three times: 21 I pray they will be one, Father 22 I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. 23 I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one.
Jesus prays that his disciples may be one. But it is not as simple as this - because the disciples were not a homogenous group. Some were fishermen, some were the sons of a business owner, one worked for the IRS, while another worked for the revolutionary forces trying to overturn the Roman government. Some came from rural Galilean roots, one had a Greek background, and one was thought to be Syrian. There were men and women, some were wealthy, most were poor, some were religious, and one was a thief. Jesus had been key to holding this group together – and he worried about their unity if he was not around. 21 I pray they will be one, Father
Jesus is not the first to try to keep a group of people together: This has been the challenge of every King, President, General – and the mother of every family on earth. I can still recall my mother saying to our family “If you don’t stop arguing I am going to send you to bed without supper.” People have come up with various solutions for maintaining unity in groups – if you discount the threat of starving the kids… Some have suggested that the group needs to have a common language or share a common culture – politicians throughout history have said that the only way a nation can be united is to make laws that impose the same beliefs on everyone / often followed by “we need to prosecute people who have a different view”.
In contrast to the externally imposed beliefs – many of us choose to keep our views to ourselves. We seek unity by avoiding disagreement at all costs: We refuse to touch any of the “hot button issues” and so we do not speak about politics, we do not speak about history and especially we avoid speaking about race. All this in the hope that this will keep us all together.
This was my experience in my growing up: I come from South Africa. We had a political system called Apartheid: which was a system of laws that imposed a particular kind of Christian nationalism on the country. Truth be told it mostly kept the white people in charge and the black people as servants of the whites.. And the system needed the military to impose law and order. And it required police to keep the people quiet. It did not work – it just kept us all angry with each other
Imposing unity by law is understandable – but it is not Christian.
Jesus prays for unity – but he is not praying for uniformity. The unity that Jesus was praying about had nothing to do with having a common language, or a common culture. Neither did it have anything to do with avoiding difficult issues.
Jesus knew this one truth: being united as one, was the result of hearing God’s calling to serve. These memorable words from Jesus: 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. The disciples knew that they were a diverse group. But they also knew that they had been called by God – and sent to serve the community.
The United Methodist Church has embraced this as our practice: we refer to ourselves as “a big tent” – meaning that there is space for people of different languages, races, cultures and theological positions. We do not try to make everyone do things exactly the same – in fact our motto is quite clear: “Open hearts / open minds / open doors” Everyone is welcome – the thing that binds us is the call of God on our lives. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, said that to be faithful to Jesus is not about us all saying the same thing: ‘orthodoxy, or right opinions, is at best a slender part of religion, if it can be allowed to be any part at all,’
Recently some people have formed a new Methodist Church – which they have called the Global Methodist Church. This is an attempt to create a church where everyone thinks the same, and believes the same. This is understandable – but definitely not Methodist. And Brookings FUMC will not be joining them….
….because our unity is not found in trying to make everyone think and say the same thing. We have old and young / conservative and progressive / academics and farmers. We are diverse – but we are united in our love of God – and our desire to share the love of Jesus with our community.
This is what I saw these past few days: a diverse community of people who were united in serving our community.. I pray that it was not just a thing for the storm. I am inviting us to let this be the character of our city. Let this be the character of our church. And let this be the character of our families. Let us be diverse / let us have different opinions / different histories / different races – but nevertheless let us be united by our desire to serve God.