Divine Unity

by Ken Dale

Acts 16:16-34, John 17:20-26

A rather intriguing question came up in my reading for sermon preparation this past week that I?d like to share with you. Our gospel lesson continues from John and from that long discourse that begins in chapter 14 and concludes in chapter 17 ? if you have a red letter version of the Bible where the words of Jesus are in red ? it?s almost a solid 4 chapters of red!?But at the beginning of chapter 17 Jesus shifts from talking to praying. All?26 verses are prayer offered to God. ?The intriguing question was this: ?Would you rather have Jesus talking to you or praying for you?? I find it?intriguing as way back even before seminary I remember wondering what it?would be like to sit and have a chat with Jesus. What it would be like to sit and converse with Jesus. Do you ever go there in your mind? Did you ever wonder ? and what would you ask?

But then if we look at chapter 17 and the prayer that Jesus offers, that is really something as well. His words to the 11 disciples are his opportunity for one last word ? sort of a ?remember this before I go? time with them. And then he prays and he prays about the glory of God but then he prays for his disciples and those believers who come after them ? long into the future, including us. He prays for unity ? but we need to take note of what that is.?He prays: 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. Often we think of unity as agreement ? being of the same opinion or perspective on some given. But this runs deeper ? and these verses in particular in John?s gospel are sometimes a challenge to follow to say the least. Perhaps Eugene Peterson?s The Message,?a contemporary language Bible can help us. There we read: The goal is for?all of them to become one heart and mind ? Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Before we get too confused, how about a story? Stories usually help us ?get it.?

Two brothers were sons of a farmer and lived their entire lives on the farm. Even when they grew up and were married, they remained on the farm?to help their father. Both loved their wives very much. The older son had many children, and his house was always filled with laughter. Every night, when he and his wife prayed, they thanked God for a house full of blessings. The?younger son and his wife were just as devoted and happy. But his wife died giving birth to their only child. The younger son dearly loved the little child, never marrying again. Every night when he prayed, he told God how he was so thankful for this child, this reminder of his wife?s love. Eventually the father of the two boys died, and they decided to continue to farm together.?Every fall they harvested wheat and bagged it in great gunny sacks which they split, along with all other aspects of the business, equally. But the older?brother was troubled about this. He worried about his younger brother, and the sacrifices he had to make while his own house was so full of blessing. He asked God for a way to give his brother a little of his joy. And he finally decided, if he could not share his joy, at least he could share some of his grain. So, after dark, he went out every night to his barn, hoisted a gunny sack of?wheat on his shoulder, and hauled it down to his younger brother?s barn. Then, one night, as he was hauling a bag down to his brother?s place, he came face to face with his brother, who was also hauling a sack of flour in the other direction. “What are you doing?” he asked him. The younger brother answered, “Well, I have to confess that, every night for many nights I have laid awake at night praying for you. I worry about you and your wife and how you are able?to feed all those hungry children and clothe them. And I thought of myself and the blessing I have in my own life, and wanted to share some of my joy with?you.” (Thanks to Rev. Gary Roth)

?I think that story really illustrates the unity in terms of heart and mind that Jesus is praying for ? and remember that prayer does include us. I don?t know about you, but it makes me want and sit and talk to Jesus about it all the more! And I think my question would be something about why we can?t seem to ?get it? and live it. In the story the concern of the brothers for each other and their families is something that is bigger than the both of them.?The point is that what Jesus is praying for is that his followers live the life faith, a life characterized by the love to which they are called ? but being mindful that the good they seek and the good they do are expressions of a love that is something bigger than them who. We as church do what we do because it is an expression of the love of God that we know and experience in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. At least that is our call.

I think that makes our unity ?sacramental in nature? ? and our life together as church is to be and do something that bears witness to God?s love to the rest of the world. Jesus? prayer is for ?those who will believe in me?through their word? ? ?their? being those first disciples whose witness of being and doing God?s love brought others to follow as well. The Christian Church through out the ages ? nearly 2 millennia has been characterized by divisions both great and small. Have we lost touch with what we are to be all about ? who and what we really are in terms of God?s presence in Christ in this world? ?At the local level it is somewhat amazing what becomes the central focus and concern that creates such divisions. One thing I celebrate about our United Church of Christ is that it came into being as a result of?four different streams becoming one. ?If you don?t realize it, it went like this: The Congregational Church merged with the Christian Church in 1931 forming the Congregational Christian Church and a few years later in 1934 the Evangelical Synod of North America merged with the Reformed Church?in the United States and the churches from those two mergers united in 1957 to become the United Church of Christ. They built on common ground and?no doubt were willing to focus on something greater.

?Watching the news one evening this past week Kathy and I were impressed with a story of how first responders are learning about autism so that when they respond to a call and a person with autism is involved they will be understood ? wrong conclusions will not be drawn due to misunderstanding. Evidently people impaired by drugs or alcohol or who are lying will not look an officer or other first responder in the eye. That is also true of people with autism. It would, in some instances, be easy to jump to a conclusion of guilt or something being ?wrong? when in fact they are autistic. It made me think how that need for understanding, and the willingness to take the time to understand, is so important if we are to treat one another, respect one another, love one another as we understand ourselves to be loved by God. Just think of all the differences we experience in people – we all have our differences.??? How important to know and understand one another.

Consider the story we heard about Paul and Silas in prison.?? When the earthquake occurred all those held captive didn?t immediately exit the jail. They stopped, they paused, and the guard who was ready to take his own life for failing in his job, instead got a new beginning. Those prisoners thought about the other before thinking about themselves.

On this day we call Mother?s Day ? or Festival of the Christian Home ? when we are mindful of and celebrate family, may we be mindful of God?s love which makes family possible, which makes church family possible ? and?which when lived out in our day to day living can change this world in which we live for the better.

Amen.