6/2/2019 Seventh Sunday of Easter The text is John 17:20-26.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Whenever I read today’s gospel, I’m reminded of a song I learned in my early twenties. It goes like this…”We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord.” (And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.) I first sang that song on a Lutheran Youth Encounter weekend, with hundreds of teens and advisors. Back then, in the Pocono Mountains, we felt united in faith, united in Christ, one with each other and renewed in the spirit. But all too soon, the weekend was over and we returned home. And sadly, it didn’t take long for the enthusiasm and zeal of that mountaintop experience to fade away.
Today, Sam and Mia are at the mountaintop for, today, they will be confirmed in their faith and take on an adult relationship within the church. I hope and I pray that the two of you who will be affirming your faith before God and this congregation can hold onto the confirmation experience a little longer than we held onto the youth encounter experience back in the ‘70s. I hope and I pray that today will make a difference for you and draw you closer to God and to all of us who bear witness to the same Lord and Savior of us all. For, we ARE one in the spirit. We ARE one in the Lord. Jesus asked his Father that this may be so, and what Jesus wants for us, Jesus makes possible.
“We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord.” Back then, I sang this song with gusto, as I felt safe and secure in an inviting community of fellow believers who really seemed, at least for the moment, to be united in, through and with Jesus Christ. This was a religious high for me, a time when difference melted away, mission was clear, and love, Christ’s love, abounded. But, of course this was just a weekend retreat, just like this is just a Sunday in June. For me, the ecstasy of the experience in the Poconos is distant memory. For the two of you, I hope that the experience of today will last a lifetime. But, I know that is easier said than done.
We are pulled in many directions and we are seldom united as we each go off and do our own thing. That’s why it is so important that we stay connected to the church which is the Body of Christ. And yet, even if we should grace these halls on a weekly basis, unity is the last thing that the world often sees when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ. For when was the last time you heard someone answer the question, “What religion are you?” with the words, “I am Christian.” Denominational labels prevail and division, rather than unity, has center stage. Even within the Lutheran church, Missouri-synod Lutherans won’t commune ELCA Lutherans and Wisconsin-synod Lutherans won’t commune anyone other than members of their own parish. I couldn’t be a pastor in most branches of Lutheranism in the United States as women cannot be ordained simply because tradition limits God’s call to those who are created male.
This is not the church that Christ has in mind for us as he prays his high priestly prayer. This is not a church that shows that it is one in the spirit and one in the Lord. And that can make the Christian church seem more hostile that hospitable, more destructive than loving, to those outside the faith and those struggling to hold onto the unity we share in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When all is said and done, the song, “We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord,” reveals the truth about Christ’s vision and our failure to live in the oneness we have been given. As individuals and communities of faith, we are still searching for the wholeness that only God can give….a wholeness that begins with God. We cannot do it on our own. On our own, we cannot stay united in this dog eat dog world. We need God’s help.
So, Jesus prays for us. He prays that we might experience the wholeness in our lives that comes from the oneness he has with his Father in heaven and with each of us. For us, a glimpse of that wholeness is experienced as we live together, join hands in prayer, eat at the table, reflect God’s love in our actions, and confess our united faith, the faith in which we baptize and the faith that two young people will affirm today before the altar.
Renewed in the spirit and restored in love we go out into the world. But, the unity we experience is fragile and Jesus knows this. Once he has gone into heaven, he knows that the unity his disciples have with each other, as well as their unity with God, will be tested. So, Jesus prays that his followers might be one, and that they, in their oneness, might reflect the same type of unity that he shares with his Father.
Now prayers are nice, especially when they come from Jesus. But, Jesus just doesn’t pray about wholeness and unity. Jesus doesn’t leave things to chance. Jesus goes one step further. He unites us through the spirit and binds us together in his love. So then in spite of all that we do to prove otherwise, we ARE one in the spirit. We ARE one in the Lord. This is not of our own doing, but by the grace and will of God and the suffering and death of Jesus. We ARE brothers and sisters in Christ whether we reflect this gift or not. And we ARE blessed to be a blessing in this world. None of this is contingent on age. None of this is contingent on our talents and abilities. None of this is contingent on us. It is what we are given through grace.
So, Sam and Mia, live in that unity. Relish the oneness that Christ offers, for it is a reassurance that no matter what happens in life, you are not alone. And remember, Jesus didn’t snap his fingers and in a flash, change us into a people who love others and God above all things, a people who cheerfully reflect God’s blessings. We need to work together in order to develop a safe and comfortable world in which differences melt into unity, bickering is transformed into love, and apathy melts way and becomes cheerful service.
Jesus knows how difficult this will be. Jesus knows that we need oneness with him and each other in order to survive and to show the world that God offers something that the world cannot give. So, Jesus prays for you and me. He prays for us who try to live out our faith in a real world filled with real people. He prays for us who get burned out and burned up. He prays that we might find a place of peace in the remarkable home that is ours with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
May you make your home with Christ. May you receive the wholeness that only God can give. And may the words of the song, “We are one in the spirit; we are one in the Lord,” begin to reflect the reality of the oneness we share in Christ.
May Jesus prayer for us be fulfilled, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.