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Sermon: That They All May Be One

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill at 8:00 a.m. on May 8, 2016.
7th Sunday of Easter; Year C: Acts 16:16-34; Ps 97; Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21; John 17:20-26

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

I imagine all of us here at one time or another has had someone say they would pray for us -- maybe not with us, in front of us, to us, but for us at some other time. I expect that many of you have offered to pray for another in their individual time of need. Things happen so quickly so often that it’s a wonder we are not praying unceasingly. Even if it’s just the short one word prayer that Anne Lamott promotes in her book, Help. Thanks. Wow! When we need aid, when we feel grateful, and when we are amazed. Help! Thanks! Wow!

Perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to receive healing prayers with the laying on of hands and anointing with blessed oil here at Immanuel when Fr. Randy and I step to the Altar following our worship together. It is available at the end of the service the third Sunday of each month. It is a privilege to enter into your prayer requests, whether for yourself or another. Often I ask for what we are specifically praying for or about and you hear how I respond in God’s name.

Because of our Baptismal promises, and because of my ordination vows, you and I are called to pray for one another.

Today’s gospel is foremost a prayer. It is Jesus’ prayer, and we are given the privilege of listening in as he prays on behalf of his disciples and people of all times and places. Each of us hearing this prayer is given a glimpse of Jesus’ mission for the world - that all may be drawn into the life of the Triune God. On the eve of his death, Jesus entrusts this particular community of disciples - but also our communities, our lives, and our world - into the care of God. Here is the astoundingly good news: Jesus prays for you, for me, and for the communities in which we live. Jesus has entrusted the church’s life and its future to God, and we, the church, are set free to make God known in all the world.

Our Episcopal Church finds its mission for ecumenism, to promote unity among the world’s churches, in Jesus’ words “that they all may be one” (John 17:21). It is a gift to know that this work has already been entrusted to God by Jesus and is not dependent on our shortcomings, sinfulness, or even our very best efforts. It is God’s work done through our hands and our minds.

Our Lord has broken bread with his disciples, washed their feet, given them a new commandment to love as he has loved them, and announced that he is leaving. Now he prays to the Father. In today’s gospel, we overhear just a portion of his prayer to his Father and our Creator. As Jesus prays for us, three times he asks our Father that we would all become one as he and the Father are one.

If Jesus prayed for our oneness, then he both recognized that we create and was rejecting any boundaries or differences that divide us, because there are many divisions - between one another, within our families, throughout our churches, and all around this nation. Sadly we live in a world fraught with divisions – male or female; rich or poor; gay or straight; Hispanic or Anglo; Christian or Muslim; conservative or liberal; educated or uneducated; young or old; heaven or earth; divine or human; sinner or saved; orthodox or heretic. I could go on and on listing boundaries we encounter and all too often either set or promote. They are not just divisions -- they have become oppositions. These divisions exist not only out there in the world, but primarily in our human hearts. We project onto this already broken and fragile world everything which is fragmented in our own lives. So why is this?

Ultimately, I think it's because our boundaries and differences are not about issues. For each boundary we set, there is usually someone associated with it --Real people with names, living lives, with joys, sorrows, concerns, and needs like each of us. I wonder if we sometimes forget, or fail to acknowledge, or just choose to ignore this. At times, it’s far easier to wrestle with issues than deal with actual people.

Whether we admit it or not, boundaries that we establish and enforce are usually created in such a way to favor us ourselves; to make us feel okay, to reassure us that we are right and in control: chosen and desired, seen and recognized, approved of and accepted. With that line of thinking then, in order for me to win, someone must lose; in order for me to be included, someone must be excluded, otherwise winning and being included mean nothing. The divisions of our lives in this way become self-perpetuating.

So often our human answer to deal with boundaries and differences that divide us is to write agreements, covenants, treaties, and legislation that govern how we will get along with one another and conduct ourselves in the midst of our differences. Yet that is not Jesus’ prayer!

Jesus prays not for our tolerance, for us legislating how to get along, or for us just being nice to one another. He doesn’t pray that our differences would be eliminated. Rather, Jesus prayed then and continues to pray now for our oneness. He prays that we would be one as he and the Father are one so that our oneness would become the revelation of God’s presence to this world. Oneness in the midst of difference becomes a sacramental presence of God’s life in our world.

That does not mean, however, that we sacrifice our identities or individuality. Jesus does not stop being Jesus and the Father doesn’t cease being the Father because they are one. Oneness is less about quantity and is more about quality. Jesus and the Father are one because they love and give themselves to each other. Oneness is an attribute of life – God’s life. Jesus’ prayer for oneness is ultimately that we would be and live with and for God.

Oneness isn’t about eliminating differences. It’s about Love. Love is the only thing that can ever overcome division. Over and over Jesus tells us that. Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself, and love your enemy. Our love for God, neighbor, self, and enemy reveals our oneness, and the measure of our oneness is Love. In Love, there may be differences, but there is no division.

On this Mother's Day, we can look to the mothers who carried each of us - for 9 months, there was no division between mother and child. That is the kind of Love God shows.

God’s Love knows no bounds. God loves male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight, Hispanic and Anglo. God loves Christian and Muslim, conservative and liberal, educated and uneducated. God loves young and old, heaven and earth, the divine and the human. God loves sinners and the saved, orthodox and heretic. All are fully loved, completely and uniquely, as each needs.

God does not even draw boundaries between Jesus and us. If we think God loves Jesus more than anyone else, we have missed the point of the Gospel. God loves you the way God loves Jesus. God loves your neighbor the same as God loves the Son. God loves your enemy the same as God loves Jesus. If that is how God loves, how can we do anything less and still call ourselves Christians?

For far too long, we have dealt with each other through our boundaries, differences, and divisions. You can see where that has gotten us. You need only look at the world, watch the news, or read the newspaper. When we deal with others through our divisions, we label, do violence, and hunker down to defend our own position. There is no oneness in that.

The goal of Jesus’ prayer is that those who have been hostile to him will be drawn into the life of the Triune God. This is a good Sunday to pray expansively for the people of God - for those who share their faith in Christ, for those who do not yet our Lord, and for those who have no faith.

We cannot be Christians all by ourselves. We must be in community with one another. We are the Body of Christ that can disagree and squabble with each other. Oneness in Christ is about receiving and sharing. God’s love is our common purpose. God first loved us that we might love one another. The Christ that incarnate came in the midst of us, to take on our human nature, is the same Christ who ascended into heaven, taking part of our humanness up into the heavenly divine realm, and intercedes for us.

Even as we seek to be one through the One who saved, we each are unique and peculiar and special and valued, all made in the image of God. And God gives us the power to share that creativity of God.

As Chrissie and I talked about this sermon, she shared with me something by a Danish poet, Piet (Pete) Hein, who was also a scientist, mathematician, inventor, designer, and author. Hear the call we have in his poem, “Simply Assisting God:”

I am a humble artist
molding my earthly clod,
adding my labor to nature’s,
simply assisting God.

Not that my effort is needed;
yet somehow, I understand,
my Maker has willed it that I too should have
unmolded clay in my hand.

Though Jesus is praying to the Father, you and I in large part are called to be the ones who answer Jesus’ prayer through our molding of the clay God gives us. We will answer his prayer every time we choose Love first: in how we love, who we love, and where we love. Shape you clay into that love. It is time now that we answer Jesus’ prayer and deal with one another in Love. So I wonder: What does your clay look like? Who, what, and where are the boundaries that await our love?