1 Samuel 12:19-24
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 2-21
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
That they may all be one, … so that they may be one, … that they may be completely one. (John 17:21, 22, 23)
Well, that’s not gonna work. Or?
Jesus’ prayer to God in the presence of the disciple-followers on their last night together is a 26 verse long string of short phrases about the relationship of Jesus with God and with us, sort of rolled up to a round ball of relationship, including glory, knowing, truth, love and unity. Basic things in terms of divine-human relationship and salvation.
“That they may all be one,” this dream of unity has been and still is widely used in ecumenical prayer services and in the official dialogues between churches. The words are the motto of the United Church of Christ, formed in 1957, their icon showing a cross and crown planted on top a globe, with “United Church of Christ” and “that they may all be one” written around it.
United, one, unity, union, and in more recent years, unity in diversity, diverse unity, and whichever other ways it can be turned.
Has it worked, Jesus’ prayer that they may all be one?
Well, yes, we have come a long way.Catholics and Lutherans twenty years ago signed a statement that we proclaim the same gospel of salvation and justification by grace through faith. Our understanding of communion, the real presence of Christ in bread and wine does not divide us anymore. The remaining dividing issue is the question of the office. That includes questions such as apostolic succession, and thus validity of ordination. The understanding of office and authority keeps us from coming together at the Lord’s table.
Relationships between other churches have greatly improved. Lutherans and Reformed have reconciled and laid to rest for good the mutual condemnations on the grounds of dogma.
The quality of the dialogues is changing and making great progress: after decades of work clarifying and understanding each other’s teachings/dogmas, the partners are beginning to listen much more deeply to what our common call is. Trust levels are increasing, difficulties stuck out together, there is willingness to articulate what unites us and where we cannot follow the other, grateful recognition of the gifts of the partners’ witness.
On our local levels, like here in Houston, churches and all faiths are opening up to each other. We are blessed to have the Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston in town. Their work on behalf of all faith traditions is a true gem with its dedication to service work and simultaneously to programmatic work. They actually bring people of different faiths together to learn, to share meals, to know, to appreciate, to love and to stand together united against hate, injustice and violence.
That they may all be one. Yes.
And, well, no.
Our hearts ache for the community of the city of Virginia Beach ripped by the killing of twelve co-workers and citizens on Friday afternoon by a city employee.
In public life we would not expect unity, but there is not even a semblance of striving for a common goal anymore. The strain put on the democratic process, pushing the checks and balances; our unwillingness to come to the table together and talk about – you name it – immigration reform, the consequences of climate change, about gun violence, all that depresses many of us. We employ various coping mechanisms – retreat into the personal sphere turning off politics altogether, or tribalism vilifying the other, or sarcasm, or resignation.
That they may all be one?
In our personal lives of course we also spend hours, days, months, years with the falling apart of what was meant to be one, to be wholesome, peaceful, thriving, flourishing – relationships, health, careers.
Dear sisters and brothers, in all this Jesus’ prayer still is that we may all be one. And that will not go away.
See, Jesus’ intimate prayer to God is not a practical manual for us to work out our differences against all odds – as if Jesus and God didn’t know about our sinful, falling apart nature and about systemic evil in the world.
Not a manual, but in Christ one-ness is already as much a reality as it is a vision. Jesus’ prayer for love, knowing, truth and one-ness is already realized in cross and resurrection and a vision for what is to come.
For that matter, our scriptures throughout proclaim consistently that God is passionately in this world, setting out in the one-ness of paradise, yet having suffered, and having overcome. Jesus knows when he prays that in him the judgment of the world and of ourselves has already taken place, and paradoxically will still take place.
The ancient witness, from beginning to end holds open for us God’s desire and reality of union, one-ness. And it may be more inclusive than we expect. In the book of Revelation the city of God coming down to earth, the heavenly Jerusalem, welcomes the saints whose robes are washed clean. Yet at the same time the gates to the city are never closed, our idea of exclusive one-ness gets challenged, because all can come, every single one has free access, all nations, because the leaves of the tree of life heal the nations, all of them. Everyone is called to come and drink the water of life – is there anyone out there not thirsty?
Sisters and brothers, God’s desire for one-ness inspires our passion and compassion, to hold out the standard of joy, sourced in resurrection life; to call to the table for the simple, disciplined task of talking, sourced in knowing the power of reconciliation; to witness with confidence that evil will be drowned in love, sourced in God’s reality of one-ness.
If Jesus’ words were a string today, let me try this new string, made out of the one-ness of today’s scriptures that we proclaimed:
Serve God faithfully with all your heart, for consider the great things God has done for you. (1 Sam 12:24)
Those who love God, hate evil. (Psalm 97:10)
So that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me. (John 17:22b-23a)
And so we pray, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)