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"That they may be One"

John 17:1-11

Rev. Alan Taylor

Easter 7, series A
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Jun 1, 2014 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The message this morning, titled “that they may be one,” is based on the Gospel reading from John 17.  Specifically, we focus on the last couple of verses of the text.  Jesus said, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

“There comes a time when we heed a certain call

When the world must come together as one

There are people dying

And it's time to lend a hand to life

The greatest gift of all”

Those are words of a song written in 1985 by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie.  While you might not recognize the verse, you will, no doubt, recognize the name of the song.  “We are the world” was composed and performed throughout the US and around the world in an effort to alleviate hunger in Africa.  The song was dusted off and used again in a recent campaign to encourage giving for the overwhelming human need in the little island nation of Haiti.

While the need in Africa in 1985 was quite real and while Haiti continues to suffer extreme poverty and devastation from earthquakes, it takes more than a song to bring people together for a cause.  Especially when the effort pretends to exalt life as the “greatest gift of all” when, in fact, life, in this world in which we live is considered quite expendable.  Striving to save the lives of people in other countries does not cover up the fact that our culture has become what Pope John Paul II so aptly called a culture of death. 

Life issues, as you know, divide the two sides of the isle in Washington, even as they divide our Nation as a whole.  But, of course, the division doesn’t stop there.  Jesus said, “they are in the world.” You and both know that politics in this world are about ideals and ideals, when deeply held, are ultimately divisive.  Unfortunately, because our ideals are so diverse, we have come to accept and even expect division, both in Washington and across the fruited plane.  Our division couldn’t be anymore pointedly exhibited than in the labels we bear.  We are republicans and democrats, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Anglo Americans.  We are pro-life and pro-death, liberal and conservative.  We are baby boomers, gen x and gen next, as well as any number of combinations of all those things. 

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus prayed for us, because we are still “in the world.” Sadly, being “in the world” we’ve become accustomed to the same sort of division in the Church too.  I’m not talking simply about long seated denominational differences.  I’m talking about Christians being divided by the same moral and social issues that divide our Nation as a whole.  One church accepts abortion on demand.  Another doesn’t.  One considers homosexuality to be a God given condition to be celebrated and nurtured.  Another considers it a sin of which repentance and grace are the only answer.  One considers the definition of marriage to be changeable.  Subject to the will of the people.  Another considers marriage to be an inviolate institution created by God to be between one man and one woman.

Beyond moral issues, the Church is divided by doctrine and practice too.  One considers the bread and wine of Holy Communion to be simple bread and wine.  Another considers the bread and wine to be the very body and blood of Jesus.  One withholds baptism from children because they are considered unaccountable for their sins until a certain age.  Another insists that we are all born dead in our trespasses and sins and that baptism is God’s means of rescuing us from the peril of eternal death.  One ordains women into the office of the Holy Ministry in keeping with the demands of the culture.  Another ordains only men in keeping with the word of God.  The situation is deplorable.  In Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings, the elf Haldir says, “In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.”

Ecumenical efforts, of course, attempt to foster unity among churches, but at best they amount to nothing more than tolerant diversity.  At worst, they minimize the importance of God’s Word, which is supposed to be the sole source and norm of everything that is believed and taught in the Church.  We are left wondering if unity in the church should even be sought anymore, or, if churches are better off just doing their own thing without regard for other churches?

Well, in the Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus prays for unity in the Church, which means unity among God’s people is a desire that comes from the very heart of God.  “Holy Father (He says), keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” It is a profound prayer, isn’t it?  Jesus asks that unity among God’s people be a reflection of the unity of the godhead.  Even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One God, so the church, He prays, would be one. 

It is always incumbent upon us to seek unity among God’s people.  Divisions in the church are not God’s will, nor are they helpful for the Church’s mission of reaching the unbelieving world with the Gospel of Jesus’ forgiveness and grace!  That said, there is only one way true Christian unity can be found.  Jesus, in His prayer to the Father, tells us exactly what that way is.  “Holy Father (He prays), keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one.” “Keep them in your name.”

At another time, Jesus asked His disciples a question that would prove to be decisive for every human being individually, as well as decisive for the unity of the church.  “Who do the people say that I am?” Because people didn’t listen to God’s Word, there were all sorts of opinions regarding who Jesus was.  Some said, He was Elijah, or, one of the other Old Testament prophets.  Some said He was John the Baptist who had supposedly come back from the dead.

The disunity regarding the person of Christ was evident.  Jesus pushed the disciples and specifically Peter further.  He didn’t want opinions and He didn’t want disunity.  He wanted a confession of faith based on the Word of God.  And so, He asked, “but, who do you say that I am?” Peter’s response, because it was not his opinion, or, the opinion others, but was based on God’s Word was “in Jesus’ name.” Which is to say, it was according to the Word of God.  “You are the Christ (he said), the Son of the Living God!” With that confession, Jesus praised Peter, saying, “on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it!”

There is no saving knowledge of God outside of His Word.  The Christian Church, which holds a faith based on divine revelation, must find her unity “in Jesus’ name” as He has been revealed in the Scriptures, breaking into the world in which we live to give us of Himself. 

As simple as that may sound, history has proven that it is anything but simple.  In the end, unity in the Church is a divine gift, which comes from the very heart of God, through the fervent prayer of His Son.  “Holy Father (He prays), keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one.” In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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