5-2-16 - To Be One

The Seventh Sunday of Easter Dilemma: Use the readings appointed for the seventh Sunday in Easter, or those set for Ascension Day – knowing that no one, unless their church happens to be named Ascension, attends Ascension Day services anymore? I will split the difference this week, starting with the Easter 7 gospel. This takes us back yet again to that upper room on Jesus’ last night in earthly life. After his long discourse to his disciples, he embarks upon a lengthy prayer for them; that’s where we tune in now:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. 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.”

One reason to skip this reading entirely is that it is heartbreaking to engage this prayer. Unity was Jesus’ deepest desire for his followers, almost his last wish, we might say, and it has proved impossible for the church that bears his name to keep. And, as I have written here recently, one of the reasons the world does not believe that God sent Jesus as Redeemer is that those who follow Christ seem so to excel at division. (And this ain’t a math class…)

We have vastly different ways of reading and interpreting Scripture, what we think is important in worship, how we live out the calls to justice and generosity, care for the poor and the marginalized. We are divided by history, language, and culture, by conflicts both ancient and recent. Maybe we shouldn’t feel so bad about the current state of Christ’s church – his followers were locked in bitter divisions within a few years of his resurrection.

I am most convicted by this line, "on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” If we don’t speak our word, the word of grace and forgiveness and our experience of God’s overwhelming love, and if we don’t back that up by our actions, fewer and fewer will believe through us. And friends, the community of Christ-followers is spread by human contact, like a virus, a good virus, one that strengthens the immune system and promotes healthy growth and a just and secure world. We should find this as urgent a matter as Jesus did.

If we speak the words of grace and live them, and allow the Spirit to really rule our hearts and direct our actions, we will find ourselves unable to condemn our brothers and sisters, even when their words or actions are reprehensible. We will be able to pray for them and commit them to God’s hand, and keep our eyes on Jesus and spread the message of his love. Maybe if all Christians put that first, we’d have less energy for fighting with each other. And one day we will make Jesus’ dream of unity a reality.

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