This sermon was offered at Christ Church, Edmonton, in prayer for General Synod.
There are a whole lotta ways
You could describe the Church these days,
But “one” ain’t one of ‘em.
“Of the same mind,”
Ain’t it either y’all,
And don’t even try to tell me that
We look not to our own interests,
But to the interests of others.
These two passages we heard tonight
Might just be my two
Favourite passages in the whole dang Bible
But neither one of them
Describes the world I live in
Or the Church I love so much.
And it’s not exactly a recent phenomenon,
As much as certain parties like to pretend it is.
I mean, have they read about the Jerusalem Council?
Or the book of Galatians?
How about the Council of Nicea?
Or the Reformation?
Basically the second Jesus ascended into heaven
And left us to sort out how to follow Him
Without Him literally holding our hand through it
We quit being the kind of Church he prayed for
On the night before He died.
We have spent centuries –
Shouting at each other
About what communion means
And who Jesus even is, man,
And how to read the Bible
And who’s allowed to be ordained.
At least we’re not literally murdering each other anymore, I guess.
Because we did.
Murder each other.
Over our disagreements
About how best to follow Jesus.
The same Jesus
Who prayed that we may be one
The night before He died
To save us all.
It’s almost as if He knew.
We hear today
The conclusion of what scholars call Jesus’s Farewell Discourse.
I’m sure it didn’t sound quite as lofty at the time,
But all the same:
If we’re looking at John’s Gospel, anyway,
It sure seems like the Last Supper was an awfully big deal.
Jesus makes some pretty grand pronouncements
And issues some pretty hefty commandments.
Just as I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet,
So too you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
Do not let your hearts be troubled;
Believe in God, believe also in me.
I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Greater love has no one than this:
To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends;
I no longer call you servants.
And in the section we heard today:
The glory that you have given me I have given them,
So that they may be one, as we are one,
So that the world may knowthat you have sent me
And have loved them
Even as you have loved me.
And that’s the part that convicts me,
Because you see,
Our lack of unity isn’t a problem
Onlybecause sometimes we end up hurting one another
When we put our need to be right,
Our need to have found
The onlyright way to read the Bible,
The only right way to worship,
Theonlyright way to ethically live in the world
Above the needs of others,
Though that is pretty bad.
Our lack of unity is a problem
Because Jesus prays that we might be one
So thatthe world may know
That God has sent Jesus
And loves the world
Even as he loves Jesus.
When we are not one,
The world doesn’t see,
Doesn’t recognize that good news
That God loves us
All of us
The whole world
Just as much as God loves Jesus.
The world looks at us,
A divided Church,
And doesn’t see a lot of love.
They don’t see a community that
Has the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God and had equality with God,
Because he did not regard actual, literal equality with God
As a thing to be grasped.
A thing to be exploited.
Was and is co-equal with God
In every imaginable way.
He was and is one with God the Father,
Completely unified and inseparable.
And when God decided
To include us
In that relationship.
When God decided
To come to earth
To really cement His relationship with a sinful human race
That had rejected him
Over and over again,
Jesus didn’t say,
“Hold up, you know what sounds like no fun at all?
Living among those stinky humans for 30 years
And then getting crucified.
Oh, y’all need me in order to get eternal salvation?
Sounds like a you problem.”
Jesus humbled himself,
Even to the point of death
Even death on a cross.
And in so doing,
He united us –
Our sinful, stinky selves
Who have been dragged kicking and screaming
Into goodness –
And with God the Father.
And now we,
Who have been given this free gift of grace
For which we ought to be thanking God on our knees
Every single day
For this extraordinary gift
That we donot deserve
That we could not deserve
In any imaginable universe
Have the audacity
To turn around and try to shut the door behind us.
To try to grasp
The teeny, tiny bit of authority and glory that has been granted to us
As a gift from God
Not because we’re actually equal with Him
But because He made us part of His body
And we exploit it
To say to people
You can’t sit with us
Because we’re right with God
And you’re not.
I mean, do we hear ourselves?
The problem here is not disagreement.
The same God who created the whole wide universe
Who painstakingly handcrafted
Over 1.3 million species on this planet alone,
That God is not one who requires us to come to perfect agreement
In order to achieve unity.
I mean, God is, within Godself,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Two dudes and bird,
That God is not about sameness.
When Jesus prays that we may be one,
He’s not asking us all to agree.
He’s not saying that we have
To come to one unified position
About what certain passages in the Bible mean
Or how we ought to worship
Or what in the heck marriage is even for anyway.
Is not the same thing
Does not require one, single, agreed-upon point of view.
Isn’t something that we make happen
Is a gift
From God Himself.
In just a few minutes,
As we gather in Eucharist,
The God who made us, redeemed us, sustains us,
Who incorporated us into His very own Body,
We will pray for the Church.
And when we pray for its unity,
We don’t ask for God to make us one.
“Reveal its unity
Guard its faith
And preserve it in peace.”
The Church doesn’t need our help
In order to be one,
It already is one!
The unity of the Church
Isn’t a state that we achieve
By bullying everyone into agreement
And forcing out those who feel differently.
The unity of the Church
Is a gift from our Creator.
A gift that He gives
So that the world he loves
May know how muchhe loves.
And that unity is revealed
When we lay down our pride.
When we lay down our lives.
When we sit next to those
Who most offend us.
When we walk together
With those who disagree.
Because being kind is more important than being right.
Because the world must know
Just how much God loves us all.
That is the only reason the Church exists.
So that the world may know
How much God loves them. And us.
And so tonight, let us pray for the Church.
Reveal its unity, Lord,
That your love may be made known
To a desperately hurting world
That needs to hear
How deeply you love them.