Anyone else feeling a little bit pressured by today’s gospel lesson? Don’t even get me started on the first reading where we have Paul and his buddy Silas singing in jail and then choosing to stay there when they could have easily just waltzed out. That sounds hard enough to imitate, from the singing hymns and not using your “get out of jail free” card. But I feel a lot of pressure from today’s gospel text, where we have the end of what we call the Priestly Prayer or High Priestly Prayer where we hear Jesus praying for us to be unified so that the world can know him through us.
First of all, for us to get the whole picture of this prayer on a Sunday, we’d actually have to wait 3 years. The first part of the prayer we have on Easter 7 in year A, and there we have Jesus praying essentially for himself and giving thanks to God for the work that was set out for Jesus to do. Then on Easter 7 in year B, we have Jesus continuing in his prayer with a focus on his immediate disciples, that they’d get a clue and figure all this stuff out. And then finally today, we have Jesus still praying, but this time it is for us. All of us. That we may all be unified, be completely one, so that others will know God through our oneness. So for three years we wait until we get the whole prayer and all the impact that it gives. Or, we can just, you know, pick up your bible and just read it. That’ll take more like 3 minutes.
But anyway, this is where the pressure comes in.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t feel exactly unified. Not with the city I live in where they seem to want to just build and build and build and not worry as much about those who can’t afford to live in basically anything that is available now. Not with the national church that I belong to as one of the only Asian clergy persons, and the only Canadian born Chinese clergy that I know of in the whole ELCIC roster. Not even with the wider church with all its different denominations where everyone wants to be right and have the correct doctrine and completely disregard and subconsciously disprove the doctrines of others. Not in the entire world, that’s for sure. I mean it’s 2019 and there are still racists around. Sexists. Homophobes. Heterophobes. People are greedy, selfish, and self-centered. Any possible place where we can draw a line you can be sure that there has been a line drawn there already.
So no, we aren’t exactly all that unified. We aren’t one. If anything, we are divided in more ways that we could have ever thought mathematically possible and maybe that is why this world has become more and more secular, as they have been so disillusioned with the division, the disunity, the disagreements and disconnection that the church has with the world and even each other.
Let’s be honest here. We are in shambles.
So what gives? What is the deal with Jesus praying for us and that request to make us united falling flat on its face? You’d think if anyone’s prayer would be honoured and answered in the positive, it would be Jesus’. But we are living proof that it wasn’t, not even close.
This is incredibly deflating if you think about it. I mean, if even Jesus’ prayers aren’t answered, what hope do we have? No wonder it seems like our prayers don’t amount to anything. We pray for healing, we pray for peace, we pray for miracles. None of these things happen. People stay sick and even die. People are constantly angry at each other and fight even kill. People stay the same and there are no miracles in sight.
So yeah people are disillusioned and no longer care about their faith or even coming to church. People are deflated by whatever prayers they say going seemingly ignored and unanswered. People are discouraged by how we in the church are in no way, no how, no sense of the word, united.
I can’t blame them. It is disillusioning, it is deflating, and it is discouraging. We are told one thing but we get another. We are promised something but we never get it. We are prayed for but those prayers didn’t make a lick of difference.
Or did they?
Often we look at the world through our own eyes, which makes sense because, well, they’re our eyes. But with them we bring our own opinions, our own thoughts, our own paradigms and interpret everything through that. And so when we hear “unity” and “one” we often think sameness, agreements, and like-mindedness. But I wonder if that is what Jesus actually meant.
Because how can we ever be the same? How can we always agree? Can we ever have the same exact mind?
Sure, we might think, since Jesus prays for it. Why would Jesus pray for something impossible? But I think in our limited language constraints and preset paradigms that affect our interpretation of that limited language, it really sounds like Jesus is praying for that when he is actually praying for us to be welcomed into God’s family, united by God’s love, one in the body of Christ.
And isn’t that where we are now? Isn’t that where we have been since God created the first humans? Isn’t that what Jesus has been trying to tell us through his acts of compassion, love, and grace?
See, this prayer of Jesus’, this prayer for unity, this prayer that the Son of God prays for us to be one, has been answered. It has been done. And it has been done for like 2000 years now. Because we are invited. We are welcome. We are all joined together as the one body of Christ.
But, what about the division, the disagreements and disconnection we talked about earlier? Doesn’t that point to us not being unified? Well, in a sense, yes. But I think in the great grand scheme of God’s plans, no. Because the world might see division as disunity, but in God’s eyes through the lens of unity it is diversity. The world might see disagreements as disunity, but in God’s eyes through the lens of unity it is just a difference of opinion that creates new ideas and fresh outlooks. The world might see disconnection as disunity, but in God’s eyes through the lens of unity it is discerning the roles we play now and the roles we might play in the future.
See, God’s unity isn’t what the world tells us unity is. God’s unity is just what we are, brought together through the waters of creation, joined by the power of the Spirit, and invited and welcomed to be a part of the body and community of Christ. That even when we have disagreements, when we feel divided, when we see how disconnected we all can be, we are still called to gather. We are still called to show up. We are still called to the table where we all eat the same bread and drink from the same cup and we are reminded that we all bleed the same blood.
Yes, we aren’t all the same. We aren’t always in agreement with each other. We aren’t all like-minded. But we are unified. By God’s grace, through the faith of Jesus and empowered by the Spirit, we are unified. Unified as God’s holy people. Unified as God’s beloved children. Unified as one apostolic church, invited and welcomed into God’s kingdom, gifted with skills and talents for ministry, and called to be God’s hands and feet in the world. It doesn’t matter if you are old or young, male or female, minority or not, we are unified, we are one, we are loved.
Today we celebrate the graduation of three young adults of our congregation. Three accomplishments and milestones that remind some of us of our own milestones and encourage others who have yet to reach them. Three very diverse and unique individuals, yet unified in God’s blessing, God’s grace, God’s love. Bennett, Kaitlyn, Lizy, as you go close one chapter in your life just to open the next chapter to come, as you find your place in this crazy crazy world, as you discern God’s call for you, may you always be reminded of your community here at Grace, your belonging in God’s kingdom, your home in and as a part of the body of Christ.
And the rest of us, as we finish this Easter season and move into Pentecost, may we remember the work and faith of Christ for us and in us, that we might see how we are empowered by the Spirit to go forth as a unified church and body to show all people the hope, joy, peace, and love of God, both now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.