a Sermon for Easter 7C
Text: John 17:20-26
Listen to the Audio here: Jesus’s Prayer for Unity
A hopeless prayer
If you are ever self-conscious about praying in public, don’t be. Just remember how the writers of the gospel we call John portray Jesus:
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
And that’s like the second time he said that. John isn’t doing Jesus any favors with this gobbledy gook. Can you at least string together a coherent sentence? Then you’re good.
In spite of this rambling style, Jesus is praying for three things: understanding, intimacy, and unity.
Understanding: that they might know GOD and what GOD is doing.
Intimacy: that GOD, Jesus, and the people may be “in” one another—that they may be so close that they are joined.
Unity: that all of us may be brought together as one.
This begs the question: if even Jesus’s prayer for unity is not answered, then what hope do we have?
We are not one
Clearly we aren’t one. And despite what many would have us believe, we never were.
From the earliest moments after Jesus’s ascension, His followers had different things to say about Him and His ministry. They spread around the region with their own takes on the Jesus Event. We inherit four different gospels from four different communities, with four different sets of priorities.
Even the great councils of the first millennium, which produced our creeds, among other things, were not moments of great unity, but sources of division. They didn’t gather to determine what we do believe, but rather, eliminate what we don’t.
As a church and as a culture, we don’t seem united at all. In fact, we seem all the more divided. Divided by interpretation of scripture, theology, and ethics; how we treat each other, the outsiders, and the enemies; how we minister to the sick, the suffering, and the disadvantaged. Our churches, our communities, our politics, our neighborhoods, our schools, our civic organizations are all divided. We are not one.
Going back to the skipped steps
Of course, we are looking for that unity by skipping steps.
Jesus prays not only for unity, but for three things:
understanding, intimacy, and unity
Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you, and these know that you have sent me.
Jesus knows GOD. He understands what GOD is about. He doesn’t say that the disciples understand. He seems to say that they get Jesus and they get that He has intimacy with GOD. But that He, Jesus, will build a bridge to that intimacy.
I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.
So Jesus helps reveal who GOD is to those that follow Him. He makes GOD more vulnerable by stripping away the layers of mystery and distance—the things that create power and separation. Jesus does this because there is no other way to have intimacy with GOD, or anyone, without vulnerability.
And through intimacy, we become one. Not uniform. Not identical. Not subservient to a single, dominant bureaucracy. Not ordered—with first and last. One.
In blessed community
Our problem isn’t unity, its intimacy. And to be fair, we should probably do some work at understanding, while we’re at it. We’re a culture of proud know-it-alls. Our men don’t stop for directions and our women don’t want an honest response to “does this make me look fat.”
Even our churches are places which shun intimacy. We want to look good, we attack mistakes, and punish the vulnerable. But Jesus gives us a way out. A way of His being vulnerable to us, that we might be vulnerable to one another. Two examples from earlier in the night were washing feet and anointing for burial.
As followers of Christ, we learn about GOD’s ways that they may become our own. Ways of love and vulnerability. Ways of generosity and sacrifice. That we might find an intimacy that is not of this world, but one that might be sanctified by GOD.
That we, gathering in blessed community, learning the name of GOD, becoming close to one another, may become one.