We Are One
Are you familiar with the African Bible Study method? It involves reading a scripture passage aloud, using different versions of the Bible, followed by reflection and discussion amongst the group, and concluding with prayer – specifically praying for the person sitting next to – and they in turn pray for the person next to them, until everyone has prayed for someone and likewise had received a prayer. I admit that at first it can feel uncomfortable, having someone sitting next to me pray for me specifically. It’s not something we’re really used to. And for me it’s easier to pray aloud for someone else than to have someone pray for me. But after doing it a few times, you start to overcome the discomfort and feel God’s presence in their words. The experience can bring a group closer together and can allow us to closely experience God.
How many of you can recall an instance where someone prayed for you?
I’m not talking about prayers spoken on your behalf by the church, or general prayers prayed as a group, but rather in your presence, right there, right then, that you could hear. It might have been a child saying their prayers at bedtime, surprising you with an insight you didn’t know they even were aware of. How did that feel? What did you think? Take a moment if you will to reflect on the range of emotions that you felt. Was your response something that felt humbling, awkward, embarrassed, or grateful?
The Gospel message this morning found in the 17th chapter of John includes a prayer Jesus prayed for his disciples then and there on Maundy Thursday, and one that includes all believers for all time, as Jesus asked God that all of us may be one, just as the Father is in Christ and Christ is the Father. When we consider the context, the evening of the Last Supper, we can pretty well infer that the disciples didn’t feel like one, gathered around their leader that night. Peter is described in one commentary as petulant. Remember his initial rejection of Jesus washing his feet and sudden 180 degree turnaround to wash his face too? Recall Judas Iscariot, already planning how to betray Jesus that night to the authorities. James and John have been described in one commentary as probably jockeying for promotion in the hierarchy of disciples.
But Jesus prayed that the world would believe that God sent Jesus. Jesus prayed that God gives us the glory that he gave Jesus, that we may be one as God is one. That we may be brought to complete unity to let the world know that God sent Christ and loves us even as God loves Jesus. The scripture concludes with this passage: “I have made you know to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Pastor Keith Krell of Fourth Memorial Church in Spokane tells the story of a two-year-old African child who wandered off into the forest. The entire tribe spent the day searching for this youngster but could not find him. The next day, they decided to join hands and cover the entire area. They found the boy, but unfortunately, he was dead after having spent the night outside. The distraught mother cried, “Why didn’t we hold hands sooner?”
Pastor Krell’s take on this text is that “We are one!” But he goes on to say that “if we are functioning in conflict and disunity rather than unity, God will limit His work in our lives. If we have time to be blessed but not be a blessing; if we are selfish saints who want things from God but don’t want to mess with being a functioning member of a local church; or if we are causing disruption in the church by our attitudes and tongues, then we are wasting our time getting on our knees and asking God to do something for us.” These are harsh words indeed. They call us on the carpet to face and deal with rather than ignore real issues in the church today.
But that’s not what Jesus is praying about–he’s not talking about differences. He’s not teaching or preaching. He’s praying to God for you and for me–that we may be one. That we may be drawn into the life of the Holy Trinity.
Two years ago when Jan and I moved here from South Dakota, the bishop was kind enough to visit with me about how I might serve in this synod. What stuck with me the most was this: “people today connect to God in a variety of different ways.” And it’s true. But we must remember that what Jesus prays for us is that we are one in Christ.