So That They May Be One
John 17:1-11 and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Good morning beautiful people! It is good to be together again. Thank you to Heather for putting together a beautiful service last Sunday celebrating our kids, youth and graduates. It was a wild ride, but it was just so awesome to bless Luna and Madeleine, masked and distanced, but still there in person. I continue to give thanks for our incredible team of staff and leaders in this congregation!!! Welcome to you near and far. Welcome to this seventh and final Sunday of Easter and also officially Ascension Sunday for those who need uplifting like Jesus!
Let us begin by this time by turning our hearts and minds toward whatever message meant for each of us today as we pray this prayer from Psalm 19:14. God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
It is called Jesus’ prayer for unity and it comes amid a long narrative in the Gospel of John where he is saying goodbye- offering last words of wisdom, insight and instructions, prayers for what could be. This piece we read today is near the end of what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, where he is said to have spoken these words, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. God, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
That they may be one.
Some of you know that this piece of scripture is the motto of the United Church of Christ. It has served as a guiding principle for emphasizing unity even with the freedom of individual conscience as well as local church autonomy, allowing us to be what some call, the most diverse Christian denomination in the United States. This stance has also invited many congregations, including ours, to be not just theologically diverse, but somewhat politically diverse as well as lots of other kinds of ways that we don’t entirely approach the world from the same point of view. But as you know, this is not always easy and in my experience, not everyone is up for it.
This means that many churches become more like clubs than community centers. And it also means that some churches try to polish away imperfect singing and imperfect people with a show so flashy or a doctrine so clean, that it is hard to know whether Jesus himself would even be welcome. It seems to me that churches that require uniformity in thought, might avoid most tension, but they lose something of what Jesus was after when he prayed, “may they be one.”
Because being one, isn’t about creating a community where everyone thinks the same way.
In fact, as scholar Linda Lee Clader wrote, if you looked at Christianity, “It would appear that disunity is the defining notion in this church of ours, in this church of Jesus Christ. We have our denominations and our sub-denominations. We argue over who can be ordained and what words we can use when we pray. We argue over our alliances with this or that group around the world…We argue how our churches participate in secular life, or how religion interacts with the state. It causes enormous pain. Perhaps it is helpful to remember this is nothing new.”
Even in 2020, clergy and ecclesiastical leaders argue with angry words on social media about whether it is appropriate to offer sacraments online and whether it is more theologically sound to worship live or to prerecord pieces and to watch it together.
In this particular moment where our anxieties are high and sleep loss abounds and exhaustion and weariness have woven their way into our veins, as our political divisions and religious differences come out in public, in full colors, in some places in big numbers revealing fear and pain, mistrust and misunderstanding, what does it mean to be one?
What does it mean to be one, as participants in this democracy in which we share? What does it mean to be one on planet earth where some people have 147.4 billion dollars and others have a cardboard box? What does it mean to be one in Colorado or one in Boulder County? What does it mean to be one as a church?
Linda Lee Clader goes on to remind us that the earliest followers of the Way, the earliest Christian communities argued over who could share a meal, who was the “real” church, who had spiritual gifts and whether that mattered, what was the right way to understand these teachings. She says, perhaps this invites us to ask whether “unity isn’t about solidifying into a monolithic block, but rather what if it is about a joyful interplay, a glorious dancing?”
In this time of intense divisions, where disagreements can be life threatening, what is unity for us?
I wonder if it is less about solidifying into shared views, but instead seeking solidarity in spite of the gaps?
What if harmony isn’t about sanitizing differences away, but instead welcoming an interesting interplay of possibility that arrives with variety?
Because unity is not uniformity- it is creating connections so fully rooted in human dignity that we want the whole human family at the table; that we want the whole big beautiful colorful array of life present, in its fullness, not just those whose stories, lives and appearances make us comfortable. Seeking unity means wanting to see the whole picture God painted…for the present and future hope of who we are and where God needs us to go.
As you heard from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Voldemorts of the world will return and they will have more power when we are divided and weak, like right now. In times like this, the spread of discord and enmity will increase. But we can fight back and respond only by showing an “equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
“While we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”
As some try to claim that the church is about believing the same and bowing down and being pious about being right, and having the doors open even ‘til death, let us remember our call to be one, to remember that our hearts beat as one, to never forget that what matters more to us than having open doors is having open hearts.
That they may be one.
I believe that democracy at its best, cares about the dignity and livelihood of each one of us, whatever we beliefs we hold. This is a union.
And I believe that church at its best, cares about unity and invests in harmony by building a community that understands love is too important to be left unpracticed. Love calls us to care beyond what we like or even understand.
This means we are summoned to share life with people who force us to challenge our own way of thinking. This means we are asked to show up for those we can’t relate to. This means we will sing alongside those who voted for someone else. This means we will pray for those who persecute us.
Jesus knew that if left on our own, we might believe everything we think and being asked to love neighbors causes our eyes to turn to new horizons. Without that, our thought, our deeds and our lives become small, rigid, closed.
So what if unity and harmony aren’t about sanitizing differences away, but instead welcoming the interplay?
Let us never become a veiled political club or a polished up place where questions, failures and wanderers are unwelcome. Let us be a home for the generous filthy rich, and the dirt poor, let there be an open door for you who are worried or waiting, furloughed and grating, you who are vegans and vegetarians, you who love Cheetos and fried chicken smothered. You who are centrists and leftists and those who claim the right, let there be a place here for all who’ll cease the fight. You who are queer or questioning, you who believe God is beyond and you who aren’t sure. Let there be a place for you. We need not conform in thought, that is not at all what Jesus taught. Let us dare to live out Jesus’ prayer, his Divine dream- that we may be one; No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here! It has already begun… May it be so.