10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says,I belong to Paul,orI belong to Apollos,orI belong to Cephas,orI belong to Christ.13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
17After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said,Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Our Gospel lesson this morning comes from the prayer that Jesus prayed on the last night of his life… And it's interesting to notice what he did and did not pray for just before going out to be betrayed and crucified. Jesus prayed for himself and he prayed for his followers. He didn't pray for health; he didn't pray for wealth, he didn't pray for success or happiness or comfort. He didn't pray that life would be easy or that he would get everything that he wanted. But what he did pray for in the passage we read was that people would know God because of what Jesus did as the one who was sent by God. And he prayed that his followers would be one as he and his heavenly Father are one.
I don't know about you, but when I hear Jesus' prayer, there are people who come to my mind… people that I've known who seem to embody the relationship with God and the relationship with other people that Jesus was praying for here. There aren't terribly many of them but those who do come to mind are people I'll never forget and people whose example I hope to imitate in my own life.
For me, one of them was a man named Bruce Larson. He was a retired pastor when I knew him. We got together every month and went out to lunch and there was always an authentic quality of our time together and a sense of realness that was refreshing. Sometimes we talked about deep and meaningful things and other times we talked about the weather or the Mariners. I guess it depended on the day and what was going on. But he would always ask me how things were at church and how things were going in my marriage. He'd ask if I'm using my time wisely and if I'm spending my money well. He'd tell me stories about when he was in the army during World War II and what it was like to come back shell shocked. He told me some of the ways he felt like he was a failure and some of the great joys he had in his life. He told me about his family and that he asked his wife to marry him on their very first date. They were married more than 50 years when he passed away. And just by being there and being authentic, he taught me a lot about life.
Bruce understood things about people and about the culture and about
the church that made it so that our conversations over lunch have
shaped my understanding of ministry and my understanding of what it
means to live as a Christian. This week, I was thumbing through one
of his books titled
No Longer Strangers when I came across the
story of a family vacation that he told me about during one of our
lunches and I thought I'd share it with you this morning. He said
most people don't believe it but every word's true.
The family was spending their summer vacation up in Canada by a
beautiful lake — it was him and his wife, two sons, his daughter
and a friend of his daughter. Every morning he and the two boys would
go out onto the lake and try to catch a couple of fish. And one
evening daughter and her friend asked if they could go fishing the
next day instead of the boys and Bruce said,
So they went out in their flat-bottomed boat with its antique outboard
motor. And they didn't have any luck at all when it came to catching
fish. They finally gave up trying and as they were heading back
toward shore Bruce was sitting in the middle of the boat untangling
one of the lines. His daughter, was steering and her friend was
sitting in the front. And the friend said,
Gee, Mr. Larson, I'm
sorry we didn't catch a big one to impress the boys.
And no sooner were the words out of her mouth than a fifteen-inch Northern Pike jumped out of the lake, hit Bruce on the side of the face, and fell into the boat, where then it flipped wildly at his feet.
Can you imagine? And at this point in the book after telling the story he paused to ask… do you believe it… even as you sit there reading it? The boys back on the shore didn't and really, who could blame them.
Bruce goes on to say that story highlights a little bit of our problem as Christians. We have an incredible story to tell; one that in many senses seems too good to be true. We even call it Good News! God loves us just as we are and long before we could possibly do anything to deserve it Jesus came to welcome us into God's family.
Many of us have heard this story all our lives and yet for someone who's never experienced it first-hand, it may very well be impossible to comprehend the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. And so our challenge becomes living in a way that other people will be able to experience God because of us.
I've often heard it said that what seems too good to be true probably is. We can all name scams that are out there… I mean even this week, if all my emails were true I think I would have received about $20M by now. The skepticism that's embedded into our culture is there with good reason and when it comes to matters of faith, one of the only ways an unbelieving world is going to be able to get past that skepticism is by seeing some kind of evidence of the message that Jesus proclaimed. Jesus prayed for unity because people who live their lives seeking to be faithful, committed to the work of Christ and committed to one another, just might be the single greatest evidence of God at work in the world today. And when people see in us the unity that flows from a deep respect for and love of one another, it becomes easier for them to believe that there's something greater than us that holds us together.
Unity is one of the things that allows other people to be able to
experience God because of who we are as people and who we are as a
community of faith. Unity isn't about following rules, and it's not
right. It's about relationships… specifically
being in right relationship with God and with other people.
There are all sorts of false unity out there that can come about if someone is acting or wearing some sort of mask, if someone is leading others to believe something that's not quite true or if they're going along with the crowd because it's the easy thing to do. But whatever emerges then can't be unity because in those situations the relationships aren't real, they aren't authentic… and so we're left dealing with facades and projected images instead of the real people with their real thoughts and real feelings.
There are other kinds of false unity that can come about by coercion.
I remember a Peanuts comic strip where Linus was sitting there
watching television and Lucy comes into the room and tells him to
change the channel and Linus says.
What makes you think you can
walk in here and take over?
These five fingers. Individually they're nothing but when
I curl them together like this into a unit, they form a terrible
weapon. And Linus ends up changing the channel as he looks down
at his hand and says
Why can't you guys get organized like
And even though at the end of the comic strip they were sitting in the same room and doing the same thing, when something like that happens in real life what's achieved isn't unity because it happens at the expense of relationship instead of building up relationships.
There's no doubt that there are places in life where we have to deal with people who seem fake… and people who force their agenda, people who put on a show and people who intimidate others… if we look we can see it going on in social settings, many of us can see it at work too. But for us, it doesn't have to be that way and in fact it shouldn't, because the incredible story we have to tell is actually true and when we live it, unity will come… because our unity is based on God's amazing love for us.
Before an orchestra begins to play, everyone tunes their instrument to the same note so that they can have unity. Before a football team takes the field they've all studied the play book and then when they're on the field they listen to what their coach says so that they can have unity.
As Christians our source of unity has to be the life of Christ. In his prayer from our scripture lesson, Jesus prayed that people would know who God was because of what he did. And in everything he did, Jesus' shows us that God's love is bigger than we imagine it to be. God loves us just as we are. Sinners are welcome. Outcasts are given a place. People are healed. People who are at their wits end are given hope. And when we keep that knowledge of Christ's life-work close to the surface and let it affect everything we do, it frees us. It frees us to act boldly. It frees us to come before God completely and authentically, just as we are right now; not as we hope to be one day or as we wish we were, but as we are. When we see what Jesus did it gives us a model for unity and it frees us to take the risk to be ourselves. And as we are authentic with one another God will transform us as people and as a community.
Unity doesn't mean that the unexpected doesn't happen… we all know that it does. And unity doesn't mean that we have to agree on everything… it's likely that we won't. But unity does mean that even where we disagree and even when the unexpected does happen our relationships are stronger than what may come. We treat each other with love and respect because we're in this together. We're all trying to follow God's call for our lives and for the life of this congregation.
And as we open our hearts to the world outside our doors and invite people to join us on this journey of following Christ, the message we proclaim is precisely as strong as the integrity with which we live that message. If we want to make a difference in our world, if we want lives to be transformed, the vision is unity… so that people can come to be a part of the love we have for one another, freed to be authentic and thus free to let go of what binds them. That's why Jesus prayed for unity and it's why I do too. Let's pray:
Gracious Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for coming into this world to show us a different way of being. Thank you for offering your love and forgiveness to us and to all your people. Work in our hearts to bring about a sense of oneness so that we can know all that you have done for us and so that we can be evidence to a hurting world that you do love and care for all people. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
The foregoing sermon was given by Rev. Dan Holland at the United Parish of Bowie on June 26, 2011.
© 2011 Daniel Holland