The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Occasionally someone lets me know prayer isn’t working for them. I’ve learned that saying “Welcome to the club;” or “God may be saying, ‘no way’,” is very unhelpful. But think about Jesus’ prayer today as he prepares for his departure, according to John, “that they all will be one,” and the state of the modern church. Is this a prayer problem Jesus has with the Father, or our problem – as he addresses us as well?
A rural highway has three Baptist churches within 5 miles of each other. “The Friendship Baptist Church” was first. Unable to contain all their friendship, they split. A group goes east a mile or so and builds “The New Friendship Baptist Church.” Unity eludes them, too. They split. Another church gets built 4 miles west of the mother church, “The Greater Friendship Baptist Church” – such abundant fellowship in such a short distance.
Unity is a fragile concept for the disciples then and for the church now. Early on, outsiders noted of the early Christians, “My, how they love one another.” That didn’t last long. Arguments arose over Jesus’ nature, doctrines, scripture, how and who to baptize, who is welcome and who’s not. Is the problem with God, or us?
In a Bible Study once, a member announces, “All these Christian denominations are sinful. We’ll never be one church like Jesus wants.” To the world we must look pretty pitiful – fights, splits, name-calling, judgmental, exclusive. I asked her, “What would “one” look like – all think alike, worship alike, agree? What would we do if Pentecostals or fundamentalists decide to become one with us? We Episcopalians don’t take well to raucous worship or narrow mindedness. It’s probably good the church comes in different flavors. Seems Jesus’ take on unity is not top-down conformity.”
Jesus isn’t praying for us to worship alike, think alike, and agree on doctrine. After all he’s spent time as one of us, and knows human behaviors well. To Jesus being one is to participate in oneness of love he and the Father share. Unity is not a cozy, “every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” sentimental sort of indwelling. It’s a unity for the sake of the world, for those who are yet to believe and trust this Jesus stuff is for real. We can be in different denominations, believe differently, baptize differently, and structure ourselves differently. We are one by abiding in God’s love for Jesus, and Jesus for God, which embraces us – and sends us to love and restore all people – folks you may not like or agree with. It can be hard. It’s countercultural to the world. We, the many and different, embody together the oneness of the divine life.
How did you get here? Someone told you about Jesus. Chances are that person also embodied the life of Jesus to you in a way that awakened belief and trust. Love attracts. That’s Jesus’ prayer working its way through time. My dad’s father was a Baptist minister. Mom had a Lutheran pastor in her family. I am an Episcopal priest. As broken and divided as the Body of Christ may look, Jesus’ prayer is being answered. All three of my family’s pastors have been witnesses in differing voices of one relationship in Jesus’ love. We sometimes fail to embody it, maybe a lot of the time. We aren’t always attractive to others, because of how we treat them. That unites us as sinners, all in need of saving. God loves us all the same, and when we get that, we become one.
In the 4th Century John Chrysostom argued the world would come to belief and trust that God sent Jesus as others experience the transformed lives of his followers. That would be us. If we quarrel with and judge others, fight, gossip about and demean others, will they see Jesus’ love through us? Love is a choice we must make, and an action we embody to all people. When they experience love, God’s love, it’s called salvation, healing, new life – resurrection. Remember that the next time you speak to someone, or wonder how you’re to treat them. We are loved and cherished by God as we are, not as we aren’t or would like to appear. Jesus embraces us all into his outstretched arms on the cross. No other religion commands us to love our enemies, or those not like us, the way God so loves us.
In the 1940’s prior to desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement, a young black woman took her fiancé, studying to become a Baptist minister, to her church, an all-white Episcopal Church – his first visit. At Communion, he sees all these white folks drink from the same chalice with his future wife. He decides this church knows something about the gospel. He changed horses and became an Episcopal priest. The couple had a little boy. He grows up, and becomes an Episcopal priest, like his dad, and then a Bishop – And now, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.
Next time prayer may not be working for you, keep at faith and keep at it. Think of Jesus, praying for you, even now. That’s in his heart through history. Slowly but surely, his prayer is becoming reality: “That all may be one.” God answers his prayer through people like us. When we live from the one love Jesus and the Father share with us, others will see, believe and trust. Some of them may even join us. If we do our part, we might even be shepherds God sends and through us brings the lost sheep home. Think about that – “that we all may one in Christ.”