Thoughts on the Word:
John 17:20-26 (NRSV)
‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 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. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 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.’
In today’s Gospel reading we are looking at what is known as Jesus’ high priestly prayer. It is a prayer of intercession, where Jesus calls for the unity of believers, unity with each other and unity with God. He prays for a unity of believers which will be a beacon to the world – to show the love of God, and draw the world into belief also. Today we will look at what this prayer means for us, as members of the church – a church that in many respects is far from united.
Since I first became a Christian, around 11 years ago, I have continually puzzled over one thing. It is not any matter of doctrine or dogma, rather it is a behaviour. There is among many Christians a striking hypocrisy in how we behave. We as a group of believers preach tolerance, we preach love, and yet all too often we display high levels of intolerance – not just to those who are outside our faith, but to those within it who we have disagreements with over doctrinal or structural matters.
Throughout the history of Christianity the church has often been its own worst enemy. There were splits and arguments raging in the church within 100 years of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, indeed even the apostles argued amongst themselves about who was greater, and this has been going on ever since.
Most of us will be familiar with the big moments of schism in the church – the great schism was the first large scale one, when the Eastern Orthodox Churches split away from Rome in the 11th Century, and then of course we had the reformation in the 16th century, which while started for noble and worthwhile reasons, has led to more and more splits, more and more infighting. So much so that we now have the Eucharist – the central form of Christian worship and fellowship since the beginning of the church 2000 years ago – being refused to, or not being accepted by, people who are a part of the same denomination.
This is not the faith community that Jesus prayed for in our Gospel reading today. It is not a community that is one, that is united in its faith, ministry and love. So what are we to do then? Should we declare the church a failure? Should we walk away from our faith and hope in Jesus because of what the world sees as our failure as a corporate group to live according to Jesus’ prayer?
Or should we rather look ever closer at his words, and seek all the more to follow him? You see our inability to date to live as one, united undivided Christian community is not a reason to doubt our faith in Christ, rather it is a clear sign of the fallen and weak human nature. That fallen and weak human nature that leads us to rebel against our creator through sin, also leads us to rebel against each other. Our failure and our weakness is the reason that Jesus came in the first place, and he gives us a model in his high priestly prayer, for how we can move ever closer to the unity of faith, hope and love that he so desires for all of us.
Central to Jesus’ prayer is the idea that we as the faithful will be one with God. Jesus prays that we might be one ‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us’. These are striking words, what does Jesus mean that we should be in him? He means brothers and sisters that we are called to complete faith and obedience. We are called to become one with the Trinity – we are called into its glory, its majesty and its love. However to become one with the Trinity, we must lose ourselves.
The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is not three separate Gods, but rather one God, made up of three persons, who share one substance. They are interdependent, the Trinity is one because it is always and at all times one in mind, in purpose and will. Jesus’ prayer was that we too would enter into this relationship – that we too would become one in mind, purpose and will with God. That, brothers and sisters is the first and only step to the church being united, we must each hand over our own desires, and be prepared to become one with the will of God.
We have seen this love, and submission to the will of God displayed in the church over the millennia, and we still see it displayed today. We see it in the church’s unity with the poor, through our outreach bodies such as Anglicare, Vinnies, and the Salvos. We see it through those who strive for ecumenism, who seek a re-unified Christian faith. We see it exemplified for us through the lives of saints and martyrs past and present. We inside the church see the good, we see the love, we know the gift to the world that the church is and can be. However, our unity remains incomplete, we so often still focus on our own lives, and on our own egos. What we must do is seek to build on that unity with the Trinity that we see in our welfare groups, we need to build on the unity and support we provide each other in our small groups, bible studies and pastoral care groups.
It sounds simple enough, after all we all proclaim to have faith in Jesus as the living son of God, who was raised from the dead. Yet I fear, we fail to take this truly into our hearts. Jesus was scourged, he was beaten, he was spat on, and mocked. He had nails driven through his hands and feet, and was hung on a cross. At any time he could have called on a legion of Angels to rescue him from this painful humiliating death, and yet he did not.
So great is his love for us that he endured it all; so great is his love that he died on that cross; So great is his love that he rose again, and conquered the grave for all of us. Through his death and resurrection we are set free, and are invited to receive eternal life. We are invited to become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and experience the love of God first hand by entering a relationship of unity with Jesus.
Yet so often we continue to live as citizens of this world, we continue to focus on our own desires, rather than seeking to live in unity with the will of God. We are called by the will of God to live out the same love displayed by Jesus on that cross. A selfless, sacrificial love for each other. Through this oneness with Jesus’ love we can display to the whole world God’s love for them. We can be the ambassadors of the hope, love and peace of God to a world that is hurting. All we need to do is live as Jesus prayed we would. All we need to do is say to the father, Just as Jesus did that night in Gethsemane, ‘not my will, but yours’.
All who place themselves at the will of God, and become united in this way with the trinity, also become united with each other. All who seek only to serve the creator, and not their own desires are one – and the world will see this also. When we are doing the will of God, there is no infighting, there is no bickering and bigotry. If we each turn to the will of God, we cease to be seen by the world as hypocrites that preach tolerance and love, but fight amongst ourselves, and we are seen instead as those who have a genuine love, for God, for each other and for the world.
So brothers and sisters, we are faced with a decision. Do we as the church continue as we have for two thousand years, as a home of the love of God on earth, which is tarnished through the pursuit of our own desires? Do we continue to allow the world see us as hypocrites who are busy fighting amongst ourselves over trivialities?
Or do we build on the unity of faith and love that Jesus calls us to? That unity and faith that we know exists in the Christian community, but which is hidden from the world when we place our own egos first. All it takes to find the full unity that Jesus prays for in today’s Gospel, is for each of us as individuals to make the decision to place ALL of our faith in Jesus. We can build a church of unity one person at a time, we can each make the decision to place our own self under the mind, will and purpose of God.
For everyone who makes that choice the love and will of God will manifest all the stronger on this earth. For everyone who makes that choice the love of God will be displayed, and the World will come to know the love of God, displayed through us and our faith in the one he sent.
‘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.’