That they may be one.Â
Easter 7, Common Lectionary Year A
Â©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones
Itâ€™s on the Crest of the United Church, â€œEt omnes unum sintâ€ That they may be one. Not merely the high hopes of an ecumenical dream in 1925, when the United Church of Canada was formed out of the union of Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Methodists of Canadaâ€™s vast land, thisÂ motto, this maxim, this prayer, has its origin in the Gospel passage we just read.
As Rod indicated, a good way to read this Gospel passage is to see it as Jesusâ€™ â€œLast lectureâ€ â€“ a phenomenon that went viralÂ in 2007, when Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, dying of pancreatic cancer, used the academic tradition of delivering a last lecture, to gift his children and students with the parting words of a father and mentor, wisdom distilled words to live by to fulfill their own potential.
So too with these chapters of Johnâ€™s Gospel, Jesusâ€™ own culminating, parting, legacy, words. Although couched as a prayer addressed to God, it is, as one commentator wryly remarks, one of those prayers uttered loud enough for others to hear, and take note. Rather like my Grandmaâ€™s dinner grace, often said with a gusty sigh, â€œBless this table, bless this food, bless these children, make them good.â€
So, what is this last lecture/prayer of Jesus? Not so easy. God and Jesus, it seems, have developed a prayer language only they understand. All the stuff about â€œ glorify me, Iâ€™ll glorify you, mine is yours and yours is mineâ€ is so-called â€œJohannine Christologyâ€ that leaves plenty of scholars in the dark, let alone the rest of us. Itâ€™s the lastÂ 10 words of Jesusâ€™ prayer, the words on our crest, that capture our attention today as we celebrate the 89th birthday of the United Church, and the 115th anniversary of the start of this congregation. â€œThat they may be one, as we are one.â€
Forgive me if I get right to the point, not beat about the bush, but really? The history of Christianity shows that Jesusâ€™ last prayer has been honoured in the breach more than the observanceâ€¦. at last count the worldâ€™s 2. 18 billion Christians are not â€œoneâ€, but divided into 41,000 identifiable Christian denominations.Â Thatâ€™s both mind-boggling, and disturbing. Itâ€™s a clear sign that although collectively 32% of the worldâ€™s population professes some faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ, we have fallen far short of his prayer and hope that we be, â€œOne in the Spirit, One in the Lord.â€
Being one, as God in Christ is one, has proven to be so difficult, as we see ChristiansÂ not merely divided, but openly hostile to one another over politics, social ethics, scripture, vestments, sacraments, bread and wine, women in ministryâ€¦. the list goes on from the sublime to the ridiculous.
If we reduce the field of our vision just to our own denomination, this United Church of Canada, we can see just how fraught with difficulty it has ever been to fulfil Jesusâ€™ prayerful dream. At time of Union, there were many who simply could not imagine a marriage of Presbyterian with Methodist, the dream was only partially fulfilled. Since then weâ€™ve faced fracture over pacifism, and gender justice, the interpretation of Scripture and the place ofÂ LGBT people in lay and ordered ministry.
No wonder it has taken the prayer of Jesus to hold us together!
And thatâ€™s the real key to this. It takes prayer. To be one, to be united in common purpose and mission takes more than we can muster through strategies, and plans of Union. New planning and strategies for being the United Church in the 21st century wonâ€™t succeed based on discussion documents and deliberations alone. For all we want them to be, those are not the means of our unity at all. They are merely the consequences of a prayer,Â prayed by none less than the Son of God, to which we must add, with open hands and hearts, our fervent â€œAmen.â€
It takes prayer, and it takes vision. Itâ€™s taken me a while to see thisâ€¦. The prayer is â€œthat they may be oneâ€, The vision, is tagged on at the end, easily missed, â€œas we are one.â€
What sort of holy imagination does it take to see, what Jesus meant by â€œas we are oneâ€?
Can we begin to imagine that? God â€“ known to us through the life of Jesus â€“ compassion, passionate piercing of evilâ€™s disguises, justice embodied in healing, and prayer and feasting at the banquet of grace â€¦. God â€“ Creator,Â known to us in spider web and an expanding universe, God- beyond our capacity to imagine billions of light years, billions of stars, billions of microbes, billions of water droplets coalescing into icebergs, rain showers, sweat on a human brow, water of the womb? God â€“ known to us as inspiration, the gut-stirring compulsion to acts of courage, or mercy, or kindness, Spirit- inspired music to stir soul, art that makes us gasp, drama, theatre, groundswell of just outrage, and genius at play in the playground of creationâ€¦.. All this and more, contracted to four simple words â€œAs we are one.â€
Jesusâ€™ prayer that we be one, just like thatâ€¦.! Now thatâ€™s so pie in the sky, it can only be the dream of God!
Itâ€™s a tall order, for I dare say until we manage to be captivated by this holy imagining of what being one as God is one might be like for us, our efforts will be the fractured and fractiousÂ failures of unity that have plagued the planet for so long.
But if we can, say Amen to the prayer, and if we can imagine, just for a nanosecond being one, as God in all Godâ€™s vast, beautiful, intricacy is one, thenâ€¦ well, thenâ€¦â€¦ Just imagineâ€¦.!
 Pew Forum on Religion and PublicÂ Life 2010,Â Centre of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Seminary, cited on About.com accessed May 29, 2014.