John 17:20-26 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,[a] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 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. 24 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.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 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.”
I have a confession to make. I swapped lectionary readings. I know. It’s terrible. I’m supposed to read them in the order the Lectionary Committee put them. But it just seemed to me like they were in the wrong order this year . . . today is the beginning of Christian Family week, and this passage seems to me to be about Christian Family, while next week’s reading from Acts seems like a very Mother’s Day kind of event.
I promise, when they come back around three years from now I won’t mess with the order. . . probably. :-)
According to John, Jesus prayed to God that his disciples, his followers, might all be made one. He made that request three times in one short passage. Let them be made one, so that the whole world will know that you love them as you love me and as I love them. Three times he repeated that same phrase - Let them be made one.
Throughout scripture there are a few common themes that run from the very beginning of time up through the teachings of the Apostles after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. One of them is teach your children about God. Another is treat everyone equally - treat your household well, but also treat everyone else well, especially those who have no one to take care of them. It goes along with “love one another.” God keeps trying to tell us that what we are supposed to do is love each other the way God loves us - without difference or distinction, without favorites. So Jesus, whose message is simply a restatement and reiteration of what we find written in the Law and the Prophets, tries to pass along that teaching to his disciples, and thus down the line to us.
Let these all be made one. You may remember from your reading of Scripture that the disciples had been known to squabble a bit over rank and precedence. Who will sit next to you, Lord? Can it be me? The Gospel according to John even goes so far as to speak of one disciple in particular whom Jesus loved more than the others. Most scholars agree that he is talking about himself, although a few radicals seem to think he may have been talking about Mary Magdalene. But I digress into scholarly discourse, which, while fun, doesn’t really have a lot to do with my point, which is . . . . Jesus tried to instill in his disciples, in anyone who would listen to him, that all are equal in God’s eyes, that what they are truly required to do is love God and love one another. He tried to teach them all that the fisherman is equal to the Pharisee is equal to the leper is equal to the Levite is equal to the prostitute is equal to the priest is equal to the robber is equal to the rabbi. . . and so on through the alphabet. This was such a radical idea for the time that no one really got it.
Paul also tried to make this point, more than once. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” When he wrote to the Church in Colossi, he changed it up a bit, saying, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.” He spent a good portion of his time trying to convince the churches he founded that Jews and Gentiles were all the same in God’s eyes, and even more time trying to remind them that the rich and the poor were also the same. Don’t give the rich the favored seats while leaving the poor to stand in the back. Don’t let the rich stuff themselves when you gather while the poor go hungry. Either share everything equally or no one eat. but over and over Paul kept saying that in Christ we are all equal, all one, all the same. All means All. . . He even has to break up arguments over which of the spiritual gifts are more important. I mean, really. He had to tell the folks in Corinth, “You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. . . All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they? 30 All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they?”
In the Acts of the Apostles we are told that everyone shared everything - all the food and all the property and everything they had. Of course, we have a hard time believing that because a minute later Ananias and Sapphire are struck dead for withholding some of the proceeds of a land sale, and shortly after that there is a disagreement over whether the Hebrew widows and the Greek widows are receiving equal treatment in the distribution of food. All of which just goes to prove that people are the same now as they were then . . . We are really not good at being equal.
And yet - we are family. We are the human family. We are the Christian family. We don’t get to wonder whether someone is a better Christian than we are, or whether they even are Christian because some of their beliefs and practices differ from ours. We may have difficulty understanding or even accepting each other, but Jesus told us that we need to all love each other. Jesus prayed to God to allow us to be made one, so that the world would know that his message is from God, that he came from God, that we are people of God.
We are not succeeding at proving that to the world. I shared a meme on Facebook the other day that says, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
Let them be made one, that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. It’s not working. We aren’t doing it right. We are not behaving like family. At least, not like the kind of family Jesus had in mind.
Look, I understand family dysfunction. When those memes come around on Facebook asking everyone to “share this if you had the best Mother in the world,” I don’t share. Or, “share this if your sister is your best friend.” Not so much. Same with cousins - I don’t even know where my cousins are! I sometimes envy all of you with your whole families right here in Selma or in one of the nearby towns. My closest family members are in Texas - my niece and her mother.
But I do have family. I have a church family. Last night, after his recital, Christian was shedding tears of gratitude for his Church family, and I was right there with him. Because even though I may not have a close blood family, I do have people in my life I have met through Church who have become closer than any sister, dearer to me than any cousin, more important to my spiritual welfare than my mother. There are people in that family with whom I disagree, but we still love each other. There are people in that family who have caused me pain, and to whom I have caused pain, and we forgive one another. If push came to shove we would be there for one another. My Christian family is the kind of family who will go to the very limits of their abilities and beyond to help one another.
Now, there are some branches of that Christian family that I just don’t understand, I may never understand, and I have to wonder how on earth we are related.
And then I remember - we are related through Christ Jesus. So even though we disagree, even though some of them preach and live in a way I find difficult to understand, we are still family. Some of them seem to go out of their way to be as un-Christ-like as is possible, sowing hatred instead of love. Some seem not to have heard the love commandment at all, or perhaps they simply interpret the word “love” much differently than I do. I find myself saying things like, “Yeah, well, I’m not like them. I’m an entirely different kind of Christian . . .” And the world judges us, me and you, and certainly Christ’s church, by the example they see in those.
But the thing is, I don’t get to disown them, like I could blood family, because we are related through Christ Jesus. Because All really does mean All - and we are supposed to be all one. We can, and must, show the world that we are one, Christian family. A family with differences and dysfunctions, certainly, but still, one family. Just as we would seek to repair damages caused by members of our biological family to others, so we must do the same when others are damaged by parts of our Christian Family. We must reach out with even more energy and even more love, to show the world the love that God showers upon us - and to our Christian brothers and sisters with whom we disagree, to remind them that we are, indeed, all family in Christ, all with the one, same goal to heal the world.
When we leave this place, today, let us go out with determination to mend the rift within our family, within Christ’s family. Let us go out with love and conviction, to share his love with the world, but especially with those members of the Christian family with whom we may not disagree, so that we may, indeed, be made one. In Christ’s name. Amen.