As promised, another two-for-one special! This post refers to Homily Service resources for the seventh Sunday of Easter, rather than Ascension of the Lord.
Those who will celebrate the Seventh Sunday of Easter will read a part of Jesus’s high priestly prayer from the Gospel of John, in which he prays that his followers may have among themselves the same sort of unity that exists between the persons of the Trinity. As I sit here in my office writing on May 5th (I expect to be exceptionally busy on May 14 when this blog will be published), the theme of the unity of believers frustrates me nearly to tears.
Why would the theme of the unity of believers frustrate me so much? Well, I am a United Methodist, and we have only just finished our General Conference, a quadrennial festival in which leaders of my denomination physically gather together in order to more effectively savage one another in the name of the God of love and the Prince of peace.
It is never a pretty sight, but this year’s gathering seemed particularly brutal. Perhaps this is because recent advances in technology made it possible to actually view the scene of the conflict. Perhaps it is because the United Methodist Church experiencing a time of profound change, and change usually frightens people, which leads them to behave badly.
Whatever the reason, there could be no better moment in the life of my particular plot in God’s vineyard to hear the prayer of Christ that we may all be one. In the Lent/Easter 2009 issue of Homily Service, Paul G. Bieber reminded readers that our unity is not an escape from a sinful and divisive world, but is situated entirely within it.
He prays for us. Listen to what he prays for: He prays to the Father to protect us, to sanctify us. What Jesus prays for, God gives.
Jesus prays the Father to protects us in this world. Not that we be taken out of the world, but that we be protected in it. “The world” doesn’t mean a place, but a way of being: the way of brokenness, rebellion, separation rom God, into which we humans have fallen. Jesus doesn’t ask the Father to take us out of that into some place of purity.
Instead, he prays that the Father might protect us in this broken world, so that in the very midst of that brokenness we might have unity, the same unity with God that Jesus knew, so that we might have the joy of Jesus made complete in ourselves. In the world, unity and joy are noble aspirations, but seldom realities, because when the world strives for unity it does so in worldly terms. Jesus prays for a different unity, a unity that comes from God. That unity, our sharing the unity of the Father and the Son, is the purpose of Jesus coming into the world.
How do you lead your congregation in maintaining its unity in the face of a divisive world?
Paul G. Bieber (2008): 24 May 2009 / Ascension Sunday / Easter 7, Homily Service, 42:2, 163.
Paul G. Bieber is the pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in San Diego, California.