In recent weeks, I have been looking at the research on––especially interviews with––people who consider themselves to be “spiritual but not religious.” One of the many critiques such people have about the Christian Church is that we are judgmental not only about non-church people but about each other. What is the point, they ask, of belonging to an organization so filled with hostility?
The stakes are high regarding Jesus’ prayer that we “all be one,” because our disunity unmasks the unjustifiable self-righteousness that keeps creating religious antagonism.
Taking Jesus’ prayer for our unity to heart on this Sunday, let us preach a vision that moves beyond pet theological stances. Let us lift up the ways in which churches are working together in mission and in scholarly understandings because of our unity in Christ.
From the perspective of God’s love for this world in Christ Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, we have a strong and stable common ground on which to stand for the sake of the life of the world.
In the years since Christ's return to heaven, many divisions have crept into his church. Perhaps this is the very reason that Christ felt compelled to pray for the future generations that would be entrusted with practicing the faith and telling the story. It is quite possible that he knew how difficult it would be for us to all get along.
Signs of improving unity among various traditions within the church abound; numerous agreements and statements of concord have been drafted among representatives of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox Catholic, and Protestant churches in recent years.
Unfortunately, some of our worst divisions are within our own traditions—Baptists versus Baptists, Episcopalians versus Episcopalians, Catholics versus Catholics, and so forth. Perhaps there is no better time for us to return to the prayer of Jesus. . . .
Jesus invokes the love of the Father for the Son—a love that he has sought to share with his disciples—as the basis for living a life pleasing to God. – John P. Fairless
The unity we are called to work toward includes not only the churches but those the church is called to serve. We might continually ask ourselves the question put to us by Burton-Edwards:
In the name of Jesus, Paul and his companions confront economic and spiritual systems in Philippi, sing hymns to God, and behold God setting prisoners and a jailer free. How does the ministry of your congregation confront unjust primal forces of your culture and set captives and captors free? – Taylor Burton-Edwards
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
When asked by Christians, “Don't you think we're living in the last days?” my answer is. “Of course we are!” But my answer is not based on current events or speculative obscurities in apocalyptic prophecy, but on the clear promise of scripture. . . . Because Jesus has overcome the powers of darkness in his death and resurrection, because he ascended to rule with the Father and has poured out his Spirit on the church, because these things have happened, the last days are upon us. . . .
Our character in this age is to be shaped by the knowledge that “everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We can no longer live in the idolatry of thinking that our job or our weekly paycheck is our source of security and comfort, because Jesus reveals a God who claims that role in life. . . .
The final words of Revelation offer three invitations. The first two invite the Spirit and church together to cry for the return of the Bridegroom. To establish righteousness, justice and peace. The third invitation is to the world: “let everyone who is thirsty come: take the water of life as a gift” (22:17). . . .
In this vision, the Spirit-indwelt church calls out to both Christ and to the world. This is the mission of God's people: to gather in the Spirit as the holy bride of Christ—an open sign to the world of the world that is yet to come. By living and worshiping as the “end times” people of God, we are able to call out to the world: Come, drink freely of the water of life! – Michael A. Van Horn
Taylor Burton-Edwards is the Director of Worship resources for the United Methodist Church.
John P. Fairless is senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Florida.
Michael A. Van Horn, an Evangelical Covenant pastor, served Trinity Church of Livonia, Michigan, for ten years and is now a missionary with the Rock of Ages Ministries, Cleveland, Tennessee.
Homily Service 40, no. 6 (2007): 29-36.