Several years ago, when I was working for a local lumber mill, the company had a contest where the employees were encouraged to come up with a slogan that portrayed the company’s mission. The slogan was to be used on all of the company’s promotional material. The winning entry was “Together We’re Better”, and it reflected the employees’ desire to work together to produce top-quality products.
Christianity can use the same motto, because together as Christians we can go a long way to fulfilling God’s call in our world. In order to do this, we need the power of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples that they would receive God’s power through the Holy Spirit, and in John 17:1-11, Jesus prays to the Father to send his power to all of Christianity through the Holy Spirit. Our definition of power is different from God’s definition of power. God’s definition of power is the ability to carry out a purpose-in this case, his work in the world. By coming together, we have even greater power.
The prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17:1-11 is known as the High Priestly prayer because Jesus offers prayers for himself, his apostles and followers-just like the High Priest offered prayers for people in the temple, and just like I do when I deliver the Prayers of the People during worship services. Something else that Jesus prayed was for unity. After his Ascension, the disciples were united in prayer. Unity exists through prayer. Jesus prayed for unity, and the disciples prayed together to draw upon the only source of power that they had before they received the Holy Spirit-prayer. Christ’s unity still exists today, as can be seen through the local ministerial association and the local food bank. In both cases, men and women from different denominations have come together to do God’s work in our community. Just think of how powerful our churches would be today if each and every one of us would pray constantly, devotedly, and with one mind!
We are also united through our common belief in eternal life. Eternal life is not reserved until we die; rather, it is something we can share now through Jesus. We receive eternal life the moment we have faith in Jesus and begin to have a relationship with him. We don’t just receive the gift of eternal life. We also have the privilege of having a vibrant, growing relationship with the Creator of all that exists. We receive this gift every week when we gather together to hear Jesus give glory to God by revealing God’s compassion, forgiveness, love and healing to us.
Jesus also prays for everyone who does his work in the world. He prays for us because he knows that the world will reject our message. The unity Jesus prays for will protect us from the grand predator-Satan. Our unity protects us-not some doctrinal purity or statements, not theology or worship. When Jesus prays for glory, he is asking for God’s presence to be felt throughout the world through our words, thoughts and deeds. Our purpose on earth is to glorify God. We must never give up in the face of persecution, because Jesus never gave up, even when he was on the cross. When he said “It is finished!” he was giving a strong affirmation that the work God gave him to do during his time on earth was now finished.
True life is all about knowing God and knowing Jesus. It is centered on our relationship with God, and that relationship comes through knowing Jesus. When Jesus prays for us, he is after something deep in us and in the heart of God.
Jesus did not pray that all believers would agree. The source of our unity is not in human structures or denominations such as Anglican, United, Baptist, Roman Catholic, etc. It is in Jesus Christ. Our unity gives us strength in difficult times, for there really is strength in numbers. It reminds me of some of the words in the song “United We Stand”. It was recorded in the late 1960s by a group called the Brotherhood of Man. The words I am thinking of are:
For united we stand
Divided we fall
And if our backs should ever be against the wall
We’ll be together, together, you and I
In order for our unity to be successful, we have to learn to work together in the things we are to do. People in this parish had to learn to work together when our two former parishes became one a few years ago. When we pray together and work together, it increases our capacity to do God’s work in our world.
Jesus’ High Priestly prayer proclaims our hope and certainty. Jesus and God have glorified each other. Jesus has come from the Father. We are embedded in Christ as Christ is embedded in the Father. We belong to God and are on our way to unity with him and with each other. Unfortunately in our world, divisions can and do happen, often with negative consequences. God gives himself to the godless so that he can receive them into divine communion through atonement, and we should do the same. We are to be one with each other just like Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit are one with each other.
When we divide people into categories of race, religion, sexual orientation or where they live, problems can occur. One only has to think of the Holocaust or genocides like those that took place in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and other places to see that this is true. It is also true in our own back yard. For example, years ago in the South Queens area, people were often shunned by others on the basis of the clubs they belonged to, the church they attended, or for other petty reasons. One personal story comes to mind. One day, in the village where my family lived before they moved to Liverpool, my father was in the post office picking up the mail when a lady came in and started talking to him. At one point she asked him which church he attended (which was not one of the two churches in this particular village). After he answered her question, she said, “Well!! That’s what I was afraid of!” She turned around and stormed out of the post office!
When we come together as one body, our prayers and deeds are a very potent force to be reckoned with. We speak to God when we pray, and in return he touches, embraces, shapes and changes us through the gifts he gives us. We are to use these gifts wisely and for the benefit of the world. Sometimes we have to ask for help, but when we work together, we glorify God with integrity, with devotion, and through service and the words we speak.
As children of God, we are united in one faith in a living God who has revealed himself to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are united in faith in Christ whose word fills us with faith. We are also united in faith in the Holy Spirit whose presence guides us through life. Although we are one in faith, we have to put that faith into action, especially by being one in service. It is in serving that our faith becomes real. When we serve one another, we serve Christ. He is the inspiration in our lives. He is the living example of faith in action. He is the Lord, the Master of our lives and the heartbeat of our faith-and that faith becomes real when we go forth as one in service.
For most people, life is about getting the most stuff, and that expresses the consumer mentality that our society has today. Unfortunately, this emphasis is empty, because no matter how much we have or what we buy, there’s someone out there with more stuff and better stuff. If we live for stuff and prestige, our life is hollow, empty and meaningless. It is like the story of the burglar who was arrested and brought before a judge for trial. He was found guilty, and before he was to be sentenced, the judge asked him if he had anything to say in his defence. The burglar said, “Well, Your Honour, it’s like this. The more a man has, the more a man wants”. The judge replied, “Is that so? Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to sentence you to 15 years in prison. How many more would you like?”
A couple of weeks ago, our rector delivered a speech at our Diocesan Synod after delegates debated and voted on a resolution asking the bishop of the Diocese to grant permission for a blessing of same-sex couples who have had civil marriages. While it is not my intention to enter the issue of same-sex marriages or blessings, some of his remarks are appropriate in light of my sermon today, and so I would like to close with some of the words from his speech. He said:
"We are a church in which divergent/opposing theologies are able to exist and stimulate each other when we focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ. Changes in the practices and theologies of our church do not necessarily mean that what has been important to us must be abandoned. We have a place for ideas and concerns that are different and we are able to hold the biblical and Christian ideal and the reality of a broken and damaged world in a dynamic tension from which all sides should be able to witness to the love and saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is at the core of our Christian Faith and our Anglican tradition."
We can’t convert the world from its emphasis on self to a life in Christ unless we are united in purpose-unless we love one another. When we ignore the will of God in order to have our own way, the result is discord and disunity. Unity begins with us. We have to be proactive. We have to pull together. We have to keep going. We may never achieve 100 % unity, but if we work toward it, we will be going in the right direction. If we stand together, we can withstand the fiercest elements the world throws at us.