Summary: A short talk for a midweek Communion calling upon local believers to pray for, work for and live for the complete unity that Jesus prayed for. Not uniformity (because we're all different) but UNITY, in Jesus.
Jesus prayed to his Heavenly Father for you.
On the night he was betrayed and arrested (John 18:2), after he had washed his disciples’ feet (13:5), Jesus prayed an important prayer for you as individuals, for us together, and for the worldwide body of believers. He prayed for future believers (17:20), praying ‘that all of them [all of us] may be one’ (17:21).
Does God answer prayer? Did God hear Jesus’ prayer? Has Jesus’ prayer that we would all be one been answered? Are we one? Are we together? As we look at the fractures that exist just in the Church of England do we think that Jesus’ prayer has been answered? As we think upon the fractures in the worldwide Anglican Communion as the Episcopal Church in the USA ordained an openly Lesbian Bishop last week, has Jesus’ prayer been answered?
And what of Church history – Reformation, Inquisitions, Heresy trials, Church splits and relationship breakdowns over doctrine and dogma – to what degree has Jesus’ prayer been answered?
Jesus prayed: “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you; may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (17:21). God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all part of the Godhead, but there is variety within their unity. The prayer of Jesus is not for totalitarian uniformity; but His prayer is for unity - and unity for a specific purpose.
Jesus prayed: “[Father] …May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (17:23). Jesus prayed for complete unity for us and for the whole Church. Not uniformity – not all looking the same, speaking the same, sounding the same.
Not uniformity – we’re not all going to have posh English accents, we’re not all going to enjoy organ music, and we’re not all going to enjoy listening to drums in Church because we’re different; but Jesus most certainly prayed for “complete unity” (17:23); and he prayed for complete unity in order that the world will see that God sent Jesus. Our unity with each other and with the whole Church is to reflect and personify the unity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – so that unbelievers will see and believe that God sent Jesus.
Jesus’ prayer for unity was a missionary prayer. I believe that when unity breaks out amongst believers in churches, in Teams, and across towns and cities, the prayer of Jesus is being answered. Human frailty, human independence and sin is the barrier and the cause of the fractures we see – so we can all be part of the prayer of Jesus being answered – by joining in with his prayer, and by being part of the answer.
What can we proactively do to promote genuine unity? Relationships are important. Unity is built up by eating together, worshipping together, studying the scriptures together, learning together, engaging in acts of service and acts of random kindness together, and by learning how to agree with Church doctrine (that is, the orthodox, traditional Christian faith as instructed by the Bible). Sometimes that will mean that we need to come to terms with what we believe and what we do. When our beliefs and our practices are at odds with the Bible, we need to ask God to so fill us with himself – with His Spirit – so that His will and His ways can have supremacy; so that we can be changed more and more into the likeness of Jesus. Jesus prayed: “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they [the disciples] know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (17:25-26).