Summary: Unity can only be achieved through genuine Christian love and its three essential qualities: 1. Mutual concern 2. Mutual contact 3. Mutual contribution
In the early days of World War II, Germany bombed England unmercifully. The British teetered near defeat as German planes dropped tons of bombs on London. The people of London urged the Queen Mother to send her children to safety in Canada. She replied by saying, “The children cannot go unless I go, and I will not go without the King, and the King will not go!” Is it any wonder that England held on? Is it any wonder that they survived? Is it any wonder that they won? That terrible war welded the British together so strongly that it helped them to keep going in spite of the terrors of war.
The prayer Jesus prays in our Gospel reading this morning is one of inclusion and unity. He prays for three things. First, he prays that he will be restored to the glory he had before incarnation. Second, he prays for the disciples. Third, and most important for my homily this morning, he prays for the people who will be converted by the disciples.
Our Lord wanted his people to come together in unity, and he still does. The church today is sometimes divided along social and theological issues such as same sex marriages, the ordination of homosexual clergy, and even the ordination of women. Christ’s objective or goal was unity. He used military-style tactics:
1. He set an objective of uniting his followers
2. He used a strategy of creating a family, a family life, a shared life so that men and women all over the world, by becoming by new life members of that life, are so filled with joy and warmth that other people see it, long for it, and long to join it.
3. He used the tactic of creating a new commandment-“Love one another as I have loved you”
In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus prays for the success of his followers’ work in the world. By stating that he is part of the Father’s oneness, Jesus makes himself equal to God. Jesus and God are united in will, in power, in loving intent for humankind, in commitment to salvation, and in mercy that endures forever.
Are we also united in one? Do we talk about “we” or do we talk in terms of “us and them”? The passive tense used in the Gospel reading shows that it is God who is perfecting us into our oneness with him. It is more appropriate to talk about the church acting or witnessing as one rather than being one. The primary purpose of our existence is for us as one body to be effective in our witness to the world. The fulfillment of this prayer is not up to us. The Holy Spirit continues to bless us with unity. Jesus prays for the success of our witness
A good example of unity is the unity of our local churches-whether it is through the local association of churches, the local ministerial association, or the amalgamation of several churches in various denominations. Unfortunately, there are still some people who have an “us versus them” attitude. It is a sad example of the divisions that exist in Christianity today. The old attitudes will not work in the new reality that exists today. They need to be thrown out like we throw out our household garbage. A change in attitude won’t happen overnight. It will take time.
God loves diversity, yet he calls us to be one. If we have Christ’s love, we can love one another and the world can see how much God loves them. Unity is often missing because although Christians seek to be one with Christ, they refuse to be one with another. Unity in Christ means that we must give up something of ourselves. Every church says it wants to grow, but what that usually means is that the church wants more people to come in and support the church that has been created according to the wants and tastes of its current congregation. We want our church to grow while staying the same. That’s not likely in today’s world where change is the order of the day, nor is it in keeping with what Jesus told us to do-“As the Father sent me, so I send you”.
We are all connected; however, we must not let being connected with God become bogged down in our rituals. If being “one” means conforming to a set of rules, some people soon become uncomfortable. When the rules are broken or when they change, others feel excluded, especially when we are used to having a particular minister or lay reader lead the services and he or she is replaced by another minister or lay reader. Our rituals must be adapted to the changing circumstances of our world. We must not think that the world will adapt to us, or that it should at least acknowledge the heritage of our presence.