Summary: Jesus prays for the unity of his disciples so that the world might know and experience the love and unity of God the Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.
Last week, we took a look at some of Jesus' last teachings to the disciples. He knew the time was drawing near that he would return to the Father, and he wanted to offer some final instructions to his closest followers. Now this week, with that same preparation still going on, Jesus here offers a prayer for his disciples. Though his loyal disciples stand with him as he prays this prayer, it is really a prayer of unity for all disciples in all times and all places. Obviously, with Jesus actually praying for the unity of his disciples, we can discern that this was supremely important to him. So, with Mother's Day as our backdrop this morning, we are going to explore Jesus' prayer for unity.
When you all think of your Mother, what comes to mind? Just throw out some words or phrases that pop in your head as great descriptions of your Mom. (pause) Loving, caring, hard-working, smart, devoted, funny, strict, a good cook. Or to be more specific to our topic this morning, here are some other words that come to mind: mediator, strong, the "glue" that holds the family together. Now certainly, there are countless instances in this world where relationships within families are less than positive in many ways. But I believe that most of the time, our first experiences of unity come through our families, with our mothers right at the helm, holding everyone and every thing together.
Just think of all the ways your mother, or grandmother, or aunt, or some other special woman in your life was busy holding the family together the best she could day in and day out. Certainly there was the cooking and the cleaning and the laundry. But she was also probably refereeing fights between you and your siblings on a regular basis--trying to keep you from ripping each other's heads off. She pushed you harder when you came home with bad grades, and comforted you when you fell off your bike. Maybe she was even the one behind getting everyone to church on Sunday morning. Then there were those times in your life perhaps, when you started rebelling against your parents, or you just couldn't do anything right. Yet, somehow, no matter how bad things got, no matter how terribly you treated that special woman who worked so hard to raise you, she never gave up on you, and she certainly never stopped loving you.
The unity for which Jesus prays here is founded on shared love. This is the kind of self-giving love seen in the life of Jesus. It’s also the kind of love we first experience most tangibly in our families. This mutual and reciprocal love is the kind of love that is as much a decision and choice as it is a feeling. It is the kind of love that can be commanded, love that is sometimes easy and graceful, and sometimes more about making a conscious decision to love another, even when it seems undeserved. This is the love that keeps loving without reservation, through all the rebellion and rejection, through every hill and valley of life. And here, Jesus prays that his disciples will be united by such love.
I think we can quickly begin to understand why Jesus offered this prayer. In the midst of his final extended conversation with his disciples, Jesus pauses to pray that they will be one with each other and one with God. And I think the reason Jesus prayed this prayer instead of just lecturing the disciples about the importance of unity is the fact that it doesn’t come easy. Unity is not something that just happens. It takes work; hard work. It’s founded in that unconditional, sacrificial love, and it requires grace, and forgiveness, and compassion. And all the division in our world today evidences the fact that unity is so hard to achieve!
Just think for a moment about all the stories of division that fill the news everyday. Even the Christian community in this country and around the world is divided. We’re divided by race and creed and denomination; and that’s just the beginning. We’re the ones who actually know Jesus and claim to follow him! The difficulties of maintaining Christian unity are mirrored in divisions throughout the world. Every day people dishonor their own vows of commitment to one another, if not abandoning them all together. Relationships with family and friends are severed. On a larger scale, religion, politics, and hot-button issues divide our society. In fact, the divisions are so deep you could probably throw out any topic in a crowd and hear at least two differing viewpoints defended with equal fervor.
And isn’t that why there are so many divisions to begin with? Because it’s so much easier to be right than wrong. Because we’d rather “stand our ground” and “stick to our guns” than open ourselves up to other possibilities. There’s something innate about humanity. We crave power and control. We don’t want to have to admit that we’re wrong. We don’t want to have to change. We don’t want to have to put any effort into anything that will benefit someone else but not us. We don’t want to have to agree with people we don’t agree with, or love people we don’t like. So instead, everyone just “digs in their heels”, and doesn’t budge, and as a result, we get stuck at all these divisive impasses. We spend all our energy trying to maintain our perceived position of superiority instead of trying to reach a place of common ground. We say to ourselves, “It would be easy for everyone to live in reciprocal love and unity if only everyone would follow the rules that I lay down!” This “my way or the highway” mentality pervades every part of our lives, and disrupts every part of our life together. We certainly need Jesus’ prayers for unity.