Summary: 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.
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.