One in the Lord = Love ALL

May 17, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The 7th Sunday of Easter 
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19

(Gospel text is provided at the bottom of this post)

 

we-are-christians-loveWe are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

This song has occupied my thoughts for the past several weeks. I chose it as the theme song for our Urban Adventure weekend earlier this month. And at the risk of making a shameless plug, you can find out more about how this song mirrored our experience that weekend when you read the cover story in the June Communiqué.

And even though that weekend is behind us, this song keeps coming to mind. It’s even managed to push out the ever-insistent refrain of “Uptown Funk,” though I’ll admit I’m working on some new lyrics for that: Christ Church Faith-you-up, Christ Church Faith-you-up. Say what? But, that’s for another time.

It’s not really surprising that the lyrics “We are one in the Spirit” and the refrain “They will know we are Christians by our love” continue to resonate with me. These same themes have been integral to our gospel lessons in recent weeks, and again today.

At this time in the Easter season, we’re exploring scenes when Jesus was with his disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion. He’s been preparing them for what’s coming next – his departure. He talks a lot about ABIDING together – just as the branches must abide in the vine, the disciples must abide in Jesus in order to bear fruit – they are one in the spirit and one in Jesus.

And in order to abide in Jesus and bear fruit, they are called to follow his commandment – the commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved them; has loved us. He contends that in doing this, they will know we are Christians by our love.

In last week’s reading, we also saw a shift in the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. He said that he would no longer call them servants, but friends. And, with friendship comes a relationship of mutuality, intimacy, responsibility and choice.

Now, in today’s gospel reading, we hear Jesus praying to the Father on behalf of the disciples. He’s affirming that the disciples’ belief is full. They understand who Jesus is, not just because they saw signs and wonders – changing water into wine, the feeding of 5000, even walking on water – but they understand who Jesus is more deeply than that.

They have heard his message of oneness with the Father and through it Jesus has revealed God’s love in a deeper way. God’s love isn’t about following rules, but about seeing the value of each person – the poor, those who struggle with afflictions, those previously seen as outsiders, including those who believe and worship God differently.

For a group of followers whose religious tradition was all about being separate, this inclusion thing was pretty radical stuff. Not only that, it doesn’t come naturally.  It takes work to include people that think, act, and believe differently than we do.

I experienced this feeling just a couple of days ago while attending a funeral at a Roman Catholic church. Both their bulletin and the verbal invitation to communion made it clear that only those who are baptized Catholics in good standing were to receive communion, which I expected. This isn’t unusual. But what I appreciated was that the invitation also invited any and all to come forward to receive a blessing.

Even so, I had a little bit of an internal struggle about whether I’d go forward or not. I certainly respect their right to decide who can and can’t receive communion, even if our tradition and my personal beliefs differ from theirs. But, as I considered what I would do, I appreciated the offer of a blessing and I wanted to receive one, so I went forward.

Now, I have to admit that as I approached, wearing my clericals, with my arms dutifully crossed over my chest, I had an underlying hope that there’d be some subtle acknowledgment of my being a priest – but there wasn’t. Even so, I received the blessing as promised, and it was good.

As I returned to my pew and knelt in prayer, I realized more deeply the challenge of loving others as Jesus loved us. You see, Jesus’ love has no conditions. It’s a love that doesn’t make room for the possibility of not-loving. His love is about unity above all else.

communityThe Rev’d Dr. Thomas Weiser of the World Council of Churches wrote an article about community, in which he spoke of the universal unity Jesus hoped to bring into the world. The article began by reminding us that community forms as a result of people being over-against other people. Consequently, there are insiders and outsiders based on the norms of a community. Those who don’t comply are excluded or expelled, often violently.

Using the context of the New Testament, we would see this in terms of the Jews vs. Samaritans; or the tax collectors and sinners vs. the Pharisees.

srceBut, Weiser contends, and I agree, that the universality of Jesus’ love, and God’s love – what makes it so radical – is that it doesn’t buy into that dynamic. Weiser asserts that Jesus’ call for unity is “counter-world” because “it must never close itself off over-against any part of humanity, it must be a unity without limits. Unity in Christ, grounded in the unity of the Father and the Son, can only be universal or else it falls back into the unity of violence based on exclusion and expulsion.” [i]

So, in this prayer that Jesus prays, he calls for that shift to happen in the disciples. And, although they are still in the world, they are to act differently than the world acts. The prayer says:

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world… As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

When we hear “the evil one” in the Bible, it’s fairly common to think of the devil. Interestingly, the word devil shares the same root as the word divide. Being divided is counter to God. We see the example in the oneness of the Father and the Son. It is this same connectedness and oneness that is shared with the disciples and with us.

The goal is unity, not division.

The prayer goes on, beyond what we heard today, and says in part:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one… (Jn 17:20-21)

So, this prayer is not just for the disciples, not just a hope for a group of followers 2000 years ago, but is for all who believe through their word, and the word of all who have followed. It is for you and for me. A prayer and a hope that we will imitate the unity we see between the Father and the Son. Not one of competition and division, but one of mutuality and perpetual love.

we_are_one_in_the_spiritAbiding together – We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And, if others believe or practice their tradition differently, if they understand God differently, we continue to love them, and WE don’t make room for the possibility of not-loving so that we may become completely one.

Bringing about the Kingdom of God is bringing this unity into the world. A radical idea in this divided world where everything and everyone is pitted over-against the other. The challenge is to not take the bait.

Our call is to include all, even those who don’t look, act, or believe the way we do. We are all made by God and loved by God. Christ lived and brought life to all people, and invites us to love all people as he loved us.

This is what differentiates us as Christians – how we love. Sing with me:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord

And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,

Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

 

Gospel Text:

Looking up to heaven, Jesus prayed, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (Jn 17:6-19) 

 

 

[i] Thomas Weiser, “Community: Its Unity, Diversity and Universality,” Semeia no.33, 1985, 83-95. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 11, 2015).

2 Responses to “One in the Lord = Love ALL”

  1. Ed Vidal said

    But what about John 7:6-19 and Matthew 7:13-14? Repent so that you may live!

    • Hi Ed, I understand repentance as turning toward God, and believe that walking the narrow path is easier when we are facing toward God – to keep us from being distracted by our human nature, that constantly tries to divide us. I am not seeing the connection with the John 7:6-19, but the verse just before your Matthew reference says “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the law and the prophets.” This is at the center of working toward unity and loving others as Jesus loves us. When we do that, our life is a richer and more peaceful life.
      Thanks for sharing this journey!

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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