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Sunday 2 June 2019

 

Unity: I loving you and you loving me
John 17:20-26

 

By Delroy Hall

Bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy. A pastor from August 1994 until July 2018, who still ministers in various capacities. Chaplain for Sheffield United Football Club.

 

Context: a Black Majority congregation in the North of England, that comprises many from the Caribbean Windrush generation, with first, second, third and fourth generation black British offspring as active worshippers. The congregation is showing signs of other ethnic groups becoming established worshippers.

Aim: to remind the congregation that Jesus’ prayer on unity was not just for his time alone, but for all of us in the 21st century. We cannot avoid the responsibility as we allow the Spirit of Christ to live in us.

 

What an amazing prayer. Shooting through centuries and transcending culture, ethnicity, history and all other ‘isms’ and human invention Jesus’ prayer grabs our attention as unity is needed more now than ever before.

 

Context

Let us recall the context of this prayer. The Roman Empire was in charge of things and they were expanding, a form of ancient globalisation. It was a society characterised by violence, with God’s people under oppression, great opulence and spirituality, but not spirituality anchored in the true and living God. On reflection, one might consider, have times changed? Yes, we have advanced with technology and so forth, but human nature has, it seems, changed very little, if at all.

 

Scripture exploration

This pericope provides the resources for a Bible study of much richness and depth as recurring words and themes are explored and applying its relevance for believers in the twenty-first century. For example, the words such as, ‘love,’ ‘one,’ ‘world,’ or ‘sent me,’ are mentioned several times in the few verses and yield much about God’s unity. I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Meditating on the Word, where he encourages believers to spend a week on a portion of scripture for prayer and reflection rather than find new scriptures each day.

This is, of course, the majestic prayer on unity by Jesus. The words earlier mentioned are lovingly intertwined reinforcing and reemphasising unity, its importance, how it should be lived and its visible consequences.

 

The world’s attempt for unity

As we ponder more deeply, I am left wondering how the world looks through the lens of the unity that Jesus talks about. On the surface of things life looks pretty grim and precarious. There seems much unrest in most places that hits the news desk finding its way in the public domain. Sometimes we do not even have to consider the news or current affairs. The working environment where many people find themselves suitably employed, seems to ignore unity. What matters most is that the job gets done. Within churches too, unity can often be lacking. As one preacher said, ‘We preach unity and practice disunity.’

What we fail to see so often is that unity brings peace and it is good for one’s well-being. Even the most hardened of individuals require unity. There is peace that people are seeking through yoga, mindfulness and other activities. At an institutional, political, governmental and global level there is huge energy expended to bring about unity through policies and procedures. But that too, like other human efforts, has a short life span. It does have some merit because it has caused peace to reign in various places, but often one group or another remains oppressed and they are continually looking over their shoulders as they are unsure when the next uprising will take place. But for the believer, there is something far more sure and certain.

 

The gospel’s response of unity

Jesus makes it clear that the unity needed for the world will not come through the ballot box, popular opinion or any other manmade invention. Unity comes from an interdependent relationship between human and God and begins in the converted heart, and nowhere else.

In this prayer Jesus talks about the unity he has with his Father, and when we consider the idea of unity how can we ignore the unity found in community in the Holy Trinity and in particular the indescribable interdependence between Father, Son and the Holy Spirit? Jesus emphasises that all that his Father gave him he deposited in his disciples, but let us return to verse 20. Look at those words. ‘Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.’ This is simply amazing. Contained in the words of Jesus uttered over 2000 years ago is that we today would join in this divine unity to make relationships and the world a more peaceful place.

 

Practical application

How will this unity occur is a good question? I recall the words of Greg Ellison III in his excellent publication, Fearless Dialogues, when as an eight-year-old, he asked his grandmother, ‘How can I change the world,’ to which she replied she did not know, but she said you can change someone who is three feet away from you.

We live to please the Lord and be in unity with him, but if we are not affecting the lives of others near to us, what is the point? Jesus’ most magnificent prayer was not alone for his disciples who followed him in Israel, but it is also for us, his followers, in the 21st century. That includes you and me.

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