Sunday 29 May 2022: Seventh Sunday of Easter
Is Unity Possible?
Context: an informal (Service of the Word) evening worship service involving mostly youth, students and young professionals within a wealthy suburb of a large city
Aim: to emphasize Christian Unity and Christ-like love.
When I arrived home for Thanksgiving last year, I was excited to see all my friends and family. After all, it has been two-and-a-half years since I’ve seen any of them. But when I arrived back in the US, I knew things were going to be different. The country is so divided and the church as a Christian witness to the nation about Jesus is as well. The tension was tangible. When I walked into my hometown’s local diner with my face mask on, which was required by law, some older gentlemen made a sheep sound at me. This wasn’t an outward burst of affirmation at being one of God’s elected sheep but rather an overwhelmingly public display of disapproval. I knew this community was divided and here they were displaying their disunity publicly.
After the election of Donald Trump and then Brexit, we thought we couldn’t be more divided but now, a global pandemic has happened to destroy the lives of our loved ones. Misinformation about the virus, masks and vaccines made us even more divided. Therefore, how could we be one? We live in a time when if you disagree with someone you shouldn’t be friends or even speak to them. It becomes hard to live in peace when we are so divided.
DISUNITY IN ANCIENT NEAR-EASTERN CONTEXT
This idea of disunity is nothing new. This isn’t a result of postmodernity or the rise in secularism, but rather the continual state of humanity. Scholars tell us that in the first-century wars occurred because of tribal disagreements that led to whole villages being wiped out. Tribes holding superiority complexes did unthinkable torture to others, showing this complex to be correct. Therefore, when God calls his people to have his supernatural oneness, He is telling the ancient Church that fully understood this context, and he is telling us this now as well.
The central concern is oneness, unity. It is multi-dimensional: oneness with God, oneness with others. Its foundation is that divine glory to be seen and shared in Jesus. ‘We have seen his glory,’ the prologue states in 1:14. ‘Glory’ was a way of speaking of God’s being. This unity is not any unity. It is not a contrived peace or collaboration. It is rooted in, what Bishop Tom Wright and Archbishop Rowan Williams call the ‘event of Jesus.’ That life opened a window on God’s being. This oneness which John speaks of is a deep longing for togetherness.
We try to understand the relationship between the Father and the Son but it’s difficult and some may say impossible to grasp. But at the same time, God calls us to try to grasp it. To try to live as one as they are one. This supernatural unity frankly seems impossible. But the text gives the reader unction to attempt to be disciples that are one for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus. Maybe because the mission set before them was so hard God knew they needed to be united to accomplish the mission. To accomplish something, you must put all disagreements aside for the one mission that is bigger and greater than you and your life.
The ultimate purpose of Jesus’ prayer in this passage is the effectiveness of the believers’ corporate witness to the world! Therefore, this part of the prayer is not about a congregation’s fellowship, or oneness with each other (though that is important) but our evangelism. Yet what area usually receives more attention in our congregations? We are to bring people to know and love God and his people.
GOD’S LOVE ABOVE ALL IS PRACTICAL
In what practical ways can we show the love of God to people? One way is to not cancel people for their mistakes or their views. It’s easy to create a culture of cancelling people or organizations out of a sense of justice and care but that does not show love or oneness that is of God. Unity is not an extra; it is the essence of what it means to be Christian. Keywords like reconciliation and atonement, assume their centrality. Did John imagine uniformity? It is striking that the gospel depicts considerable diversity in responses to Jesus. Yet, he leaves out no one. We don’t cancel people but accept people for being created. Just as he tells us to do. This is a small but vital step on the road to making unity possible.
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