Friday, May 6, 2016

Year C, Easter 7, John 17:20-26: "That they may all be one"

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
I think there is no greater joy for a Mother, than to be able to gather her children, all her children, under her wings, like a hen gathers her chicks, and in doing so celebrate being a family.

At least that’s the way it was for my mother.

For my mother, this gathering focused on the lake place that Mom and Dad had purchased on Flathead Lake in Montana.  They had purchased the “cabin” in the years leading up to retirement.  It was a small two bedroom home, the first home that they had owned.
And in the years that followed Mom and Dad remodeled and remodeled, adding a boathouse with three additional bedrooms above, and expanding the cabin.

Driving all of this was not Mom and Dad’s personal needs for more space, but their desire that the cabin would be the home to which all their children would return.  And their hope was not only that we would return to visit them, but that we would continue to return to the lake, long after they were gone, and that as we all gathered at the lake, we would continue to be family. 
In order to facilitate this dream, they set up their estate in a trust for the family, with instructions on how the place was to be managed, with a clear vision that this would be our gathering place.
40 years have passed since they bought the cabin, and a year and a half ago, Mom died.

I wish I could tell you that the dream was fulfilled.

The truth is that logistics and personalities have largely thwarted that dream.
It was one thing to envision the six of us kids all coming home to the lake, but the “six” of us soon grew to include spouses, and grandchildren, and now great grandchildren.  There simply is not enough room for us to all gather there.

Adding to that is the fact that of the six kids, two settled out here in the west, two in the Midwest, and two in Florida.

In addition, my momma raised a bunch of kids that were fiercely independent and strong willed. 
And human nature being as it is, we experience all the interpersonal issues that you might imagine.  Ours is not always “one, big, happy family”. 

My best guess at this point, is that in spite of Mom’s dream that the lake place would be a gathering place for us all, something that would continue to bind us together as a family, it will become a divisive issue.  Already there is talk of selling the place as soon as Dad is gone, but there is not agreement on that. 
In the end, I believe that Mom’s dream will be shattered, and were she still with us, her heart broken.
All she wanted was that we would be One, and remain One.  But that is more difficult to achieve than it is to say.

A mother’s love.
Of all the things that Jesus could have prayed for on that last night that he spent with his disciples, the one thing that weighed heavy on his heart was that his followers would be one.
“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.”

That this is what he prayed for, (and the high priestly prayer from John, is the longest prayer that we have from Jesus), is an indication that he knew this would be one of our greatest challenges.  His hope was that the love and unity that we shared as his disciples, would be our witness to the world. 
Yes Jesus, our Lord and Savior, must have experienced the pain of “unanswered prayer”.

While he was still with the disciples, there were already conflicts.  They argued about such things as who would be the greatest.
In the book of Acts, and Paul’s letters, we hear about another major disagreement:  whether Gentiles could become Christian, and if so, must they first become Jewish?
And in the centuries that have passed since that time, Christian History has been written, not about the unity that we share in Christ, but about all of the divisions that have shaped the Church.
The early Church’s life was dominated by wrestling with heresies.  Heresies, or false teachings, prompted the Church to adopt creeds which defined “true Christians” from those who were not, and those whose faith was not orthodox, would be banned.

Then there were disagreements about who would lead the Church.  Would it be the Roman Bishop?  As in the Pope?  Or the Bishop of Constantinople?  As a result the Church was divided between the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
Adding fuel to that fire were theological controversies such as the question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father, or from the Father and the Son.  Those three words, “and the Son”, continue to this day to be a source of division between the East and the West. 

And then, near to our heart as Lutherans, was the Reformation.  The Church was divided again, not just between the Catholics and Evangelicals, but even those “reformed Churches” divided time and time again over such issues such as the presence of Christ in Communion, when to baptize, and the role of the Holy Spirit.
Nationalism also came into play.  Different countries formed different Churches.
And Church government came into play.  Should the primary authority in the Church reside with Bishops?  Or Congregations?

And how are we to interpret the Bible?
And what should we do?
And who should we associate with?
Every time a new question arose, the Church divided.

And Jesus prayed:
 "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.”

There have been attempts at restoring the unity of the Church.   The “ecumenical  movement” over the last century or so has seen some Churches come back together.  So for example, in some cases,  but not all, Lutherans have begun to set aside their national differences and unite.  German Lutherans will even worship now with Norwegian Lutherans.  But not always.
Our own Church has also pursued ecumenical agreements with other churches that now allow us to worship together with Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Reformed, Methodist, and the United Church of Christ.
Bishop Wells once described this movement within our Church as being like a river that over time had divided into many different tributaries.  Now, those different streams are once again merging together, and slowly, we will all be united again. 

That vision of his sparked no small amount of controversy.  Rather than hope that this reconciliation of the differences that would divide us would be a good thing, people heard Martin’s description of what was happening and thought, “My God, he thinks that we’re going to become Catholic again!”
Perish the thought.

And then, also, in the years since 2009, when our Church decided that gay and lesbian people in committed lifelong relationships could serve as pastors, we have experienced division again.  When that decision was made, the hope was that even though we disagreed on that issue, we could still remain one body.
But it was not to be – most of those who disagreed with the decision left to form another Church.  And so the history of strife and division continues.
Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so,
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus love me,
The bible tells me so.

Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the last century once stated that the Gospel is simply this:
                That “Jesus loves me.”
And yet something is lacking if we only sing “Jesus loves ME”.
Would that there were a second first,
Jesus loves YOU this I know. . .
And a third verse,
Jesus love us, this we know. . .

You see, what makes all the divisions within the Church so offensive, is that those people, those OTHER people, with whom we have such profound conflicts and disagreements, are also people that Jesus loved enough to die for. 
If we could learn anything from a Mother’s love, or for that matter, from a Father’s love, I would hope it would be this, that they have the marvelous capacity to love ALL their children.  All their children.

Perhaps that verse we are missing is this:
Jesus loves us this we know,
                For the Bible tells us so,
Everyone to him belongs,
                Brothers,  sisters, we are one.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves you,
Yes, Jesus loves them,
                The Bible tells us so.
As we look back over the history of the Church,
And all the divisions, and strife, and disagreement, there are two questions that we constantly asked which shaped the debate.
                What then, should we believe?
                And how then, should we act?

Perhaps the history of the Church would have been different if we asked only one question, and that is:
                Who then, does God love?

Dare we say “All his children?”

May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

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