Saturday, June 1, 2019

Year C, Easter 7, John 17.20-26, One

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Pay attention to what is said on the thresholds of life, when people are standing at the door, preparing to leave.  Pay attention for it is there, at the threshold, that people cut to the chase and say that which is most important.
For Jesus, that threshold moment came in Jerusalem just prior to his crucifixion as he poured out his heart in prayer for his disciples.
What was it that Jesus prayed about as a matter of highest importance?
Judging from the history of the Christian Church, you might conclude that any number of issues were matters of highest importance.
Christians fought with each other over various issues from the beginning.
And we haven’t stopped fighting two thousand years later.
The first divisive issue Christians fought over was whether Christians must be Jews.  Two issues symbolized that fight:  circumcision and adherence to the Jewish law regarding issues such as keeping Kosher, or other matters covered by the Levitical law from the Old Testament.
Judging from the history, these concerns must have been quite important.
Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t concern himself with the question of whether Christians could eat bacon.  Or for that matter, whether they must be circumcised. 
If those issues were so important, you’d think he would have given his disciples clear instruction.  But alas, that wasn’t on his mind that last night in Jerusalem.
It took awhile, but the Church decided that Jewish Law was no longer binding on Christians.  We could eat bacon and shrimp with a clear conscience.
And Christians were to be baptized, not circumcised.
But this decision did not come without a long struggle.  Paul was constantly harassed by those people he called “Judaizers”, who were convinced that Jewish law and customs must prevail, and that Gentiles needed to become Jewish to be saved.
Paul won that battle.
But strangely enough, Jesus apparently didn’t care enough about it to weigh in on it.  And he certainly didn’t pray about bacon on his last night with his disciples.
Orthodoxy and Heresy.
Who was Jesus?
And what was his nature?
Was he the Son of God?  Was he God?
And was he a man?  If a man, was he JUST a man?
And how long had Jesus been.  When did he begin?  Was there a time when Jesus was not?
And if he was God, when did he become God?
Christians really fought over this.
Jesus does allude to his relationship with his Father in the prayer he offered on behalf of his disciples that last night.
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you.  .  .”
But he didn’t particularly care to answer the burning questions that would consume the Christian theologians and preachers for the next three hundred years, and which continue to divide Christians to this day.
After three hundred years of fighting, Christians finally adopted the Nicene Creed as the definition of the Christian faith.
But even that did not come without a fight, literally.  St. Nicholas punched Arius in the nose, right in the middle of the debate, and for that reason is remembered as the ‘defender of the faith’.  And yes, this is the St. Nick that became the precursor to our myth of Santa Claus. 
You’d think that if these theological issues were so important as to consume the Christian Church for three hundred years, Jesus might have said a word or two about them.  But he didn’t.
There are a lot of things Jesus didn’t address.
A lot of things that simply were not mentioned in his parting words with his disciples.
Jesus did give us the Great Commission before he ascended into heaven.  He told us to go baptize.
He didn’t tell us whether children should be baptized or just adults, and he never mentions whether we should baptize by immersion or by sprinkling. 
But the fact that Jesus never cared enough to clarify these things hasn’t stopped us from fighting about them and disagreeing with one another.
That’s a biggy.
In Jesus’ day the single greatest political issue was whether to fight for Jewish independence from the Roman Empire.  In fact, it was believed that the work of the Messiah was to do just that, and to re-establish the Kingdom of David in Jerusalem.
Jesus didn’t.
And he didn’t get into politics at all in his final words with the disciples.  He didn’t talk about it.  He didn’t pray about it.
In a few short hours he would stand before both King Herod and  Pontius Pilate, yet politics was not on his mind.  “My Kingdom is not of this world” he would say.
Yet politics has often been a matter of great concern and division within the Church.
Today, Christians are divided, to say the least.
Is Jesus a Democrat?
Is Jesus a Republican?
Or perhaps an Independent?
Actually, given that all he talked about was the “Kingdom of God” one might conclude that he wasn’t keen on democracy at all.
But that hasn’t prevented us from invoking Jesus’ name in support of our politics. 
Funny thing.  Jesus didn’t mention politics in his final prayer with his disciples.  It wasn’t that important.  Amazingly, he didn’t even mention the “Kingdom of God”.
What is sinful.
What is not.
Sin and Righteousness.  Those seem like very important issues.  In fact, much of the teaching about Jesus over the course of history has emphasized this above all else.
Jesus came to save us from our sins.
If that’s the sum total of the Gospel message, you’d have thought Jesus would have emphasized this a lot in his final prayer with his disciples that night in the upper room.
He didn’t.
Doesn’t mention sin at all.
His teaching on sin was incredibly simple.
Love God.  Love your neighbor.
That’s it.
Yet based on our preoccupation with sin you’d think that was all Jesus was about.
Yet, when Jesus prayed for his disciples on that last night he never mentions sin or righteousness.
OK, enough of this already.
The bottom line is that though there are many things that have seemed important to us throughout the ages, there was only one thing that was important enough to Jesus that he would devote his final prayer with his disciples to it.
"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
That we might be one.
That was the most important thing on Jesus heart that night.
That is what he prayed for.
He didn’t spend his last minutes with us talking about circumcision or eating bacon.
He didn’t elaborate on matters of Christian doctrine.
He didn’t tell us how or when to baptize.
He didn’t join one of our political parties.
He didn’t even concern himself with matters of sin and righteousness.

He prayed that we might be one, even as he and the Father are one.
That’s what he cared about.
He didn’t want us to fight with one another.
He did want us to love each other, as the Father loves us.
We have fought over many things, and yet, Jesus desired only one thing, that we might be one even as he and the Father are one.
One of the most disheartening things for me about posting sermons on line and reading the comments that are offered there is how often people condemn other Christians.
It’s one thing when an individual objected to my post because he was a Satanist and didn’t believe at all in Christianity.  Yeah, I can understand that.
What is disheartening is how condemning Christians are of one another.
Maintaining our unity in Christ is the greatest single challenge the Christian Church has faced over the entirety of the two thousand years since Jesus.
That is why he prayed about it.
He knew it would be that difficult.
My prayer is that we might understand it to be that important.

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