Putting on the Mantle

A Sermon on Galatians 5:13-25

In the last days of the Civil War, the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, fell to the Union army. Abraham Lincoln insisted on visiting the city. Even though no one knew he was coming, slaves recognized him immediately and thronged around him. He had liberated them by the Emancipation Proclamation, and now Lincoln’s army had set them free. According to Admiral David Porter, an eyewitness, Lincoln spoke to the throng around him: “My poor friends, you are free—free as air. You can cast off the name of slave and trample upon it … . Liberty is your birthright.”

But Lincoln also warned them not to abuse their freedom. “Let the world see that you merit [your freedom],” Lincoln said, “Don’t let your joy carry you into excesses. Learn the laws and obey them.”

Freedom is an interesting concept and one that comes with great responsibility. We have been given spiritual freedom in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we are given political freedom but the laws that govern our nation.  As much as there are differences between these two, there are many similarities.

Freedom, whether spiritual or political has to be exercised with great care and concern for others.  There is an old saying that your right to swing your fist ends where my nose beings.  The political freedom that we have has given us individual rights, but the spiritual freedom that we have been given is not personal, in fact, we are required to die to the self to really have this freedom, spiritual freedom is a collective freedom where we have to be concerned about the other.

I am a firm believer that in any study of the Bible we need to look at the entirety of the message.  The books of the Bible, especially the letters, were written to a very specific group of Christians. Today’s passage comes from a letter Paul had written to not one church but to the churches in Galatia a province of Rome.  The letters are usually written because a problem of some sort has arisen and they have appealed to Paul for a solution to the problem.

The Galatians initially accepted Christ and began to follow the teachings that Paul had left them, but now they have turned to the Jewish legalizers who claim that Christians must also follow the laws of the Old Covenant.  Paul has a great love for the churches he established and wrote to them as a father with corrective love. If we had time this morning we would read the entire letter; it is only six chapters, but I would like to suggest that you spend some time this week reading and contemplating the words of Paul.

Paul begins with a short biography.  Paul was not always a Christian, in fact, he was one of the greatest persecutors of Christians in the early days after the resurrection.  The Book of Acts relates the story that Paul was present when Stephen, the first Christian Martyr was killed.  But he had a conversion experience, and he was able to see Jesus, literally and figuratively and became not only a believer but one of the greatest evangelists of his day.

Paul does not do this because they do not know him, in fact, many of the people who will hear his words know him as they met him.  Paul does this to show the power of conversion and the love that God has for everyone and how everyone can be used in the building up of the kingdom of God.

Paul then moves on to a discussion of the law of the Old Covenant and how Christ came to fulfill that law, and we come to today’s passage:

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out, or you will be destroyed by each other.”

Paul was simply repeating the words of Jesus when he was asked what the greatest commandment was:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40

Last Saturday John Egan and I attended the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ in Amherst.  The theme of the meeting was “Be Bold.”  During the meeting, along with the usual business items like budgets and committee elections, we heard stories of what churches around the Conference are doing.

We heard the story about the Church in West Medford; you may have read about it in the Boston Globe a few weeks ago. Face with declining numbers in attendance; they decided to sell their building and move down the street into a rented storefront.  They continue to struggle, but they have moved from the constant worry about money for the upkeep of the building to concentrating on ministry to those around them and those in need.  The sale of the building as secured their financial freedom and this was a bold step.  We heard other stories as well, but the individual stories that you only hear over coffee are the best.

As Christians, we are called to be bold.  We hear these words from the Book of Revelation:

“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16

When we decide, and it is a decision, to put on the Mantle of Christ we decide that we no longer live for ourselves alone but all of those around us.  We have a great responsibility to care for those around us and not just the ones we agree with and like, but all of the humanity and dare I say all of the creation.

“I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:36-40

This was a bold statement when Jesus spoke it, and it is a bold statement today.

We are called to be the hands and feet and voice of Christ in this world.  Yesterday a group of church members gathered here to make sandwiches for the folks at Fr. Bill’s.  They then took those sandwiches and brought them to Fr. Bill’s and served them.  In doing so, they witnessed to people the love of Jesus Christ.  They were in essence, Christ to the people they served just as the passage of Scripture we read today exhorts us, “serve one another humbly in love.”

Freedom in Christ has been given to us by grace a grace that came with no strings attached and grace that moves us towards our potential and that potential is to love God and love our neighbor.  For the Galatians that Paul was writing to they forgot what that freedom meant and had fallen back into a strict following of the law of the Old Covenant and forgot about the freedom that comes from a life in Christ.

We need to be bold.  We need to be bold in our spiritual lives by taking those bold steps of radical transformation of our lives through the freedom that Christ gives to each one of us.  But that transformation requires something of us, and that is a great responsibility.  We have to die to our self and rise again in Christ, and we need to: serve one another humbly in love.”

 

The Image of God and the Present Culture War

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In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, David Brooks wrote about the culture war that we have heard so much about during this election cycle.  In the piece, he argues that our focus is in the wrong direction.

“The larger culture itself needs to be revived in four distinct ways: We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic; we need to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian; we need to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic; and we need to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive.”

Brooks argues that we have lost the sense of the value of the individual and that we just use people, that they are utilitarian.

“If public life were truly infused with the sense that people have souls, we would educate young people to have vocations and not just careers. We would comfortably tell them that sex is a fusion of loving souls and not just a physical act. We’d celebrate marriage as a covenantal bond. We’d understand that citizenship is a covenant, too, and we have a duty to feel connected to those who disagree with us.”

As I read this what I hear him saying is that we have lost what I call the image of the Divine Spark that is inside each human being.

Shortly after reading this I read a verse from the Psalms that has stuck with me, and I keep rolling it over and over again in my mind.  For several days I have been meditating on verse eight from the twenty-sixth Psalm: “Lord, I love the house in which you dwell and the place where your glory abides.” I cannot get this passage out of my mind.

When the Psalmist wrote these words, the place where God was dwelling was the Temple.  The understanding of the time was the God was dwelling in the Temple that this is the place where God lived.  The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of Covenant, which contained the tablets of Moses and God’s Law handed down to him.  The Temple was a magnificent place, and its beauty was not matched anywhere in the world.

The Christian understanding of where God dwells is much different.  God, the one who created all that we see, cannot be contained to a physical place but is present everywhere and in all of the creation.  When we look at creation, we see God, and when we look at another human being, we are looking into the very face of God.  That’s right; each person is created in the image and likeness of the creator.

Much of our twenty-first century political life requires us to put people into categories, homeless, addict, prisoner, criminal, illegal immigrant, gay, straight etc. when we do this we forget that each is a human, created in the image and likeness of God, first and everything else is secondary and used for a purpose.

The world we live in tells us that we find value in objects and that our value can be found in the number of objects that we have.  Our success is based on the fact that we have a lot of money and a lot of stuff, the big car, the big house and all of the trappings that go along with all of that.  There are even Christian ministers that claim that if we follow God’s will, and send them lots of money, we will find riches on earth.  I have searched my Bible and cannot find that sense of worth anywhere.

We are taught that we are to be all we can be, be the best we can be, no matter what the cost.  It does not matter who we have to take advantage of or who we have to step on as long as we make it.  We are a society of individuals and not a collection of human beings.  How often have heard that we spend too much of our tax dollars on the lazy poor, but I do not often hear complaints about the money we spend on war or the war machine.  We want what is best for us, as individuals, rather than what is good for society as a whole.

Human beings have been reduced to things to objects that are bought and sold to the highest bidder and therefore people have become disposable in our society like everything else.  We are treating human beings the same way we treat the rest of creation, what can I get out of it and when I get what I want I will simply throw it away.  We have removed the Divine Spark from humanity for if we have not done that, then we would not be able to treat our fellow human being the way we do.

We look at the illegal immigrant see what they cost us and the law that has been broken.  We do not consider that person as someone who had fled an impossible situation, an individual who has risked their life to come the “land of milk and honey” to make a better life for themselves and their family.  We do not take the time to listen to their story and where they have come from.  We simply look upon them as a criminal and dismiss the fact that they are human.

The Christian story of creation comes from the Book of Genesis.  In that story, we read of God creating humanity from the dust of the ground, “Let us created humanity in our image, according to our likeness.”  We also read that God breathed His breath into the very nostrils of humanity thus we have inside each of us the very breath of God.  How someone professing to be Christian look at another human being and see them as an object is beyond me.

The time I have spent meditating on the verse from Psalm twenty-six has instilled in me that the place where God has chosen to dwell is inside each human that was created in that very image, and that is the place where God’s glory abides.  I can no longer look at another human and see them as an appendage but as a person that is struggling to get through life just as I am.

I see a human with the divine spark in them who happens to be homeless, who happens to be an addict, who happens to be Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or no religion at all.  I see human beings with all sorts of flaws, some of the same ones I see in myself.  They are not objects to be used for political purposes, used by all sides of the political spectrum, but as human beings that have been given dignity and we are commanded by the person we claim to follow, Jesus Christ, to love.

There is a lot of noise coming from the Christian right about how America was founded as a Christian nation.  I disagree with sentiment, and I surely have not seen evidence of a Christian nation based on policies and practices of that same Christian right.  Each human being has inherent dignity that needs to be honored and respected.  When we are ready to do that, when we are willing to give all of the humanity the dignity and respect they deserve as the living embodiment of God then we might be able to claim that we are living as Christians.

Common Decency is not so Common

Distrction Free

Last week I posted the picture above on my Facebook wall.  As one can imagine it sent off a lively discussion about that is right and what is wrong.  Most of the comment that was written had to do with how it makes the boys feel seeing a girl walking around dressed in a certain way.  Well, I am not sure about you, but it seems that is the fault of the boy and not the girl.  I used this analogy. If I walk into a store, and no one is around, and I take something off the shelf and walk out with it, have I stolen something or is it the fault of the shop keeper for leaving it out there in the first place?  I hope we would all agree that I am at fault.  Teaching young men to respect a young lady is what we are supposed to do not blame the girl for how she is dressed.

The next common objection had to do with this sense of common decency.  Well, as the title suggests, common decency is not so common.  Each generation has had to deal with changes in fashion, hair length, piercing, tattoos, etc. and this generation is no different.  I am not sure where the common denominator is in the argument.

It was not that long that a woman could not wear pants to an office job, she had to wear a skirt.  There was also a time when it was unheard of for men to be seen in public not wearing a hat on their heads or in church without a tie and jacket.  I do not hear loud cries for that be restored.  Common is just that common and what is accepted by the masses.  Sure I think it would be nice if men continued to wear hats and ties, but that is not the reality of today’s population.

The popular saying “Make America Great Again” needs to come with some caveat.  Each thing that we think made American great, by the way, I think America is pretty great right now, was not so great for someone else.  Should we go back to when women could not vote or how about going back to when they were considered property?  How about the times when black folks could not eat at the same counter or drink from the same water fountain.  Was that the great time of America?  The greatness of America is that she is always changing, each generation envisions what America is, and that is the way it should be.

Slavery in Colonial Boston

 

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In a previous post, I mentioned that I have begun giving tours of the Old North Church in Boston a couple of times a month. Giving these tours is an excellent opportunity for me to discuss history and religion as well as clear up some long-held myths about what happened on the night of April 18, 1775 (think “The British are Coming”).

The configuration of the pews is always one of the first things visitors comment on. They are called box pews, because well, they are boxes, and were common in the 17th and 18th century in New England as well as Old England. Visitors are often taken back when we mention that Old North was a closed congregation meaning you had to own a pew to worship at the Church. Again this was common in the 17th and 18th centuries in Boston as well as other places. But the one issue that usually raises eyebrows is when I point to the seats in the gallery above and mention that this is the place where the servants and slaves would have sat during worship. Salves? In Boston? Why yes.

One of the best history podcasts on the internet right now is Ben Franklin’s World hosted by Liz Covart. Liz is an (she taught me to say an rather than a) historian that specializes in the colonial era in and around Boston. Her podcast brings guest historians on to talk about their work and bring their studies to a wider contemporary audience. The podcast is not academic and is very approachable for the average person, and I highly recommend it.

In Episode 83 Liz interviews Jared Hardesty, an Assistant Professor of History at Western Washington University and author of Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston. In the episode, Dr. Hardesty speaks about slavery in Boston and how it differed from what we think of as slavery in the South. He starts by saying that during the Colonial period about 15% of the population of Boston were slaves. Mostly there were house slaves and lived in the house with their masters. By and large, they were treated much better than their southern counterparts and many of them were taught to read and write. With all of this in mind, he does remind us that they were, in fact, slaves and were the property of their owners.

I will not say anything more about the episode other than to say it is well worth the time to listen, as are all of the episodes of Ben Franklin’s World.

Lead us not Into Temptation

At a recent Tuesday evening Bible Study at Church, I was asked what the saying from Matthew 6:13, “lead us not into temptation” means.  As you are aware we pray this each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer at home or in Church.  Are we asking that God does not lead us into temptation?  Not at all, it goes much deeper than that.

We know from the Letter of James that God does not tempt anyone for to do so would go against the very nature of God.

No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. James 1:13-15

Along with praying for forgiveness and our daily bread what we are essentially praying for here is that we are led away from evil.  As James put it, we are tempted by our own wants and our own desires and when we pray the prayer that Jesus himself taught us we are praying that we are given the strength to walk in the ways of God and not in our own will.  We are asking that God walks with us and keeps us out of trouble.

However, this does not mean that we will not face trials in our lives.  I do not like the saying that God will not give us more than we can handle as I think it devalues in a sense, what we are going through.  God never promised that we would not go through difficult times in our lives but he did promise that we would not go through them alone.

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

Memorial Day Prayer

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Gracious God, on this Memorial Day weekend,
we remember and give thanks for those who have given their lives
in the service of our country.
When the need was greatest, they stepped forward and did their duty
to defend the freedoms that we enjoy, and to win the same for others.

O God, you yourself have taught us that no love is greater than that
which gives itself for another.
These honored dead gave the most precious gift they had, life itself,
for loved ones and neighbors, for comrades and country – and for us.

Help us to honor their memory
by caring for the family members they have left behind,
by ensuring that their wounded comrades are properly cared for,
by being watchful caretakers of the freedoms for which they gave their lives,
and by demanding that no other young men and women
follow them to a soldier’s grave
unless the reason is worthy and the cause is just.

Holy One, help us to remember that freedom is not free.
There are times when its cost is, indeed, dear.
Never let us forget those who paid so terrible a price
to ensure that freedom would be our legacy.

Though their names may fade with the passing of generations,
may we never forget what they have done.
Help us to be worthy of their sacrifice,
O God, help us to be worthy. Amen.

Memorial Day Prayer was written by the Rev. John Gundlach, former Minister for Military Chaplains in the UCC.

How Will You Be Remembered?

A Sermon on Matthew 26:6-13

 

Sunshine

On May 5, 1868, The Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John A. Logan, published General Order Number 11 that established the 30th day of May as Decoration Day.  The purpose of this day was for the:

“Strewing of flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”  Thus was born what we now call Memorial Day.

Since ancient times graves of the dead, war dead and family, had been decorated by loved ones in a way of remembering them.  Cemeteries were, and still are, like parks.  People would take picnic lunches and after the decoration of the graves, they would sit have eat their lunch and tell stories of their loved ones, so the practice was not new when General Logan declared the practice in 1868.

May 30th was chosen as the date for two reasons; no significant Civil War battle had been fought on that day, and the thought was that flowers would be available all over the country since the cold weather would have passed.

The name was changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day in 1967 and 1968 the Uniform Monday Act moved the annual remembrance from May 30th to the Last Monday in May thus creating a three-day weekend and the unofficial start to summer.

So each year people head to the cemeteries and decorate the graves of loved ones.  Some of them are veterans and some not.  The sentiment is the same no matter how or when they died.  Several years ago I decided that I would adopt several veterans’ graves and decorate them as they had long been neglected.  I would encourage each of you to do the same.

But Memorial Day is also a good time to take stock of our lives and what we have done or left undone this previous year.  Sure it is supposed to be a day set aside for remembrance of our war dead, but how will we be remembered?

I know we don’t like to think about it, but there will come a time in history when we are no longer here.  Will our lives be reduced to a few lines on a stone tablet above our final resting place?

In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition that I have come from, when someone dies we say, “May their memory be eternal.”  We are asking that the memory of the person who has died remains green in our memories and by doing so they live on.  Sure we are sad when someone dies and is no longer with us, but keeping their memory alive is important for us and for those who come after us.

In the Scripture passage we heard this morning from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, the leper.  This would be a very unusual thing for anyone to do since lepers were ritually unclean and were in their presence made you ritually unclean.  But while he is there a woman comes in and anoints his feet.  This was not an uncommon practice in Palestine in the 1st Century.

People wore sandals on their feet, and the roads were dusty.  Upon entering a home, the lowest member of the household would remove your sandals and wash your feet.  This would be repeated by Jesus and his Apostles the night of the Last Supper.  Washing someone’s feet is the ultimate act of service to that person.  However there is one other thing to consider, a woman was washing his feet, this would have been unheard of, men washed men’s feet, and women washed women’s feet.  Another societal breakdown.

But what she did next is what she is remembered for.  She anointed his feet with costly oil, oil that some said could have been sold for large sums of money and that money given to the poor.  The words that Jesus speaks next have been used and misused by Christians since the day he spoke them. “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

This woman, whose name we will never know, will be remembered for the ultimate act of service to another and, as Jesus says, preparing him for his death.  But what about us?  How will we be remembered?

We have the potential to influence more people’s lives today than any other point in our history.  The very fact that we can push a button and our thoughts and words and be sent around the world in a nanosecond makes what we have to say all the more necessary.  This past week I was at a seminar about boundaries in the church.  We focused a lot of attention on the building of walls to keep people at a safe distance, so we do not get sued for something we did or said.  One of the presenters made the statement that we should avoid anything controversial and simply preach the love of Jesus Christ.  As you can imagine, I took exception to that statement.

I made the statement that the very act of preaching the love of Jesus Christ is controversial and if it was not then we were doing it wrong.  Historically our church pulpits have been used to bring about some of the biggest changes in history and policy.  From pulpits not far from here the abolition movement began and from this very church one of the first statements by any church, banning from membership those who owned slaves was written, voted upon and excepted.  Being a Christian is controversial, it is to love those who are not lovable, it is to forgive those who need forgiveness, it is to stand out in our world, it is to speak up when we see wrongs, and it is to work for a better world for all people.  I told the presenter to avoid controversy was unchristian.

Some of us probably could be remembered for great things.  Someone sitting here or listening to these words online might find the cure for cancer or some other astonishing feat in life but most of us, the vast majority of us, will remain unknown except for those around us.  The world will never know our names or what we have done.

But I will draw your attention to another passage of Scripture from the Gospel of Matthew, this one in the chapter just before the one we read this morning.  In the 23rd verse of the 25th chapter we hear these words:

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

How will we be remembered?  I pray as a good and trustworthy servant of God and of the people that God has placed in my life.  This should be our goal; this is what we should strive for in life.  Our memory should be that we spoke up for those who could not speak, that we served those who had less than us, that we forgave those who harmed us, and that we loved God, and we loved our neighbor.

Horatio Stockton Howell

Chaplain Horatio Stockton Howell

Chaplain Horatio Stockton Howell

Tucked on a side street in Gettysburg Pennsylvania is a small monument to Horatio Stockton Howell, Chaplain with the 90th Pennsylvania Regiment that was killed on the steps of College Lutheran Church.  The Church had been established as a Union hospital shortly after the battle of Gettysburg began.

Chaplain Howell was born near Trenton New Jersey on August 14, 1820.  He was the fifth of seven children born to William and Abigail Howell and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1853 and served the Church in Delaware Water Gap Pennsylvania.

While serving the Church in Elkton Maryland, Chaplain Howell says firsthand what he called the “evils of slavery.”  He was convinced by the influence of his Mentor, the Rev. James Wilson that the institution of slavery “would reduce to the condition of brutes those whom God had created in his image and for whom Christ had died.”  It was his mentor that urged him in 1862 to enlist in the Army as chaplain.

On July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederates engaged the Union troops near the Lutheran Theological Seminary.  The 1st Corps had established a field hospital in the Church located not far from the seminary itself.  By midafternoon on that day, it was reported that more than 140 men were laying in the sanctuary and on the benches being tended to by hospital personnel and Chaplain Howell.

As the battle lines shifted on that day, the 1st Corps pulled out of Gettysburg back to Cemetery Ridge.  Hearing shots outside the Church Chaplain Howell turned to one of the surgeons he had been assisting and said, “I will step outside for a moment and see what the trouble is.”

What happened next come from the recollection of Sgt. Archibald Snow:

“I had just had my wound dressed and was leaving through the front door just behind Chaplain Howell, at the same time when the advance skirmishers of the Confederates were coming up the street on a run. Howell, in addition to his shoulder straps & uniform, wore the straight dress sword prescribed in Army Regulations for chaplains… The first skirmisher arrived at the foot of the church steps just as the chaplain and I came out. Placing one foot on the first step the soldier called on the chaplain to surrender; but Howell, instead of throwing up his hands promptly and uttering the usual ‘I surrender,’ attempted some dignified explanation to the effect that he was a noncombatant and as such was exempt from capture, when a shot from the skirmisher’s rifle ended the controversy…”*

Today, at the bottom of the Church steps, stand a monument to Chaplain Howell.  The monument is an open Bible on a stand.  One side of the Bible tells Chaplain Howells story, and the other side has several quotes of Scripture.

Howell Monument at Gettysburg

Howell Monument at Gettysburg

It is rather sad that this monument will go almost unnoticed by visitors to Gettysburg, but it is fitting that it is at the actual site of his death.

*New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga, Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, (Albany: J.B. Lyon Company, 1900), I:24.

That We All May Be One

A Meditation on John 17:20-21

 

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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. John 17:20-21

In the 17th Chapter of the Gospel of John we have glimpse of Jesus in prayer.  He has prayed for himself and for those that have been with him throughout his ministry and then he turns to the future and he prays for all of us.  The remarkable thing about this is that he had full confidence in the future of the mission and what would happen.

At this moment his followers were few and he was facing the Cross but his confidence was unshaken and he was praying for those of us, who would come after him, and believe in his name.  But what was this prayer of his for us, for more specifically for his church of the future, it was that we would all be one.  We read in verse 21, “That hey all may be one, as you, father are in me and I in you.”

What is this oneness that Jesus is speaking of here, is it oneness of doctrine or belief?  What about worship, is he praying that we will all have the same worship and worship the same way?  I do not think so.  The essence of the oneness between Jesus and God is love, unconditional love.

There is an old song that goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”  This is true.  God is the essence of love and we are commanded to love God and to love each other.  The witness of this love from to us in the third chapter of John, “for God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.”  Christian unity should transcend all of our differences and join us together.

If we truly loved each other, and God, then no church would exclude anyone who was a disciple of Christs.  Only the implanted love in each heart will be able to tear down the barriers which we have erected between us, artificial barriers that keep us apart.

It is normal for humans to be divided and it goes against the grain, as the saying goes, for humans to come together.  We see this after some sort to tragic event.  People come together for a little while and then the natural tendency to separate returns.  The unity that Jesus prayed for was to be the unity that convinced the world of the truth of his message.  This is the unity that would transcend nationality and socio economic standing and truly bring people together.  Real unity between all Christians would be a supernatural fact that would require a supernatural explanation and that explanation would be God’s love.

It is our individual duty to demonstrate to each other and to the world that unity of love with all of humanity that is the answer to the prayer of Christ.  And the reason why this is so important should be obvious, faced by the disunity of the Christian faith, the world cannot see the supreme value of the Christian faith.

They will know we are Christians by our love.  Love for all of humanity not just the parts we like.