“one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”

June 2, 2019

John 17:20-26

This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to take Emali to Central Michigan University for orientation. After all the visits to different schools over the last couple of years, you would think that I had been ready for this point in time to occur. As many of you know, sending your first to college is a scary, yet wonderful experience. I am excited by the diversity that she will encounter and the sense of community that is to be found on campus.

Unity seems to be a common theme of all the schools that we have visited. Every single one of them have promoted their inclusiveness and diversity that can be found among the many organizations on campus. I know that diversity is something that is hard to come by in our rural communities, and especially the Lutheran church. Did you know that the ELCA is the most segregated denomination in the United States on any given Sunday? We are the whitest denomination in the United States. Part of me wants to say, “what do you expect when you were founded primarily by Germans and Scandinavians.” Another part of me is upset by this fact and desires the diversity that is found in the university environment. We cannot live fully into unity until we meet our sisters and brothers of every race, religion, sexual orientation, and ability, with a warm embrace and loving welcome. Jesus Calls us to live into unity with one another. Are we welcoming our neighbors into that unity as Jesus leads us?

This morning we come to the end of Jesus’ last prayers before he is handed over to the authorities. It is a prayer that challenges the disciples as well as those believers to come. It is a prayer for all to become united in Jesus Christ so that they may come to know his love and grace. His prayers are evoked from the experiences he has had with the disciples and the challenges he knows future believers and seekers of the divine will encounter.

He prays for unity because he has experienced division among the disciples. There are several times within the gospels that the disciples appear to be divided. Peter shows his division with Jesus when he tries to sweep Jesus’ talk of crucifixion under the rug. He does not want to hear about it and does not want Jesus to talk about it. We witness James and John arguing about who is going to sit at the right and left hand of the Lord. Jesus is not even dead yet and they are arguing about who will be with him in his glory and how they will be present to advise him. This is not much different than the disciples arguing about who is the greatest. And don’t forget about the disciples insecurity when others are healing and casting out demons in the name of Jesus. They seem to think that they are the only ones worthy of performing these mighty acts.

When it comes to Christian unity today, in certain circles, that can sound like an oxy-moron. We argue and bicker among ourselves over orthodoxy and doctrine. We overlook the teachings of Jesus Christ to simply help support our own points of view. We choose not to worship with this group or that group. Of course, I am speaking in broad sweeping strokes, but we can experience this in our own community. While our table is open to all, we find the table closed off to us in other congregations in town. I am sure that there are even certain practices and actions that we do that make others feel excluded that we may not even be aware of. We create division when that is not even our intention.

Fortunately, we can find the grace in the prayer of Jesus. A prayer that begins with prayers for himself, flows into prayers for his disciples, and concludes with prayers for all believers that are yet to be. This prayer flows down to us in this time and place so that we may be one with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is praying for us! It is a prayer for unity that we are still seeking to fully live into. It is the promise of the kingdom of God to come into this world as we look forward to a new creation.

Jesus’ prayer is not for one single group. It is for all of humanity that is formed in the very image of God. Jesus’ prayer is a sign of the love that he has for all of creation. Bede Griffiths is quoted in Pathways to Peace, saying:

Love is invisible, but it is the most powerful force in human nature. Jesus spoke of the Spirit which he would send as Truth but also as Love. “If anyone loves me, my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” This is the love, the prema and bhakti, which was proclaimed in the Bhagavad Gita, the compassion (karuna) of Buddha, the rapturous love of the Sufi saints.

Ultimately a religion is tested by its capacity to waken love in its followers, and, what is perhaps more difficult, to extend that love to all humanity. In the past religions have tended to confine their love to their own followers, but always there has been a movement to break through these barriers and attain to a universal love.

As the ELCA, it is our hope to reach out to all people in love and compassion. We join with our ecumenical partners to share the love of Jesus Christ. We reach out to dialogue with our interfaith partners to see how we can live into unity with one another. Love is the one language that transcends all religion. It is this love that Jesus can be found praying for his disciples as well as the believers yet to be. It is a reciprocal love that Jesus prays for us to live into. It is a love that is reflected in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” The catholic in our creed simply means universal. We are called into unity with one another to be one holy church.

Thursday was Ascension Day. The day that Jesus ascends to be with us in the bread, wine, water, word, and even the stranger. In Jesus’ ascension we hear the promise of unity and eventually all will be made one. May we continue to live into that unity while continuing to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. Ascended Lord, we give thanks for the teachings that have remained with us through your first disciples. May we be guided in the time to come as we attempt to live into that unity and be directed by your ever-present love. Amen.
  

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