“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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Unity in Christ

Group of human hands showing unity

May 28, 2017

John 17:1-11

I am going to let you in on a little secret! I get a little uncomfortable when people do not get along with one another. At times, I can just walk away from the situation and perhaps pray for the relationship. At other times, I try to think of ways in which the people that are living in disagreement can come together and live into a unity. An example of unity which is with us from the very beginning.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5

These verses are familiar. Of course, they come from the beginning of John’s Gospel. These verses point us toward a unity of the Trinity, and a call for unity among all of God’s people. In Jesus is life, and in this life, is a light which shines for who? For all people! In Jesus, many hope for a perfect life.

In reality, we have come to learn that not everything is going to be perfect. We have learned that not everyone gets along with each other. Unfortunately, we have also learned that there is evil in the world that appears at times to overtake us.

In the midst of this, we hear the prayer of Jesus. He has been teaching the disciples for the past few chapters in the Gospel of John and he now concludes this time with a prayer. Jesus has come to the point where he has instilled enough for now with his disciples and his last hour is approaching. The prayer is full of love and compassion for those that he has walked with for the past few years. However, the prayer is not just for the remaining eleven disciples, but all that have picked up their crosses to follow Jesus in his footsteps and those yet to follow.

Our lesson concludes in the midst of Jesus’ prayer, and it leaves us with questions. “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (vs. 11).

If we look at the world around us, it appears that Jesus’ prayer has not yet been answered. We are not living as one. Not in the sense that we think of oneness. There is still plenty of division that happens and it can be overwhelming. You name it, humans can and will find a way to divide. The church is no exception. Can you believe that out of the teachings of Jesus Christ, and The Way as St. Paul refers to it, the Christian church has grown to 2.2 billion members. The more surprising fact is that out of those 2.2 billion members, they belong to 41,000 different denominations. Whenever the church has had a disagreement through the years, we decide that we will just start our own denomination. Lutherans are just as much responsible for this. Did you know that in North America alone, there are close to 40 different Lutheran denominations?

How do our actions as followers of Christ lead us to such a split? We have left out the room for the mystery. The mystery that comes to us in the Word, that is with us from the beginning and is in unity with creation. It is an organic unity and oneness. A unity that has been fostered and nurtured from the very beginning of time.

We cannot expect to have the same unity and oneness in our time if we do not foster and nurture it from the ground up. Let’s look at it from the very beginning of a relationship. Two people fall in love and decide that they want their lives to become one. They may perhaps decide to have children and in this the family unit lives together and is one. As a family, they may decide to attend a church or find a place that supports and loves them as they are. From our birth, we continue to grow into our environments. It is here that we seek out love and acceptance. It is here that we look for the unity and oneness that Jesus prays for.

The problem is, we are on this side of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are in a place where the Kingdom of Heaven has not fully come into being. There are struggles along the way. We feel at times that our prayers are not being answered. We cry out to God, asking why we have been confronted with various challenges.  Where is this unity that Jesus speaks of, we wonder?

This is where the mystery gets good! “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them” (vs. 7). When Jesus prays that his followers may be one as he and the Father are one, he is praying all of us into this mystery too!

It is in this prayer that we can begin to imagine what a oneness in Christ feels and looks like. What if the church could be this place? It is at the cross and in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension that we are able to behold the great mystery that has been present since the very beginning of creation in the Word. It is here that we come to know and experience the love of God.

The World Has Not Come to an End

Though it may seem like it.

What a bitter election season we have just experienced. I sat down last night to watch the returns with a pit in my stomach that must have been anticipating the outcome that I would wake up to this morning. No matter which candidate won, there would be people not happy with the outcome. I went to bed with an inkling of how the populace voted and what the outcome was going to be. Hoping that by chance I would wake up in the morning and it would have just been a bad dream.

The thing is, I am a white Christian male, what do I have to fear? I am in the majority and apparently that majority voted for drastic change in Washington. Just from watching the returns and listening to the pundits talk, the racial divide is still strong in America. We clearly are not a unified nation. If we truly want to move forward, we must be able to look beyond these labels.

Regardless of who won the election, my calling has not changed. I am called to serve God and proclaim the good news that is the gospel. A gospel which comes down to the lowly and the least of these. A gospel that leaves no room for misogyny, racism, sexism, xenophobia, or fear. I will continue to stand up for those that feel excluded and will continue to speak of the love of God for all people. I will continue to preach a gospel that proclaims the inclusion of all people. I will stand up for the creation God has granted us.

My prayer is that we can come together in unity. A unity that will break down any walls, real or proposed. A unity that encourages conversation. A unity that encourages strengthening relationships. I believe that America is already great because it is composed of a great diversity of people. There is nothing to go back to. We can only move forward.

I cannot even pretend to know how my LGBTQ friends and family feel this morning. I cannot pretend to know how my African American or Hispanic friends feel this morning. I do know that many have expressed fear and anger. May we step up as a united people to combat any hatred that is spread and bring about the love of God. God is good. In this we pray.

Prayer for Christian Unity

latvia_font

Luke 4:14-21

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I have to admit that it is a little strange to return to a place where you sensed God calling you into ministry. In a way it is a little intimidating because these are the people that experienced you in the infancy of your faith and walked with you through this strange calling. There is also a bit of reassurance that happens within this as well. They are supportive and grace-filled. Even when you attempt to sing the liturgy and they realize a week later that one of the stain-glass windows is cracked! (I am sure it was just coincidence)

In the gospel of Luke this morning Jesus returns to Nazareth shortly after he was baptized. Jesus, entering the synagogue and standing up to preach, reads from Isaiah and in doing so fulfills the promise in scriptures. This is a life-changing event for Jesus. He boldly proclaims his calling and teaches from the scripture. Everyone is intently listening as all of the eyes in the room are turned towards him and every ear hanging on to each word that came out of his mouth. Is what he was preaching what they expected to hear? We are left hanging until next week!

Jesus sets the example for us of stepping out into the crowd and speaking boldly. He proclaims the scripture that has been placed in his hands. He comes bearing love and reconciliation for a world that is in friction with God’s intentions. Even the leaders within the Jewish church cannot agree on their beliefs and teachings.

Each faith tradition has its own sects which confess to varied beliefs and doctrines. In a way this is a great thing that we are able to do as humans. However, we tend to let these differences get in our way of working towards a better and greater community. Separately we can make little differences in the community around us. It is when we come together that we can multiply the impact upon our community and reach a greater number of people.

Throughout scripture Jesus calls us together to work with one another and to love one another. Jesus is the teacher of our faith and we must listen intently. We too can be teachers as we learn from him and share that with those around our community. This week we celebrate The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We are called together to be with one another in prayer and love. The theme for this years Prayer for Christian Unity comes from 1 Peter:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10

The World Council of Churches has been celebrating The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity since 1968. Recorded prayers for our brothers and sisters in other churches can go back as far as Scotland in 1740 when prayers were included for all churches. It is a call for churches around the world to reach out with prayers and a sense of ecumenism to other churches in our community, country, and world. Trinity already has a history of coming together with our brothers and sisters at First UCC and First UMC various times throughout the year for services. What a wonderful thing it is for us to come together in unity to celebrate God and give thanks for one another. This week is a reminder to keep those relationships in our prayers as well as those that may be strained.

The churches of Latvia were instrumental in putting the resources together for this years Week of Prayer. Latvia’s churches have come together as it struggled as a new state in the aftermath of World War I until the second World War came and they fell under the rule of Nazism and Communism. It was during these times that it could be dangerous to make it known that you were a Christian. As the countries Christians came together in this time or turmoil they developed deep bonds with one another. After the country regained its independence in 1991, there has been a great renewal within the Christian churches in Latvia. The font that you see in this posting is from the Lutheran Cathedral in Riga, the nations capital. There is a good relationship among the nations largest denominations, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and other smaller Christian churches.

While it may not be perfect, there is a great sense of unity that occurs within the churches of Latvia. While unity seems to be the story in Latvia, at times it appears that in the United States there is more dis-unity. From the number of different denominations that we have to the independent work that is done by each of them.

Whenever disagreements sprout up within the church it appears to be another reason to split off and create a different church or denomination. It is my believe that it is much better to stay and enter into conversation with one another and be in relationship. During my second year of seminary I had the experience of having a congregation that I was working with decide to leave the ELCA. It was not a healthy time in the life of the church and left many split with differing viewpoints.

As a church we can accomplish much more as we work together in unity as a royal priesthood as 1 Peter states. We are not only called to live with God in our lives and actions, but also to live with our brothers and sisters. As we are called as God’s people, we must rejoice in the light that has brightened our darkness.  There is no better way than to rejoice together and lift one another up in prayer. One such instance that happened these past couple of days were Finnish Lutherans were welcomed at the table and received Holy Communion at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

As we pray and work together we multiply the love of Christ throughout our communities and neighborhoods. We are called to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord, not individually, but communally. May we continue to pray for Christian Unity throughout our community, country, and world. By coming together may our prayers reverberate and may the saving Grace of Christ be experienced by all.