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Unity in Community

May 29, 2022 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: John 17:20–26

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 29, 2022

John 17:20-26

 “Unity in Community”

On this Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of the summer season, there are lots of things going on: backyard cookouts and gatherings, getting away for some rest and relaxation, catching up on all the stuff on your to-do list. But there is a deeper purpose and a greater truth to what this day is all about. It is so much more than a three-day weekend. Living as we do in the shadow of our nation’s capital, Arlington National Cemetery is close by, a silent but potent reminder of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in defense of the freedoms which we enjoy and often take for granted. Over the years, I have conducted a good many committal services at Arlington, and there are more than a few of our members who are interred there. For the men and women of our Armed Forces, there is a sense of unity in working together to accomplish the mission that is before them. It’s critical to know, especially in combat, that you have each other’s backs. There is unity within the community of those who serve. That leads us into the theme for preaching this day. Based on Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson, the message for this day is entitled “Unity in Community.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Today’s Gospel lesson comes from a larger unit in John’s Gospel, all in chapter seventeen, known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It is unique to John, and not found in any of the other Gospels. In John’s account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, this comes just before Jesus’ betrayal by Judas and his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1ff.). Before this happens, though, Jesus prayed, and what he prayed for was unity within the community of all who believe in him across the ages, and that includes us today. The opening words of today’s Gospel lesson make this clear with Jesus’ own words: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” (John 17:20-21a). That is enormously comforting, to know that our crucified, risen and ascended Savior has prayed to the Father – and in fact, continues to pray as our great High Priest – for all of his beloved children of every time and place. The words of our Scripture memory verse, which we read together, form the basis of the message for today: I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23).

That is Jesus’ prayer for his people until he comes again: that they – that we – may all be one, even as Jesus is one with the Father. Within the word “community” is the word “unity.” The prefix “com” means “with” or “together.” So we might say, “together in unity.” But when we look at our communities, our nation, our world, we see disunity, not unity. We see division, rancor, and hostility. We see terrible decisions acted out that lead to violence and bloodshed, even as we saw this past week with the massacre of children at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. How did we get to this place in our nation? Where will it end? And how do we keep this from happening again? Within the Church, there can also be division, rancor, and hostility. Congregations can be torn apart by such things that do not manifest the spirit of Christ, but the spirit of the world. The very ones for whom Jesus shed his blood at times seem to be working toward what will divide rather than what will unite under him who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In a perverse and diabolical way that runs counter to what Jesus prays for, there can be unity in disunity. How in the world can Jesus’ prayer “that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:23a) be realized through imperfect and broken people like us?

This past Thursday, we celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord. Forty days after he rose from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven where he now is seated at the Father’s right hand, and from which he will come again to judge the living and the dead. This may sound like a teaching that’s more concerned with the future than the present. But there is a here-and-now relevance of Jesus’ ascension for our lives in this present moment. In the midst of what has happened and continues to happen in places like Uvalde, Buffalo, Ukraine, and many other locations much closer to home where there is fear, oppression, and exploitation, where greed, corruption, and violence always seem to have the upper hand and where the rule of Christ seems a quaint relic of the past, we affirm the truth that Jesus reigns. Even when it appears otherwise and everything around points to the contrary, Jesus reigns. This is the only hope we have in the midst of a world that is falling apart.

The confession of this truth that Jesus is our risen, reigning and returning Lord and Savior is the basis of unity in community. We are reminded that we do not live a life of faith alone. Faith is personal, of course, but it is never private. It’s never just “Jesus and me.” Faith is always in the context of the community of believers, the Body of Christ, the whole Church on earth and in heaven. This is why we confess the faith we share in the Nicene Creed with the words, “We believe…” Together with fellow believers throughout the ages, this is what we believe in and share together as brothers and sisters in Christ. And so through the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in our lives through the Means of Grace, both Word and Sacrament, the words of that psalm which we read together in this service are realized in our life together: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] dwell [together] in unity” (Psalm 133:1). This side of heaven, that unity will be imperfect at best. Why is that? Because of sin, which we all struggle with. As Luther reminds us, we are simul iustus et peccator (“at the same time, justified [saint] and sinner”). But we do not lose hope because of this incongruity in life, even when sin tries to get the upper hand. We go back each day and reclaim for ourselves who God has called us to be in Holy Baptism: his own beloved children. Flowing out of our Baptismal identity, we encourage one another all the more as we walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1ff.), rejoicing in our God-given unity in community. Amen.

 

 

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