“Be One” John 17:26-29
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Sunday, May 8, 2016
A Jewish proverb states what we remember today and should realize at all times: “God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.” One of the primary activities mothers do for God in this world is to remind us of stuff we need to know or do. Right? Isn’t that, at least, what mothers spend the majority of their time—and lives—doing? Don’t forget your lunch. Don’t forget your homework. Remember to brush your teeth. Have you picked up your room? Don’t forget to say please and thank you. Don’t forget to turn in your permission slip. Don’t forget . . . your mother.
In our text (John 17:26-29) this morning, Jesus mothers the disciples in a way as he gives them plenty to not forget as they set out into the world. We hear these words on this Sunday before Pentecost Sunday, recalling that Jesus was preparing the disciples for his departure from them and the giving of the Holy Spirit. There’s a lot of instruction going on, as we’ve heard already in these last few Sundays. It is best summarized in what we hear from Jesus in this chapter this morning, in just two words: “be one.” That’s what Jesus was praying for his disciples. Hear his prayer again in context: I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 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.The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 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.
What a powerful prayer! What a significant request, especially in light of the personalities and peculiarities of the disciples. Jesus wanted for them what only God could give: oneness. This is the kind of unity Jesus lived in with God, as God was in him and he was in God. The life of Jesus in human flesh was the perfect representation of how to be one with God. Jesus walked, talked, breathed, loved, liberated, healed, included, died, and resurrected as a human totally in sync with God. This was the kind of relationship he knew the disciples would need as they would carry on his work; the work of God in the world. They would need to be one with God, but they would also need to be one with each other.
I’m thinking that this is the same thing Jesus would pray for us as his followers of today. May they “be one.” Not “may they all be segmented into different denominations, church buildings, understandings of baptism, the color of skin, sexual orientation, worship style, or based on which translation of the Bible they use.” But isn’t this the reality of the church throughout history and even today? We—the church—know very little about oneness with each other. Lest we think of it as unanimity, we should realize that Jesus had no such expectations of the disciples gathered around him at that time. Nor does he for those of us today. Oneness is about unity, but the kind where we can disagree and have conflict, but doing so with a deepening awareness of our union with each other through Jesus. It is one characterized by our commonality, not our differences.
The words of Jesus here in his prayer should inspire us to experience the oneness we can have with each other. What would it look like for Christians in our city, state, nation, and the world to be one? We have become so splintered that it is hard to imagine such a thing even. But isn’t that what Jesus prayed for as he looked out at his disciples? Surely he expects us—as he did with them and all their differences with each other—to see that we have far more in common in with each other than we ever thought; that what—and who—is far greater than what divides us. Who among us is going to champion this reality for the world? As we honor our graduates here this morning, I can’t help but think of how God intends to include them in his work in years ahead, using the knowledge and gifts God has developed in them to model what the world can look like when we learn to coexist together.
The key for us to become one with each other is inextricably linked to our becoming one with God. We are to understand that the kind of oneness Jesus shared with God is the kind we can also have. It is the glorious and mysterious union with God that God has made available to us. As Athenaeus, one of the Greek church fathers, stated it, “God became human in order that humans might become divine.” Thomas Merton and other contemplative Christians believe that the divine union and life with God remains “hidden and dormant within us” until we develop it through asceticism, charity, and contemplation. Oneness with God is waiting to be developed within us. Maybe that’s why we find it so hard to be one with others; we haven’t discovered it for ourselves.
Erma Bombeck commented that When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ It is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway. Moms know what we need to hear to make it in the world. As we have heard this morning, Jesus gives us his advice to be one, words we also need to hear to make in the world.