Today’s gospel lesson from John is a part of the prayer Jesus lifted up just before he was arrested by the soldiers and police of the chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus knew exactly what was to come, and yet his fervent prayer was that his followers have unity with one another.
Contained within this prayer is the phrase ‘…that they may all be one.’, which is the official motto of the United Church of Christ, a denomination that includes 6 or more traditions of faith: communities of color, indigenous communities, Congregational communities, Christian communities, Evangelical communities, and Reformed communities.
In addition to that history, there is a Formula of Agreement, or a foundational and enduring relationship with the Presbyterian Church USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the Reformed Church of America.
That is to say that our worshiping community today has the DNA of churches that have acted to be united and uniting in Christ, and, when we are one, of one mind, in one accord, one in the spirit, we are nothing less than the fulfillment of the Christ’s prayer to God before his arrest and crucifixion.
Jesus knew there was power in unity, and he knew there was peace in unity. And his prayer links his unity with God to his unity with us, creating a bridge that unifies us directly with our creator God, through him.
When we can be the answer to Jesus’ prayer, powerful and peaceful things can happen.
In a world of partisanship, division, and disagreement, one, unified, Christian community can be a significant agent of change. Standing against the tide of disunity, we, as followers of Christ, can, in our oneness, make powerful and peaceful things happen.
We are one, today, in celebrating the increase of the Christian community by witnessing Olivia Jane Maute’s baptism. And because we are one, good things can happen.
We are one, today, in opposing violence, violence in relationships, in neighborhoods, in schools, in the workplace, in government, in countries around the world. And if our actions speak louder than our words, then baptizing Olivia today, speaks volumes about our faith, and our unity, and our willingness to be part of the answer to Christ’s prayer.
One drop of goodness, one drop in world swirling with hate, is a faithful act of love nonetheless.
Last week, Rev. Traci Blackmon, the United Church of Christ Associate General Minister for Justice and the Local Church, spoke at a prayer vigil across the street from the Tops Market, where 10 innocent sisters and brothers lost their lives. She told us that the world was suffering from a lack of love, and that we were going to have to ‘love the hell out of this place.’
Since that time, evil and hate doubled down, in Uvalde, Texas, and a whole host of other places. Christ’s prayer that we may all be one is an urgent, and necessary prayer, and we’re going to have to work harder at uniting, and being united.
What else can we do? Well, even as we’re united and uniting, even as we may all be one in our faith, and in our love, and in our sharing of Christ’s peace, we can all take a breath, and consider stepping back from any ideas that those who disagree with us are evil, or monsters, or criminal. Demonizing those who think or believe differently comes easy to us, but it works against what Jesus was praying for.
In a divided culture, there are two opposing groups. In a partisan environment, there are two, often polar-opposite factions, struggling to become the dominant power, the dominant voice…
If we are to be one, then no matter which side of the partisanship divide we belong to, we’re going to have to remember that God is in them as much as God is in us, and that Jesus prayed that we all may be one, not just the ones who believe what we believe.
What happened in Uvalde was evil. What happened in Buffalo was evil. What is happing in Ukraine is evil. We are all one on this. But getting back to what Rev. Blackmon said, we can’t hate the hell out of this place, we can only love the hell out of it.
And today’s baptism, and next month’s baptism, and the baptism after that, these are a good start. But they’re only a start.
Jesus knew our human penchant for disagreement and division. That’s why he prayed to God that we may all be one. And we’ve been given all the tools and all the resources we need to be the answer to that prayer.
Will that take us outside our comfort zones? Absolutely. Will we make mistakes? Of course. Will we start down the wrong path sometimes? Without a doubt.
But we are going to have to work hard at being united and uniting in Christ in our prayers, in our worship, in our mission, and in the living out of our faith lives. Hopeful and loving acts, like Olivia’s baptism, are a start.
Each of us has a role to play, each of us has been given gifts of the spirit to use in this effort. How are you called to help us all be one? What can you do, today, tomorrow, and beyond, to grow our being united and uniting in Christ for the sake of the world, for the sake of our children?
Can we each dial back the intensity of our disagreements? I mean, it’s ok to hate evil, and evil acts, but where can we begin ‘loving the hell out’ of this place? Where in our daily lives can we find the time, and the means, and the courage, to love the hell out of our neighborhood, our country, our world? To be one in loving the hell out of this world?
What are we, as a culture, as a community, as a country, willing to sacrifice in order to move the needle a little toward a safer world for our children? What freedoms, or guarantees are we willing to sacrifice to make the world just a little bit safer? Any?
In the days, months, and years ahead, it will be easy to get discouraged. In the work of uniting, and being united, we will get fatigued. The weight of working to live into the Christ’s prayer that we may all be one will get heavy at times, but when we lift that weight, we will only get stronger.
Day by day, acts of love, and kindness, and compassion, along with intentional and faithful acts that foster unity against violence and hate, will bring us that much closer to the prayer Jesus prayed for us.
Be the answer to his prayer, let us all be one. Amen.