Risen. Renewed: Unity - Rev. Michael F. Bailey

Risen. Renewed: Unity
John 17:20-26
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
May 8, 2016

John 17:20-26: ’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. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ 

With apologies to those who may have heard me preach in the traditional services last week, I want to begin by sharing in this service what I shared in those. Namely, I want to share with you hope and encouragement about the church! I have seen such hope, encouragement and sheer life over the past few weeks! Just a few weeks ago, thirty two teenagers gave their lives to Christ through baptism and confirmation vows made on their behalf at their baptism. Then, a couple of weeks ago, our children presented the musical Esther. Over 40 young people sang and acted as they shared this great Biblical story. Saturday, eight days ago, I went to the graduation of the Annual Conference’s Young Adult leadership training program, Flamebuilders. Flamebuilders was founded by Christ Church’s own Cindy Thompson and Bishop Goodpaster, among others. Our own Katey Blaylock and Courtney Guadagno were graduates. The young adults shared significant ministry programs they are starting because of this experience. Some spoke of going into full-time pastoral ministry, including my own son, Ian. And last week, a youth choir of over fifty members joined with the chancel choir to sing to the glory of Christ, the Gospel Mass. Why even yesterday, at the yard sale for missions, youth were working everywhere. 

All of these are signs of life, hope and encouragement. Here’s why I share these signs: the General Conference of the United Methodist Church convenes tomorrow and runs for nearly 2 weeks. The conference is composed of about 1,000 delegates from all over the world. They are our highest legislative body, writing the law of the church in the book of Discipline. They’ll worship and pray and consider petitions, motions and amendments on all kinds of topics. And they’ll disagree considerably! Delegates from Zimbabwe have different opinions than delegates from San Francisco; delegates from Mississippi differ from the delegates from Vermont! And here’s what experience tells me will happen; media, from extreme poles, will tout headlines of doom and gloom regarding the UMC, usually because something happened that they oppose! But here’s real hope: this congregation will remain the same loving, accepting congregation it is today, the day before General Conference and the day after! We’ll still be singing, worshipping, preaching, serving and “doing life together” in Jesus name. So, hold on to that as you read all the “sky is falling” headlines over the next couple of weeks.

And what a timely topic we have for our last sermon in our series entitled: Risen. Renewed. In our time together, we’ve considered how the risen Christ, renews our lives in so many dimensions: faith, forgiveness, direction, witness and peace. 

Today, we consider how our Living Lord blesses us with unity!

In our passage, Jesus is offering prayers for all of those who follow him. In it, He prays much about us, His followers, being one. What does this one-ness, this unity look like in our lives, individually, congregationally, denominationally, and even globally? Let’s think together about this.

For starters, we are to “be one” in our mission. Our mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” In His prayer for us, Jesus prays for those who will believe through the sharing about Him by others. That's us, and that’s our mission. Sharing the good news of Jesus, in word and deed, is our highest calling; it is our “reason for existence. And we, as a church, either denominationally or as a congregation, are at our best when we’re united behind this mission. Conversely, when we let anything else become more important than “making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world,” we cease being church, and I suspect God has little use for us. We can find unity of both belief and action in making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world.

And then, Jesus teaches in His prayer that our unity is a witness to the fact that God sent Him and that He lives today. Jesus prays and teaches that our unity lets the world “know” and “believe” in Him. Now, here’s how that is possible–unity is not uniformity. God needs our diverse views, talents and backgrounds. This goes to the very roots of our movement. Wesley once said, “But as to all opinions which do not strike at the heart of Christianity, we think and let think.” We United Methodists are a diverse group: Rush Limbaugh, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, George McGovern, Dick Cheney and Walter Mondale are all are United Methodists. Unity is not uniformity.

A few years ago Google android had an ad that featured a young pianist playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, movement 3. His hands were flying across the keyboard and a title came up: “A Piano has 88 keys” then after more playing, a second title, “Each one is different” and then a third, “What if they were all the same?” The young pianist switched to another piano where all of the keys played the same note, middle c. You can imagine the result. He switched back and forth between the monotone piano and the real one a couple of times. The final title appeared: “Be together, not the same.” That’s the church. That’s us! We need all of the notes playing to make praises to God. 

You see, unity is never rooted in agreement; unity is rooted in God. That brings us to our last and most important truth: all Christian unity has as its beginning and its end, the love of Jesus. Jesus prayed for us that the love, which God had for Him, would be in us and we would be in Him, in this love! That’s the foundational and ultimate cause and affect of unity; Jesus and His love. Compared to Jesus and His love, all other differences of opinion, Bible interpretation, ways of doing church; all of those pale in comparison! Compared to Jesus and His love, opinion, political parties, background, just don’t matter as much as the world tries to get us to make them matter! Wesley put it best in a letter to a Catholic friend, “if your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.”

So all of us, from different countries of origin, different incomes, education levels, backgrounds, sizes, shapes, political persuasions, sexual orientation, family configurations, states of health – all of us who have given our hearts to Jesus – can join hands together, united in His love, made brothers and sisters! United in Jesus as a witness in a divided and dividing world, that Christ is alive! United in our holy and highest purpose, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 

Let us pray. 

Sharing starters:

Share with your group what you enjoy about a diverse church.

Share with your group a recent sign of “hope, life and encouragement” you’ve experienced at Christ Church.

Share with your group a commitment to help fulfill our mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Discuss the difference between unity and uniformity.

Share how the love for, by and in the name of Jesus unites us.