5/12/2013 sermon: Be one with each other

Location: St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church, Ashburn, Virginia
Text: John 17:20-26
7Easter, Year C

Be one with each other

******************************KIDS’ PREVIEW******************************

Do you know what a flashlight is?
[Something we carry around that gives light so that we can see in the dark.]

I have a little one that our Bishop gave me last week; Father Daniel has one just like it, because our Bishop gave Father Daniel one, too. Do you know how a flashlight works?
[Batteries for power, a bulb that gives off light.]

This is a harder question: What is light?
[When you get into seventh grade, you’ll learn that light is made up on little packets of energy that we can see.]

Have you ever seen a laser (or a light saber) on TV?
If so, you probably know that a laser or a light saber gives off light, too, right? Some green light, some blue light, some red light. The light that a laser or a light saber gives off is a lot stronger than regular light. Do you know why laser light is much stronger than regular light?
In a regular light the little packets of light go wherever they want. Some of them bump into each other and they cancel each other out. But in a laser (or a light saber) the packets of energy are focused so that they are all going in the same direction and doing the same thing. In a laser, all the light packets are working together. This makes for a super strong light.]

Maybe you are wondering what flashlights and light sabers have to do with church.In our gospel lesson today Jesus was saying good-bye to his friends before going to heaven. And Jesus prayed for everyone (including you and me) that we all would work together, like the packets of energy in a laser. Jesus said that we all should be one, working together so that the whole world would know God. Being one with each other is how we turn the ordinary light of our lives into super light, like lasers, of love.

 Before we move on, are there any physicists here today?
[If so, this is the person who you can ask later about the differences between regular flashlight and laser light. // If not, GOOD!]

H/T Warner Pidgeon, A Call to Genuine Unity, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-call-to-genuine-unity-warner-pidgeon-sermon-on-humility-154701.asp for the idea.


Did you know that today is “Unity Sunday?” The seventh—last—Sunday in Easter each year uses a portion of a long prayer that Jesus prayed at the Last Supper. In this prayer Jesus asked God that his disciples love one another, as we heard two weeks ago. Today we learn that Jesus prays that we all be one with each other, as he and the Father are one.

At first I couldn’t figure out why our lectionary returns us to the Last Supper so late in the season of Easter. But the reason might be that we are in the “between time.” This past Thursday was Ascension Day, the day when Jesus left earth and went to heaven. Yet Pentecost isn’t until next Sunday, when we will celebrate the birth of the church and the coming of the Holy Spirit. So at this moment in the church year, Jesus has physically gone and has not yet come in Spirit. What we have to help us through is Jesus’ prayer that we be one with each other.

We know from elsewhere in John’s gospel that Jesus is in heaven, where his “job” is to intercede for us with the Father. Perhaps Jesus’ intercession there remains the same one that he offered while he was here with us: that we love one another, and through that love be one with each other.

So we try to do what Jesus prays for us. But our human story shows that we cannot accomplish unity on our own. On our own, unity doesn’t even seem like a good idea. How can I have more money than you, if we are one? How can I enjoy the privilege of my race if we are one? How can I feel like I am More unless I make you Less? Our whole culture—if not our whole human value system—pits us against each other. We need Jesus’ help to see the need to be one with each other, and to learn how to accomplish this difficult assignment.

The help that we get is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit brought us together into a church. (If we were packets of light, church is where we would get changed from flashlights into lasers.) This is our school for unity, where we come to learn a whole new human value system. Jesus wants his disciples to be one and the church is where we can learn how to do so.

As much as we would like for the church to be where we always, perfectly, are one with each other, you know that this is not the case. Attend any Vestry meeting where a serious change is being considered, and you may see a certain lack of unity. Be presented with a Muslim terrorist’s dead body to be buried and you’ll see even more lack of oneness. I don’t mean that we have to always agree, but that we should love one another even when we disagree, and ultimately we need to figure out how to be one. Yet the church’s track record on human justice issues is just not very good.

We are to BE one with each other to show the world God’s love. The world knows this and scrutinizes our every action to see how we are doing. Unfortunately, we (the church) aren’t doing so well. Many people, especially those in their 20s who grew up in the church, are abandoning church in great numbers. Although 20-year-olds have long done this, for the first time ever they are saying they NEVER plan to return to church, even for their own funeral.[1] They observe that the church doesn’t always live up to Jesus’ prayer for us, and they say things like, “I am spiritual, but not religious.”

What folks who say this don’t understand is that we simply cannot be Christians by ourselves, although sometimes we try. In his online commentary Brian Stoffregen quoted the lyrics of a song by two Christians named Richard Avery and Don Marsh that illustrate the absurdity of being a churchless Christian. The song is funny, in a sad way:[2]

I can be a Christian by myself.
Leave my dusty Bible on the shelf.
I’ll sing a hymn and pray a bit.
God can do the rest of it.
My heart’s the church, my head’s the steeple.
Shut the door, I’m all the people.

I’ll break some bread and drink some wine.
Have myself a holy time.
I’ll take the off’ring then I’ll know
Where that money’s gonna go.
So please remember, Lord, when I die,
Give me my own cloud in the sky. After this life with its labors
Don’t bug me with needy neighbors.

Our ability to be self-deluding is great; we need a community of fellow believers to keep us honest—fellow believers of all kinds, not just those who are like us.

What Jesus seems to fully see, in a way that we can only glimpse, is that we all are, at root, TRULY and literally one. We are interconnected in ways that we intuit but cannot yet fully explain. The apostle Paul glimpsed this reality and told us, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[3] Carl Jung said this in another way when he talked about the collective unconscious, “a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.”[4] Somehow we all ARE one; we just don’t know this, or act as if we are one without God’s help.

Be one with each other, so that the whole world will know Jesus.

[1] American Religious Identification Survey 2008, http://www.americanreligionsurvey-aris.org/.

[2] Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks: http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john17x20.htm, quoting Richard Avery and Donald Marsh, The Avery-Marsh Songbook, 1972.

[3] Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

[4] C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (London 1996), p. 43.

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