Monday, May 17, 2010

Easter 7C

When you pray for our church, what do you pray for?

Do you pray for peoples' physical illnesses, that they will receive comfort and healing?

Do you pray for faithfulness in serving?

Do you pray that we'll grow in membership?

Do you pray for a greater sense of God's vision for our future?

What do you pray for? What do you think God wants us to pray for?

Jesus was alone in the garden, offering his final petitions to his Father, and his worry wasn't for himself and the pain he was going to endure. He was praying for his disciples. He was worried about them. What would happen to them after he was gone? He had some definite concerns that he wanted God to take care of.

I often wonder who Jesus' prayer was directed to. It was pretty wordy. He goes on at length, offering details that God certainly would know about. Maybe Jesus could hear the disciples shushing each other in the bushes so they could hear what Jesus was praying. After all, who wouldn't want to eavesdrop on a divine conversation? And perhaps Jesus spoke a little louder so his prayer could reach the disciples' ears as well as God's.

So Jesus' prayer became a sermon. Overheard final directions for his disciples. Instructions on how they were to behave after he was gone. A final prayer of dedication.

He prayed that his disciples would be in unity.

I find that interesting. He wasn't worried that they'd be unfaithful. He wasn't worried that they'd lose their love for God and neighbour. He wasn't worried that they'd lose their courage in the face of persecution.

Jesus was worried that they'd be separated in purpose; broken up as a family; pulled apart from each other. He was afraid that their little community would crumble after he left.

So he prayed for their unity. Jesus didn't want his disciples to be split up. He wanted his followers to continue to be as devoted to each other after he was gone, as they were when he was with them.

And I think that if we look around, we might wonder if Jesus is still waiting for God to answer that prayer.

There has NEVER been a time when Christians could be classified as "unified." ALL the New Testament writings were responses to inner-church conflict. ALL of them. Some are more obvious than others, such as the nasty church fights that Paul wrote letters to help end. John's gospel was directed at his fellow Jews who didn't see Jesus the same way he saw Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their gospels to contrast each other, because they didn't think the other guys got it right. Christians haven't been getting along since Peter and Paul met for coffee and failed to reach an agreement as to how we are saved.

Christianity was born in conflict. And it stayed in conflict.

But that's not news to us. We Lutherans don't shy away from conflict. In fact we celebrate it. Each Reformation Sunday, we get all parochial about how Martin Luther cast off the shackles of a tyrannical Roman Catholic Church and returned God's people the God-given freedom that belongs to every Christian. The Reformation was high drama. A conflict of cosmic magnitude. And we were the victors! So, we sing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" lustily, a victory hymn for a battle that was won five centuries ago.

The Lutheran Reformation, was, of course, a needed corrective against the abuses of a church that had become too big to fail. But such an event shows that Christians aren't anywhere close to fulfilling what Jesus prayed for. If anything, the Lutheran Reformation made things worse. It opened a Pandora's Box of church splits. It gave license for any disgruntled Christian to leave their church in a huff and start up a new congregation down the street.

And we know that this is still going on, even maybe getting worse. It seems that every day new Lutheran denominations are being born, usually in response to how we talk about human sexuality. We all have our lines drawn; lines, if crossed, dissolves our relationships with other Christians. So we form new churches from the ashes of our failure to live up to Jesus' prayerful directions.

Studies have shown that churches that are started in conflict, stay in conflict, because that's a defining part of their congregation's story. Most churches that begin in a church split, face another split down the road, which, will then, split again. Fighting becomes part of the church's DNA. It is who they are.

Church fights are addictive. They create drama. A sense of purpose. Identity."Us vs Them." It feels like standing on moral high ground.

But it's really being disobedient to Jesus' final instructions. Jesus did not pray, "May they have unity in correct doctrine." Nor did he pray, "May they have unity in social issues." And he certainly didn't pray, "May they agree with each other all the time."

Jesus just prayed they (we) would have unity simply from being Christians, named and claimed in baptism, chosen by God to be lights in the darkness.

For those disciples overhearing Jesus' prayer, his words were probably both a challenge and a promise. No, they weren't getting along. They bickered, argued, and fought. They jockeyed for position and competed with each other for a seat at God's grown-up table. They knew they were anything but unified.

But they also heard Jesus PRAY for unity among the disciples. This meant that unity wasn't something THEY did. Unity was something GOD did. God brought them together. Unity is then a gift, an act of grace.

And God graciously brings us together every time we gather to hear the Word proclaimed and to receive the sacrament of new life. God bring us diverse, disparate, and differing people together to under a canopy of grace, as fellow sinners in need of forgiveness, and fellow saints beloved of God.

We may not be a completely unified church, and we are certainly not a completely faithful church. But what we do, what we have, and who we are is a gift from God, not our own doing.

In other words, Jesus' prayer for us HAS BEEN, IS BEING, and we have faith that it WILL BE answered. That means that every time we gather as the Body of Christ, God is active in answering Jesus' prayer. And we give thanks that we are not left alone to bring us together in unity, but that Jesus is continually praying for us, and the Holy Spirit is continually answering that prayer.

And may God continue to move within and among us, gathering us together, answering Jesus' prayer. Amen.


Blogger JameyJ_Be湖聿 said...


6:04 PM  

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