What is Unity?

Women, please raise your hands when a statement resembles you and keep them up.

  • You were or are a mother who also works outside of the home.
    (Thank you for your dedication to a multitude of vocations.)
  • You were or are a mother who stays/stayed home with her child/children.
  • Your child/children might have four legs and fur.
  • You are an aunt, perhaps a “good” crazy aunt, who sugars up the child/children and returns said child/children to their parents.
  • You are a teacher.
  • You are a medical professional, such as a nurse or doctor.
  • You nurture children (or others) whether they are your own or not.

I should see the hand of every women raised.
Happy Mother’s Day to each and every single one of you.

The Gospel of John can be a tongue twister, as read today, with repetitive wording causing one to be easily lost in the scripture. This can add to the fun of studying and preaching on it.

Our John 17 text is a prayer, but first, we find ourselves in an interesting spot of the church year…

  • Jesus has died and been resurrected.
  • The post-resurrection Jesus has spent time with the disciples, mostly in dark rooms, teaching them what it means to carry on his mission for the sake of the world.
  • Jesus, as of Thursday, has ascended to heaven and is not on earth with his disciples.
  • YET, the Holy Spirit has not arrived to ‘move’ the disciples from those dark rooms.

This John 17 prayer is spoken by Christ before his arrest, conviction, crucifixion, and resurrection. He is aware that his time with the disciples is limited and asks that after his departure the disciples will be unified, be of one mind in their teachings and living into their mission.

Therefore, this Sunday is the Sunday for Christian Unity.

When I hear “unity” and ponder it while bearing witness to our world, I wonder if we know “unity” because I see divisions and separation everywhere. That is quite the opposite of unity. 

We imagine and live as if “unity” means we all (at least seem to) look, act, and think the same. In my experience of humankind, I have yet to find a person who I agree with on everything. Thus, it cannot be a reasonable understanding for me of working, living, and serving in unity with one another.

Difference does not have to equal division.
Diversity does not have to equal separation.

This concept is not foreign, especially as applied to families.

Sociology and Psychology have the “Family Systems Theory”, which may sound complicated and intimidating but can be summarized as “what affects one member of the family, affects the whole”. That is unity. That is relationship.

If you question this theory…
who has seen a child have a meltdown or throw a temper tantrum?
does it affect only that child?
does it affect the parents? the sibling(s)? the other witnesses?
does it change the energy/mood for the entire day?

We are created to be connected to one another.
We are created to be in relationship.
We are created to be unified.

This is simple to witness in the family unit but it continues to be true when extended beyond the family.

What happens to one member of your family, affects the whole.
What happens to one member of the congregation, affects the whole.
What happens to one member of your society, affects the whole.
What happens to one member of our world, affects the whole.

When we stop to ponder it… that is INTENSE.

How do we live in unity and relationship with those who are different from ourselves and our norms? It is part of our human task.

Today is Christian Unity Sunday.
How many types of Christianity exists? Thousands.

Note: Approximately 33,000 – 41,000 worldwide depending on the source.

There are literally thousands of different “ways” of being a Christian in our world.

There are Christian denominations that we, Lutherans (ELCA), have built connections and healthy relationships; thus despite differences in theological emphasis, we can be unified for the sake of the Church (universal) and the sake of the world.

But, there are denominations on our Christian family tree who we have not built connections and healthy relationships. These may be the (not-so-fun) crazy aunts/uncles or distant cousins whom we do not have the desire or energy to be “unified”.

How do we respond to those family members and denominations?
We are called, sometimes out of obligation, to attempt to build that connection and work towards a healthy relationship.

I do not think that Christ was naïve enough to image the disciples would consistently agree with one another, in fact he spent time with the disciples and knew that there had been and would be more conflict.

In our Acts 1 text, the disciples have a vacancy for the 12th disciple in order to replace Judas and signify the restoration of the 12 tribes of Israel. The disciples asked for nominations in a room of 120 plus men. You may expect 120+ nominations, because who would not want that honor and title.

According to the passage, there were only two nominations. The disciples cast lots. They threw the die. They literally gambled, after praying, in order to determine the 12th disciple. I would assume it was not without discussion and disagreement, but it ended in unity.

It is not an easy process to be unified.
It is not an easy process to be connected and in healthy relationship, especially when we annoy and frustrate one another per our human nature.

I am not naïve.

We, as a community and society, annoy and frustrate regularly.

But, do we throw the connection and relationship away or seek further connection perhaps with care, compassion, and love?

I believe this was Jesus’ point:
That in the midst of our annoyances and frustrations, our disagreements and arguments, our conflict and tension, and our drama that we can still seek to connect through compassion, love, and a shared sense of mission…but it is not easy, it is a life-long process.

My prayer is that we, as humans, can consider:

  1. What it means to be unified in this time between Christ’s ascension and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost?
  2. What does it mean to build upon that connection and healthy relationship for the sake of our shared vocation to seek justice, to act with compassion and mercy, and to love and serve all people?

As we ponder these questions, let us pray a simple 3 word prayer in preparation for Pentecost:
“Come, Holy Spirit”… because we need it.

The Holy Spirit is the means  towards that unity, which would move us all forward.

Come, Holy Spirit! Come! Amen. 

The scriptures were Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26 and John 17: 6-19.
Originally preached on 13 May 2018 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN).

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