In Unity God Commands a Blessing

John 17:11b-19

In this “high priestly prayer”, the longest recorded prayer of Jesus (this is just a portion of it), Jesus gives us his vision for unity as he prays that the hearts of those who follow him will be as one as he is one with the Father. When we come together in unity, the scriptures tell us that God will command a blessing on us. As it says in Psalms, “How good it is, how pleasant, when the people dwell as one.”


If we examine the scriptures, we find that there are over 30 times where we see the combination of two words, “one another”. “Encourage one another. Love one another. Serve one another. Comfort one another.”  The pathway to holiness is through “one another”. There is power in connectivity. We draw strength from one another.


Nothing derails Christ’s vision more than disunity in the ranks. It’s true in business, a hockey team, a family and a church. How many times have we seen a movie where a less talented team pulls together and topples the more talented, better financed, more popular, but ego-centered team?  It’s been such a popular idea that it has become a cliché: from the Mighty Ducks to the Bad News Bears to the Pittsburgh Pisces (from the classic movie, "The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh")!


In his prayer to the Father, Jesus says, “I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.” If Jesus prayed for unity in the church, then it must be important. He prayed that the whole church be unified around the mission of spreading the Gospel.


As Christians, part of our job description is to build up other Christians. If we’re not doing that, we’re not fulfilling an important part of our responsibility. Jesus didn’t seek to please himself. He didn’t limit his associations to only certain groups of people. In fact, we see repeatedly that he went out of his way to associate with those outside his circle, his disciples.


Unfortunately, our human condition has us at times being rather tribal, provincial, sectarian or factional, falling short of the example set by Jesus.


We’ve all been guilty of this, or a victim of it, at some point in our lives. Maybe my most eye-opening experience of this, as a victim, was when I started a new job a few years back. It was a sales oriented job, visiting with banks in a territory that covered most of the Mid-Atlantic portion of the country. My first week on the job was going to be spent training in my territory, but that week got wiped out (March 1993) because the great blizzard. So my start date got moved back to the following Monday.


The unfortunate thing for me was that my company’s home office had set for me (baked into my schedule), an appointment on that Monday, with a bank in small town, Tappahannock Virginia. This appointment was critical because it was, as they refer to in the business, a “save” call. It was a save call because the bank had sent us a letter saying that they wanted to terminate their contract with us, essentially throwing us out. These type of emergency calls thankfully only happened on rare occasions, but I got one on day one without the benefit of any training.


Fortunately, my new boss was able to go on the call with me. The bank president that we met with was an old school southerner (right out of central casting) with a thick small town Virginia accent, which made it tough to follow all that he was saying. We began our visit, and he and my boss were bantering back and forth. My boss had a thick Georgia accent so I discovered that folks with thick Georgia accents and thick Virginia accents can understand each other. Of course, if they were both yinzers from the South Side I wasn’t going to be able understand what they were talking about - I didn’t even know what I was there trying to save!


In the midst of their banter (and I don’t remember what prompted this), the Virginia banker leans over and says slowly (making it understandable) “I hate Yankees”. Having never set foot in Virginia before I thought to myself, “Well, Welcome to Virginia!” And beyond that, “Boy, I picked a gem of a job here, didn’t I?” I never did figure out if he was kidding or not about Yankees as we ended up not saving the business - so I never got the chance to know him. As it turned out however, Virginia would eventually become one of my favorite places to visit and do business. But what a start!


The point is, no matter how Christian we think we are, we all have a little of that provincial Virginia banker in us. Covering a large chunk of the country as I did, it was always humorous to get the lowdown from the locals as to the different factions of people in their region. One lady said to me, pointing out the window, “you see that mountain over there?  People on that side of the mountain never come out of their houses and on the other side, beware, you have to watch your pocketbook over there.”


Isn’t funny how we tend to be tribal at times while at the same time acknowledging how much we need each other. We were created for one another and the great diversity that we are is what enriches our lives.


As we consider the road ahead, On Mission, each of us have a choice, to be an agent of unity or an agent of disunity. Our collective choice for unity will, as scriptures tell us, command a blessing on all of us from God, as we follow his vision, developing harmonious relationships.


What are some ways that each of us can commit to that will allow us to grow a more harmonious church in this season of On Mission?  Let me suggest four commitments that each of can make to help us grow in unity:


The first commitment is to build each other up. What a difference it can make if we commit to encouraging our leaders^ and others who have invested themselves so deeply in the success of this new Parish.


The second commitment is recognizing the value of every person. Every church is made up of a broad range of personalities. Inevitably, people will sometimes view others as obnoxious or immature. But the value of a loving church is that while we may disagree with others, or have different traditions as the case may be with merging parishes, we must never forget that Christ died for them too.  Recognizing the value of every person also means that we don’t force our opinions on others.


The third commitment for growing a unified church is keeping our focus on what’s really important. We can easily be split over trivial things. We all need to, as Pastor Rick Warren says, “emphasize what is eternal, not external.” We shouldn’t mistake diversity with disunity. Diversity is good.


The fourth and maybe most important commitment is to focus on the mission. Keep Christ at the center of it all. My plans, my desires, my preferences, my agenda, and my feelings are nothing compared to the Gospel. When we become unified around that mission, it changes everything, and will make our parish more effective in fulfilling God’s mission in each of our lives.


In his book, “The Pursuit of God,” AW Tozer said this: “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?  They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to the standard to which each one must individually bow.  So, one hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking to Christ, are in heart, nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to come in “unity” focused not on God, but on trying to “work things out” on their own among each other.”


God does command a blessing when we come together in unity. He rewards our^ efforts to 1)build each other up, to 2)value every person, 3)to keep focused on what’s important and 4)keep his mission at the center.


Just as a mom rewards the efforts of her children when, for example, her daughter Sally compliments brother Joey, or when her oldest son Paul stands up for his little sister Cindy who was just picked on by a bully, or when any of her children put away their video games or other less important activities, and instead, honor their mom by cleaning off the table or simply asking her how she’s feeling, God rewards us similarly for our loving actions, honoring him and caring for each other.


We are here today from all walks of life, all races, all social standings, Democrats, Republicans, Irish, German, Italian, Polish, Nittany Lions, Panthers, Mountaineers, Bobcats, Golden Eagles, Fighting Camels. We’re rich, we’re poor, we’re young, we’re old. Despite all our past or present associations, when we walk in the door of his church, we put all that aside and come together as one family to worship the God who spoke our world into existence.


So, let us pray today for more unity among us, and those not present.  Let us pray that we never lose sight of the vision that Jesus has for each of us that we may be as one, perfected in him, as one Body of Christ.  And let our prayer then become, "Lord, Heal all divisions among Christians that we may rejoice in the perfect unity of your Church, and help us move together, in service to each other, as one people, to eternal life in your kingdom.  Amen".


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