“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,[a] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,23 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. 24 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.25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 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.”
Recently, I went to the Episcopal ordination of my friend Aaron Klinefelter. Now, for those of you who have a hard time when a worship service goes to 65 minutes or so, this service started at 11 AM and ended a bit before 1 PM!
But, it was an amazing celebration. Aaron is a good friend who’s been there for me and vice versa, his family even lived with us for a while. I have confidence in him and in his ordination into the Episcopal priesthood.
I’ve been thinking about my own ordination…this gospel lesson is one of my favorite passages. I preached on it when I was going before the Presbytery for my examination before ordination. In Presbyterian polity, before one is finally approved for ordination, he or she has to preach to the entire presbytery. In Cincinnati, we have quarterly meetings and there are usually 200-300 folks there representing the 75 churches across the presbytery. After you give a short sermon, the entire presbytery can ask you any question that they want and then they vote to either approve or disapprove of your ordination.
The day before, I went rock climbing with one of my best friends, Mike Zimmer.
Partly to relax and take my mind off of the thought of preaching before a couple hundred folks and then having them ask me questions, but also to ask Mike his take on this passage.
Mike is a great thinker, he doesn’t identify as a churchgoer, but he understands God’s Spirit and desire for humanity to be together better than most.
In between hanging off of 60 foot cliffs, some where I wasn’t feeling so close to Mike as he was taking me on some crazy climbs, but we still had great moments of deep sharing and questioning.
At the Presbytery examination, I went into it with a confidence of the my friend’s encouragement and “with-you-in-life” presence. Mike even came.
It went well. The presentation made sense, a couple of questions were asked, then the Presbytery voted unanimously to ordain me as a minister.
Now, granted, I’ve been in the presbytery for a while and have had great friendships in it over the years, but it was a night that demonstrated that God works through all sorts of folks and different bodies. I have also experienced that same sense of unity with SONKA and in the UCC, and certainly in this church.
Those folks and those bodies often don’t seem to be unified, but at certain moments, you sense a togetherness that gives witness to a deeper relational reality at work.
Jesus in this passage is getting ready to go to the cross, he is praying not only for his disciples, but for all of those who will come after him.
Jesus is commenting on his glory, which is a model of sacrifice, of giving up his life for the love of others. Jesus has been glorified by his humanity, which is God’s glory, God’s making us in God’s image. Jesus is the truest human and we share in Jesus’ humanity. God’s glory is wrapped up in our glory and vice versa.
Jesus is also reminding us that our humanity, our glory has been given to us. A key part of this glory is also Jesus’ demonstration of true humanity in how he loves other and models sacrificial love. Jesus is saying that he, and the humanity that he represents, our best versions of ourselves, came out of love before creation came into existence, that he is the expression of all that God intends for humanity in our actions, attitudes and self/ others/God awareness.
Now, we cannot do that on our own. We need God and each other. We are called to unity with one another, not conformity, but a deeper bond. Jesus’ bond with the Father as demonstrated in this passage is so tight, they are one. We are called to be one and called to enter into the glory of God’s intent for us by recognizing our true humanity through Jesus abiding or living within each of us. That common identity draws us out of ourselves, out of our self-focus with a small “s” and growth as persons. It also reminds us that our unity is a mark of what it means to be the church…our unity, our witness to a deeper bond in our humanity, our desire for growth out of love, will show the world that there is a different force at work that is more powerful than control, fear, or violence.
Which is so counter-cultural, isn’t it? We live in a world based on control, fear, and violence…yet, there is a better way and it’s our task to let God flow in and through us in a new way, which is good for the world.
Jesus goes on in his prayer to remind us that this love will always be with us, that Jesus does not give up on us. That Jesus is always with us, living in us, working on us, whether we recognize it or not.
I cannot fully understand this unity, and I know it’s much deeper than anything I can do on my own. Yet, as a parent and as a friend, I can catch glimpses of it sometimes. God is described as a righteous Father. We can get hung up on the word “Father”, but we can also use the word “Mother”, or even “Parent”. The writer is saying that the love of a father, or of a parent, can run deep and that this God is that close. The term father even is an attempt by the early Jews to denote a deep sense of relationship.
We also know that righteouseness is a relational term, it means more than dotting I’s or crossing t’s, or following the letter of the law. It means being a true friend, of working together, creating together, journeying together and honoring one another.
This can be a deep relationship that transcends hardships and shows a deep sense of commitment and even trust.
As Jesus Followers, we are called to be a witness to each other in and out of this deep sense of friendship, of relationships. As a church that can be our legacy for folks, even as we move towards a deeper and new place as a church. Relationships matter, and as they are defined by love, they can shape and form us in beautiful ways.
At our church, Fleming Road UCC, we are a part of so many good things that can will have a transformative effect on our church and communities. The UCC, Parish Collective, our summer camp, the mission trip, our emerging youth group, our “New Parish Roundtable”, and so many other things. All of it centered on good friends coming together to discuss God’s work in and through us. There is a deep sense of unity, even if we did not always see things the same way. It gives me, and all of us, a glimpse of the kinds of conversations, friendships, and stories that are happening, and if we listen, pay attention, and have our imagination spark, will bring us to a new future, and a greater sense of presence as a faith community.
As we practice this unity, we will know that we are in Christ’s love and others will know of Christ through that same love as we extend it to those around us.
And that is good news!