20 “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 one in us, 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.”
Our gospel lesson this morning is one of my favorite passages. I preached on it when I was going before the Presbytery for my examination before ordination in the PCUSA.
The day before, I went rock climbing with one of my best friends, Mike Zimmer, whom many of you have met and who’s family we’ve prayed for in the past. I wanted to go climbing, partly to relax and take my mind off of the thought of preaching before a couple hundred folks at Presbytery 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 or particularly religious, 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 also 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. Honestly, a similar experience was when I was approved for dual standing with the UCC. There was a sense of oneness in that moment.
Now, granted, I’ve been in the presbytery for a while, and now the UCC for several years as well, and I have had great friendships in both over the years, it goest to show that God works through all sorts of folks and different bodies. 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.
There was a similar sense of that oneness in our meeting last Saturday with the elemental church leadership team here at Fleming Road UCC. A cross section of our church membership, all with with different thoughts and opinions, yet there was a sense of oneness and of mutual presence with each other.
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 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.
Jesus is also praying that our humanity, our glory has been given to us by Jesus. 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. It’s also important to know that God’s glory is wrapped up in our own glory as humanity…when we are being fully aware of our ourselves, others, and the divine touch that brings us together, God is glorified!
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.
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 get wrapped up in this term a lot, is God male or female..well, God is both and also neither. In scripture, God is both referred to in the feminine and in the masculine. God transcends gender even as God identifies in both genders. God is found in all things, in all people. This is more a term of relationship, of connectedness. God is also saying that the love of a father, or of a parent, can run deep. The term father even is an attempt by the early Jews to denote a deep sense of relationship.
We know that righteousness is a relational term, it means more than dotting I’s or cross 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.
Another word for this oneness is simply communion. In this world where we have a dearth of leadership, even anti-leaders if you will, folks in position of power who want to divide for political gain rather than unite for the gain of humanity. But, not so with us. As Jesus Followers, we are called towards peace, towards unity, and towards being in authentic community with one another and to bring reconciliation to the world. Yet, it can also 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 one another 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.
And that is good news!