This past Sunday, I preached on what it meant for Jesus to pray that we might be one. The thought that came to my mind while contemplating us in our divisiveness, snarling in our corners was the image of high school. What kind of kid were you in high school? I wore band t-shirts and mainly only talked in sarcasm for 4 years. Its human and natural to form our own identity, break off into little cliques and to only loosely associate with the student body at large.
When we think of being one, the temptation can be to look for a Breakfast Club moment to happen that magically brings everyone together. If you grew up watching John Hughes movies like I did you know the magic of watching teenage angst play out on screen. In the Breakfast Club, 5 students of differing groups enter into a shared detention that by the end of the film transform from indifferent enemies to one group of friends: the Breakfast Club. Now, we may think of this as ideal, as an image of a society where the things that drive us apart can wash away in the forced confinement of a good sharing session, but the world simply doesn’t work like that. Breakfast club moments are inspiring, but rare.
Meanwhile, the rest of humans scrounge around on the earth seemingly knowing only conflict and bitterness because things aren’t going our way, or we simply cannot convince whoever to believe what we would like them too. The church is no different, we are just as often divided over the big issues of polity, theology and defining sin as we are over issues of altar decorations, music, and what time we should meet on Sunday morning.
In times of strife, we should recall that Judas sat at the table where Jesus prayed for unity. That in itself tells me that Jesus knew of our brokenness, and knew what it meant to be human. Yet, I do not believe that Jesus’ prayer goes unanswered, though I do believe that often it is up to us to answer the prayer (with help from the Holy Spirit). Being different, having a unique call is not a bad thing as long as we enter into the conversation with those whom are trying to do the same thing, just coming from a different place.
If we are to be one, in our congregations, in our communities, and as a worldwide church, then we must acknowledge the following:
1. Being one does not involve seeing debate or division as a war or completion. Vilifying the other side or harboring fantasies of commandeering the debate and forcing others to hold what you believe is unacceptable because it doesn’t value each person as sacred. In politics, we don’t think this way. As much as we struggle with the productiveness of Congress, we don’t think dictatorship is a splendid alternative.
2. Nor can we simply ignore the things that divide us. We cannot brush our differences under the rug. Our differences, the things that divide us and define us are inherently good and sacred to us. Asking anyone to lose their identity for the sake of unity is also not a desired alternative.
3. If we are to be one, I believe it comes through being confidently different, and sharing our love, passion, and mission with our brothers and sisters. Its not an easy answer, or a quick fix, but by knowing who and what we are, doing the intellectual and spiritual work to know what makes us tick enables us to clearly share what we believe. As is acknowledged not only in church history, but also in philosophy, it takes two opposing arguments interacting to produce a new synthesis of ideas. It is through our individual uniqueness that we are able to hear the Holy Spirit together as a church, pulling us forward and speaking to us anew.
Jesus’ prayer to be one is both answered and denied on a daily basis. I encourage you to be part of the church that answers Christ’s prayer. Do not be afraid to stand up and argue about what you believe, but do so in love and kindness. We need more people who have the courage to stand up and proclaim what they believe and to enter into conversation with one another.
We haven’t always been efficient or perfect in the church, but if we are engaged in the one mission of Jesus Christ, proclaiming that one baptism, then I believe we are answering that prayer that his disciples may be one.