May 15, 2007

Looking Ahead to May 20, 2007 -- 7th Sunday of Easter

The Scripture readings for this week are:
  • From the Writings of the Early Church: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
  • Psalm 97 (VU p.817)
  • From the Gospel: John 17:20-26

The hymns are:

  • 402 We Are One
  • 605 Jesus, Teacher, Brave and Bold
  • 606 In Christ There Is No East or West
  • 326 O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

The Sermon title is: Ut Onmes Unum Sint – That All May Be One.

Early Thoughts: This passage from John is where the United Church of Canada got it's motto. The passage is a portion of a long prayer that John puts in Jesus' mouth. Retired UCCan minister John Shearman writes about it:

This prayer almost certainly contains few if any actual words of Jesus. Instead, it contains John's interpretation of what Jesus' life, death and resurrection meant for the Christian community for which he was writing in the last decade of the 1st century. It also summarizes the discourse which began in chapter 13 as well as much of the Gospel.
The whole prayer covers familiar themes: Jesus death and resurrection as glorification; eternal life as knowing God through faith in Jesus, the Christ/Messiah; the disciples as those chosen to represent Christ in and to the world; the disciples' need to be sustained in their mission through the truth they have received from Jesus and now are to share with the world.

By the time John is writing his Gospel the Christian community is in conflict. They have been brought into conflict with their JEwish brothers and sisters and evicted from the synagogue. ANd the community itself is divided on various issues. And so John includes this prayer for unity both within the community and unity between community members and God.

A century ago these words "That they may be one" were seen as words of hope. Re-unification of the Christian community was happening within many denominations, culminating (in Canada) in the union of Methodists, Congregationalists, 2/3 of the Presbyterians to form the United Church of Canada. The vision was that these words meant that there would a time when the church would once again find itself unified under one roof.

But is that really what it means? Does the prayer mean that we seek unity in one denomination or that we seek to remember that our unity lies in a broader place. What does it mean to hear Jesus' prayer in our pluralistic (in so many ways) society?

Does unity have to meant that we all agree? If so then it is a fool's hope. Does it mean that we are always on the same side? In the big picture perhaps, but in the details most certainly not. ANd yet we still have our motto. We still have this picture of a united and uniting church (despite the frequent Freudian typo Untied Church of Canada). Come and join us on Sunday as we wrestle with what Jesus' prayer for unity means in the here and now.

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