Sermon 5/8/2016 Easter 7

Pastor Peter Walther / Easter 7 / May 8, 2016 / John 17:20-26 / Christian Unity

    If you would have been paying attention to your surroundings as you commuted to church today, you would have seen churches along the way of all different sizes and shapes and beliefs.  Pentecostal, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, even non denominational, just to name a few! There are about five churches just a stone’s throw away from here.  We often wonder why there are so many denominations and branches of Christianity.  Why are there Christians that we can worship with and others we don’t worship with?  I think about families that have siblings or parents that worship at several different kinds of Christian denominations and people even ask if it would be alright to go to their church and worship with their families or even to take communion with them. Are any of those reasons arbitrary? Can’t we at least play nicely with each other, sing “We are the World,” and be one happy family?

    Is that what Jesus meant when he prayed that we might be brought to a unity, to show love to one another, and be one in the world? These words of prayer came from our Savior on Maundy Thursday right before he and the disciples went out to the Garden to Gethsemane, where he would be betrayed.  Before they left the room, Jesus raised his eyes toward heaven and prayed this prayer, because he was on the verge of suffering for all people looking at the past, the present, and the future.  And here he prays for the church and the unity of the church.

    So if we are divided, if our world is full of different denominations and Christian groups, well then we need to come together and be one mega church, right? Is that what Jesus is praying for? That eventually we all become one body?  Many churches believe that and have come together into a world council of churches.  Their aim is to unite all Christian denominations into one super church on earth and they use this passage to show that they have the right motivation.  “Jesus prays for one church,” they say, “so, we must also strive to achieve this,” they say.  Their motivation in achieving this unity is to help people and to be a voice in the community for climate change, politics, and for even keeping indigenous religions alive.  It’s interesting that their goal is NOT to share God’s Word.  In fact, they actually put God’s Word behind them and put aside religious differences in order to meet their goals in the community. 

    The sad reality of our world is that there will be divisions in the church.  The church’s present divisions are the results of the failures of Christians.  So many “Christian” churches have teachers who follow their own desires and notions about THEIR view of what truth and love is, rather than what is clear from God’s Word.  They would rather change with the times rather than standing firm on God’s word.  In his letter, Jude (the epistle letter right before the book of Revelation) says, “ But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own unGodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.”  Sadly, our own laziness to search the Scriptures often leads to these issues.  When God’s Word takes a backseat to our society and we fail to look at the simple truths that God has given to us, Words that don’t change in meaning or application, that’s when we fail.  

    The cure for a divided Christian world is not an institutional union. Jesus was not praying for the unity of a single, worldwide, ecumenical church in which doctrinal heresy and errors would be maintained along with orthodoxy and the truth, because that can’t happen. It’s like mixing oil and water. 

    So what IS Jesus praying for then? Well, it is a mistake to assume that Jesus is praying for this FUTURE unity because the language here doesn’t have that force.  It presumes that there ALREADY is that unity.  He prays that this oneness/this unity that is already established, may remain unbroken by the guardian care of the Father.  In other words, Jesus is speaking of a spiritual body of believers only.  We would describe that as the Invisible church, or as we confess in the creed the Holy Christian church.  Visible church organizations consist of believers and hypocrites, and will do so until the end of time.  And so, we can’t bring this unity about on our own.  Only God can bring about that perfect union with all believers.  Jesus’ prayer is that his church of all believers continue to grow both inwardly as we are strengthened by Word and sacrament, and outwardly as we share God’s word with which the Holy spirit might create faith in people’s hearts. 

    The unity Christ desires for His church is the same kind of unity the Son has with the Father.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in essence; believers, on the other hand, are one in mind, effort, and purpose.  These two kinds of unity are not the same.  Nevertheless, there is a resemblance.  This spiritual unity is to be patterned in the church because it is based on God’s love.  Believers should always yearn for peace and unity, but never for peace at the expense of the truth, for “unity” which has been gained by disregarding the truth is not really “unity.”

    I joked before about singing together the song “We are the world.”  The hair raises on your neck, you almost get goose bumps from that cheesy song.  You sing along those last words that say, “Let's realize that a change can only come When we stand together as one!”  And with those words, you think, “Well maybe with songs like this, we really could be united!”  Sadly, I don’t think Jesus had the message in mind from Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s song.  But he did mention someone else’s message. In his prayer, Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through THEIR message, that all of them may be one”  Before the prayer for the whole church, Jesus was praying for his disciples.  It is through “THEIR” word, that is the witness of the apostles, that all may be one.  They were the messengers who brought the only thing that could bring unity, the truth of God’s Word.  Apart from the word, there is no church, because faith can’t be separated from the Word.  The Word is the vital means and root of faith.

    You ask, why are there divisions in the church? Why are there different denominations?  That is because whenever there is false teaching or false doctrine, it cuts the bond that ties the church together.  Every deviation in doctrine, life, and practice from the word ruins our oneness, and hinders the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer.  His request “that they be one” means that they be one in the word. 

    Jesus gives to us several motivational reasons for being united in the truth that is laid out in scripture.  One of the motivations we see in the context here is that Jesus prayed for us and is continuing to pray for us as he intercedes with the Father.  It can be comforting to hear when someone is praying for you when you are going through difficult times. We pray together as a congregation at the point in the church service that is called the Prayer of the Church. There, we pray for our church body as a whole and also on an individual basis.  Isn’t it cool to hear that Jesus prayed for us too? 

    Jesus gives us another motivation for unity: His love for us.  We see how much Jesus cared for us, was invested in us, and how much God loved us!  Love is an amazing thing. We also know that there are different types of love.  Look at the different types of a mother’s love: A mother may love flowers. A mother may love the pet gerbil.  A mother may LOVE these new shoes.  A mother loves her family.  Does that mean her love for the gerbil, her love for shoes, or flowers is the same as loving her family? Of course not! That would be silly! It’s not like mom is dressing up the gerbil for soccer practice in tiny little clothes and forgetting to take her own son and daughter to music rehearsal.  That would be insane.  When we look at the words that Jesus uses here, we see something insane.  We see that Jesus describes God’s love for us and that he uses the same kind of love to describe his connection to Jesus.  God agape loves us.  That means he unconditionally loves us just like he does Jesus. That shouldn’t be the case because of our sin. But he does anyway. Because of our identification with Jesus, we share in the same Father’s love.  Ultimately, our Savior’s love for us desires that we be with Him forever in heaven.  That’s where he wants his people to be.  Not here on this sin infested world, which cannot understand peace or unity in God’s love. 

    And much as the world is a sick place today as we see the sin that continues to grow, the world is still the object of Jesus’ love and wants the world to be saved by sharing the gospel.  It makes a great difference how the church acts in bringing the word to the world.  That’s why it is so important that the church give a clear witness to the truth of the gospel.  How sad when the churches which call themselves by the name of Christ become involved in all sorts of other things—politics, social and economic reform, etc., where the true mission of Christ becomes clouded in the eyes of the world.  The mission of the church is to preach the Gospel, that’s it.  So when you see all these different churches on your way home, or when you attend a church here or there, examine what their beliefs are.  Examine what their mission is. Examine their view on God’s Word.   And dive into the bible yourself to see how those things all match up to what God’s Word ACTUALLY has to say.

    With a world that is full of so many different kinds of denominations and religions and Christian groups, is it possible to ever be united?  Probably not because in this sinful world, errors creep in and divisions result.  However, we see our great High priest Jesus Christ praying for our unity, a unity that can only come through the truth of God’s Word, and a unity that can help to spread that truth. Amen.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Peter Walther / Easter 7 / May 8, 2016 / John 17:20-26 / Christian Unity

    If you would have been paying attention to your surroundings as you commuted to church today, you would have seen churches along the way of all different sizes and shapes and beliefs.  Pentecostal, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, even non denominational, just to name a few! There are about five churches just a stone’s throw away from here.  We often wonder why there are so many denominations and branches of Christianity.  Why are there Christians that we can worship with and others we don’t worship with?  I think about families that have siblings or parents that worship at several different kinds of Christian denominations and people even ask if it would be alright to go to their church and worship with their families or even to take communion with them. Are any of those reasons arbitrary? Can’t we at least play nicely with each other, sing “We are the World,” and be one happy family?

    Is that what Jesus meant when he prayed that we might be brought to a unity, to show love to one another, and be one in the world? These words of prayer came from our Savior on Maundy Thursday right before he and the disciples went out to the Garden to Gethsemane, where he would be betrayed.  Before they left the room, Jesus raised his eyes toward heaven and prayed this prayer, because he was on the verge of suffering for all people looking at the past, the present, and the future.  And here he prays for the church and the unity of the church.

    So if we are divided, if our world is full of different denominations and Christian groups, well then we need to come together and be one mega church, right? Is that what Jesus is praying for? That eventually we all become one body?  Many churches believe that and have come together into a world council of churches.  Their aim is to unite all Christian denominations into one super church on earth and they use this passage to show that they have the right motivation.  “Jesus prays for one church,” they say, “so, we must also strive to achieve this,” they say.  Their motivation in achieving this unity is to help people and to be a voice in the community for climate change, politics, and for even keeping indigenous religions alive.  It’s interesting that their goal is NOT to share God’s Word.  In fact, they actually put God’s Word behind them and put aside religious differences in order to meet their goals in the community. 

    The sad reality of our world is that there will be divisions in the church.  The church’s present divisions are the results of the failures of Christians.  So many “Christian” churches have teachers who follow their own desires and notions about THEIR view of what truth and love is, rather than what is clear from God’s Word.  They would rather change with the times rather than standing firm on God’s word.  In his letter, Jude (the epistle letter right before the book of Revelation) says, “ But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own unGodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.”  Sadly, our own laziness to search the Scriptures often leads to these issues.  When God’s Word takes a backseat to our society and we fail to look at the simple truths that God has given to us, Words that don’t change in meaning or application, that’s when we fail.  

    The cure for a divided Christian world is not an institutional union. Jesus was not praying for the unity of a single, worldwide, ecumenical church in which doctrinal heresy and errors would be maintained along with orthodoxy and the truth, because that can’t happen. It’s like mixing oil and water. 

    So what IS Jesus praying for then? Well, it is a mistake to assume that Jesus is praying for this FUTURE unity because the language here doesn’t have that force.  It presumes that there ALREADY is that unity.  He prays that this oneness/this unity that is already established, may remain unbroken by the guardian care of the Father.  In other words, Jesus is speaking of a spiritual body of believers only.  We would describe that as the Invisible church, or as we confess in the creed the Holy Christian church.  Visible church organizations consist of believers and hypocrites, and will do so until the end of time.  And so, we can’t bring this unity about on our own.  Only God can bring about that perfect union with all believers.  Jesus’ prayer is that his church of all believers continue to grow both inwardly as we are strengthened by Word and sacrament, and outwardly as we share God’s word with which the Holy spirit might create faith in people’s hearts. 

    The unity Christ desires for His church is the same kind of unity the Son has with the Father.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one in essence; believers, on the other hand, are one in mind, effort, and purpose.  These two kinds of unity are not the same.  Nevertheless, there is a resemblance.  This spiritual unity is to be patterned in the church because it is based on God’s love.  Believers should always yearn for peace and unity, but never for peace at the expense of the truth, for “unity” which has been gained by disregarding the truth is not really “unity.”

    I joked before about singing together the song “We are the world.”  The hair raises on your neck, you almost get goose bumps from that cheesy song.  You sing along those last words that say, “Let's realize that a change can only come When we stand together as one!”  And with those words, you think, “Well maybe with songs like this, we really could be united!”  Sadly, I don’t think Jesus had the message in mind from Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie’s song.  But he did mention someone else’s message. In his prayer, Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through THEIR message, that all of them may be one”  Before the prayer for the whole church, Jesus was praying for his disciples.  It is through “THEIR” word, that is the witness of the apostles, that all may be one.  They were the messengers who brought the only thing that could bring unity, the truth of God’s Word.  Apart from the word, there is no church, because faith can’t be separated from the Word.  The Word is the vital means and root of faith.

    You ask, why are there divisions in the church? Why are there different denominations?  That is because whenever there is false teaching or false doctrine, it cuts the bond that ties the church together.  Every deviation in doctrine, life, and practice from the word ruins our oneness, and hinders the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer.  His request “that they be one” means that they be one in the word. 

    Jesus gives to us several motivational reasons for being united in the truth that is laid out in scripture.  One of the motivations we see in the context here is that Jesus prayed for us and is continuing to pray for us as he intercedes with the Father.  It can be comforting to hear when someone is praying for you when you are going through difficult times. We pray together as a congregation at the point in the church service that is called the Prayer of the Church. There, we pray for our church body as a whole and also on an individual basis.  Isn’t it cool to hear that Jesus prayed for us too? 

    Jesus gives us another motivation for unity: His love for us.  We see how much Jesus cared for us, was invested in us, and how much God loved us!  Love is an amazing thing. We also know that there are different types of love.  Look at the different types of a mother’s love: A mother may love flowers. A mother may love the pet gerbil.  A mother may LOVE these new shoes.  A mother loves her family.  Does that mean her love for the gerbil, her love for shoes, or flowers is the same as loving her family? Of course not! That would be silly! It’s not like mom is dressing up the gerbil for soccer practice in tiny little clothes and forgetting to take her own son and daughter to music rehearsal.  That would be insane.  When we look at the words that Jesus uses here, we see something insane.  We see that Jesus describes God’s love for us and that he uses the same kind of love to describe his connection to Jesus.  God agape loves us.  That means he unconditionally loves us just like he does Jesus. That shouldn’t be the case because of our sin. But he does anyway. Because of our identification with Jesus, we share in the same Father’s love.  Ultimately, our Savior’s love for us desires that we be with Him forever in heaven.  That’s where he wants his people to be.  Not here on this sin infested world, which cannot understand peace or unity in God’s love. 

    And much as the world is a sick place today as we see the sin that continues to grow, the world is still the object of Jesus’ love and wants the world to be saved by sharing the gospel.  It makes a great difference how the church acts in bringing the word to the world.  That’s why it is so important that the church give a clear witness to the truth of the gospel.  How sad when the churches which call themselves by the name of Christ become involved in all sorts of other things—politics, social and economic reform, etc., where the true mission of Christ becomes clouded in the eyes of the world.  The mission of the church is to preach the Gospel, that’s it.  So when you see all these different churches on your way home, or when you attend a church here or there, examine what their beliefs are.  Examine what their mission is. Examine their view on God’s Word.   And dive into the bible yourself to see how those things all match up to what God’s Word ACTUALLY has to say.

    With a world that is full of so many different kinds of denominations and religions and Christian groups, is it possible to ever be united?  Probably not because in this sinful world, errors creep in and divisions result.  However, we see our great High priest Jesus Christ praying for our unity, a unity that can only come through the truth of God’s Word, and a unity that can help to spread that truth. Amen.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.