06 Jun We are united in God.
There can be oneness in variety
We listen to a lot of kid’s music at my house – Raffi is a favorite. If you aren’t familiar with Raffi, he has recorded tons of children’s music that has stood the test of time – I listened to him when I was a kid and now my kids love his music too. If you are familiar with Raffi, you might recognize this one: “The more we get together the happier we’ll be, ’cause your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends…” In short, this song is a very simple explanation of unity. We come together as people and when we do we will be happy. Except we know that your friends aren’t always my friends and my friends might not be your friends and a lot of things can get in the way of people even being friends. There’s differing interests of course, but also liking different things, living in different places, having different ideas about how to spend our time and money, and of course differing beliefs when it comes to politics and faith. So no offense to Raffi, but Jesus has some other wisdom for us about unity.
There are so many ways we understand unity or one-ness in our world and we talk about it all the time. We understand that one family can be made up of different people, one married couple can look different from another, one classroom can be filled with all different students, one congregation has people with many different gifts and also struggles, one crowd of people is a whole bunch of different people standing together for a concert, parade or protest. And we talk about one world often – knowing our one world is filled with more variety than we even know about with different people of different races and cultures, different social structures and nations, different habitats and the variety of plants and animals in our one world is so great we are still discovering new ones all the time. But we get a bit tripped up when we talk about our unity in God, the One Body of Christ. Even as we can talk about oneness in so many other ways and we can understand the diversity within one family, one crowd or one world, we have a harder time with knowing how to live as One Body of Christ.
Jesus describes unity today, not as something that has to do with the similarities or differences within us, instead he talks about our unity, in and through our relationship with God. We are brought together as one, just as Jesus and God are one. Our oneness is not dependent on what we have in common or don’t, it depends solely on the fact that our creator made us and wants us to be one. Unity is the joining together of a whole. The dictionary described unity as a complete, pleasing, and complex whole. Further down the dictionary definition list was a description of unity being those in agreement, but it didn’t say agreement in all things. Just in agreement. As the living Body of Christ with over 33,000 denominations of Christian churches in the world today, the “in agreement” part is hard for us. I find myself defending Christianity while also separating myself from other Christians – saying things like “Well I am a Christian, but I am not that kind of Christian.” But Jesus says, we are one, and in fact, he isn’t just saying these words here, he is praying them. Jesus’ prayer for us – for the disciples and every believer in every generation since and to come – he prays that we will be one. Joined together as one Body of Christ in the same way that he and God are united. The shift here is away from division, away from uniformity and away from even agreement – Jesus turns our attention instead to how we live in relationship to one another.
Being as dedicated to unity as a class of 5th graders
I just finished a school year of tutoring at an elementary school in Verona where I worked with two 5th graders from the same class. Before taking them out of the room to work on schoolwork one on one, their class had post-lunch circle time. All of the students in their class would put their chairs in a circle and spend a few minutes re-grouping and re-motivating themselves for the afternoon. Their teacher would spend some time encouraging them about upcoming projects, but he would also have short lessons about kindness, growing in self-confidence and naming the good things you see in other people. The most interesting thing about circle time was that whoever was in the room was invited to be a part of their time together. The first time I entered the room when they were all sitting in their circle, I tried to stand quietly out of the way hoping to not disrupt. But instead two 5th grade students (encouraged by their teacher) widened the circle, they got me a chair and invited me to sit down. And it kept happening week after week. Whoever noticed me come in would find me a chair and would include me. At the end of the circle time together, one student would choose a motivating cheer and the class would connect hands and say it together. Talk about unity!
That kind of unity made me think of the church. Are we more united than a class of 5th graders? Sometimes. We try to be welcoming, we try to show God’s love in the world through helping our neighbors. When we have hard conversations about hard faith questions, racial injustice or sexuality, we know we are living out Jesus’ prayer for unity and we pray about it too. We do some of these, without even thinking much about it, but when it comes to the wider church, the One Body of Christ in our one world, we can do more. The intentionality of that 5th grade class and their dedication to unity week after week was what really inspired me. Their teacher didn’t let them get away with not being a part of it or giving excuses. Because the class unity required everyone in the class to participate, day after day, week after week.
A shared mission
Jesus doesn’t let us get away with having excuses either. He prays for the unity of the disciples he sends out. The disciples who doubted and questioned and denied Jesus were the ones who were going to show the world God’s love and share with the world the good news of Jesus Christ and unite people in God. Jesus prays for all believers, generation after generation all the way to us – with all of our doubts and questions and denials – we are charged with sharing God’s love and telling the story to those around us and uniting with our fellow members of the Body of Christ. Through us sharing our faith, others will know about God – through us living with love (because we are loved by God first) we point to God. Unity isn’t just a nice thing to talk about, it is a way of life that we live out day after day, week after week, year after year as we express our gratitude for God’s grace by doing good things for our neighbors and the world knowing we really are one. We don’t do it for accolades or for the sake of unity itself, we live with unity to praise God for a gift we don’t deserve and can never repay.
Jesus’ prayer for his people is to keep pointing to God and to keep living out our unity. It isn’t about uniform belief or never disagreeing, and it isn’t about things never changing or having differences. Unity is seeing our relationship as children of God, as one family, one congregation, one Body of Christ, It is a unifying relationship that points right to the love and glory of our amazing God. We are one because God made us one. And we all share the same united mission: to widen the circle, to get someone a chair, to love our neighbors and to share the story. When we do things that unite instead of divide, we are living out Jesus’ prayer for us.