When we’re about to leave on a trip we have to prepare well by packing all that we need. Depending on where we’re going packing looks different. When we go on our road trip to MN we just throw our clothes in giant blue IKEA bags and put them in the back of the van. Easy peasy. When we fly to Seattle the process of packing is a bit more meticulous. Does all of our stuff fit into this one check-in and a carry-on for each of us? Does it meet the weight limit? Are our toiletries correctly packed so we don’t run into any issues at security? One way to prepare well for any of our trips is to make sure we pack efficiently so we have all that we need.
In a similar fashion in our passage today from John, Jesus is preparing the disciples for his departure. He does so by asking God to give them all that they need.
He does this by prayer, but he’s not just praying for the 12 disciples, but all of the disciples that would come after them. Jesus is praying for us in this passage too!
He prays that we would be one as he and God the Father are one. That we would be one as God is one.
God’s love is so big that we have to understand his love in three inseparable ways: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The love that holds together the Trinity, the love that makes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be one is the same love that holds us together as a community of believers. This can’t happen out of sheer human will or great moral effort and intention. This love can only be found in Jesus Christ. We as Christians are made one only when we are one with Jesus Christ.
But how do we know we are one with Jesus Christ? God gives us certain tools. These aren’t in order of importance. The tools are: Prayer, The Bible, and Community.
Prayer-like Jesus prayed. In our prayers we are invited to ask God for wisdom, that we would be one in Jesus. Pray that we’re understanding Christ’s teachings correctly.
The Bible-test our actions against Christ’s teachings and actions in scripture to ensure we are living out Christ’s words in how to we respond to God’s love by loving ourselves and others well.
Community-we weren’t meant to be on our own, but are called to live in Christ-centered community no matter how messy community may be. God helps us through community to test whether we are reading scripture correctly. As a community we need to be praying and reading scripture together to make sure we are living as a “Christ-centered community of acceptance.”
Side note: To be united as a Christ-centered community does not mean we are all the same. Unity does not mean uniformity. Together we all believe in Christ, but we can and will have different opinions and experiences. Before Jesus ascended into heaven he asked us to baptize disciples of all nations. He did not say to make disciples conform into one nation. Even through differences in culture, ethnicity, and experiences we can still be one in Jesus Christ. What a witness to the world! People who would never be found together in one place anywhere else can live together in community through Jesus Christ.
As a community, (I’m using community and church interchangeably), we are to live out together Christ’s teachings. This plays out in how we treat others. Listen to one another. Listen to and speak up for those who are hurting. This is what Jesus did. And through Jesus, we are called to do the same.
There are many, however, who are disenfranchised by the church.
I recently had a conversation with someone who said they’re embarrassed to be a Christian because of how certain churches have conducted themselves. Why be associated with words of hate and violence all “in the name of Jesus?” History is full of people doing terrible things in the name of Jesus Christ. When this happens, Jesus isn’t to blame. We are. In order to not fall into this trap, we need to rely on prayer, scripture, and a community of faith as tools to help us discern if we are really following Jesus or if we are following something or someone else?
In Germany, the protestant church, unlike here, is tied to the state. During World War Two, many, though sadly not all, in the German state church spoke out against the Nazis. Those opposed became known as the German Confessing Church who argued that “Church remains Church.” The Confessing Church spoke out against those who wrongly viewed the Nazi regime as ordained by God. Take for instance this statement:
“the eternal God created for our nation a law that is peculiar to its own kind. It took shape in the Leader Adolf Hitler, and in the National Socialist state created by him. This law speaks to us from the history of our people. . . . It is loyalty to this law which demands of us the battle for honor and freedom . . . One Nation! One God! One Reich! One Church!”– “Directives of the Church Movement German Christians (Movement for a National Church) in Thuringia, 1933
In response to this movement to align the church with Nazi ideology, a group of church pastors and theologians from the Confessing German Church came together in the town of Barmen to draft a statement known as the “Barmen Declaration.” In the Barmen Declaration, the Confessing German Church outlined with scripture why statements supporting the third Reich as ordained by God are heresy. Here is an excerpt from Barmen: “We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords—areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.”
Our denomination felt that Barmen was so important we included it in our own Book of Confessions, which is a collection of theological statements that we believe help us to better understand Scripture. The BOC is actually a great read in understanding our denomination and our church’s theology.
It is this kind of evil that starts wars and for which our men and women and countless others from all over the world in the armed forces gave their lives. You may be thinking, “Kristine, this is all part of history and we don’t have to worry about something like this happening again.” The thing is it can, it does, and it will happen again.
Why? Because we are prone to distorting the words of Christ to further our own agenda.
This happens on a large and small scale.
It happens because of sin. Sin is what drove Germans to follow Hitler. The third Reich is gone, but sin remains. Sin is why the Israelites created a golden calf to worship instead of God, because they were fearful that God had deserted them in the wilderness. To sin is to act out of fear. Fear that is unfounded and drives us to believe we need to go to great lengths to protect ourselves. This leads to wanting to gain power. Power to control anyone we might perceive as a threat, all in the name of self-preservation. This is why the Jews were massacred in Germany. Sin is what causes a nation to worship itself rather than God, even when they think they’re worshipping God. Now, you’re probably thinking “I don’t have that kind of sin in my life.” But sin is sin.
Sin is what causes us to pledge allegiance to evil dictators. The same sin is what causes us to say something unkind about a coworker to make ourselves look and feel better. It’s all about self-preservation. We are all prone to self-preservation. We all fall easily into the trap that we can take care of ourselves better than God can. We are all sinners.
The only answer to our sin is Jesus Christ. Only through Christ do we realize we don’t have to fight others in order to keep ourselves safe. In Christ, we know we are already safe. There’s no need to set our own agenda at the expense of others.
In Christ, we know that we don’t have to prove to others that we’re worthy of respect, that we’re valued just as we are. In Jesus Christ, God has shown and assured us that we are. Why only through Jesus Christ are we made one. Only by the power of God’s love are we empowered to love others. Through God’s love we are able to do hard things such as have hard conversations with those who have hurt us, find common ground with those we think we have nothing in common with. In Christ, we are able to see others, not as enemies or people who are a threat to us, But as people who are hurting themselves. Through Christ, we can learn empathy.
This doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to be walked all over or to not speak up in the face of injustice, but it does mean we are able to speak and act out of Christ’s love for ourselves and others. That our actions are based not on our own agenda, but out of Christ’s love for all. Sometimes this means hard and uncomfortable and even tense conversations. We may not always be heard. We won’t always agree. But we can say at the end of the day that we were motivated by Christ’s love for ourselves and our neighbor. And we have to continue to check in with ourselves about whether or not we are indeed acting out of Christ’s love or our own personal agenda.
That being said, on a practical note we would be wise to turn off Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, or whatever podcast or Facebook meme that is currently fueling our views of the world. It would do us good to silence those voices and look to the voice of Jesus Christ in scripture! We’re going to go back to our preferred news sources, but whatever it is you’re listening to or reading, is it those voices or the voice of Christ in scripture that is influencing your view of others? Faith Formation is hoping to hold discussion groups this summer about how to do that. The Wired Word meets every Sunday morning to discuss the intersection of the headlines in the news with scripture. If you’d like to start your own discussion group about scripture I’d love to talk to you.
We are bombarded by a lot of voices. Some of them good and some of them not so good. But in the midst of all those voices are we even hearing Jesus Christ? Is the voice of Jesus Christ the one we hear above all others? My hope and prayer for all of us is that we would be better listeners. Better at listening to Jesus Christ so that we can be better at listening to one another. He’s the only one who can help us as a church to move forward together as one.