7th Sunday of Easter—Year C—May 12, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.
In the early church that we have been hearing about in the book of Acts the last couple of weeks, there was quite a bit of drama and struggle. The tension between the followers of Jesus and the Jewish authorities continued from the time of Jesus…as did the tension with the Roman authorities. And both of these relations only get even more tumultuous when Jesus’ followers begin to form an organized church.
You see, the Roman Empire only put up with Judaism worshipping God instead of the emperor and the roman gods because Judaism was so ancient. The long history of the Jewish people was something that the Romans respected and Judaism’s low-key evangelism and outreach was also not something that threatened the ruling power.
But the Christian church did not always enjoy the same treatment. The vocal Christian church began to draw negative attention from the powers that be, negative attention to the fledgling church and the Jewish synagogues since the church was at that point really more of just a movement within the synagogue. And so ultimately the church was kicked out of the synagogue in the name of self-preservation. Kick the troublemaker out, or you all are in trouble.
So there were divisions between the Christians and the Jews and fighting between the Christians and the Romans. Not really the unity that Jesus prayed for right before his death, the unity that was instituted by God back at the beginning, at the act of creation.
But we cannot really blame them, because it is really no different today. If anything, it is worse. Instead of divisions just between religions, there exist major divisions within the Christian faith. Not to mention the continued hostilities between the Abrahamic faiths—between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
In seminary I took a class “Lutherans in North America,” and in that class, we made a family tree of the ELCA. Starting with each Lutheran migration from Europe, we tracked the mergers and schisms. We studied the fights over language, hymnals, piety, and ordination requirements. We saw the patterns emerge, mission develop, ministry change with time, succeed and fail, and too many times we saw the Gospel get overshadowed by petty human fights.
But this was not just the case before the ELCA. We still struggle as Lutherans, as Christians, as people of faith today. Human stuff gets in our way and we lose sight of the unity that God intended for us. It gets in the way of God’s kingdom being a reality here and now.
We as people of faith do not need to fight against one another in order to gain bigger numbers, more members for ourselves. It is that hypocrisy and in-fighting that has turned so many people off Christianity and organized religion in general. Instead we are called to work within our God-given unity to bring hope, love, and peace into the world in a way that cannot come from any other source, other than God.
As the ELCA’s vision for ecumenical work says “unity has its goal in mission ‘that the world may know that [God] have sent [Jesus]’ (v. 21b). As understood in Christ’s prayer, unity is given to the church, not for the sake of the church, but that the church might give itself in mission to the world for the sake of the Gospel. The church realizes its unity in its actions, not simply via theological discussion.”
It is not about agreeing about everything: about language, ordination details, or the best way to worship God. It is about striving to embody, as one unified body, the love that Christ embodying in this world, here and now. We can worship in our multitude of ways and still work for God’s mission in the world together. We can continue to count a different number of sacraments and celebrate different holidays, even as we share a common mission. Regardless of the name we use to refer to God, we can work alongside one another to bring that name to the world more and more every day.
This is possible only because Jesus prays for his disciples, AND US! Jesus prays that we may be one, he with us and us with him, and us with one another. He prays for unity, and we can see that on many levels: unified as this gathered community, as a congregation, as a denomination, with our full communion partners, as Christians, as the three Abrahamic faith, with all of humanity working for peace, love, and justice in society.
Sometimes our actions fall short, we do not live out the unity that Christ has in mind for us, the unity that Christ prays for us, and so we pray. We pray for help in realizing that unity that we have in God; each week we pray for the church, the world, those in need: the sick, suffering, dying. We pray for those who outside these walls, those in countries that are ravaged by strife and warfare, for government leaders, for those in hospitals, and we pray for the church, in all its forms, including the church that is gathered here, us. But we rarely name ourselves specifically; so today we are going to do just that.
I want everybody to take one of the green slips that are distributed throughout the pews and write your name on it. Then exchange that slip with those around you a couple of times. Make sure that you do not end up with your own back. During the prayers of intercession, there will be a space left for you to pray for the person whose slip you ended up with. You simply need to name them out loud.
I, and I suspect many of you, are much more comfortable praying for others than being prayed for ourselves. But today’s Gospel reading reminds us that Jesus does just that, prays for each of us, and so we are going to do the same. We are going to pray for one another by name as a reminder that Jesus prays for us, for our unity, and for our ministry in the world. And what else could we possibly say to that, but Amen!
 The Vision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Page 1 Paragraph 5 The foundational document for the ELCA’s ecumenical work