Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of the Gospel according to Saint John as anyone else, but as we arrive on our third week of the Easter season in the rambling prose of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, I’m ready to say adios to it.
As is always the case with John’s Gospel, there are several nuggets worth digging for in Sunday’s pericope. First, since this is the Sunday immediately following the Feast of the Ascension, the preacher could spend some time unpacking John’s understanding of Jesus’ glorification; dealing especially with John’s view of the cross as Jesus true ascension. The problem there, of course, is the strong temptation to turn your Sunday sermon into a theology paper, which is deadly to preacher and congregation alike. The second possible preaching path is also fraught with danger because Jesus’ one-sided conversation with his Father about the disciples begins to sound awfully predestinationy. As one who is apt to get too heady with his sermons, I’m not even going to start thinking about this possible path. So, then, we have the third option, dealing with Jesus’ prayer that we might be one.
This is one of those Gospel messages that is easier said than done. It is simple for the preacher to stand in the pulpit and describe the perfect vision of the Church Universal, one flock with one shepherd, but the reality is quite different. Just a few minutes ago, a member of the Centennial Committee for the City of Foley was here to pick up some historical information about Saint Paul’s. They are working to put together a notebook of the oldest congregations in town, of which Saint Paul’s is one. In fact, she said there were something like 15 congregations in Foley that are older than 50 years old and 36 (thirty-six!!!!!) churches in the Foley city limits. 36! That is a lot more than one, and the City of Foley is just a microcosm of the rest of the world, where the trappings of religious expression have long since surpassed theology for the reason for denominational squabbling.
Jesus’ prayer for unity is a dangerous message to preach this week, but it is probably the safest of the rest of our passage from his Farewell Discourse. What are you going to preach this week?