On the average Sunday at Saint Paul’s, there will be 150(+/-) people gathering in the same space to worship God, to hear the word read and proclaimed, and to receive nourishment in Christ’s body and blood. And while we all come to the same place, we are far from the vision of unity that is often lifted up as the hoped for fruit of Jesus’ high priestly prayer. We are 7:30 and 10 o’clock. We are young and old and somewhere in between. We are deeply committed to our faith and not quite sure what it is all about. We are apostles, disciples, seekers, and skeptics. We are worship and doubt; joy and anxiety; intellect and feelz – some of us all at the same time. Each person arrives on Sunday in need of something different. Expand that out to include all 1.8m Episcopalians, the roughly 226m Christians in the US, and the maybe 2.2b Christians world wide, and it seems like we are falling woefully short of Jesus’ prayer that we all might be one.
Unity is a challenge because each of us comes to our faith through the lens of our own life experiences. Some have been deeply rooted in the practices of Christianity since a young age. They are deeply devoted to a life of prayer, corporate worship, and Bible study. They listen for the Spirit at work in their lives. And they come up with any number of different ways to live, vote, shop, and work for the Kingdom of God. Others are relatively new to the faith. They are learning the practices of Christianity maybe in fits and starts. They are striving to hear the voice of God amid the cacophony of other voices. And they come up with any number of different ways to live, vote, shop, and work for the Kingdom of God. In America, in 2016, in the midst of one of the worst election seasons on record, with three of the four top candidates professing the Christian faith, it is clear that unity is still a long way off. However, as disciples of Jesus, it seems foolish for us to not strive after the fulfillment of Jesus final words before his arrest.
How do we find unity amid such diversity?
Just as his prayer comes to an end, Jesus speaks a deep truth that we ought not miss in all the unity language. “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Even as we struggle to find unity with those in the pews around us; those who work in our offices; those who live in our neighborhoods; those who vote in our precincts; it is important to remember that the source of the unity for which Jesus prays is the love of God in us. In order to acknowledge God’s love for me, I have to also be willing to acknowledge God’s love for my neighbor who votes the wrong way, drives the wrong vehicles, owns the wrong number of guns, and worships in the wrong church. Across all the things of this world that would pull us toward disunity, the love of God serves as the great unifying force. God’s love for each and every individual he has created is the underlying factor in every push toward unity in the church. To recognize the love of God in another is to recognize their inherent dignity which serves as the starting point of unity.