8 May 2016
Acts 16. 16-34 John 17. 20-26
‘May they all be one’
Canon David Stranack
In today’s Gospel reading we hear part of our Lord’s prayer to the Father at the Last Supper when he prayed for his disciples and for all who would believe in him through their proclaiming of the Gospel. He said, ‘May they all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17, 21)
He knew what was going to happen to him that he would suffer and die, and then be raised to life. And he knew what was going to happen to his disciples, that they would be scattered and frightened. During the traumatic events of his Passion they would need to hold together and to support one another.
He also knew what was going to happen to his disciples in the long term; that in their future mission they would have to face hostility and rejection just as St Paul faced in the town of Philippi, as we heard in the first reading. Jesus also knew that for many there would be the possibility of suffering and even death and many would die a Martyr’s death.
So he prayed that they may be united in support of each other and in the sharing of fellowship and love, not only for their own sakes, but for the sake of those who needed to hear the Gospel message.
Jesus loved his disciples – and was passionately concerned for them. He longed for them to be bound in love to God the Father and to each other just as he was bound in love to God the Father.
‘May they be one’, he prayed. We often think of this passage of scripture when we think of the importance of Christian Unity. Jesus prayed that his followers be one in order ‘the world might believe’.
As followers of Christ today we ourselves are therefore called to be at one with God the Father and with one another.
And just as those first disciples face harsh opposition, so in many parts of the world today our fellow Christians face persecution. Even we in this country face much opposition and the need is as vital as ever for us to work together in love and mutual support.
Here in Sudbury we have for some years been privileged to experience a high degree of mutual support and cooperation between the various churches and I believe that this is a significant part of our Christian outreach in our community. When the people of Sudbury see us working together; they can see how we share Christian love among us.
It is also important that within each church we grow that same love and support for one another for that is our Lord’s desire and prayer. And whenever we fail in that we are failing our Lord.
Sadly however we know from the past that there is always the danger of division and always the possibility of disagreement. So when this happens an important question is: how are we to deal with it in the kind of way Jesus expects?
When we feel very strongly about some issue where there is a difference of opinion it is very easy for that difference to develop into division. Our differing views begin to push us apart. We perhaps side with those who agree with us and keep their company and, maybe, tend to separate ourselves from those with whom we disagree.
An example of this was evident in the world-wide Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality. For several years there has been the danger of the Anglican Church dividing over the issue.
However, thanks largely to our Archbishop’s experience and ability in the work of reconciliation, when the Archbishops of the Anglican Communion met earlier this year they sat down in prayer and discussion and to listen carefully to opposing views.
Although they did not all come to a point of agreement, they travelled along the way of greater understanding and greater respect for those who held different views. In a sense they agreed to disagree but held together in Christian love and mutual respect.
In situations where agreement does not work, Christian love and respect can easily be replaced with anger or bitterness and division. Sometimes unkind words are spoken or even unhelpful deeds are carried out which widens the split even further.
Sometimes a difference of opinion needs to be discussed and sorted out, but in the end there also needs to be a genuine effort to rebuild peace and understanding, forgiveness and love.
In past centuries divisions over religion were often used by rulers for their own political ends, and that has often led to real conflict and violence. Those who use violence in the name of Christianity are totally denying the true teachings of Jesus himself.
When things go wrong, then hurt and injury can so easily grow and develop and even go out of control. This was certainly the case in the struggles that took place during the reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries.
But divisions between ordinary people can be just as damaging.
I remember in one of my parishes there was a family which was divided and the two halves hadn’t spoken to each other for years. So much so that I think they had more or less forgotten what the original grievance was all about. I am glad to say that eventually they were reconciled.
Where anger, hatred and bitterness are allowed to fester and spread among Christians then there is an increasing separation from God.
It is so important for us to remember that it is these kinds of failures, these sins that separate us from each other, and it is sin that separates us from God himself. Christ’s desire for love and unity is then being denied and is being replaced by destructive sin.
In our own lives it is so easy for us to let our selfish pride or our preferred way of doing things cause us to look down on others and to belittle them. Sometimes we feel hurt by what others have said or done and then make the mistake of failing to forgive or to seek reconciliation.
It is so easy for us to fall into destructive gossip about other people which is not only destructive of them but also makes those we speak to become very distrustful of us. As Jesus said, ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged.’ Matt.7.1
When we fail in such ways we let Jesus down and it is easy to see the harm that such sin does, not only in our personal relationships, but also in our own communities and indeed in the wider world. And we so easily forget just how much damage sin does to our outreach and spread of the gospel.
At the Last Supper Jesus prayed that we may be one in order that the world might believe. We are called to work together, to support each other, to care about each other, to love one another as he loves us.
In Romans chapter 12 St Paul says that, 5 ‘we who are many are one body in Christ and individually we are members of one another.’ We have different gifts and different abilities given us by God and we are to use them in his service.
And St Paul also says, 9 ‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.’
That is a kind of unity that we are called to pray for and work towards. It is when we live that kind of life together and wherever we are, that others may be drawn to believe; to believe in the one who gives us the grace to love and serve one another.
St Paul also says we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation.
In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul writes, God ‘reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, … … And entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So …. we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’
So God has enlisted us to work with him for reconciliation between individuals, within communities and between nationalities. It also means working for reconciliation between mankind and God.
During this coming week leading up to Pentecost, our Archbishops call for a ‘great wave of prayer’ for evangelism during Pentecost. They have asked us to pray for the Evangelisation of the Nation. They say “we simply ask that your prayers should include your longing that more people should come to know Christ.”
In the words of the Lord’s Prayer we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth and this needs to be at the centre of our prayer during this week.
In the week of prayer we are to pray for the renewal of the Holy Spirit and the confidence to share our faith.
In their letter the Archbishops also said: “At the heart of our prayers will be words that Jesus himself taught us – ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.’ It is impossible to overstate the life-transforming power of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that reassures the dying and yet is dangerous enough to be banned in cinemas.
It is famous enough to be spoken each day by billions in hundreds of languages and yet intimate enough to draw us ever closer into friendship with Jesus Christ.
It is simple enough to be memorised by small children and yet profound enough to sustain a whole lifetime of prayer. When we pray it with sincerity and with joy, there is no imagining the new ways in which God can use us to his glory.”
It has also been suggested that we should all pray for five people we know who do not follow Christ or who have lapsed from active faith and worship. It might be helpful to write those names down to pray for them each day in our own private prayers.
And finally let us pray for ourselves that we may be true ambassadors of reconciliation; that we may work together to show love and compassion, peace and harmony wherever we are.
As we persevere in such ways, we will indeed become much closer to God, indeed more Christ-like. We will become more and more at-one with our Lord and in so doing find a greater unity with one another.
So during this week as we approach Pentecost let us try to spend a little time thinking about the coming of the Holy Spirit and let us pray to the Holy Spirit to come again to us and renew us in his love and service that we may become more effective in producing the fruits of the Spirit in our own lives and find that unity of purpose for which Jesus prayed at the Last Supper. Amen.