2023-05-21 Easter 7
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
There was once a rabbi who was having trouble with his congregation; they couldn’t agree on anything. The president of the congregation said, “Rabbi, this can’t continue. There has to be a conference, and we have to settle all areas of dispute once and for all.” The rabbi agreed. At the appointed time, the rabbi, the president, and ten elders met around a magnificent mahogany table in the board room of the synagogue. One by one the issues were dealt with and on each issue, it became more and more apparent that the rabbi was a lonely voice in the wilderness. The president of the synagogue stood up and said, “Come, Rabbi, enough of this. Let’s vote and allow the majority to rule.” He passed out slips of paper and each man made his mark. The votes were collected and the president said, “You may examine them, Rabbi. It is eleven to one against you. We have the majority.”
Offended, the rabbi rose to his feet and said, “So, now you think because of this vote that you’re right and I’m wrong?! Well, that’s not so!” He raised his arms impressively while looking heavenward and said “I stand here and call upon the Holy One of Israel to give us a sign that I’m right and you’re wrong!” No sooner were the words out of his mouth when there was a deafening clap of thunder and a brilliant flash of lightning that struck the mahogany table and cracked it in two! The room was filled with smoke and fumes, and the president and the elders were hurled to the floor! Surrounded by rubble the rabbi stood strong and tall and untouched, his eyes and smile flashing with indisputable triumph! Slowly, the president lifted himself out of the rubble. His hair was singed, his glasses were hanging from one ear, his clothing was in disarray. As the smoke cleared, he said, “All right rabbi, it’s eleven to two. But we still have the majority!”
Unfortunately, we all know that not everything that is done in the Church or in the name of the Church is always done for the glory of God. We know that at times in history, the Church has ignored the Will of God in order to have its own way. As a consequence, there has been discord and disunity in God’s Church. This disunity is apparent in the staggering numbers of denominations that we have.
The Church started out as One. She was Holy, catholic (that is, universally Christian), and Apostolic. However, in time, the disputes and arguments began. Instead of being “One” in mind and mission, division arose between the Greek speaking East and the Latin speaking West. Pride began to seek prominence in the place of humility. Then, the Great Schism of 1054 split the church in half, a catastrophic division that still remains to this very day. Five hundred or so years later, the Western Church, the Roman Catholic Church, again had some issues. A small task force of Germans began to challenge the unscriptural practices of the Church of Rome. They called for change but they were rejected, so they protested. So, then, from the Western church there came yet another division and Protestants were born. But once the squabble started, it snowballed. It wasn’t long before the Protestants began disagreeing and became disagreeable toward their brothers and sisters in the faith. This group said this, that group said that and on and on until there was and there is massive disunity in the body of Christ. The one loaf, the one cup, the one body of Christ is now full of schism, heresy and dis-unity!
This doesn’t sound anything like the prayer that Jesus offered for the disciples, does it? This prayer recorded in John’s Gospel is a prayer for unity. It has been called the High Priestly Prayer because it’s one that Jesus prayed for His disciples the night before His crucifixion. It is the Lord’s prayer for His companions and His Church. It was the first prayer for Christian unity. Jesus prayed that His disciples may be “one” – as He and the Father are One.
A well known Christian author named Max Lucado said, “On the last night of His life our Master did not pray for the health of the disciples; for the success of the disciples; even for the happiness of the disciples. He prayed that they would get along with each other.” The essence of the church should be the same as the very essence of God – unity. It should be a joining together, a connectedness, a relationship of love. This is the pattern that our Lord has given to us. Yet because of sin, our own and that of others, we have not lived out our unity in humility and love. We have not let forgiveness reign in our hearts, in our church, in our community.
Max Lucado also said that one day his wife brought home a monkey. His daughters were thrilled but he wasn’t; he had all kinds of questions. Where was the monkey going to eat? His wife said that it was going to sit at the table and eat with them, just like the rest of the family. Then he asked her where it was going to sleep? And she told him it was going to sleep in their bed. Then he asked, “But what about the smell?” And she said, “Oh, he’ll get used to you … I did!”
Then Lucado went on to say, “Before you comment on someone else’s odor, check your own odor first.” That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Christian Unity has begun with God the Holy Trinity–and it should flow down to and through us as well. It must begin with realizing that we are sinful people who desperately need Jesus Christ as Savior, Redeemer and Lord. Through repentance and faith – gifts given to us in our Baptism – we become one with Christ our Lord. We are eternally connected to Him and He to us. This same relationship extends from Christ to us, and from us to each other. As a congregation, our lives with each other must be knit together in love through Christ.
At a Midwestern farm fair many spectators gathered for an old-fashioned horse-pull (An event where various weights are put on a sled hitched to a horse and pulled along the ground). The grand-champion horse pulled a sled with 5,600 pounds on it. The runner up was close, with a 5,500 pound pull. Some of the folks wondered what they could pull if they were hitched together. Separately, they had totaled nearly 12,000 pounds, but when hitched and working together as a team, the winning horses were able to pull more than 18,000 pounds! Almost three times what either one of them could pull, alone!
As the church, the baptized body of believers, we pull together, accomplishing far more as a unified group than as lone individuals. We pull together in one common mind and one common mission: to apply the forgiveness of sins to the world. This task has been given to the church by Christ so that true heavenly peace and unity may reign here and now. Yet Satan, who prowls around like a roaring lion, continuously strives to destroy Christian unity. He continually tempts us to be prideful and get our backs up to one another. He would like nothing more than for us to sow division and to withhold forgiveness. Satan grins from ear to ear when the body of Christ is at war with one another, fighting each other with popular vote and slanderous talk behind closed doors. He also rejoices when false doctrine worms it’s way into the church and Christians turn the “blind-eye” to it’s poison, favoring the warm-fuzzy feeling of artificial unity with “Christian” groups who believe, teach and confess heretical teachings.
Pride and being self–absorbed is what has destroyed the unity of the church. Pride is what has led to over 30,000 protestant denominations - all claiming they are right. Pride, and having our own way, is the driving force behind factions, heresies and divisions among us. We must return our Lord’s Word to the church: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” The oneness of the church flows from God’s Word to us. It is a word of forgiveness for wrongs and a unifying healing that binds up our wounds. It gives to us a repentant humility with which we can confess our sins to God and each other, restoring peace and unity.
This is why Christ prays that the church may be one, that we may receive His healing word, the forgiveness of our sins through His Cross and glorious Resurrection from the dead; and that we may call upon His Name in every prayer, praise and thanksgiving. May God continue to bless us as we pull together in one mind, one faith, and one mission: that all nations may be baptized, joined to Christ and to each other in the Divine unity and humility of the church. Amen.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!