Welcome to the Foundations Podcast. My name is Tom and I’m part of the staff team at STC. This week we’ll continue working through John 17 picking up from Dave Saxton.
Our reading today is John 17: 20-26 but today I’ll focus on verse 21:
‘…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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…’
What goes through your mind when you think of church unity?
When I think of church ‘unity’ I have memories of from childhood of ‘churches together’ services: of (nearly always big) meetings or events and I always remember them being outside (I’m not sure why). I also have a memory of them being very long as it seemed every pastor or church leader from the town had to have their say or add their welcome. I don’t remember there was much humour (no doubt to avoid offence) and I have a distinct memory that no one mentioned: Mary, baptism or communion. No doubt banned for fear of offence along with references to the Holy Spirit (unless authorised liturgy) – but not too much to offend the Free Church people (as my mother would call them, with a tone of suspicion I might add), under no circumstances was there a mention of British Politics or hot topics such as Israel & Palestine or indeed any reference to the ‘end times’ – because there could be pre or post millenialists among the crowd. No request for tithes could be made because some might think that was too old testament. Worship music was selected to cause least offence (it was unity after all) . One or two guitars were allowed but always gave way for the Clavinova on the right hand side of the stage. Hand waving was permitted and flags were allowed for personal use only. I remember there being an array of stewards for whom a career in the Police was not an option but they relished their time in the tabard standing in from the make-shift stage protecting the vicar & the local headteacher
Today’s passage has something to say about Christian unity. John 17 is known as the infamous ‘Jesus prayer’ and there is no getting away that Jesus does say very clearly that believers should be united. In verse 21 he says ‘that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.’
Let me geek it up for a moment. Jesus is praying to His father. What this represents is the relationship between the ‘Godhead’. Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity – a belief – that God is three persons: Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit. The reason we say God is love is because the Father Loves the Son and the Son Loves the Spirit. God is three persons and he is perfectly united into the Godhead through love.
The Trinity is made up of three distinct persons who are held in love – in fact perfect love.
What does this mean?
You can’t bang on about the church unity and then slag off your church leader. You can’t re-tweet or get into unhelpful stuff on social media or be in the habit of putting down other churches or Christians and yet somehow think one is doing the work of unity because you ‘sing Spirit break out’ once a month with other people and yet in your heart have real differences in your heart towards other Christians.
Unity might look something like this:
What about if we honoured people even if we didn’t agree? And I am totally talking to myself here. If we spoke well of others and assumed the best instead of the worse. When people gossip about a church – we stop it rather than spread it. What if we celebrate others’ successes and not just critique pastors by the car they drive or determine how ‘sound’ or Godly that church is just by their Instagram stream?
What makes us one? Choosing to love – choosing to serve?
My mate told me this story years ago. He was taking a well known Christian leader to a big event run by three churches. As they pulled up two of the other church pastors rocked up in their respective cars: An Audi A6 and a Porsche Cayenne. My friend was driving his pastor’s Ford Focus.
When I heard that story judgment entered my heart – immediately. A pastor in a Porsche. Seriously?
I made a flippant (slightly judgemental) comment to my mate about his Senior Pastor’s views on the car they drive. His answer challenged me then and I need to be reminded of it now. He said with a smile on his face: ‘Oh, he loves them so much.’
That, folks, is unity.
Help us Lord today to be a people of unity and I pray that that starts in our hearts – that we may be people of love.
READING: John 17:20-26
‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
‘Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.’