Lectionary Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 12, 2013
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may 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 17:20-21
Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno! More than likely you first encountered this Latin phrase as the rallying cry and motto of Alexandre Dumas’ protagonists in the novel The Three Musketeers. If you are of Swiss extraction, you might also recognize it as the traditional motto of Switzerland. While you probably won’t hear these exact words as a call to action and mission in your local faith community, it might not be a bad idea to consider it as a potential candidate, minus the sabers, swordplay, and fancy nineteenth century garb. We could use more common spirit in our church and world.
It wasn’t too many decades ago that earnest youth groups and church campers were enthusiastically singing “We are One in the Spirit” around campfires and worship circles, adopting this “Jesus people” anthem as their own. Yet as much as we like the concept of unity and being one in the Spirit, it sure is a lot more difficult to live out in the day-to-day machinations of real life. The church universal is expressed in somewhere between 30,000 and 41,000 different Christian denominations and groups around the world. This figure, of course, depends on where you get your information. It seems we can’t even come to consensus on this number. So much for Christian unity!
Jesus evidently thought unity amongst his followers was pretty important because in this week’s gospel lesson from John we hear Jesus praying for unity in a powerful and passionate prayer. His words speak to his strong, integral, intimate connection to the Father, and he prays for us to be woven into that deep fabric of belonging. In this unity, Jesus says, the world will see and know and believe. Even better–we will know the same love that exists between the Father and the Son, and we will understand the mutuality expressed in the Trinity. This is heady stuff when you really stop to consider it.
In some ways this is Jesus’ prayer for disciples of every time–past, present, and future. God has always been and will always be. John recounts how Jesus was prayed that specific prayer with a specific group of disciples at a specific location in physical space and time. But also this prayer looks to the future, to include disciples of future generations, of which we are part, as will be our great-great-great grandchildren. We are part of this one long narrative, this one story, and this amazing one love.
Perhaps being “one” involves drawing the circle bigger and wider, setting more places at the table, and celebrating the gifts we all have to bring and to share. We may not agree on the fine print, but there is much common ground among us — surely enough to find firm footing. With Christ as our foundation, the Spirit as our advocate and guide, and with God’s love enfolding and keeping us, we are one even if we chose not to acknowledge it.
What’s a good way to start exploring what it means to be one as Jesus prayed? How can we be good stewards of the gospel with which we have been entrusted?
Maybe a place to start is developing deep relationships with individuals around us, listening to and learning from one another, breaking bread and sharing life’s journey together. If we can drop our preconceived notions and prejudices, remembering the prayer that Jesus prayed on our behalf, and if we can look at the other as an equally beloved child of God, then there is a good chance we can journey toward unity, one baby step and one relationship at a time. Indeed, we have one Lord for all, and we are all created for unity in one God. Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno!
What would it look like to take one small step toward the unity for which Jesus prays? Have ushers pass out miniature size Three Musketeer bars to each person with the instructions “Don’t eat this yet! You’ll need it later in the service.”
During the sermon or before the prayers, invite the gathered community to observe their Three Musketeers bar and think about Dumas’ protagonists’ motto “One for all, all for one.” You can share a bit of the story with them if you want, or even show a clip from one of the film versions.
Next challenge them to envision one person with whom they disagree about fundamental issues. This may be politics, economics, biblical interpretation, church or denominational stances, or even a vitriolic sports team rivalry. Challenge them to pray for this person for 40 days, asking God to open both their hearts to see one another through the eyes of divine love and to move toward a greater unity as children of God.
Tell them to keep the candy bar somewhere that will remind them to pray for that person every day. If nothing else, they can rest assured that God will work a change in their own heart, even if they do not see a result in the other person. (However, having done this before, I never cease to be amazed at what God is capable of doing when we participate in the divine prayer for unity and love.) We are not all cookie-cutter Christians or single patterned people, but we can celebrate our unity as beloved children of God even as we learn to appreciate our diversity. You might even foreshadow the Pentecost story for next week, when so many different folks came together in the one Spirit of God.
Some youth may be aware of One.org, the international campaign to eradicate poverty that uses celebrity spokespersons and is largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Pull up the website and look at their goals and mission. Notice that they do not seek donations but rather personal activism and commitment to ending poverty, hunger, and other related issues. Even this positive and engaging campaign has experienced its share of controversy, showing that we have trouble uniting around anything–even something dedicated to doing good. Our broken human nature leads us to fragment, even as Jesus constantly gathers our crumbs and broken pieces. Check out the Wikipedia article about the ONE campaign and its controversy with African economist Dambisa Moyo.
Our lesson from the 22nd chapter of Revelation (12-14, 16-17, 20-21) talks about the gift of living water. Water is necessary for life. Without it we cannot live. Living water comes from God, and is the promise and reality of abundant life in Christ. This is better water than even the most purest water source on earth.
Consider giving children some facts about water. Water.org offers some easy-to-understand infographics on their website that you could copy and print, or make your own infographic for the children using this website as a guide. Tell them that because in Jesus we have access to the gift of living water with all its benefits, one tangible way to share Jesus’ love is by working to provide clean water to our neighbors around the world.
If you are able and your context allows for a longer time with the children, consider giving each child a reusable water bottle (BPA free, of course). If you have time, allow the children to decorate with stickers or permanent pens, and consider printing Revelation 22:17b on the bottle. Talk to them about the importance of using a reusable bottle for drinking water, and remind them how fortunate we are to have ready access to clean, safe water.
Photos: © mangostock – Fotolia.com, © chalabala – Fotolia.com, © Les Cunliffe – Fotolia.com, and © cienpiesnf – Fotolia.com.