The Rev. Paul J Cain
Seventh Sunday of Easter (A), 05 June 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Jesus is back in Gethsemane. No, it is not quite accurate that He has gone back to the Garden of Gethsemane for a return trip—Jesus’ words today come from the night on which He was betrayed. Consider Today’s Holy Gospel a flashback to His passion.
He prays that His Christians would be one. And that’s a good thing.
Unfortunately, John 17 is misused by those who wish a very different result than what Jesus intends.
“Why can’t we all just get along?” is a now-famous question from the early 1990’s. Some use this question among Christians as a way to get all the different groups to ignore their differences and move on. Move on to what, exactly? And what do you mean by “get along?” Avoid conflict? Avoid offending anyone? Avoid telling anyone, “No?”
Unity isn’t true unity if it is done at the expense of truth. Unity isn’t real unity if it denies the existence of truth. Unity is merely pretend if people merely “agree to disagree.”
True unity comes when everyone—every single Christian, every pastor, every congregation, and every Church body—when everyone agrees with Jesus. Is that too much to ask?
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
What does Jesus say in His Word? Jesus alone came to give eternal life. There is only one true God. Jesus is the Christ. Isn’t it sad that some Christians would have a hard time agreeing with these basic points or confessing the Apostles’ Creed as true?
Finding unity with fellow Christians on the basis of Scripture takes work and time. In the German days of the LCMS, our fathers in the faith met for what they called “free conferences.” Anyone could come. They would study God’s Word together. They would study the Catechisms and the Book of Concord together. They would work for unity between pastors and pastors, congregations and congregations, and between pastors and their own congregations. This is not something that happened overnight. When unity was discovered between Church bodies, they declared Altar and Pulpit Fellowship, a formal declaration of unity in God’s Word, unity in Jesus. The unity of The Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America lasted from 1872 to 1963. This is the body that put together The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941.
Unity between The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and either the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the new North American Lutheran Church is unlikely because of differences over what the Bible is. Is the Bible God’s Word, does it contain God’s Word, or is it merely the words of men? Is it perfect, holy, inspired by God and without error? Or is it something less? Different answers to those fundamental questions mean that Lutheran Christians end up with different answers regarding what communion is and to whom it should be distributed, who may serve as a pastor, and who may marry whom. Is the culture to be followed instead of what God’s Word says?
I pray for renewal of theological discussions between the LCMS and the Wisconsin Evangelical Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. In addition, the LCMS should invite Bible-believing and practicing Lutherans to a new generation of “free conferences” to find unity on the basis of Scripture. This is not something that will happen overnight. It will take work, self-examination, repentance, and prayer. But just because something is difficult does not mean that it is an unworthy or impossible goal. We seek to agree with Jesus, for He still prays for us!
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
We hold to Jesus’ words because they came from the Father. His word is truth. Later in verse 17, Jesus specifically confesses, “Your Word is Truth.” Jesus continues to pray for us. We remain in the world until Christ returns on the Last Day or calls us home. Last Thursday was the forty-day mark since Easter, a festival called the Ascension of Our Lord. The Son of God and Son of Man, One Christ ascended. You are one with Him. His human flesh has entered heaven and so will yours, when you are resurrected and glorified on the Last Day.
Our task as Christians remains. We are in the Word for in it, in Christ, we have life. Jesus wants us to have life to the full. We are in the Word with one another as families, as a congregation, at Divine Service, and at prayer. As much as we love potlucks, coffee fellowship, or even our cultural traditions as Christians, our true unity comes from Christ, being united in Him and His Word. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.