“The Other Lord’s Prayer”
The lectionary gospel text for Sunday, June 1st is John 17:1-11. When I have preached on this text, I have entitled the sermon, “The Other Lord’s Prayer.” In the Sermon on the Mount and Plain Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven….” Most Christians learn and memorize the Lord’s Prayer. Scholars refer to John 17 as Jesus’ High Priestly prayer. I call it the Other Lord’s Prayer.
“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one, as we are one.” (vs. 11)
“Holy Father, protect them.” Can you imagine how vulnerable and fragile those first followers were? God’s reign which Jesus ushered into the world would hang by the thread of their witness! Talk about angst! Would they keep the faith? Would they understand it? Would they be thwarted by the rejection in the synagogues and temple leaders? Would they survive the coming persecution of Rome?
“Holy God, protect them”…their road would not be easy. They would be persecuted, suffer, killed and raised, glorified as he would be. He predicted this for himself and them. We American Christians enjoy a religious freedom. Unlike the church in Cuba, where for 35 years a few church leaders kept church doors open when the atheist government frowned on church activity. Our suffering comes more from stress within the church as we struggle to love one another, fight over how best to witness in our communities, and discern the will of God.
Holy God, protect them? However, God did not protect Jesus, nor the early Christians from suffering. Paul wrote to the congregation in Rome, “Their suffering will produce endurance, and their endurance will produce character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint them. (Romans 5:3-5).
“Holy God, protect them?” They were not protected from harm’s way. What does he mean?
Gospel living puts us in harm’s way, in the crucible of loving another soul. When you start carrying about someone other than yourself, you expose your heart to hurt. You expose your mind to ideas other than your own. When you share your life in community with others, it isn’t easy. Church life is a learning laboratory of community living. And it’s full of frustrations. Good strongly committed people don’t always see eye to eye. We fight over the color to paint the sanctuary, over so many little insignificant things. Sometimes we argue over very significant matters of life and death. “Holy God, protect them,” us from self imploding.
This year the Presbytery of Lake Michigan has been introducing Polarity thinking to our church leaders. Often conflicts arise out of the energy that flows between two opposing poles. An example in Scripture and theology is law and grace. The Pharisees and Jesus battled on this one. The Pharisees were stuck on the law and righteousness. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) Polarity thinking suggests that instead of choosing sides in a zero sum game, we move from an either/or stance to a both/and stance. Stop trying to solve a problem that will never be solved, but identify/see the polarity and manage it to get on the up side of both poles.
Sometimes polarities lead to a tug of war, a stand off, and a vicious cycle of self defeating behavior where the church suffers the down side of both poles. The Goal of our initiative is to experience the up side of both poles.
The two polarities we assessed in 32 of our 66 congregations in October 2013 and in March 2014 are the Spiritual Health of the Individual & Spiritual Health of the Church, and Tradition & Innovation. It turns out, according to nearly 2000 assessments completed in 32 congregations; we are healthier than we think. There is always room for improvement. Again, the premise of the Thriving Congregations initiative is to move away from vicious cycles of infighting, and to consciously choose to honor the value of both poles. Thriving congregations see and manage polarities well.
“Holy God, protect them,” us from imploding, vicious cycles, self defeating behaviors that turn congregations into environments which repel the very ones we seek to attract.
“Protect them in your name…so that they may be one, as we are one.” Think about it. We know the content of three of Jesus prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and this High Priestly Prayer. Our unity is at the heart of this other Lord’s Prayer.
What is that, to be one? It doesn't mean agreement! Look at our history, as Protestants, Reformed, Presbyterian Christians, we are forever protesting, reformed and always reforming some indiscretion, some impropriety, challenging some tyranny. We fight and sometimes split, old side/new side, old school/new school, abolition/pro slavery, modern/fundamentalist. We fight and then sometimes mend the rift and reunite, recognizing the inevitable of who we are and whose we are. We are disciples of Jesus Christ, sinners in the need of grace, who have died and been raised to new life in Christ, celebrated in baptism. God calls us to live in covenant community, whether we like each other or not, whether we agree with each other or not. We rediscover again and again our oneness in our Baptism, and in this Other Lord’s Prayer, “that they may be one.”
We have been living through a new reformation for some time. The church has been divided on matters ordination, and sexual morality. We have tried to legislate matters. Recently, we’ve been tied in a draw, votes teetering back & forth 51 to 49%. So as I anticipate the coming General Assembly in Detroit, I pray with Jesus, “Holy God, protect them in your name…so that they may be one, as we are one.”
In our better moments, we do get it, and have carved Christian Unity as foundational to our faith in the constitution of the church.
“Unity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. Just as God is one God and Jesus Christ is our one Savior, so the Church is one because it belongs to its one Lord, Jesus Christ. The Church seeks to include all people and is never content to enjoy the benefits of Christian community for itself alone. There is one Church, for there is one Spirit, one hope, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, on God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:5-6) (Foundations of Presbyterian Polity: Book of Order F-1.0302a)
Unity made sense to the Apostle Paul when he thought of the human body and its many parts. All parts of the body are important and necessary for the functioning of the whole body. We are reminded of this at every ordination and installation of a church leader called to ordered ministry. (1 Corinthians 12)
Unity is not unanimity, but it is more like making music. Singing in unison is nice. Singing in harmony is far richer. Putting a counter point with a different rhythm adds even more. But every singer musician has to keep to the same beat of the One Lord. The beauty of music comes in its rich complexities of voices held together by the one beat of the master director Jesus Christ, who loves us all.
Unity is not a mono-culture of sameness, but the strength of honoring diversity in Christ. The American experiment of modern agricultural has led to a mono-culture of one high production cash crop. This has some benefits of high production, but at a cost to the soil, and with the added need for harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer. We are learning again the wisdom farmer stewards of the soil have long known: diversity of crops, crop rotation--don’t risk putting all your eggs in one basket. There is natural harmony and strength in diversity. God designed the world in all its glory with a built in interdependence and strength in diversity. The flower needs the bee to pollinate it. The bee needs the flower. The bat needs the insect. It all fits together in a godly harmony of balance.
God calls us to live in covenant community not to ourselves, but with God and each other. In covenant community we call church, God calls us to practice the new thing that God is doing in the world. What if we lived in such a covenant community like the holy Trinity? What if we set down the polarized tug of war rope which leads to stalemate, long enough to listen to, understand and respect the value of another’s position?
Unity in diversity is foundational in our faith! It IS the Other Lord’s Prayer.
“Holy God, protect them in your name…so that they may be one, as we are one.”
You can follow the work of the General Assembly by going to PC-Biz. http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga221/pcbiz/ All the business before the 221st GA is available there, along with the committee assignments, and their work. Log on in see for yourself.