"Lifted Up In Prayer"
By Rev. James A. Splitt
Sermon May 24, 1998 - 7th Easter Sunday
John 17:20-26 Acts 16:16-34

It is fascinating to think of the diversity of the Christian community.  There are Greek Orthodox Christians, Holy Roller Christians, Catholics, Methodist, Baptist, and Christian Scientists.  There are Assemblies of God, Disciples of Christ, Swedenborgs, United Church of Christ, Presbyterians and Lutherans.  There are Protestants and Catholics and non denominational Christians.  People worship in Cathedrals, store fronts, tabernacles, churches, and meeting halls.   There are those who read the Bible literally and those who read the scripture with varied interpretations.  We have the King James Bible, the RSV, NRSV, the NEB, the Jerusalem Bible, the Amplified Bible, the Good News Bible, and the JB Philips Bible ... just for starters.   We are led by pastors, priests, nuns, practitioners, ministers, monks, evangelists, preachers, and elders.

Of all the world religions, Christianity is the most diverse in practice, ritual, belief, doctrine, dogma, and expressions of faith.  The diversity of the Christian faith can be very confusing, it is hard to understand why we Christians view our faith so differently.  Today when people go church shopping, they have more variety of Christian churches to check out than the
number of stores you will find in any super mall.

It is surprising that such diversity exists when the One we worship lifts us up in prayer to be united, one in faith.  This morning's text from the Gospel of John comes from the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The selection that we read is the part where Jesus prays for us.   Jesus prays for us to be one in His name. . . . one, unified, as Jesus and God are one.  

I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.  The glory which Thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one that the world may know that Thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as Thou hast loved me." (vs. 20-23).

We are lifted up in prayer by Jesus to have a perfect unity.  A sacred unity ... that reflects the incarnate Christ  ... that brings us into union with God.  We are lifted up in prayer to become one in Christ.  We are lifted up in prayer to share in the sacred presence of God in union with Christ.  Of all the prayers in the Bible, these words of Jesus petition God to bring us together in faith.

With so much diversity in the Christian faith, how can this prayer be
answered?   Why are we lifted up in prayer by Jesus in this last hour of his
human, earthly life to become ONE?  Let me offer some reflections.

Jesus prays for us to be glorified in heaven.
Jesus prays for the oneness of God's love.
Jesus prays for the unity of all believers.

Diversity among Christians is a good thing.  There are many ways of saying we are one in Christ.  There is no limit to our expression of being one in Christ.  Every denomination, every style of Christianity can proclaim the
central truth of our faith.  We simply need to acknowledge and respect our
diversity rather than making our differences divide us.  The solidarity of our Christian faith is based upon the fact that Jesus prayed for us to be one.  Paul echoes this theme in the book of Ephesians.  "Let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another."  (4:25)  Paul also uses the analogy of the church being one body, of which we are all members.

Jesus prays for us to be glorified in heaven.  Do Baptists go to Baptist heaven ...  Presbyterians to Presby Heaven?  Is there one heaven for those who speak in tongues, and another for Christians who pray with prayer beads?  It seems silly to even imagine different heavens for different believers.  Jesus lifts us up in prayer so that we might understand that heaven is where we are all fully in union with God, despite how we worship God on earth. 

We are always looking for unity of earth, but it rarely exists.  Unity is threatened by bickering over differences, isolating ourselves from others, and by acting out antagonisms.  "It is the will of Jesus that all who are his should be with him in the heavenly place where he is and there behold his eternal glory" [Ernst KŠsemann, The Testament of Jesus According to John 17, trans. by Gerhard Krodel.  1968, Phila, Fortress Press, p.71.]

The biggest threat to Christianity is from within.  Look at what destroys the unity of the church.  We can become so engrossed in the problems of the church that we lose sight of Christ's prayer for us to seek this heavenly reality.  Instead, we fight and bicker over issues that leave us bitter and confused.  For example, let's discuss the issue of homosexual ordination with the goal in mind of becoming more unified in Christ.  While we in the Presbyterian church embrace the ordination of women, there are still churches that make it very clear they wouldn't want a woman in the pulpit.  Has anyone figured out why Protestants and Catholics in Ireland don't read the Bible on the subject of Christian unity?  I don't understand why some Baptists refuse to have fellowship with other Christians in community ecumenical projects.  Why can't I take communion in the Catholic church or in the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran churches?  Why do we snub our noses at people who speak in tongues?  How many churches do you know where there has been a disunity of spirit that has caused people to leave the church?

Jesus prays for the oneness of God's love.  Our earthly reality of Christian unity must continually proclaim salvation, eternal life.  What brings us together is knowing we are all loved by God.  God does not love those who read the King James Bible more than those who read from the Good News Bible.  God does not love Catholics more than people from the Heavenly Tabernacle of the Holiness of Jesus Church.  Jesus lifts us up in prayer so that we might believe we are all loved by God.  Our diversity as Christians is cause for celebration, for respect and honoring that there are so many ways to love God in return for God's love for us.  We live out our oneness
in Christ when we proclaim God's love for all.

Jesus prays for the unity of all believers.  Jesus lifts us up in prayer so
that we might proclaim the good news.  Christian unity depends upon the
proclamation of God's word by those who believe.  This is at the heart of
Jesus' prayer.  Jesus prays for the unity of the human community.  "That we
might become one."   Herein lies the basis of mission, the basis for
worship, and the purpose of the Christian Church today.  We are unified in
God's love and through our faith in that love we are to fulfill the prayer
of Jesus by loving one another.  Our task and mission as a church is to
bring about a unity of the human community through the proclamation of God's love.

God's perfect love becomes a blessing.  Our future is secured.  We can love
one another with a Christ incarnate love.  We can set our sights on a heavenly reality where the imperfections of our human life are in the past.  We can honor the diversity of Christian expression as a sign of Christ in the midst of our human community in a variety of dimensions, bringing us all together in faith.  Jesus said that he goes to prepare a place for us in a heavenly realm where there are many rooms, but one house. (John 14:2ff).

In closing, let us remember that Christ lifted us up in prayer.  His prayer
was a simple request that we become one in Him.  Amen.