7th Weekend of Easter---"That We May All Be One", May 16-17, 2015

Seventh Weekend of Easter (B/RCL): “That We May All Be One”

John 17:6-19

May 16-17, 2015

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            Planning for the June 18 baccalaureate service at Manasquan High School is on the top of the agenda for our local pastors’ Ministerium meeting this coming week.   This is one of several services we plan and implement together each year; the baccalaureate is unique, though, because graduating seniors help us shape and lead the worship. 

“Ecumenical” is the word we use for events like this that involve different Christian denominations.  It comes from the Greek word for household.  Whether we are Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Assembly of God, Nazarene, Methodist, or Reformed, we’re all baptized into the same “household” of faith: the Body of Christ.

Most of us, at one time or another, have worshiped not just in a different sanctuary but in a different Christian tradition than this one.  Where have you been?   What was similar?  What was different?

  • There were probably Scripture readings, but maybe a different translation was used.
  • Each sanctuary is unique.  Maybe the one you were in had stained glass, or statues, or chairs instead of pews, or little racks for tiny Communion cups in the pews.
  • Maybe instead of an organ and a piano, there was a whole band, and it may have been up front on a stage and not upstairs in the loft!
  • Instead of hymnals there may have been missalettes, or maybe the words of prayers and songs were projected on a screen instead of printed in a book or leaflet.
  • Maybe the pastor was dressed in a suit or wore an academic gown instead of liturgical vestments like an alb and stole.
  • Maybe the people shared Holy Communion, but they remained seated in the pews or kneeling at the rail.  Perhaps they used only grape juice instead of wine, or drank only from individual glasses.
  • Maybe there was no liturgy at all, no pastor at all, like at the Quaker meeting down the road.

Different practices can be driven by different theology, or simply variations in local custom.  The important thing to remember is that there’s more that unites us than divides us.   There are many different expressions of Christianity that have sprung up over the centuries, and new independent churches are appearing all the time, but there is only one Lord whom we adore, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Today’s Gospel recounts our Lord’s conversation with His friends the night before He died.  He prays:

“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”  (John 17:11b)

“…that they may be one, as we are one.”

            What examples of unity can you think of in our ecumenical, “cross-congregational,” non-denomination-specific life together?

  • Soup & Scripture
  • Good Friday and Thanksgiving ecumenical worship
  • MHS baccalaureate
  • MOVE/Furniture Bank/Kitchen & Linen Brigade
  • Family Promise
  • National Day of Prayer
  • Heroin Round Table
  • Domestic Violence initiative

I’m thinking of a couple other one-time ecumenical worship experiences, too: the candlelit gathering of over 1,000 people in Abe Voorhees Plaza on September 17, 2001, and the community prayer vigil at Manasquan Presbyterian after the tragic death of Charlie DiMichelle.

            Jesus sums up His whole ministry in the first verse of today’s Gospel:

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me….” (John 17.6)

For Jesus to make His Father’s name known to us isn’t so much telling us what God is called as describing to us what God is like: God is loving, God is merciful, God is forgiving, God is crazy-in-love-with-us, God’s heart breaks when we turn away from God or from each other.  God is amazingly, miraculously generous, and intends for us to share our blessings so that no child of God lacks what another child of God has.

            A little further along in the Gospel Jesus says:

“All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.”  (John 17:10)

Of course Jesus doesn’t say, “All the Lutherans are yours ” or “All the Roman Catholics are mine” or “All the members of mainstream denominations are ours, but not those suspect, independent, fringe folks.”  Jesus says, ““All mine are yours, and yours are mine….”  He’s not making the distinctions, the value judgments, that we sometimes do.  He’s not crippled by the prejudice that has wounded some of you very deeply – like my godmother Shirley, a beautiful woman of faith, who couldn’t get married in the sanctuary of her Roman Catholic parish but had to be married in the rectory because she was marrying a “Protestant,” my Uncle Phil, one of the kindest men I’ve ever met.  And some of you, way back when, were dissuaded from courting the person of your choice because he or she wasn’t Lutheran or wasn’t German or wasn’t Scandinavian, or whatever.   Nobody has a corner on the market of prejudice.  Not helpful!! 

When Jesus says, “I have been glorified in them,” He’s referring to our shared, articulate conviction that He is the Son of God, the very face and heart of the Father, and just as importantly, He’s speaking about our witness-to-the-world of loving one another as He has loved us. 

In the wake of the multiple earthquakes in Nepal and so many other natural and manmade sources of suffering in recent months and years, we’ve been reminded that Lutheran World Relief is well-positioned to help because the LWR staff is already on the ground, hand-in-hand with local partners, before disaster strikes.  Because our ecumenical community was tight-knit before Sandy struck, Ministerium members were able to assist many who were flooded out even more quickly than local government did.

Christ is glorified, the Father is honored, when the Holy Spirit makes us one with the other members of the household of faith.  We can accomplish more banded together than we can as individual families of faith.  There is actually only one Church with a capital C, the Body of Christ, with only 1 head, Christ, and only 1 purpose: to make the Father’s name known in love and compassion.  Let’s not let theology get in the way!  Amen

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham