Saturday, September 1, 2012

That They May Be One

That They May Be One – John 17:1-11

I have no idea what motivates people to participate in the life of a church or what brings someone to a place of worship. We are beyond the years of traditional church attendance and, life in Southern California where I live, simply offers too much for church attendance to be high on anyone’s Sunday agenda.

An easy answer may be “God”. And although that may be a general truth, it does not suffice for even God cannot overcome one’s resistance when one turns one’s back on the church or for that matter, on God.

However, you may remember a time in your life when you heard a voice and you unmistakably knew that it was the voice of God. To you it WAS the voice of God. But you may also remember times when the voices you heard did not bring you any closer to God; instead they caused confusion and sometimes lead to emotional distress and spiritual damage. If you ever felt this way, if you found yourself in a spiritual wilderness, you were not alone.

May I comfort you with stories from the Bible: Even in those days there were many voices. There were followers of the monotheistic and ritualistic Orthodox Judaism, there were followers of a pantheon of Greek mythological gods and goddesses, and there were devotees of the military regime of Rome, with its powerful arm of imperial expansionism. Then there were smaller groups, for example the Zealots, and the tribal and fertility religions or cults of the lands surrounding ancient Palestine.

It is against this backdrop that the voice of Jesus sounded and, little by little, ordinary folks came under the impression of a message in which they unmistakably recognized the voice of God.

So, do we still meet God in our worship services? Do we still hear the voice of God in our churches and our religion? Hearing the call of Christ to gather as communities is not enough to hold us together. Our history proves that the search for understanding and fulfillment oftentimes pulls us apart rather than binds us together. There is great diversity among us and the glue that keeps us together is sometimes just not strong enough.

As a glue to keep the community of believers together, Jesus offers a benediction prayer before he launches his disciples into the world: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one” (John 17:1-11). No longer students in college, now ministers of his message, he confirms their eligibility to serve God fully with their lives. He passes the mantel of responsibility on to them; he caps them in God’s grace to graduate from mere students of Jesus’ teachings to full participants in God’s works.

Regardless of our understanding of faith or whichever voices dominate our antennae, we are launched into this world to perform Christ-like acts of courageous ministry in God’s name. The church may never regain the place it once had as a prominent force in culture and society. But a church that hears and responds to God’s voice is a force to reckon with. It does not lie in numbers, buildings or the size of the annual budget. It lies in Jesus’ teachings and whether we hear God’s voice in those teachings. – Thank you for reading.