Copyright © 2009 Nathan L. Bostian
A Sermon for Year B, 7th Easter
Based on Acts 1:15-26, John 17:11b-19
A Sermon for Year B, 7th Easter
Based on Acts 1:15-26, John 17:11b-19
Today Jesus prayed that we would be one as he and his Father are one. He prayed for unity: The kind of unity that has always existed within the God who is Love.
He prayed that we would not be separate and splintered and splayed out like a dinner plate we just dropped on the floor…
But that we would be single, united, one.
I want to you to think: What does unity mean to you? Is there a time when you felt united with others? Can you remember an experience where you felt like you were one with someone else: One mind, one will, one heartbeat?
When you think of unity, perhaps you think of a defining romantic moment. The first kiss. The time that you realized that he or she was "the one". The moment you stood before God and everyone else and said "I do".
Or, when you think of unity, do you think of some shared experience with others. Maybe a stadium full of folks singing the national anthem, or the same stadium of folks cheering the team to victory.
Perhaps it is a shared experience of dread. I will always remember where I was, and what I was doing when the Space Shuttle exploded, and when the two planes hit the twin towers.
Or perhaps unity brings to mind a defining moment of accomplishment with others. For some it was the day you graduated bootcamp with your fellow soldiers. For others, it came at the end of a performance, when you knew in your gut that everyone had "nailed it" with flawless accuracy.
So when we imagine what unity is about, when we remember what unity feels like, we find that unity revolves around a shared passion, a shared experience, and a shared mission.
Some of my most powerful memories of unity come from my experience in high school and college football as a defensive lineman. When you spend hours upon hours, days upon days, seasons upon seasons with people in an environment like that, you can't help but feel united.
You help each other and hit each other. You encourage each other and scream at each other. You run together, fall together, get up together, sweat together, and yes, you smell together.
Good Lord, how you smell together! [Cringe]
One very powerful experience of unity came one game my senior year when we- a no-name team with no ranking- were playing a state ranked team with a top ten running back.
We were not supposed to win. Not even come close. This running back was supposed to literally run all over us.
But they didn't. In fact, the entire game was back and forth until the very end. We did an incredible job of shutting down the running back. Every time they scored, we would score. Every time we would score, they would return the favor.
And so, it gets down to the fourth quarter, in the closing minute of the game. We lead the other team by less than a touchdown, and it is their possession, and they are driving.
We are tired. The Friday night lights are bright. The crowd is going wild. If they score on this drive, it is all over. We have no time to score back on them. But, if we hold them, we win in a massive upset.
First down. We held them to only a couple of yards. Second down. They got three or four yards. Third down. Almost no gain. It is too far from the uprights to attempt a field goal. If they punt it, the game is over. We win.
So they call a time out to try and make the first down. You can feel the electricity, the tension, the passion. The gravity of the situation is almost unendurable.
And then, out of nowhere, our band begins playing The Doors tune "Come on Baby Light My Fire". It was completely random, weird, and inappropriate for the situation. But somehow it fit...
I look at my defensive end, and we smile at each other. And we start singing The Doors. Right there. On the middle of the field. At the biggest moment of our biggest game of the year. We let go of the tension, and belt out "Come on baby light my fi-ire"!
Then the whistle blows. And the teams face each other across the scrimmage line. They hike the ball. The linemen clash. The handoff is made. And… And…
And they are stopped at the line of scrimmage! We win!
And then came the hugging, and the high fives, and the pouring of the gatorade on the coach. And if you think this celebration is out of proportion to the game we won, you might be right. But then again, you don't know how mediocre my team was.
I wish I could tell you that this game changed our season, took us to the playoffs, or led us to the state championship. It didn't. We ended with a 5 and 5 record. And at least one game, our defense had more rushing yardage than our offense.
See, I told you we were mediocre.
But for that brief and brilliant moment we experienced unity. True unity. The kind of unity that only a shared experience, a shared passion, and a shared mission can bring.
I think it was that kind of unity that Jesus was praying for when he prayed that we may be one.
No, I don't think Jesus and the Disciples sat around singing songs by the Doors. But I do think they had a shared experience that united them.
Think about it: They had been with Jesus. In fact, in our reading from Acts, one of the criteria for selecting a "replacement Apostle" was that they had to "have accompanied [the disciples] during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among [them], beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from [them]" to be a witness to his resurrection.
In short, they had to have a shared experience of Jesus' life, ministry, miracles, and teachings. They had to have a shared experience of talking with Jesus over the campfire, after an exhausting day of ministry, laughing and enjoying finally getting a bite to eat.
They had to have a shared experience of how Jesus had transformed the lives of those whom he encountered, beginning with their own life.
Above all, they had to have a shared experience of Jesus' resurrection. They had to know the depths of dread, and despair, and fear that came with Jesus' death, along with the heights of excitement, and amazement, and hope that came with Jesus' victory over the grave.
The early Church knew the power of a shared experience: How it united a rag-tag group of nobodies, into an unbreakable band of brothers and sisters who achieved the unthinkable.
But not only did the early Church have a shared experience. They also had a shared passion. They had sat at the feet of the God of Love embodied in human form for over three years. They had received the Spirit of Love pouring out on them at Pentecost.
The love, the power, the passion that had always been in God, that had created the Universe, and had brought Jesus back from the dead: This passion now lived inside of them, and overflowed from them.
They had absorbed the passion of Divine Love sitting at Jesus' feet, and breathed the power of Divine Love at Pentecost. Now the passion of the Holy Spirit animated their hearts, and energized their will, with a Love that is stronger than death.
Before that, they were pathetic. Before that, they were powerless. Before that, they were passionless. They fled when Jesus was arrested, and hid when he was executed. They had been separate and splintered and splayed out like a dinner plate dropped on the floor.
Now, finally now, they could live into Jesus' prayer that they would be one as he was one with the Father. Now, finally now, they could give themselves fully to fulfilling the Great Commandments to Love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love their neighbors as themselves.
And it was this passion that led them to a shared mission. Near the end of His prayer today, Jesus says "As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world".
In the end of the Gospel remembrance of Matthew, Jesus says "Therefore go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you".
You see, their shared experience led to a shared passion. And passion cannot be contained. Passion cannot be covered up. Passion leads to mission.
Have you ever seen someone who has fallen in Love? Real Love? Head over heels passionate love? They beam. They glow. They shout it from the rooftops, and tell everyone they know how incredible their beloved is.
They might annoy us. They might even nauseate us. But they also inspire us. Because when we lack passion, and we encounter someone so passionate, we yearn deep inside to believe in someone so much that WE would be that excited.
The truth is that passion drives mission. You show me someone who has passion for something, and I will show you someone who is on a mission to share what they Love.
And so we return to the Early Church. They were so head over heels in Love with Jesus, and they believed so much that His Love was stronger than death, that they could not help telling others and bringing them to experience the same Risen Jesus.
You could mock and scorn them. Didn't stop their mission.
You could arrest and imprison them. Didn't stop their mission.
You could torture and kill them. Didn't stop their mission.
They were one mind, one will, one heartbeat. They knew unity.
And that unity lasted all of five chapters in the book of Acts. Five powerful, passionate, world-changing chapters.
By chapter 6 we see the first Church schisms start to form between the Aramaic and Greek speaking Christians. By chapter 15 we see serious tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians. And it pretty much goes downhill from there.
And so we turn to the Church today, with its thousands of different denominations, schisms, and separations. We are separate and splintered and splayed out like a dinner plate we just dropped on the floor.
What can be done to fix it? What can be done to restore the unity that our Lord prayed for?
Some people think we can restore unity by drawing up lists of essential beliefs, and restricted practices, that we must all agree on before we can be united. And if they don't agree with us, then they are not part of the true Church, or even worse: Not even Christians.
And instead of unity, we wind up with warring factions bludgeoning each other to death with endless lists of non-negotiable doctrines and practices.
Other people think we can restore unity by adopting an identically opposite strategy of trying to pear religion down to the least common denominator of basic belief: Something that anyone with a pulse can agree to.
But instead of unity, we wind up with the bland leading the bland into a passionless religiosity: A religion that means nothing to anyone because it tries to be everything to everyone.
Both seem to miss the point, because they miss the passion. Unity cannot be locked down by reducing a relationship with the Living God to a set of beliefs.
Beliefs are helpful tools to describe and understand what we Love, but they cannot be confused with WHO we Love. For instance, I have some definite beliefs about my wife Kim.
But, if you came up and asked me to describe my beloved Kim, I am not going to rattle off a list of twenty beliefs and practices acceptable to Kim. Neither am I going to tell you the bare minimum I can get away with and still be her husband.
Instead am going to share with you my experience of her, my passion for her, and our shared mission as a family. I think our unity as followers of Jesus is a lot like that.
Remember the defensive end who sang with me at the football game? Well, his name is Bo. We had dinner last night, and he is one of my best friends. He is also a minister and a Church planter, in a Christian tradition that is radically different from ours.
They do not use a written liturgy, or a Prayer Book, or a Hymnal. Everything they do is projected on a screen. They only sing contemporary music played by a band. And, his church meets in a bar. That's right. A bar.
Externally, there is almost NOTHING similar about how we worship God. And yet, I still identify Him as someone who follows Jesus. The same Risen Jesus I follow.
Why is that?
I find in him the same experience of the Risen Jesus. I find in him the same passion set on fire by Divine Love. And I find in him the same mission to share that Love in every way we can, with every one who will receive it.
We do it in totally different ways, using different methods, and different means. But the same Christ is at the Center of it all.
So I challenge us all to dig deep to remember our experience with the Risen Christ- to recognize the ways in which Christ has healed us, and changed us, and transformed our lives.
I challenge us to open our hearts to the passion of Divine Love, the passion that can ignite our weary souls with the power of the resurrection.
And I challenge us to re-engage in our mission to share this Divine Love with everyone we can, in big ways and small ways, in spoken words and deeds that speak for themselves, using all the diverse and creative methods we can.
If we can recover our shared experience of Christ, our shared passion for Christ, and our shared mission from Christ, then maybe, just maybe, we can become one: Just like Christ prayed we would be.