23rd June 2019: John 17v20-26 – Jesus’ prayer part 3 – That you may be one

Another week, another technical hitch! With apologies, we don’t have the audio from this sermon – but here are Keith’s notes, and he’d be delighted to discuss them if you get in touch via the contact form at the bottom of the page.

That you may be one

John 17v20-26

Keith Morrison

The video’s point in all cases is simple: work together with a shared cause and together you will defeat the enemy; put your own ambition first, do your own thing, go it alone and the result may be quite different, and the result of our disarray will be evident to all.

You may know that in Jerusalem there is a famous church called The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and it is built over the remains of the cave/tomb in which Jesus is thought to have been buried and from which he rose again and also the church is built over the site of the crucifixion. But in July 2002 the church became the scene of a fight between the monks who run it. The conflict began when a Coptic monk sitting on the rooftop decided to move his chair into the shade. This took him into the part of the rooftop courtyard looked after by the Ethiopian monks.

It turns out that the Ethiopian and Coptic monks have been arguing over the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for centuries. In 1752 the Ottoman Sultan issued an edict declaring which parts of the Church belong to each of six Christian groups: The Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Copts, and Ethiopians. Despite the edict, conflict over the church remains.

The rooftop had been controlled by the Ethiopians, but they lost control to the Copts when hit by a disease epidemic in the 19th century. Then in 1970 the Ethiopians regained control when the Coptic monks were absent for a short period. They have been squatting there ever since, with at least one Ethiopian monk always remaining on the roof to assert their rights. In response a Coptic monk has been living on the roof also, to maintain the claim of the Copts.

And so, we get to a Monday in July 2002, when the Coptic monk moves his chair into the shade. Harsh words led to pushes, then shoves, until an all-out brawl is going, including the throwing of chairs and iron bars. At the end of the fight 11 of the monks were injured, including one monk unconscious in hospital and another with a broken arm.

How sad that a church in which Jesus is worshipped and is also the place of his crucifixion and resurrection is the scene for such bitter conflict among his followers. This is a far cry from his call to love one another, turn the other cheek, and his prayer from today’s passage that his followers might “be one”.
Source: story reported by Reuters, Monday July 29, 2002

It is easy to point the finger and say we are not like them, but how unified are we? In this passage Jesus is talking as much about church members being united as one in love as he is the different denominations. Of course, at the moment he prayed this there were not different denominations in the church, but he knew it would not be long…

When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he was not writing to a group of believers who gathered in one building and praised God together. He was writing to a confederation of house churches, at least four, who were divided already in witness and purpose. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. There was the Paul church, the Peter church, the Apollos church, and the Christ church, each one claiming to be better than the others — which is why he wrote, “What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ'” (1 Corinthians 1:12). And that is why he had to appeal to his brothers and sisters, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

In the early church the apostles each contributed a statement of faith to what later became the origins of the Apostles’ creed. Some years later a council of churches met together to put together an agreed summary of the beliefs the churches, based on that but including more doctrine including the trinity which is known as the Nicene Creed, the Nicene Creed was revised in 381AD and says this:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is,
seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.

Both the Apostles’ Creed and The Nicene Creed say this:

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,

Some are confused by the use of the word Catholic, or that we believe in the Catholic Church, but catholic simply means universal, people frequently refer to the Catholic church when truly they mean Roman Catholic, and that is where the confusion arises. But these creeds were written that the churches might be united. Now that was not a straight forward process, but we have this creed today and it is used by many churches, including the Roman Catholic church. It is great, and it is all there.

To the passage:

This passage is amazing, if for no other reason than Jesus is praying here not for those standing by him at that moment, but for you and me.

20‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,

Jesus’ followers announced the message around the world, those who heard them passed it on, and on, and on. Tom Wright reminds us that the church is never more than one generation away from extinction; all it would take is for a single generation not to hand the word on. But it’s never happened. People have always told other people. But what exactly is Jesus praying for as he thinks about you and me and all his other followers in this and every generation? He is praying:

21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.

‘one, holy and universal,’ founded on the teaching of the followers, the ‘apostles’, the ones who were with him on that occasion. In particular, he longed that we should all be one. United.

Tom Wright goes on to say that this unity isn’t to be just the formal arrangement. It isn’t just an outward thing. It is based on, and must mirror, nothing less than the unity between the Father and the Son, that much of John’s Gospel has been explaining and exploring. Just as the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, so we too are to live within that unity. That can only mean that we ourselves are to be united. And, in case we might miss the point, the results of this will be that the world will see, and know, that this kind of human community, united across all traditional barriers of race, custom, gender and all class, can only come from the action of the Creator God. This picks up on what Jesus said in chapter 13 verse 35 “this is how all people will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for each other.” Sometimes we experience it if and when we meet Christians from a completely different culture or background, and we see a unity of love and devotion that cannot be broken. I remember meeting with Christians in Japan, and indeed preaching to a congregation in New Zealand and experiencing this evident unity. Equally, sadly, just as often we experience and have a sense that Jesus’ prayer for us has not yet been fully answered. Churches that refuse to work with others, they may not be fighting on the roof, but fear, suspicion and stubborn views win, and ultimately so does the enemy.

But there is no excuse the Christians not to work fresh every generation towards the unity Jesus prayed for.

When the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was begun in 1907 by a group of Anglican friars in the United States, it was hoped that Christians would be drawn into one fellowship. Boundaries separated Christians from worshiping and serving together. That is not quite the way it happened, there is a place for the expression of differing personalities with in the church, it would not work if all churches were the same, but they should be able to agree on what they believe and work together for the common good, and for the sake of the gospel.

The thing about prayer is — it works. But the other thing is, God answers prayers the way he chooses.

Church unity had nothing to do with whether you dunked three times forward or once backward, poured, sprinkled, or hosed them down. Christian unity wasn’t about grape juice or wine, thin wafers of bread, or a full meal. It wasn’t about projecting choruses on the wall or having no notices at all, or indeed whether you met in a church building or a school building.

The unity of Jesus Christ is simply to be found in every church among Christians who proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. From the largest to the smallest, from the cathedrals to the smallest house churches, we are one body, and we need to be present as individuals together to make up the church.

And at the heart of it is prayer. It is prayer for each other and prayer that we may be one, our prayer and Jesus’s prayer.

This whole prayer, this long extended plea from the Son to the Father, has been about tying up all the loose ends before Jesus sets about the great task of salvation. This is not about eschatology, the study of last things. It’s about taking care of first things, about setting into motion things that were set up at the beginning of time. Jesus has if you like taken care of the power of attorney for his people, so we’re taken care of. The Spirit will be with us.

Jesus tells his disciples he will no longer be in the world, but we’re going to be in the world. Jesus will willingly lay down his life for his friends to complete God’s work, and he is expecting us to do this for each other, to serve not only our little corner of Christianity, but all of Christendom, and beyond that the whole world, so we might also have a part in God’s work.

Living as God’s people puts us in tension with the world. The prayer of Jesus recognizes this. We are not to retreat from the world, even though we may find ourselves at odds with it.

Then Jesus closes this prayer with these words. Read them carefully.

‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

‘Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.’ — John 17:24-26

That’s what the whole prayer comes down to in the end. It’s about the love of the Father surrounding Jesus, and this same love, as a bond and badge, surrounding all Jesus’ people, making him present to them and through them to the world. And, whereas in verse 11 Jesus addressed the Father as ‘holy’, now he addresses him as ‘righteous’. The Father is the judge of all the Earth; though the world rages against Jesus’s followers, he will see that right will prevail.

Tom Wright says:

But, as always in the new Testament, the justice for which we pray, the righteous judgement through which the Father expresses himself in his world, appears before us as love. That is because, supremely, it appears before us in the person of Jesus. It is this Jesus, this man who prayed for you and me, this high priest who set himself apart for the Father’s glad service, whom we shall now watch over the next few weeks as he goes forward to complete the work of love.


Featured image courtesy of Pexels.