Easter 7B – Christian Unity, in the End

JOHN 17

When they were younger my children used to watch a children’s cartoon entitled “Busytown Mysteries” aired on CBC TV. It’s about these animal cartoon characters – among them a giraffe, a mouse, a pig – who are friends, and are called upon to solve mysteries in their town.

In one episode the bunch of sleuths were called upon to solve a rather peculiar mystery: A pair of ski-tracks in the snow followed an inexplicable course down the mountain – the pair of tracks circumvented a giant boulder, but one track on either side of the rock! Then, the pair of tracks travelled together, side-by-side through a hollowed-out, low-lying log. Who, or what, could have made those tracks? And how?

A tall-legged giraffe could have gone over the boulder easily enough, but how then could it have gone through the log? A mouse could have gotten through the log, but what about the tall boulder? The evidence didn’t add up. Not until the sleuths changed their assumptions – saw the problem through a different perspective altogether, was the mystery solved.

You see, they had assumed the skier was by themselves – one person. Everything made sense when they discovered that in fact there were two mice who were not skiing, but snow-boarding beside each other down the hill. The truth was revealed after they assumed the maker of those tracks was not alone.

Jesus, before he went to his suffering and death, prayed to his God, the Father. And he prayed that his followers on earth “might be one.” In other words, he didn’t want them to be alone – isolated, competing, independent individuals. He prayed for their unity. He prayed that harmony, cooperation, mutuality and collaboration would characterize the Church on earth.

But sometimes the evidence just does not add up. What we see on the surface is the opposite: We see division. And we can’t always and easily explain the “mystical”, invisible, spiritual union we claim we have whenever we celebrate the sacrament of unity during Holy Communion.

At the same time I suspect we would have a hard time making Christian unity a central aspect of our witness to the world, a world that dwells only it seems, on the schisms, controversies and in-fighting in Christianity.

How is this unity experienced in reality? Are we willing to change some of our pre-conceived assumptions about how the world works and how the church works? Like the Busytown buddies, would we be willing to solve the mystery by realizing unity means we are not alone in this world? How can we celebrate our unity “on the ground in our daily lives when the world wants to tell us we are on our own, competing, survival-of-the-fittest?

Or, do we even care? Are we satisfied and comfortable to remain entrenched and cocooned in our defensive posture?

Paul MacLean, highly esteemed and successful rookie head coach of the Ottawa Senators said after the Sens were eliminated from the playoffs a few weeks ago, “You win a Stanley Cup not by defending; you win a Stanley Cup by scoring goals.” How can our “offence” become our best “defence”? In other words, how being united in Christ become our best “offence” in the world bent on rugged individualism?

We advance Christian unity when the world sees that we care for one another in our weaknesses. In verse 11 of John 17 Jesus prays, “Holy Father, protect them … so that they may be one as we are one.” Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers is linked to God’s protection and provision.

Now, the translation from Greek to the word, “protect”, may make us feel like God needs to protect us from all that is bad and evil and scary in the world – as is the case, literally, at the end of the passage (v.15) when Jesus in fact does pray for this.

But in verse 11 when unity is at stake, the Greek word for “protect” – tereo – carries overtones of “pay attention” to one another, or “attend to carefully”, or “take care of”, in the same way parents care for their children.

The truth is, we can’t do mission in the world effectively if we’re always fighting each other. But when the world sees how Christians care for one another in their needs – how a community of faith supports each other in the work of the Gospel – this leads to enhanced Christian unity.

Continuing the hockey analogy, this is called “puck support”; it’s not about only the star player going in to score, it’s about everyone “supporting” one another in moving the puck forward. It was only when Alex Ovechkin had less ice-time in the latter part of this season that the Washington Capitals experienced greater success as a team. When the level of play increases for all the players can the team be at its best.

God cares for us and will provide for our every need, no matter the circumstances of our lives. No matter how dire or conflicted or heavy the burdens of our lives and the challenges we face, listen to the promise of God, here: God will care for us. God will give us what we need to endure, to live, to prosper.

How did God the Father care for Jesus? How did God the Father care for Jesus? Even though Jesus endured suffering and brutal death on the cross, the Father held Christ through that terrible experience of death and brought him to new life and resurrection.

Resurrection is the end-game, the destination of all we experience. Not death. The power of death has no strangle-hold on our life, in Christ. Because baptized into the Body of Christ we know that nothing will separate us from the care, the love of God.

And God continues to care and protect us. We can therefore live confidently, caring for one another. We can live confidently and compassionately for others through it all, showing the world that in Christ we are united as we care for one another and the world that God so loved.

On one level our unity is a mystery, like the experience of Christ’s real and true presence in the Sacrament. But on another level, Christian unity is not a mystery. It is rock-solid, visible truth. We are not alone. We are not by ourselves on the journey. Just look around you. What unites us is greater than whatever may divide us.

Whenever we notice in another their unique gift and presence in the community – and tell them! – with a kind, generous and encouraging word, we affirm that what unites us is greater than whatever may divide us.

Whenever we work shoulder to shoulder in any outreach to the community as, for example, we will next week in the book sale & community BBQ for supporting LAMP,  we affirm that what unites us is greater than whatever may divide us.

Whenever we pray together, reflect on scripture together, and celebrate the Holy Meal together, we affirm that what unites us is greater than whatever may divide us.

Whenever we visit with one another and care for one another in the love and light of Christ Jesus within us, we affirm that what unites us is greater than whatever may divide us.

The living Lord Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

Amen.

 

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