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We Should Be One

Judas has left the upper room, Jesus has explained to his disciples what will happen and what he expects of them and now in today’s passage from John’s gospel he is praying to his father.  He began by praying for the disciples, for those who were in the room with him but now he widens his scope:

“I ask not only on behalf of these (the disciples) but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.”

So, that is us.  We, who have believed through the words of the Gospel, were prayed for by Jesus.  Quite a thought in itself, and he prayed that we “may all be one.”  I wonder how Jesus would think that we have got on.

On a worldwide scale, I should say, not very well, even if compared to the horrors of the twentieth century these early years of the twenty-first feel a bit more benign, but not much.  Nationally we have been pondering our divisions, between south and north, rich and poor, those in work and those without and we have revisited Margaret Thatcher’s quote to “Woman’s Own”

“There is no such thing as society.  There are individual men and women and there are families.”  (3.10.87)

And the church, split between East and West, between Rome and Protestant, between those for and against women priests and bishops; I rather think our scorecard is none too good.

It feels to me as if being one has become counter cultural, the pre-eminence of the individual has inexorably grown in the last one hundred years.  We focus on difference, on being different; maybe our recent history has made us frightened of too much conformity.  Where there are seen to be no differences, we look for them.  Hardly a day goes by that a tiny crack in the opinions of the coalition government, for example, is not being chiselled at by the media trying to turn it into a Grand Canyon deep chasm.  Even teams are characterised by the cult of the individual; it has become Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and then of course there are all those individual competitions: The Voice, The Apprentice, Master Chef, even the Bishops of Hertford and Bedford seem to have had a “Bake-off” this week.

When we focus so much on what we disagree about, we become paralysed; Churches Together can only do things they agree about so why do we spend so much time defining one another by difference?  Catholic, Liberal, Traditional, Evangelical, Charismatic, Non-Conformist to name only a few.  Wouldn’t it be better to define what we hold in common?

Jesus prayed that those who believe in him should be one but also within this prayer, he tells us why.  He knew that his disciples and their disciples would find themselves in a hostile world and, as I have said, it is no less so today.  Jesus prays for us to be one as he and the Father are one, the very thing we spoke about last week, completely one; that we should love one another as the Father loves the Son, perfectly.  We are to do this not simply because it is a good thing but so that the world might see.  The world needs to experience and see the enacted witness of believers who are united through God’s loving acceptance of them and of their loving acceptance of one another.

In my experience, people come to ask about church when they see Christians behaving well to one another, with understanding and love, when they see a community that has something they do not, when they see that society really can be more than individual men and women and (nuclear) families.

But of course, that really would be different!

Amen. 

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