Becoming One

 

John 14:15-21

Acts 17:22-31

We all belong to at least one community.  Many of us to various communities which may, or may not, overlap.

We are in community with those who live geographically near us, usually sharing government, source of utilities, educational structures, as well as some culture and history.  Some communities formed around location are places where people move in and out on a regular basis and finding more than one or two generations making their home there unusual.  Some communities formed around location have a core group of families for whom belonging to that specific community goes back five or more generations.

I am not sure about here, but in my hometown, there are families who have lived and actively participated in the community for over fifty years who are still considered newcomers by those whose connection to the community goes back to its founding.

We are in community with those who share our faith journey.  That can be the community of a circle of friends, a specific church, a specific denomination, an ecumenical group, or a combination.  We share fundamental beliefs such as those expressed in the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds.  Our elements of worship, prayer, and study are similar.  Our belief in one Triune God held in common.  Our understanding of our mission is to welcome others in and to serve our neighbors, but the habits of how we live together sometime makes that more difficult than we recognize.

We are in community with those who share our desire to help others such as members of the volunteer fire company, the 4-H organization, the Historical Society, the Friends of the Library, the local Lions and Rotary Clubs, the Band Parents, and many others.

We are in community with those who enjoy the same interests.  A biking or model train club, a book club or sewing group, a golf foursome that gets together regularly, a community based band or drama club.

There are specific characteristics, goals, values, understandings that make each community with which we can identify which makes it distinct in some respect from the larger society within it exists.

As we enter the passage from the Book of John this morning we enter the conversation Jesus is having with his Disciples to prepare them for ministry without his physical presence.  He pulls together the basic elements of what he has shared with them over the previous three years, highlighting in a way the basic characteristics, goals, values, and understandings that make those in His community, the kingdom of God, distinct.  He shares the essentials of His church universal community, which is unlike anything his disciples have previously experienced.

From this passage in John, we learn that what brings us into this community established by Jesus is loving Him and keeping His commandments.  The disciples don’t need to ask what commandments, they have heard Jesus tell the experts of church law that the greatest commandment in the Law is  ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,’ and : ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Saying that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [1]

Jesus points out that living out those commandments is not an individual endeavor.  Jesus is an advocate and He has asked God to provide the Spirit of Truth as another advocate to not only help, but also to be with His disciples forever.  Not an advocate separate from us but an advocate in us.

19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live..  20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”   As Paul describes it, “For in him we live and move and have our being.”  Each follower is in community with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and with all followers.

In the passage from Acts, we hear Paul acknowledge the yearning of the people to experience this sense of community with the living God.  A yearning he notes leads them to look to a number of gods, including an unknown god.  Then he ministers to their searching.[2]

We live in a time of many people categorizing themselves as spiritual not religious.  A time when things, accomplishments, wealth, attractiveness, power often draw us into communities which do not reflect the essential relationships and actions Jesus lifts to his disciples.  It is a time not completely unlike Paul’s and his reminder calls us back to community with God and our neighbors.

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.[3]

Our yearning can only be filled when we recognize that Jesus is in His Father, and you are in Jesus, and Jesus is in you.  We respond to God’s love by believing, loving, being fully committed, and keeping the commands.

Jesus loves by giving, not by taking.  He doesn’t ask his disciples to serve him, but to serve one another.  Jesus gave himself to almost everyone he met.

He loved all kinds of people.  The poor, the oppressed, the outcasts, the sick and diseased, the mentally ill, the deformed, the blind, the lame, the deaf, and those who could not speak.

He loved women and children.  He loved those inside his faith community and those from outside it.  He loved people from cultural and ethnic groups other than his own.

He gave himself in love to others by teaching them healing them, and just plain hanging around with them.  He didn’t surround himself with the successful people of his generation.  He didn’t hang out with the glamorous, beautiful, powerful and wealthy.  He didn’t choose friends and associates for what he could gain for himself out of those relationships.

He gathered a diverse group of disciples around him who often didn’t get what he was trying to show them, yet he loved them and helped them develop their strengths so they could continue to build the community of faith.  He showed them how in Him they are one with the Father and the Spirit and with one another.

He continues to show us how we are one in love.  How we are called to look at relationships with others in what we can give rather than what we take.  How our focus needs to stay on loving others as He loves us.

While it means we look for ways to be more like Christ, it doesn’t mean that we try to be exactly like each other.  We are uniquely created to be parts of the body.  Our Oneness is in connection to our Triune God and with each other.  It is not in having the same way of doing things, the same ideas, the same ways of dressing or same ways of preparing food or decorating our homes.  I believe our oneness actually depends on our diversity and we are so much further ahead when we share our unique perspectives with each other in love, genuinely listening for the Spirit connection which surfaces in our ideas and stories.

We are reminded in 1 Corinthians: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others[4]

Unity and Diversity in the Body

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it[5]

It isn’t an easy thing to understand this reality which Jesus explains to His disciples when he says, “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  It takes time and effort, trial and error.  It takes trying to intentionally love others over the course of our entire lives to learn to love God’s world as Jesus loves it.   When we put in the effort, risk the errors, we will come to discover that we are not only one with Christ, but increasingly one with our brothers and sisters.[6]

The understanding of what it means to be part of this community and the power to be One with each other comes from our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is not grounded in our own giftedness or our own capability to “get along with others” but rather in the relationships and life of the Trinity.[7]  The power of the Spirit working in us and through us not only makes the community we share in Christ distinct from the larger society it moves us into an eternal community of disciples that transcends all societies and human concepts of time and place.

In the weeks after Pentecost we will work through a new series entitled from Chaos to Community, exploring ways God converts our human chaos into God’s blessed community.  I hope you will join us.

[1] Matthew 22:

[2] William Willimon, Feasting on the Word: Year A., Sixth Sunday of Easter.

[3] Acts 17:29

[4] Romans12:4,5

[5] 1 Corinthians 12 (NIV)

[6] The Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser, Sixth Sunday of Easter – Preaching Notes – Discipleship Ministries.

[7] ibid

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