John 17:20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 "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. 25 "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 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."
When I help out at my daughter and son-in-law’s house, my help isn’t for free. I immediately go into their pantry for payment. There had better be a package of Oreos in there for dad.
Everyone eats Oreos differently. Some eat it slowly and methodically. Others shove the whole thing into their mouth at once. The girls in my house twist the cookie part off, eat the creamy filling, and then stack all the cookies to eat at one time. I prefer to dunk my Oreos in milk. There are some who don’t have a favorite way to eat Oreos … because they don’t like Oreos. I call them heathens.
We can feel separated or united by our preferred way to eat Oreos. Isn’t that kind of silly?
But if we allow Oreos to separate or unite us, think of all the other silly ways we much more serious ways that our sinful nature notices and exploits differences.
We pit churches against other churches; members against pastors; parents against teachers; Democrats against Republicans; husbands against wives; teenagers against parents. We separate based on skin colors, nationalities, languages and income levels. We create disunity, disharmony and discord. This causes us to put distance between us and God and God’s children.
When you think of it, though, these differences are as petty and as silly as the different ways we prefer to eat Oreos.
That’s why the High Priestly prayer of Jesus is so important. He is in the upper room on Thursday evening with his disciples. Very shortly, Jesus will be going to the Garden of Gethsemane to be arrested, put on trial and crucified. And when time is short, you pray for what matters most. So, what is it that matters most to Jesus at this time before he suffers and dies? Us. We are what is most important to him. “I pray … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. … I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.”
Jesus prays that his disciples, his Father’s children, his Church, may be one. One, even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united as one in the Holy Trinity. One, even as “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5). One, as the number that cannot be divided. A true and complete uniting.
But as we look around the world today, we see anything but oneness. Sin divides what God has joined together. It’s like the plea that Rodney King made after the abuse he endured sparked the L.A. riots in the early 90s, “Can’t we all just get along?” Conflict is a sad result of the sin which Adam and Eve brought into the world. Brothers-in-arms became brothers-up-in-arms: Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, the eleven sons of Judah against their brother Joseph.
Disharmony still rules our day. Marriages are marked by bitterness rather than unity. Workplaces are filled with a spirit of antagonism rather than cooperation. Families and friends are frazzled by fighting. Even our Christian churches and schools are choked by conflict.
Unity among us is so rare that we try to fabricate it. Some agree to disagree. Some turn a blind eye to sin. We are two-faced and act friendly in front of people, but then tear them down behind their backs. Such tactics may seem to create a unified atmosphere, but the air in there is neither good for mankind nor pleasant to God. We gossip and complain which tears down the walls of unity. We make our feelings and ideas the most important and thus create walls of disunity. We always need to be right. We constantly feel the need to put others down so that we can build ourselves up. We want to act independent so that we don’t have to be dependent on God or anybody else. Our perpetual negativity drives relationships into the ground.
No wonder Jesus prays that we be one. No one knows the sin in this world and its devastating effects more than he who made this world and watched us fall. No one knows the destructiveness and depths of sin more than he who took it all upon himself on the cross. No one knows the sting of death more than he who was swallowed up by it, so that he could swallow it up in his resurrection. No one knows more about subjecting his will to the will of God than he who prayed, “Your will be done.” No one knows more than Jesus the hurt and pain you feel because of sin and death, because of division and separation, because of isolation and loneliness. No one knows more than him that it is not good for man to be alone. So, Jesus prays for you. That you may not be alone. That we may be one.
So how is this unity accomplished? How are we one in Christ? Jesus mentions two ways in his prayer - two ways that will not be surprising to you at all. First, he prays: “May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.” When did we become one with God and with each other? When did Jesus enter into us? At our baptism. The apostle Paul spoke about this unity in Ephesians 4: “There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). There in your baptismal waters, Jesus unites you to himself, releases you from your slavery to sin, redeems you from your empty way of life, recreates you from being the spawn of Satan into a child of God, exchanges the filthy rags of your sinfulness for the white robe of his righteousness. There you are brought into a new family of faith and we become brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now, as with all families, brothers and sisters sometimes fight – but we dare not lose sight of the unity we have in Christ. You may not like all your brothers and sisters, but you are still their keeper, and we need to pray for them, help them, love them, correct them, admonish them, and encourage them in the truth. Carefully and patiently, not rashly and harshly. Knowing that as one in Christ, if you hurt them you are really hurting yourself; and if you help them, you are helping yourself. So, we are one when we are one in Christ.
Second, Jesus prays for this unity: May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 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." This unity comes by knowing God the Father.
Where do we come to know God as our loving Creator and providing Father? In his words contained in your Bible. It is a living and active Word; a Spirit-filled Word; a life-giving Word. A Word that comes to you, works in you and sanctifies you.
You also come to know the Father in the Lord’s Supper. For in the Lord’s Supper, the Word made flesh, comes to you in his body to eat and his blood to drink. In the Supper, the living and active Word comes and forgives your sin. In the Supper, Jesus unites you to himself in the closest bond of fellowship, and makes you one with him and one with each other. There is a vertical relationship established and intensified between you and God. There is a horizontal relationship established and intensified between you and those with whom you commune. We come to the Sacrament of Holy Communion as many grains, each with our own lives, struggles, hurts, and problems – and are made one loaf in Jesus. As the apostle Paul wrote: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:17). One loaf, made holy by the Holy One.
When divisions surface in the church, in the home or anywhere else in our lives, success is hindered, errors increase, quarrels become more passionate, confusion grows, false judgments and a spirit of condemnation ensue. How necessary it is, then, that we within the Christian Church cultivate unity and peace among us.
The now sainted C.F.W. Walther stated it well:
“Christian unity always produces a blessing. If the Church is one in doctrine and life, in faith and love, it shares its gifts and knowledge. It then grows in the wealth of knowledge, the power of faith, the fervor of love, the comfort of the Holy Ghost, and the liveliness of hope. It grounds itself ever more deeply and builds itself ever more gloriously, adorned with all sorts of gifts of the Spirit. It then extends its hands to raise up shepherds and soldiers who pursue the work of converting those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and who struggle against the enemies of the truth.
“Satan knows all too well what kind of power the Church exercises when it is united. It then not only greens and bears fruit, but it also stands invincible against all of its enemies, conquering them and extending its borders. Therefore, Satan’s most important and dangerous strategy, which he employs to damage the Church, is destroying its unity and sowing discord among its members. And how easily he succeeds! How quickly is the holy bond that binds Christians together torn apart! How quickly an ember of discord among the ashes is fanned into a bright flame that seizes and lays waste entire congregations! How necessary it is, then, that the Church carefully cultivate unity, pursuing it as a precious jewel!”
The next time you are eating Oreos with a group of people who twist, dunk or stuff the whole thing in their mouths. And you notice that all of you have different skin colors, come from different countries, and have different vocations in life. But you realize you all share the same faith in Jesus, take a moment and marvel. Marvel that God has united us together in His Son, Jesus Christ. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1)! Amen.