I remember getting up early on September 12, 2001 and turning on the television immediately to see if there was anything new to report about the horrible September 11, 2001 Islamic terrorist attacks.
All the television stations were replaying the shocking scenes of the falling and burning of the twin towers.
Even more shocking were the televised scenes of people in Islamic countries laughing and celebrating in glee that the planned attacks against Americans that cost nearly three thousand lives and countless financial resources had been successfully carried out.
Scrolling along the bottom of the television screen on 9/12/01 were the words, “AMERICA UNITED.”
That was nine years ago. In September 2001 God made the front page of American newspapers! Democrats and Republicans and Independents sat together in church singing “Amazing Grace” and “God bless America ” with television cameras capturing the scene.
If anyone was worried that a line had been crossed concerning “separation of church and state", no one reported it. America was united. United we Stood!
On September 11, 2001, we also saw a lot of heroic acts. As people rushed out of the World Trade Center towers, fireman rushed in, bravely giving their lives as the towers fell on them in their rescue efforts.
We saw police on the scene keeping order, risking their lives.
There were the passengers of United Flight 93 who died fighting back, thus preventing the plane from crashing into the White House or Congress.
We saw the selfless bravery of doctors, nurses, EMTs, construction workers, ministers, and blood donors who rushed to help. We learned something about heroism that day as the words, “America United" scrolled across television screens in our nation.
Now it is 2010! America is not united!
Americans as well as our infiltrated enemies continue hanging America’s dirty propagandized laundry out on our TV and internet clothes lines for all the world to see.
In addition to our divisions, we have allowed our country to be flooded with drugs, gambling, alcohol and pornography to addict our children with dangerous evils to rot us from within and to make many of us drunkenly unaware of the enemy on our doorstep.
God help us! Only God can help us and bless our world with the love, joy, and peace we so desperately need.
“United we stand” is a motto for the United States and it is also the motto of John 17, a passage from the Bible as up -to -date as this morning’s newspaper! (1)
Unity is the theme of our Bible lesson from John 17. Jesus used the term “one” four times in John 17 to describe God's desire for his people.
People looking on the early church said, “See how they love one another. Imagine, what a witness we would be to the world if we presented a united front of love and concern for the common good which were the values that built our great nation.
You have heard the story about a new group of arrivals at the Pearly gates and Saint Peter is showing them all the delights of heaven. This story has St Peter pointing out areas of interest as he leads this tour through heaven and suddenly he stopped short of one building and asked the group to be very, very quiet and not utter a sound as they walked past this particular building, When they tiptoed quietly past the building, they asked St Peter why they had to be so quiet as they passed that building. St Peter explained, “They think they are the only ones here.”
Many of us can be pretty arrogant about our own beliefs and disbeliefs, our particular likes and dislikes, not only politically but sometimes even in ways of worship. We disagree about the way a preacher presents the sermon, the kinds of music used. I heard a story yesterday about the District Superintendent sending one of our older pastor down to a church in the district to show a certain pastor how to conduct a 11 o’clock traditional worship service. His people had complained that their pastor only knew how to conduct the contemporary service.
Dr. Richard Wills, a prominent United Methodist pastor and teacher, spoke to a group of pastors a few years ago and told us the story about his church erecting a large modern activities building on their church property. One day a lay leader in his church, a man named Roscoe asked Dr. Wills about putting up two large posters about a meeting on the beautiful glass doors of the new building. This was a “No No” for Richard Wills!
Dr. Wills suggested to Roscoe, “ Instead of using the windows of the new building for bulletin boards, why not put the posters on easels going into the building.” Wills pointed out that the easels could actually be seen better and Wills offered to help Roscoe get the easels set up.
Then the very next Saturday morning, when Wills started into the building, the first thing he saw was Roscoe’s posters on the new glass doors. Wills took the posters down and put them on easels near the doors. He knew Roscoe would see them the next day, so he called Roscoe and told him what he had done. Roscoe was not pleased with what the pastor had done but he did not make much of a fuss about it.
Then a few weeks later, one of the women leaders asked Wills about putting up some posters about their work on these same glass windows and Dr. Wills went through all the reasons not to put the posters on the beautiful glass doors. The woman looked at him and said, “Well Richard, would you pray about this.” Well what’s a pastor to do? Would the pastor pray about it? Sure. Of course!
Dr. Wills said, as promised he prayed. He said he told the Lord about their new windows and the fact there were other places to put posters etc. To make a long story short the Lord said to this pastor, “Richard are there no lost souls in your community to be concerned about? “ Are there no hungry people…no lonely people? Are there no children to be taught love and cooperation? Are there no more important things for you to be concerned about than where to put posters?"
So Richard went back to the woman and told her what the Lord had told him and told her to go ahead and put the posters on the windows.
Then he remembered Roscoe and it was Saturday again! So he called Roscoe and told him the story…and told Roscoe he could use his own judgment about where to put posters…and Roscoe paused a second and said, “Is that really you Richard?”
In our Scripture lesson in John 17, we have the longest recorded prayer of Jesus. Jesus is headed toward the cross and He is praying for the disciples. He is praying that this disciples will be “one.” He is praying also for all who will come after these disciples down to us sitting here on Sunday morning. Jesus is praying for us!
Jesus is praying that we, as the body of Christ, will be united as one, in love for God and love for one another…and love for our broken world.
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury once said, “We meet in committees and "construct schemes of union” but he added, “how paltry are our efforts compared to the call of God.“
God wants us to know, “The way to the union of Christians does not lie in committee rooms, although there are tasks to be done in committee rooms. The way we can be united with others is in our mutual personal relationship with the Lord.
When we are one in Christ, in spite of our varying understanding...in spite of our liberal or conservative political backgrounds…in spite of our diverse colors, ethnic origins, ages, denominations or stages of growth we are, in fact “one in the Spirit and one in love." We are “the family of God.”
What William Temple was saying…is our union as Christians is more than just togetherness. It is more than just appealing to our common humanity! The unity for which Jesus is praying for here is deeper, richer and more consuming than sharing the same skin as Donne alludes in his famous poem. (2)
‘No man is an island, entire of himself,
every one is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.
If a clump of earth be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the Less… any ones death diminishes me, because I am involved in the whole; therefore never ask for whom the bells tolls; It tolls for thee.”
What Jesus is talking about when he prays for Christians to be “one” is more than sharing a common humanity. He is telling us God in Christ has brought us together in the unity of the family of God!
We had a family reunion at my house last Labor Day. I am the youngest and the last of my parents 11 children, 9 of whom lived into adulthood and marriage. So we had a bunch of my nieces and nephews and their families present.
Among my parents grandchildren and their spouses, there is every level of education from at least one who did not finish High School to several with Ph. D’s. There are some in pulpits every Sunday and some who rarely attend church. Probably you see some of the same thing in your family. Nevertheless we had a great time because we were joined by blood ties and our love and respect for each other, our parents and grandparents. Even in our diversity, we are family.
Our unity in the church is more than our common humanity; in also is a blood tie. How like God to use the analogy of the blood of Christ as a means of our eternal life. If we lose enough blood we die. The Red Cross reminds us of the importance of blood when they say, “Give Blood, Give Life”. As Christians, we are "blood kin" though the blood of Jesus.
And Jesus reminds us of this in the institution of the Lord’s Supper.
As in the chorus we sometimes sing;
“I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God, Washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood. Joint airs with Jesus as we travel this sod, I’m so glad I’m a member of the family of God,”
One of my cousins came to the reunion Monday. I asked her about her brother. She told me her brother’s wife is angry with her about how her mother’s estate was handled and is not speaking to her. I am not usually so quick to give direct counsel but I said, “Sarah find a way to make amends. Life is too short to not be talking to your brother.” In most families, we do not have constant agreement and cooperation. Sometimes we disagree and it brings on anger and hard feelings so it is sometimes difficult but important that we find common ground if possible.
The church as the family of God also has “blood tie” characteristics similar to other family units but with even more possibilities for disagreements and dissention. But what I told Sarah about her small family is even more important in the church family. Life is too short and eternity too long to live in dis-harmony .
We sometimes have to forgive others, not only for what they do but for who they are. Paul recognized this and called for reconciliation. Paul tells us God has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ and in verse 19 tells us “God has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (3) As Christians , we are given the awesome and glorious ministry of reconciliation. To reconcile is to bring into harmony. Not to make everyone sing in unison but in harmony. Musicians have a good choir by not having the entire choir sing soprano or have everyone sing alto or baritone. Not unison but in harmony Reconciliation does not erase differences; it seeks to bring them into workable accord…into harmony.
Those of us born into a segregated society have been enriched by ties with the black church which was not possible when the races were segregated. In 1963, at Trinity we had an African American caretaker, Silas Johnson. When Mr/Johnsons's wife died, he asked Rev. Charles Shaw, Trinity’s pastor to assist in the funeral at Metropolitan Methodist Church.
On the day of the Funeral Service, Charles went early to meet with the pastor and Miss Lottie Duncan (the church secretary at the time) and I went to the funeral. When Miss Lottie and I walked into Metropolitan church, we were a little uncomfortable…it was the first time I had ever been in an African American Church. The people went to great links to make us feel welcome. We sat down and I noticed right away Methodist hymnals in the hymnal racks. (This was before we became United Methodist by uniting with the Evangelical United brethren) .
We were worshipping the same God, reading the same Bible and singing from the same hymnal. After the service I met the minister. He was in his late thirties, about my age at the time. He had also been raised in Newton County, the county in which I grew up. We were both Christians reared in Methodist churches, but tradition and custom keep us from unity in Christ.
In our Scripture lesson in John 17, Jesus is praying his last public prayer before going to the cross to die for our sins so that we may be reconciled to God and thus reconciled to one another. We may not always sing the same musical line, but we are one family in God, regardless of color or denomination or worship preferences when we each claim Jesus as our savior and Lord.
And thus we are to seek harmony until we become a Universe, uni -verse, one verse! One song in praise of God’s awesome grace in Jesus Christ.
1.John 17: 20-23
2. No Man is an Island by John Donne
3. John M. Braaten, page 118-120) Sermon “Beyond togetherness.”