A homily for Unity at the first Euclid Ecumenical Service at the Cathedral Worship Center of Euclid, Ohio
We read from John 17.
You know those public prayers where the person praying ostensibly addresses themselves to God, but in reality they have a whole other audience in mind? Something like:
“Father God, we praise you and we bless you. We ask that you would turn the hearts and minds of your children so that they would remember, and not forget, that without the refrigeration of your grace, the milk of human kindness sours and spoils. Remind them, Lord, to put the milk back in the fridge, so that we may be cool with one another.”
There is a turning point, at which you realize that this prayer has now gone way beyond metaphor, and that someone other than God may be the one called upon to answer it.
So that, of course, is not exactly what Jesus is doing when he prays out loud for his disciples to come together as one: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.”
There is a difference between the prayer that we make in the silence of our own hearts, and the prayers that we speak aloud among those for whom we pray. When we pray aloud, with and for someone, there is a part of us that hopes that the act of praying may itself be part of the answer to prayer: that it may be a source of encouragement, comfort, challenge, peace.
And while we pray for ourselves, for one another, for our city and our community, we do hope to be overheard. We hope that in the act of coming together, as one body, we may answer some of those prayers for peace, for unity, for common civility, for humanity which cry out for some grace, some mercy, some peace in our times.
Jesus prayed out loud: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 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.”
We read Jesus’ prayer as those eavesdropping on his conversation with God, but we are meant to hear him, and perhaps we are even meant to answer him.
Is that possible, that we are called to answer Jesus’ prayer, by coming together as one?
Now, there are wildly different ways that we can think about becoming one.
You know the Borg, from Star Trek, which assimilates everyone into one mind? Resistance, famously, is futile. I am suspicious of the kind of unity that depends on squashing differences, that commands conformity over comprehension.
Fortunately, there are other models that we have for becoming one. When two people come together in one marriage, for example, and we say that they become one flesh, although they walk around and talk as though they were still two completely different and independent individuals, sometimes even with opposing opinions and beliefs. Still, at the heart of a marriage is a singularity that is born out of that commitment, that covenant; a unity of purpose, and of faithfulness, and of love.
Or when a child is born or adopted, brought home, and a new family unit comes into being – a unit, a oneness. The individuals within the family might not even always agree.
Especially when the child is a toddler or a teenager; parents at that age always seem to think that we know best. There may be times when the bonds of love may be stretched, even strained; but there is a unity, a singularity that comes out of a commitment, a faithfulness to the family unit.
The vows that we make when we come together in one marriage, in one family, in one body of Christ: those are vows that we find lived out in the life of Jesus, who is, as he says, one with his Father, and the Father one with him.
We promise to put one another’s interests ahead of our own; as Jesus prayed even in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Your will, not mine, be done.”
We promise to bear with one another for better or for worse, as Jesus shared his table even with Judas, and embraced Peter with a kiss of peace even after Peter denied him three times. doing his Father’s work of loving us no matter how hard it became, how hurtful. Bearing with us and bearing all for us in order to reconcile us to God and to one another, that we may be one, with one another, and with God.
We promise to be together in praise, transported, as Jesus told the thief crucified next to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
We know well enough all the things that divide us. I am not going to list them here; I hardly think that would be helpful.
But if Jesus has the will to pray that our differences may not divide us, then he also has the power to heal our divisions.
If Jesus has the will to pray that the valleys be lifted up and the mountains laid low and the paths be made straight between us, then he has the power to say that today, this has been fulfilled in our sight.
If Jesus has the will to pray that his disciples may be one body, then who are we to resist his prayer?
And if we will hear it, and heed it, and maybe even answer it, then who knows what God will do with our own prayers? We can only guess that it will be something beyond our wildest imaginations.
After all, who would have imagined that God would become Incarnate as a man, only to be one with us?
Jesus prayed out loud: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” Amen.