This we look at at a strange new math - not common core, not even the new math our parents talked about, but something that on the surface looks a little strange. But as we dig in, we find it's not about math at all - It's about unity.
This passage is based on a reading from John 17:20-26. Click here to read now.
At the surface, we have a rather strange mystery to contemplate this morning, and it is summarized in a strange formula. It’s probably not all that uncommon to see things in Scripture that don’t add up according our way of thinking, but since they come from Scripture, we should try to understand them, at least. And this one is no different. It's not really all that complicated, but it is worthy of studying because it does have implications for our lives together. Here is the formula, an equation, really: 1 + 1 + 1 = One.
Rather strange math, isn't it? Let's see how it works.
That strange formula really comes from the gospel text for today. For the past several weeks during this Easter season, lectionary readings have come from that section of John's gospel known as the Final Discourse of Jesus. We’ve looked at most of them, with the exception of a side track to Revelation a couple weeks ago. But this section of John includes the last speech, if you will, that Jesus makes to his disciples. It concludes with these verses from the 17th chapter. This reading is a prayer of Jesus to his Father in heaven and is sometimes referred to as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. In a sense, it is Jesus' last will and testament, his parting shot, his last effort to teach, to exhort, to encourage, to empower his disciples.
Now for the math part. Listen to Jesus' words: "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." Let’s take a few minutes to identify the parts of the equation. Let's see if we can’t understand this.
The first part of the equation, the left side, is the addition, and here it is, 1 + 1 + 1. Jesus prayed that all who will believe in Him will be one. So we are one of those ones. Every believer is part of one of those ones. Everybody who has believed in Jesus since Jesus walked the earth is part of one of those ones. Every church member of every church on the planet, from the time they started today, if they believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, are part of one of those ones.
Okay, but there are two other ones in this equation. Jesus said, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you.” So the other two ones in the equation represent Jesus and the Father. So the three ones then are all believers, Jesus, and the Father.
So we have the left hand side of the equation identified. 1 + 1 + 1. A pretty simple equation, right. I think even the kids here can figure out the answer to this one. But as we look into the right side of the equation, we get something different than the answer we expect. We expect 3. But what do we get? Jesus said, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” So we’re going to add the Father, the Son, and every believer, and get one. That’s the strange new math.
Actually, it’s not really math, right. It’s unity. It’s the call to be one with one another, and to be one with Jesus, and to be one with the Father. Unity is to be the one distinguishing characteristic of God’s people. Let’s look at what this might entail…
First, we are to be united with God. A couple ways we do that, first is that we are His children. In Malachi 2:10 we see this, “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another.?” God created us and we are His children.
In America, we are a very independent people. We tend to look at these biblical truths and apply them to ourselves. God promises me… But our faith is not to be like that. We are one people in God’s eyes, His people. Did you know that somewhere around 90% of the time you see the word “you” in Scripture, it’s written in the plural form? Here’s an example, 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
The ‘you’ in that verse refers to the church, the people of God. You are part of something so much bigger than yourselves. Our private devotions and bible readings are vitally important, but it’s every bit important to come together as the people of God, to fellowship together, to study together, to pray together, so that we, the church, may be one with God. The church in America is largely missing that. Church attendance is seen as less and less important – but not to God – He loves the church, and speaks to us as part of the church, part of the body, much more often than He speaks to us individually. So we really should be changing our mindset to give a greater importance to our corporate time, our time together as the people of God.
Another part of the equation involves unity with Christ. We are to be united with Christ. I really think this is hard to differentiate with our unity with the Father, because both Father and Son are God. But there are passages that talk about being united with Christ. Romans 12:4-5 says, “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 who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” In Christ we are brought together as one body, one people.
Perhaps the clearest verse that explains this is Galatians 3:26-28, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So it’s clear that we should have a unity with Christ, and that unity is what makes the other unity possible. We are one in Christ.
Which brings me to the last, unity in a common faith with one another. And I think the church in America really struggles with this one. In Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul writes, “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.” We are all called to one faith.
Unfortunately, in our present day there have been so many schisms in the church, so many divisions, resulting in so many denominations, that most churches don’t see themselves as united with one another anymore. Do we realize that we are one with the United Methodist Church? With the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church? With the North Waverly Chapel? Biblically, we are supposed to be one with them. We are all God’s people. Psalm 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” Sadly, we’ve drawn too many lines between us. We’re called to be one, but we really don’t work together.
Actually, this week provided a glimpse as to what it could be like if we could. On Thursday morning, we hosted a National Day of Prayer breakfast and prayer time, and had at least five different churches coming together for prayer. The noontime service at the park had a few more churches represented. We were acting like the people of God. Later that night we did the Community dinner, which was hosted at the Methodist Church, but we put the dinner on. The churches in the valley alternate each month, a different church putting on the dinner. Once a year, each May, it’s our turn – but we’re working together with twelve other churches to provide a dinner each month. We were acting like the people of God.
We can act like the people of God when we do Shoeboxes in November, because the shoeboxes from our church are combined with shoeboxes from other churches all over the country, in fact from eight or nine different countries. We can act like the people of God when we bring in items for the food pantry, because those items are combined with items from other churches, and there is enough to feed the hungry in our community. We can act like the people of God when we look for opportunities to serve side by side with people from other churches. Because we’re all contributing something for the good of others. Working together, as God’s people, to accomplish way more than we can do alone.
But I think, while we may see glimpses, that’s all they are, just glimpses. We are called to do so much more. But we tend to get protective of our home church, and our own ministries, and we hesitate to work with others outside our church. And the unity of God’s people is broken down. And the power of God’s people is broken down. And little of God’s work is really accomplished. And little glory goes to God.
I’m convicted by this. Because it’s not what God had in mind. So I have an assignment for you. Be in thought and prayer about this, certainly pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we reach out to other churches, and pray for ways we can serve together. All of us, think about this, let’s find ways to fix this, let’s find ways to work together. How can we, as the people of God, find new ways to work together, to serve together, to pray together, to worship together. Let’s start kind of a think tank, let start working on ways to restore the unity. As you get ideas for common ministry together, let me know, I’ll put your ideas on my blog, and we’ll talk about them, and we’ll see if we can’t be a catalyst for bringing about unity in God’s family again.