Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“Oneness, Peace, and the Fools Who Go There”
Sermon, Year C, Easter 7, May 12, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: John 17:20-26

There is a phrase in this prayer of Jesus’ that may seem familiar: “That they may all be one.” That they may all be one. That might ring a bell for you, or seem familiar. And it could be because we have certainly read this scripture here before, so you have more than likely heard it in church. But you may also recognize it because it is also on the front page of the bulletin this morning. If you look, you will see that it is in the logo of our denomination. And you have probably seen it whenever you have seen the logo of the United Church of Christ. The UCC logo has the cross for Christ, and the crown as ruler of all, and the world, and the phrase “That they may all be one.” That is the motto of the United Church of Christ. And it really suits us. It suits us for who we are, and who we have been in history going back the 400 plus years that we have been around.

We are, in the United Church of Christ, part of a movement – though a somewhat informal movement, not particularly organized or a specific movement – but a movement that has been called the United and Uniting Church Movement that has been going on for quite a while around the world. It has been going on mostly within denominations in the Reformed traditions. So if you take the Protestant Reformation, and take out the Lutherans, you have the rest of the Reformed Churches – these are mostly Calvinists. So it is mostly Reformed churches that have been part of the United and Uniting movement, although there have been some Lutheran traditions involved, and some others. [Preacher’s note: this is mostly correct – correct enough for the purpose of this sermon – but is also pretty sloppy, so don’t base any academic papers on this historical recap.]

But church traditions that have either merged, which certainly the United Church of Christ is (we are the merger of four denominations that came together in 1957), so some that have literally merged together to form new bodies, but also a lot of ecumenical partnerships. We believe very much in this phrase, “That they may all be one”, that we Christians are called to work together, to be together, and do things together as Christians. Our Wisconsin Conference has partnerships with two foreign church bodies. One is the United Reformed Church of England, which is a merger of a number of traditions. We send pastors there each year, and they send pastors here. I think it was four or five years ago that the URC pastor came here to Plymouth and preached here one Sunday. His wife was a teacher, so she and I went with one of our church members who is a teacher and toured Roosevelt elementary. So we have that partnership. And then a partnership with the Evangelische Kirches in Germany, which is also a partnership of some reformed churches. We send people there, and they send people here. The Wisconsin Conference Gospel Choir is part of that partnership – they have sent choirs here, and we have sent choirs there. We have partnerships with eight other church traditions in Mexico, France, Africa, Haiti, Honduras, and Egypt.

We believe very much in this prayer, “That they may all be one.” That we are united in Spirit, even if our denominations believe some different things, worship differently, do some things differently. We are still one in Christ. We are driven by this thought that Jesus’ hope for us as his followers is that we be one. That we be one as his followers. Even if that doesn’t mean that all church traditions merge together into one mega, worldwide church. It doesn’t mean that. But it does mean united in terms of getting along and respecting one another and following Jesus’ call to love the world, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and to help those who are in need. That even if we worship differently, or do some things differently, the call is the same.

There is a phrase that has been around for a long time you may have heard that goes, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity”. We don’t have to be exactly alike to work together or to be together.

And I also believe that Jesus’ desire in this prayer was not just for his disciples to be one. I think there is also a sense in this prayer that Jesus is praying for all people to be one. For all of Creation, for all of God’s people, to be one people. Which doesn’t mean a one-world government, or that we are united in one nation or even one church, but united in mutual love and respect for one another. To care for one another.

Jesus was the Prince of Peace. One of his many titles. And I think he would want peace among all of his people. That’s what I get from reading Scripture, anyway. Peace. Peace as an end to violence between nations and peoples, and even an end of dysfunctional strife within families or communities. That we be more gentle with one another. Peace as a way of life. And today is Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day, originally, began with Julia Ward Howe as a pacificist movement of peace so that mothers would not have to see their sons die any more, or be sent off to kill. It was a movement of peace.

Peace as a way of life certainly has within it an agreement not to fight or do violence to one another. Which doesn’t mean that we cannot argue, or have debates, or have differences with one another. But it shapes how we have those discussions. And how we have those debates. Mutual respect for one another. But this true peace “that they may all be one” is much more than just not fighting with one another or doing violence against one another, but goes beyond to help one another. To be cheerleaders for one another, to want the best for your neighbors. Not just for yourself or the people around you, but the people you have no relationship with. The people you have no reason to wish the best for. True peace is to wish for the best for everyone. To strive to lift up all people. Not just yourself, but all people. A way of being one with our neighbors. A way of being one that refuses slavery or oppression on others, even if it means we might have to pay more for our clothing or our food in order for them to liberated or raised up. A way that refuses others to live in poverty, or to allow a neighbor to go hungry, or to allow a child to go without an education.

“That they may all be one.”

This form of peace and oneness that is an acknowledgment that we are all in this together. That none of us are separate from another. We are all in it together. We are our brother’s keepers. We are our sister’s keepers. We are our neighbors keepers. No matter who they are, we are the keepers of our neighbors in Syria and North Korea. Our neighbors in Boston and Newtown, we are their keepers. We are the terrorist’s keepers, and the victims of terrorist’s keepers. Those who make war and those who are pacifists. Muslims and atheists. We are all their keepers. People in Altoona and Chippewa Falls. Vikings fans. We are their keepers as well. We are all in it together.

As frustrating as that can be sometimes.

We are in it together. That is Jesus’ prayer, that they may all be one. That we live together in commonality. To at least, at a minimum – and I have heard this is often the start of diplomacy – this minimum standard of, Can we at least get both sides to recognize that the other side has the right to exist? If we can get to that point, we can move forward. At least recognize that the other has a right to exist, at a minimum. Though I will say that Jesus doesn’t like us to just sit at the minimum place. Jesus calls us to maximize. To go beyond. And it cost Jesus his life to demand that we seek more than just being at the minimum. Of being one.

When Paul heals this girl in the Acts story we read, the girl who was being used, when he brings her into the community it costs her her livelihood and the livelihood of the people who owned her, but it restored her to wholeness in that act. It can be costly to be as one.

And Jesus paid a great cost for believing that.

So we ought to take it quite seriously to go above the minimum. To go as far above that minimum as we think is beyond reasonable to go. To go beyond reasonable until it seems utterly reckless how far we have gone. And go on, until it is gone to the point where we dare go no further. Then, once we are at that point – where we dare to go no further – then we are at the starting point. Then we are ready to begin to take it as far as we ought to go. We are ready then to take it far enough. Because if we only go as far as we dare, we’re not risking anything. And if we’re not risking anything, then we haven’t gone far enough. We are not fully following Jesus’ call.

“That they may all be one.”

That is a great prayer. And a great motto for a denomination like ours, that has fought so much for justice, and for inclusion of all people, and tolerance, and building up all people. Great motto for any people who would be daring or foolish enough to want to follow a guy who went to the cross and beyond.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

Webpastor: Pastor David