Jon Stewart, anchor of the almost news comedy hour The Daily Show, is leaving the show, much to the dismay of his many fans. A few years ago he “played a video clip of a Christian leader who lamented the possibility of a Mormon being elected president because, this person went on to say, it’s just inconceivable to have a man in the White House who worships a different god. Stewart then rather cheekily replied that as an American but also as a Jew, he could assure this man “You get used to it!”
“. . . sometimes Americans … seem to view the world through a lens quite different from the one ground for us in the New Testament. Jesus on the night he offered his wonderful prayer, and then later Apostles like Paul, did their work and wrote their letters and preached their sermons in a world where it was merely expected that the powers-that-be would not be friendly to the Christian cause. That’s just the way the world works. And if we are blessed to have like-minded believers in positions of power, that is a blessing without a doubt, but (we) should probably expect that now and then—if not on an ongoing basis—this old world of ours will provide us with challenges to our faith …and we’ll need all the help from our Father in heaven that he can graciously give us.”1
What we heard this morning was an excerpt of a prayer, a very long one, called the High Priestly Prayer, or the Farewell Discourse, of Jesus. The setting is the couple precious hours of freedom Jesus had at the end of the Last Supper, in the relative safety and calm of that Upper Room. But Jesus knew what was coming and had a bunch of stuff to say, both to His disciples and to His Father.
Now, “When Jesus prayed at Lazarus’s tomb he made it clear that he had no need of expressing prayer because he is one with God in his whole life, the union true prayer expresses. Nevertheless, he prayed for the benefit of those present (11:41-42), and the same is true here as well (17:13). Jesus’ whole life has been a revelation of the Father, based on Jesus’ union with him, so it is appropriate that his teaching concludes in the form of prayer, the genre most closely associated with union with God.”2
The little piece we get today seems to center around the theme of protection. Jesus had protected His disciples from the obvious harm that could have come upon them while in the midst of spreading the Gospel in a hostile world. But now Jesus would be leaving them, and knowing that they would most likely be remarkably afraid in the wake of seeing their Lord and Master nailed to a tree, Jesus prayed for them in their presence, a double reassurance.
But note how the disciples would be protected, in spirit if not in body, by looking at the beginning of the passage: “Holy Father,” Jesus prayed, “keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”
“That they may be one.” I bet you that the disciples were no better at being one with each other as we are, and they came from a culture that prized itself on being united, a clan, above all else. American culture is not so great at being united as one, and one look at my Facebook feed will show that the Episcopal Church, especially her clergy, are not of one mind and spirit. And yet, there’s the prayer, the intention, of our Lord, that our souls would be kept in being united one to another in the His Name, one even as Jesus and the Father are one.
So what does that look like in everyday life? Does it mean that we should all be nice to each other, gloss over our disagreements, all march to the beat of the same drummer? Well, no, no, and kinda. If you’ll accept my terribly irreverent metaphor of Jesus being the drummer, than yes, it’s His beat; to be a Christian is to be in relationship with Jesus Christ and to conform your life to Him. That means we must conform ourselves to the Creeds and to the teachings of the Church, or at least let ourselves be continually challenged by them for the purposes of sanctifying our lives. But Christianity doesn’t look the same here as it does, say, in Libya or Mongolia; heck, it doesn’t look the same here as it does across the street. We remain one, however, in supporting the best in each other and not tearing the other down; as St. Paul tells us, to be of the same mind, to have the same goals; by fighting the evils of this world; and of course, to be united in the love of Jesus.
As the great preacher George Whitfield said, “What infinite mischief have needless divisions occasioned in the Christian world! Divide et impera (divide and conquer) is the Devil’s motto.” Our prayer today can’t do any better than the great High Priestly Prayer of Christ: that we may be one, that none may be lost, and our souls kept in the loving hands of God.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.