I had the blessing/challenge to give the Communion Meditation at the May 17th meeting of the Presbytery of Redstone. Considering the events of just the week prior within the denomination, it was a trying, emotional and tiring few minutes for me. Sometimes, I have discovered, that is when I am most open to being used by the Lord. The following is fairly close to what I said....
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” -John 17:20-26 (NIV)
I am envisioning scenes from my early days of watching television. Black and white television, mind you. Some of you already don’t have any idea what I am talking about. But I’m suddenly and terribly realizing that I am not a young man any more and so, allow me for a few moments to embrace my inner oldness and share with you. When I was young and all we had was a single small snowy-screened black and white TV in our home, one of our local television stations in the Los Angeles area bucked the Saturday morning trend of showing cartoons, and instead they showed a full two hours of what were even then, old Laurel and Hardy films. Some were just short features – nothing more than abbreviated skits, other were more movie length and showed the beginnings of rudimentary plot formation. But at the time, I really relished the rather old style vaudevillian flavor of their humor.
But inevitably, this rather inept duo would find themselves in some sort of ridiculous simulation and jam; and the bulk of show’s length basically showcased their often hilarious attempts to get themselves out of the pickle that they were in. Almost always on their shows, there was a catchphrase that that became rather famous across the land (but usually misquoted). As the duo considered the pickle that they were in, Oliver Hardy would shoot this rather condescending look over at his often quite innocent partner Stan Laurel, and proclaim, “Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!” Through the years though, this phrase, as I hinted at, has most often been inaccurately quoted as, “Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into.” And far be it for me to change the inaccuracies of recent history.
For here we are, gathered here this evening as a church, as a presbytery, as a functioning part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), as part of the Body of Christ. And as most of you know by now, I think we can all look at each other this evening and say to one another, “Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into.” A rather historic vote has been taking place, and the history is being made by the outcome of the vote. Some certainly are celebrating the outcome of the vote and saying, “It’s about time. God’s justice and mercy is finally being manifested in the Presbyterian Church (USA).” Others are profoundly mourning this week, not understanding how the truth and Word of God could be so easily dismissed. Now I suspect that the largest number (a plurality) of Presbyterians just want peace in the church, and are not overly concerned about this or other issues that seem to mess us up. They just want peace and don’t want issue the to effect them. They don’t want the mess. Fine or otherwise.
Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into! Mess? Maybe. Another? Well, yes, we’ve been in them before and there will be more down the road. Maybe the church was something that was divinely established, but it is filled with people that are spectacularly human.
In the Scripture that I chose for this evening, the implication is that our Lord knew that the church, such as it may be, was going to finding itself in ‘fine messes’ throughout its existence. We find ourselves in a fine mess now, no doubt. But it is nothing that Christ can’t handle.
Of course the passage is Jesus' prayer for, not just his disciples' unity in their mission, but is easily extended into being directed for our unity just as well. Mess…and all.
Allow me to share just a few comments about his passage before we go into a special time with the Lord and each other. The passage, of course, is all about unity. Jesus says, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." But unlike what I was taught in seminary and what you and I have heard through the years, this passage is not a command for unity. Far from it. It is a prayer for unity, partly because our Lord and Savior knew that humanly, we could not do it. Imagine that. Yet somehow, someway we continue to run on the false impression that we, on our own power, out of our own goodness, out of the shear force of our own words, can create unity in the church. Fat chance.
For far too long we have felt that it is up to us to do it all. And how have Presbyterians typically sought to create unity? Well, by codifying unity in the Constitution. Here is some tough news. Unity will not and has not been found in the Book of Order. It is not found in the property clause in the Book of Order. Unity has not and will not be found in the fidelity and chastity language that is currently in the Book of Order. Unity will not be found in the new language that will be replacing the fidelity and chastity language in Book of Order. Unity will not be found in adding or subtracting from the documents in the Book of Confessions.
Unity will only be found in Christ. The way, the only way out of this fine mess, and yes we are in one – is Jesus. Jesus alone. And the key to this thought is found just before the Scripture that I shared with you; in verse 17 of chapter 17 of John. Jesus is praying for the disciples and just before he shifts his prayers over to the church he says, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Jesus earlier in John says he is the Truth (along with the Way and the Life). Earlier than that we read that he is not just the truth, but that the truth will set us free. If we are to have any real unity in the PC(USA) and beyond, it is going to be based on Jesus and what we know and proclaim about him. If we have been sanctified by the truth, and that God’s word is the truth, then where in the world or universe does that leave us?
Charles Spurgeon, when talking about these passages from the gospel of John said this: “Unity without truth is hazardous.” And friends, I believe it.
Some how, some prayerful way, we need to explore and find our common ground regarding the truth of Jesus. The nature and the mission of the Messiah of the world as exposed in Holy Scripture has got to the be the one and only foundation for the church. That is what we have to work on. All of our disagreements, whether major or petty, seem to have more and more their foundations in misunderstandings and a lack of unity on the basics that revolve around the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
Folks, in spite of our apparent and obvious disunity we have something that is so important, so important, so prized that in our arguments….we are letting it slip out of the palms of our hands. The church is supposed to be the transport vehicle carrying the precious cargo of the Gospel to the lost and dying world. I don’t apologize for the truth that the world needs to know that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The message we have so simple that all we have to tell people is that if they "declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That Jesus’ main mission was to seek and save that which is lost and folks we are the carriers of the mission that his Spirit uses to accomplish his purpose. And how have we been at accomplishing that? Another fine mess. If you ask me.
Here is some great news for us this evening. In spite of what we may be feeling, in spite, frankly of what I have said over the past few minutes, in spite of what the rest of the world or the rest of the church (remember we are not the church but just a part of the church) may or may not be thinking about us at this very moment. Jesus is praying for us. Right here. In this sanctuary. Right now. Jesus’ words that say, 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Jesus is praying for us. It will be only by his power, by the work of the Spirit of truth, that maybe unity will be achieved. Maybe as we settle down go into this time of communion….can we hear the Lord praying? Can we hear him praying for this part of the body that we call the Presbyterian Church (USA)? Can we?
Can we, for a few brief moments leading into the Sacrament, hear him praying? Is it a still small voice or maybe even a roaring thunder? Can we unite enough to allow him to lift us up into his presence? Can we let go of our anger and hurt or stifle the celebration enough to humble ourselves in a sacrament that places us in the very presence of the crucified and risen Christ? Yes, we’re in yet another fine mess.
But Christ is praying for us. Right now. At this moment. He is praying for us. What a blessing. That alone should be enough to point us in the right direction….