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That We May Be One

Sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church, Cullman, AL, May 12, 2013.  Seventh Sunday of Easter.  By Malcolm Lewis Marler

John 17:20-26

Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, 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.

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

That We May Be One

On this seventh Sunday of Easter, a week before Pentecost when God’s Spirit will be poured out for all persons, we are reminded of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples just before he faces his own death.

Jesus had taught his disciples how to pray, and he had prayed for himself before his final trip into Jerusalem, and now he prays for those who are his followers.

Father, I ask not only on behalf of these,” (his disciples) “but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,” and that’s you and me.  So let us listen carefully to this prayer, because Jesus is praying for us.

His prayer describes his hope for us, his vision, and his picture of how we are to live on this earth.

And what exactly does he pray?  What does he say?

He says, “Father, the glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be ONE, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

So that we may be completely ONE.  What does that mean, that we might be completely ONE?

The Rev. Lucy Hogan, an Episcopal priest and preaching professor says, this “is a prayer that focuses on unity, on all being one.  It is a prayer for community. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a part of a greater whole. ”

Some of us in the Church think Jesus’ prayer means that we will all be a member of ONE Church one day.  We will all say and believe the same creed, recite the same prayers together, and all sing out of the same hymn book and even agree on our favorite songs.  Episcopalians and Pentecostals, Baptists and Lutherans, Methodists and Catholics will all be united together.

But Jesus didn’t seem as interested in such matters.  

Rather, his prayer which was reflected in the way he lived showed that ONENESS had more to do with washing one another’s feet than singing out of the same song book.

Jesus’ life had more to do with how we love each other than the type of building we worship in or what the sign says outside.

Jesus’ prayer that we would be one has more to do with eliminating from our vocabulary the words “us” and “them.”  We are all connected, Jesus prays, as members of the human family.

This oneness is serving one another.  If we are looking for a place to start, all we need to do is look at Jesus’ ministry to the poor, or those who are outcasts, or the ones that organized religion shuns.

Mary Fisher is HIV positive and became particularly noted for a speech she gave before the Republican Convention in Houston in 1992.  On that night she urged the Republican Party to handle the AIDS crisis and those who are HIV positive with compassion.

I came to know Mary when I was the Chaplain at the HIV/AIDS Clinic at UAB where she is a patient and has made that public knowledge.  I have always been inspired by Mary’s words, but even more by her life.

The clinic recently celebrated it’s 25th anniversary and Mary was the speaker at the Memorial service to remember former patients who had died of HIV and its complications.  She spoke of the grief and the loss of so many persons, but she also emphasized how this virus changed us as a people.  She said,

“But out of our sorrow has come a common bond, Africans call it “abataka,” which means oneness, community.  We are strangers no more, but servants with a calling.  Out of our grieving has come our common memory of loving and being loved, of grieving and being comforted.  Out of our history, we have gathered flowers from a thousand funerals, and we have worn them in our hearts – stained by the ash of grief, fragrant with the aroma of hope.  We are a community groomed and ready to serve.” (Mary Fisher, Ashes on the Flowers)

As a Chaplain at the clinic for a decade and half, I learned as much about community and ONENESS there, as I have from the churches I have served.  It was a glimpse of oneness where you meet people where they are in life, a place where we check our job descriptions as people of faith and discover that judgment is no where to be found.  It showed me a way of being that realizes all of us need to be loved, and all of us need to forgive and be forgiven.

Jesus’ prayer describes his hope for us, his vision for us, and how we are to live our lives together. We are called to make that prayer a reality, day by day.

To live with the human family as ONE is the kind of love that Jesus prays for, and the kind of love that calls us to forgive and be reconciled with one another.

Please do not hear me saying that this way of living is easy, because the way of Jesus is anything but that.  Without God’s love and grace and forgiveness for us is impossible.  And without OUR love and grace and forgiveness of others, we cannot get there.

The reason Jesus was praying for his disciples was because they were NOT ONE.

Instead his closest disciples were squabbling with one another and misunderstanding his purpose and ministry.  Peter with his denials, James and John in their competition to be the greatest, and Judas who was willing to sell out are just a few examples.

But most importantly while they were trying to figure it all out, Jesus loved them, he forgave them, and he prayed for them.  And he does so for us.

Not long ago I was visiting a friend who is probably not going to live much longer due to heart disease.  Like many persons, he had hoped to have a heart transplant when he first came to us, but he is now too weak to get a new heart.  Comfort care is the best that can be offered at this point.

I have had several opportunities to to visit with him. Long, deep, sit down kind of conversations about the meaning of life.  Some regrets and many gratitudes have been named.  These conversations are gifts for the giver and the receiver.

One of those opportunities involved being with him and his father, and we talked openly about the days past, and the days ahead.

The patient’s father began to talk to me in his son’s presence about how he had regretted not being as close to his son as he had wished.  He knew that he had favored his other son over the one who was now fighting for his life.

The whole time the father was looking at me but talking to his son.  The son’s eyes were fixed on me, as he listened to his father.  He told his son that he was sorry.  John nodded his head, acknowledging his father’s words.  It was a step on a journey toward forgiveness.

Before I prayed for them, I asked what they wanted me to pray for and I incorporated their requests into my prayer. I rested my hand on John’s chest over his heart, and his father walked around the bed and placed one hand on John’s shoulder and the other on mine.  For the moment, we were one, and I left with the awareness something transformative had happened.

Sometimes the call for us to be ONE with the human family begins with those closest to us, one prayer at a time.

Other times it involves us serving someone outside our own comfort zone, whom we assume is very different from us.

To God, I’m not sure if it matters where we start, but that we do start. because we are all connected to one another.

Jesus is praying for you.  Think about that for a moment.  His prayer is that you and I will realize how we treat one another, how we talk about one another, and how we love one another matters.

In God’s heart, we are ONE human family with no outsiders or insiders, all loved by God just the same.

And as people of faith who count ourselves as followers of The Way, “We are strangers no more, but servants with a calling. Stained by the ash of grief, fragrant with the aroma of hope.  We are a community groomed and ready to serve.” (Mary Fisher)


Mary Fisher – Video of “Whisper of AIDS” Speech 1992 Republican Convention (Part I)

Mary Fisher – Video of “Whisper of AIDS” Speech 1992 Republican Convention (Part II)

3 Responses to “That We May Be One”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Malcolm. Your story about the patient dying from heart disease and his father was a beautiful example of how you as chaplain could act as a conduit helping the father to say and the son to hear and accept. It was your presence that allowed peace and reconciliation to come about. Your presence was a bridge between tow lives and between two worlds.

  2. Malcolm says:

    Charlie, thank you so much. As a nurse, you know about these rare opportunities that come our way. Being aware, being present helps us to fully appreciate them. Blessings on you in your work.


  3. Milton McGehee says:

    My friend Malcolm, may God continue to bless you and give you the strength to deliver comfort and peace to the patients and their loved ones at the most critical time many of them will ever experience.
    What a blessing that you were able to facilitate a conversation between John and his dad concerning their strained relationship.
    I pray their journey toward forgiveness was complete and they were able to express their love for one another before it was too late.

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