Flinders Ranges under cloud Nov 2014. North of Merna Mora on the way to Brachina, looking east.

Be One

Week of Sunday May 16 - Easter 7
Gospel: John 17:20-26

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.’

I used to think the land to the north of Ernabella was flat. And then we had the big flood. Jim and I had suddenly realised that old Frank and his son were on their own, out on the flood plain. We strugged up to the north of the town at 2am, and left the 4WD idling with its spotlights illuminating Frank and Manta's shed. They were on a small mound in the middle of a lake. We waded over to the two men.

Jim tried to suggest to them that they would be safer up on higher ground. I left him, and went the extra few yards to inspect the normally dry creek. It was hundreds of metres wide, rumbling and racing only inches below the bank on which I stood. In a moment of dread, I realised I had  climbed a small slope up to the bank. When it broke, Frank and Manta would be swept away.

I ran back to the lake, and splashed across to the shed, yelling that we needed to go now! The old man, and his disabled son, looked at the mad whitefellas in puzzlement. They were dry. The fire was good. They had heaps of wood. Why would they want to wade off into the rain? And why couldn't these whitefellas learn to speak Pitjantjatjara properly?

Roderick Munti loomed out of the rain, huge, hairy and wet in the headlights.
"What's wrong Andrew?"
I gave up on our imperfect language skills and shouted, "Go and look at the creek."
Roderick stumped off up the slope, and suddenly came rushing back shouting in rapid Pitjantjatjara. I have no idea what he said, but the two men grabbed blankets and wood with immediate urgency, and we all waded off as fast as we could manage.

That night there was a rare unity.
There was no argument, no hidden agenda, no politics....
just an immediate desire to get everyone to safety.

Too often, calls for unity seem to be about subsuming ourselves to a pastor or an ideal.

John Petty says

Oneness is a powerful psychological symbol.  We have many disparate parts of ourselves, both at the conscious and unconscious level....  We yearn for the kind of unity that, as Gregory of Nyssa put it, "blends and harmonizes things (which are ordinarily) mutually opposed, so that many things become one."

John says it's

true in our interior psychological life, and also in our communal life.  We desire harmony in our social lives and relational world.  Unfortunately, we sometimes seek to get this harmony by submerging... [ourselves in] a larger group.  Totalitarian regimes aim for this kind of manufactured unity, and quite often get it.  When we give up our own autonomy to the consciousness of the group, we also give up our responsibility.  Fanaticism may follow.

We know it happens in churches, too. Even where the pastor is ethically reprehensible.
My country, right or wrong.
My church...
We make the church of the pastor a little God, so that we can be safe and feel at one.
It's not unity. It is fanaticism- even though it may seem to have a gentle face.

Our desire for unity or oneness means that when someone wants their own way they can sucker us into it.
"We must be one, and if we can't be one, I will go else where."
"If we really loved God we would agree with this idea...."
You know the things people say. It's not unity. It's emotional blackmail.

"We can't let gay people into leadership because it will destroy the unity of the church," many people shouted.
And so the synod backs off on a position of justice.
It's not only blackmail, it's denial (for we already have gay people in leadership),
and it's judgemental- as though gay people have a problem and we don't.
It's bullying: There was one proposal during our ugly debates that wanted to punish even those who  supported gay people.
All in the name of unity.
But nothing there was about unity. It was about fear and loathing.

And you've seen this drama in the movies, and perhaps even set up a similar united front to your parents, or school teachers!
"We need to get our story straight. We have to agree what happened and stick to the story, or the newspapers will have a field day and we'll all get voted out."
That's not unity. That's fear. That's avoiding responsibility.

So why unity? Why is it, as John Petty says, such a powerful psychological symbol? What's the big deal?

Put simply, unity is beautiful. Unity is something that is the essence of God.
"...you, Father, are in me and I am in you," said Jesus.
These are not just abstract theological words.
They are observable truth.
When we are in unity we get a taste of God.
We forget ouselves.
We enter into a commm-unity that transcends all the pains and sorrows and struggles.

We find this it in sex... for a while there is oneness.
We find it in two people in love. Individual needs and wants are forgotten.
You get it when the Crows are winning, and you are there!
Or when Dave Warner, or Pup, is faultlessly hitting sixes and 20,000 Australians roar as one,
and unemployment and politics
and bullying in the workplace and unhappy marriages fade away for an hour.

It comes at the birth of a child
and you weep with pure joy and hug the doctor
or nurse you never met til this morning
and they are your closest friend.

This is unity, brief, fleeting even, imperfect,
based around sometimes less than profound events,
but a hint, and a taste, of the reality of God.

What does Jesus pray? From earlier in the chapter we see him saying Eternal Life is to know the only true God. (17:3) Eternal Life doesn’t mean "live forever"; it means to be in a completely different consciousness which knows the only true God.

And then, in today's reading he is talking about that same consciousness in different words.
He says, ‘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.

This statement “so the world may know” is not about some intellectual appreciation.
It is not 1+1=2, or God+Jesus=One stuff.

It's not so the world may have an abstract appreciation that the Aussie team are the best cricketers.
It's so the world can be there at the Adelaide Oval
and roar with joy when Pup sends a six out onto King William Road.

It's so the world can marvel when Mitchell Johnson leaves Tendulkar bemused at the crease
with his middle stump splintered (Sorry Jijo)
And it's so Jijo and I together,
Indian and Australian together,
can rejoice in a fifty metre sprint to an impossible headlong boundary catch,
and it doesn't matter which team is winning.

The way John sees it,
Jesus is sent to show us the relationship he has with God,
so that our joy may be made full.

And he is sent so that we can show the same relationship with God
and each other
so the world can see,
and marvel at what life can be,
and want to taste that same com-munity that is at the heart of God.

We had a woman at church once, weeping.
“You are so happy together,” she cried.
Nairn said to me afterwards, “Well, I thought we were nothing special this morning... but she obviously got a taste of something!”

That is why we are here... for ourselves and others to get a taste.

All those deep longings we have for fulfilment...
all those hopes and dreams that hurt in our hearts,
that we sometimes despair will ever have a reality...
all that wishing to know God and be free of the weight of the world...
those things are filled and healed and happen in this thing called being one... unity.

You see, on that wild flooded night in Ernabella,
I was not worrying about the existence of God.
I was not worrying about being a good Christian.
I was not struggling to be a good husband.
I was not lonely.... or sad.... or depressed... or even scared...
I just was.

It was a wild, exhilarating and hilarious ride.
We were in a unity of purpose and concern,
and it gave us a taste of God.

You want to know God?
Love people. Be compassionate. Help other people live well.
Seek justice.
Be friends. Give respect even to those with whom you disagree.
Be honest. Don't blackmail.
Do your best to live out the faith with your church and congregation.

And there will be times when, imperfect as we are,
church, and God, and that annoying person in the next pew
will all be forgotten, and you will just BE.

And then you,
and I,
will realise we have been one with God for a while. Amen.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

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