May 12, 2024

The Work of Unity

John 17:6-21

Rev. Shannon Jordan

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

‘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.

I love being a part of a team! I have always preferred to be on a team more than individual sports. Beating someone else just to beat someone else isn’t fun for me. In a family that loves tennis and golf, I preferred basketball, volleyball, soccer, and softball. I could work hard on my individual skills and use them to support the goal of the team.

This is one reason I love ministry! Ministry is the ultimate team. God created us all with different gifts and expects us to learn to work together as a team to do ministry.  I love that I have the joy here at FPCA of being on several teams…the staff team, the Session, Deacons, Faith Formation Teams—and then event teams like the retreat teams or a variety of dinners, etc. I enjoy working with people to meet a goal.  Our passage this morning is Jesus letting his team know how to work together to continue their mission after he is gone AND to pray for US—those impacted by the original disciples.

We are in John’s Farewell Discourse again this week. Last week Patrick shared another part where Jesus called his disciples friends. This morning we will explore the prayer that Jesus gives for his disciples. Jesus thanks God for their faithfulness, praying with thanksgiving, “They have kept your word.”

Jesus goes on to pray for four main things:

  1. He prays for them to be unified. (vs. 11)
  2. He prays that they would experience his joy in serving. (v. 13)
  3. He prays that they would avoid evil. (vs 11-12, 15)
  4. And finally he prays that they would be sanctified in the truth. To be made holy. (vs 18)

First he prays for their unity in ministry. That they will be one as Jesus and God are one.  That is their one centering fact. That is to be their identity.  As we read these words it may seem like this would be easy—but it wasn’t! If you read John’s gospel you get glimpses of some of the tensions in their diversity. Jesus is praying that despite their differences that they will be grounded in their identity as belonging to Christ. And the disciples were diverse but they were unified in ministry around Jesus.

FPCA is also a diverse group of disciples. People are passionate about a diverse range of ministries: children and youth, mission, care, worship and music. But regardless of our individual areas of interest, we are all unified around our desire for people to experience the boundary breaking love of Jesus through radical hospitality, deepened relationships, and shared ministry.   We have a variety of ministries, but are unified in our why. Many of us have known churches who were a hot mess in terms of conflict over which ministry in a church is more important. We recognize we need all of the different parts of our church for our church to be vibrant and effective in ministry to one another and the wider community.

This reminded me of the 2016 movie Hidden Figures. This movie is about the early space race and particularly how disunity caused by racism and gender bias impacted the overall mission of getting John Glenn into space. These three women,  Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, were critical members of the NASA team but they had extra burdens due to segregation in doing their jobs, impacting all of the team.  The movie then showed how it took a person in power to come alongside them, recognize this dysfunction to break down the barriers and better unify the team. He took a sledge hammer and literally smashed the segregated bathroom signs. This visual struck me as I thought about the boundary breaking we are called to do.

Second, Jesus prays that the disciples will experience the joy that Jesus has experienced in serving. I get this! This is what I love to do in my job! I love what I do to serve God and I really want YOU to find your version of what I do. New members have heard me say, that if you try something and don’t like it, stop doing it and try something else! Don’t just disappear. It is OK to not like something.

Don’t fill up your life with things that suck the joy out, but instead, find ways to serve that do give you joy! We find time and energy to do what we like to do.

Where are you doing life right now? I invite you to do it with the attitude that you are doing it to serve God and serve others. Eugene Peterson words it so well in his Message paraphrase of the Bible with Romans 12:1, ‘ So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” When we do this, we are doing the work of unity wherever we go. 

Third, Jesus prays that they will be protected from the evil one in the translation we read this morning, but also it is translated as “evil.” John’s understanding of evil is not really a “devil made me do it” thing but more of protection from doing something that will cause disunity from God and from each other. The world outside of God is one of competition and greed and selfishness, but when we are one with God, in unity with God, we help bring unity and healing to our relationships, our ministry and our world. What separates us from God? What pulls us away? What breaks our unity with God and with others?

Fourth, Jesus prays that they will be sanctified in the truth. Sanctified is an easy word to skip over because it is not a word we use often. Sanctified is also translated “holy” and means set apart. In John truth is equal to Jesus and the word is equal to Jesus. Jesus is praying that we are made holy, we are set apart through the truth and word of Jesus. We are sanctified in our experience of Christ found in the word, in prayer, and in service. We are to be transformed. Strongs Concordance says in this verse it means to “purify internally by reformation of the soul.” Discipleship is our means to do this. We become disciples of Christ so that we can be transformed by God.

Some use this idea to draw dividing lines in who belongs where, who believes what, who is in, who is out…but Jesus is praying this to bring unity through transformation. Discipleship is how we facilitate this transformation.

My favorite definition of discipleship is “Becoming like Christ in community for the world” by Robert Mullholland in his book Invitation to a Journey. We follow Christ with others so we can do God’s work in the world so that we can love and serve others in the name of God.

Why does community matter? Community matters because that is where we learn unity!!! If we are only with ourselves, or people just like us, we never have to put someone else’s wishes first. Community teaches us to listen, to care, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and even to love our enemies. If we are alone, we never have to humble ourselves, or practice patience or kindness. We also miss the opportunity to hear truth from others—or explore our own thoughts and feelings in a deeper way in the light of scripture.

Many of us are familiar with the “Love passage,” 1 Corinthians 13—Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or arrogant, boastful or rude. It may surprise you that it is found right in the middle of a letter about the diversity of gifts. Paul highlights that while spiritual gifts are great, they don’t matter outside of love. As we read that whole passage, we can imagine the underlying conflict Paul is addressing in these words around whose spiritual gift is best.

Romans 12 as another list of spiritual gifts and blends unity and giftedness where Paul highlights that we are many members of one body.

Ephesians 4 precedes its spiritual gifts list with:

 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Jesus and Paul both lifted the importance of the unity of the church—for us to come together on one team using our gifts to serve each other and the wider community, especially the least of these.

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 models how to do this and I would like to invite you to do two things in response to this sermon this morning.

First, pray.

Pray for the unity of the church. Pray for us to find joy in our service. Pray for protection from evil, and for us to be set apart to do the work of God in unity.

Pray this for your family. Pray for your children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents. Pray for your friends.

Get into the habit of praying for others. Intentionally putting yourself in a place where you are aware of and choose to pray for others is a great way to become less self-centered and more in tune to the needs of others.

The second thing I invite you to do is to consider where you need to do the work of unity in your life. Intentionally put yourself in a place with others who think differently than you.  It can be a work. It can be at home. It can be in relationships. It can be in our community or neighborhoods. Then practice doing the work of unity intentionally and with care.

Let me end the way I started.

Jesus prayed for us.

Jesus prayed that we would bring the unity and joy to each other and to the world.

That we would be shaped by our discipleship so that as a sanctified people we could become more like him, in community, for the sake of others.


Let us pray:

Holy God, I am thankful for this church and this community of disciples. I am thankful for the ways they follow your word. I pray that you inspire us to do the work of unity in our lives. Keep us from anything that divides us but instead let us share your boundary breaking love. Sanctify us to do your work. Set us apart to share your love and grace with others. Shape us with your word and the leading of your Spirit. Amen.




Pin It on Pinterest

Share This