Churches, Families, and Unity

June 2nd, 2019

Message Title: Churches, Families, and Unity
Theme: Skeptics, Heretics, and the Gospel
Season: Easter
Color: White
Main Text: John 17: 20-26
Scripture Reading: Psalm 97
RCL Scripture: Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26 
Focus: Jesus is praying for future believers to reflect the unity & love that the father and son share. 
Function: To be rooted in unity that comes from God not uniformity or conformity and to acknowledge that unity leads to discomfort as we have to compromise to be connected. 
Other Notes: Communion Sunday (next week is Pentecost)

SCRIPTURE READING: Psalm 97 1The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! 2Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 3Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side. 4His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. 5The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. 6The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory. 7All worshipers of images are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before him. 8Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O God. 9For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. 10The Lord loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked. 11Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. 12Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!


HERETIC/SKEPTIC: You’ve heard me mention Rachel Held Evans a million times but one of my other favorite authors was a close friend of RHE. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a pastor in the ELCA. 

Her call to ministry was rather unconventional: as an atheist comedian with addiction problems she was asked to perform the funeral of one of her comedian friends as she was the closest to having a religion (being raised in the church). It was in that service that she realized her “church” was the misfits, outcasts, and rejects of other churches. She finished schooling and was prepared for assignment by her bishop in the ELCA… however though discussion with her bishop they thought it might be wise if she started a church. This ex-addict, tattooed pastor with a sailor’s vocabulary wasn’t what most churches would expect, so she planted House for All Sinners and Saints.

This church was to be the place for the people conventional churches rejected: addicts, criminals, LGBT+, people still questioning faith, etc. All the rough around the edges crew. This church grew quickly. The outcasts flocked to HfASS looking for a place to worship Jesus and share communion. 

Interestingly enough, this church is rather conventional in practice and teaching if you didn’t notice those sitting in the pews. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a very orthodox Christian but her unconventional church has led to many calling her a heretic.  HfASS was a sacred refuge for those wounded by the church so when their notoriety started to rise Pastor Nadia was quite furious when the traditional loafer and pleated pant suburban people started who attend. 

She wrestled with whether these people should be allowed to attend when they had so many churches that were wide open to them. She called a friend who wasn’t very sympathetic and told Pastor Nadia her hospitality was one sided. But she was determined, it wasn’t until a conversation with a transgender youth in her congregation that all things changed. This student told Pastor Nadia that they wanted people who looked like their parents in the church because they needed parental love from someone who would accept them. And that’s when HfASS became a truly inclusive church. 

TRANSITION: Pastor Nadia’s struggle to accept the vanilla version of the church into her bright colorful sundae is a struggle we see in all congregations in one form or another. For centuries the church has been struggling with defining who can be participants or members and has been in the habit of kicking people out or playing gate keeper. We get so wrapped up in this game we forget to turn to Jesus. 

GOD: In our text for today we turn to John 17: 20-26, and we will hear Jesus’ praying for unity…

20“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I 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. 24Father, 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. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I 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.

  1. also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word Jesus is in the middle of a prayer for his disciples, we have entered into the middle of a conversation. Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples and has been teaching and preparing them for his absence. So Jesus, the Son, is praying to the Father on behalf of his followers. 
  2. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you”: Jesus has been praying about his relationship with the father. Jesus has accomplished what he was sent to earth for🡪pointing to God (glorification). 
    1. Jesus bases his prayer in the unity of the Father and Son; which connects to our passage last week about Jesus returning to the father so that the Spirit can be sent to aid believers.
      1. The Son was humbled for earthly ministry and now returns to his place of glory with the Father so that the Spirit may continue the ministry. 
  3. that they may become completely one” : The unity that is in the Trinity is now to be in the followers. 
    1. “[Unity] is based on, and must mirror, nothing less than the unity between the father and the son, …just as the father is in the son, and the son in the father, so we too are to live within that unity.” (NTW)
  4. so that the world may know Our unity will point to the truth of God. 
  5. so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus’ ministry was to bring Unity, the way God intended it at the very beginning (remember John’s Gospel started at creation). As we reflect God’s unity, we point to his unconditional love and God’s intention for creation. 
    1. “And, in case we might miss the point, the result of this will be that the world will see, and know, that this kind of human community, united across all traditional barriers of race, custom, gender, or class, can only come from the action of the creator God.” (NTW)
      1. They will know we are Christians by our love

APPLICATION: To be rooted in unity that comes from God not uniformity or conformity and to acknowledge that unity leads to discomfort as we have to compromise to be connected.

  1. The reality is the church is crap at unity. We can’t even be consistent in the creeds we recite. A creed is a statement of beliefs that the church agrees are the foundation of their ministry and worship. The most famous creed is the Apostles’ Creed. Some version of this is said in most Lutheran, Catholic, and Anglican/Episcopalian churches on a Sunday morning. A few Presbyterians, Moravians, Methodists and Congregationalists also recite this in their worship. 
    1. Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, 
     creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, 
     who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, 
     born of the virgin Mary, 
     suffered under Pontius Pilate, 
     was crucified, died, and was buried; 
     he descended to the dead.* 
     On the third day he rose again; 
     he ascended into heaven, 
     he is seated at the right hand of the Father, 
     and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, 
     the holy catholic church, 
     the communion of saints, 
     the forgiveness of sins, 
     the resurrection of the body, 
     and the life everlasting. Amen.

  1. At the Protestant Reformation, Churches split over the topics of communion and baptism. But now Churches continue to split over things that have nothing to do with worship of God. 
  2. The Apostle’s Creed is supposed to remind us of our foundation but it is also not supposed to feel restrictive. 
    1. Nadia Bolz Webber says she doesn’t believe everyone in the church believes 100% of the Apostles’ Creed every day. But the beauty of the church is that as a collective group we recite this and 100% is believed … because someone will believe the first line and others will believe the third… we together make up a diverse belief structure but point to Christ as a whole. 
    2. catholic= unity not Catholicism
  3. Unity does not equal comfort (PF)
  4. Unity is to glorify God not self or institutions (PF)

    COMMUNION: Practice Unity. Serve the person behind you. Consume your Communion as you receive it. 

    Repeat after me: The Body of Christ for you. The Blood of Christ for you. 

    I invite you to form two lines, like we normally do but what will happen is instead of a deacon sesrving you, you will serve each other. You will consume your communion as you receive it then take the plates from your server and serve the next person. 

    Tell them that this is The Body of Christ for you. The Blood of Christ for you. 


    You are part of the Body of Christ. We are not carbon copies of each other and that is how God intended it to be. We have been given the gift of diversity to remind us of the complexity of our God and the vastness of his grace and mercy. 

    CONCLUSION: God calls us to unity but not uniformity. We are not to be an echoing chamber of individuals who all think, vote, or act the same way. We are to challenge each other. We are to wrestle with God’s word together.

    May we all have a place in the church but not become complacent. May we be a people continually challenged by the face of God that we see in others each day. 

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