When we met with Bishop Marc last Sunday, the Vestry shared what we are doing with him. We told Bishop Marc about our Pastoral Care work. We told him about our healing prayer ministry. We told him about our outreach work with the Interfaith Street Chaplaincy and the Alternative High School. And then we tolk him about our plans to invite more people to Nativity. Our Senior Ministry, our LGBTQ ministry and our focus on inviting families to become more engaged in the congregation (beginning with Pentecost next Sunday).
We described our “discernment process” about who we are becoming. We have four areas of inquiry (that emerged from our All Parish Retreat last fall). We are exploring partnerships with our neighbors and other community groups. We are looking for ways to share resources with our sister congregations—particularly St. Francis, Redeemer, St. Pauls. We are looking at ways to grow the Church by expanding our family and senior ministries. And we are considering how we could grow and thrive as a Mission instead of a parish.
As I said in my Nativity Note earlier this week, I felt that Bishop and his staff really heard us describing the energy and life spirit of Nativity. On Thursday, I got a note from the Bishop. He said, “We loved, loved, loved our time with you and the people of Nativity! Thank you for your wonderful hospitality during the visitation"
The theme of our conversations seemed to me to be “We are stronger when we work together.” The Bishop and his staff were offering the strength of the Diocese—we are not one congregation, but 80 congregations making up the Episcopal Church here in the Bay Area. As we talked about what we are doing with St. Paul’s, REdeemer and St. Francis and how we are learning from other congregations around the Diocese, there was a sense of shared vision and common purpose. When we described our ministries and our focus on our neighbors here in Marin, it is obvious that we are thinking about building the Church not only with the Episcopalians who come through the red doors on Sunday, but we are imagining building a church with all the people of God who touch us here, where we live and work.
With the Bishop’s visit in mind, I heard Jesus’ prayer today in the Gospel of John as a prayer for us.
Jesus prayer to God just before he enters the Garden where he will be arrested and ultimately face his execution. This is one of his last prayers. But he is not praying for himself. He is praying for his disciples. But he’s not just praying for his disciples. "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word. . . “ In this opening, Jesus makes it clear that he is praying for the future in the present. He is not just praying for those who were followers of Jesus up until his death—he is praying forward, for everyone who will come to know Jesus through their word.
This seems to me to be very important for us. When we pray like Jesus, we must pray not just for those who are already believers, but also for everyone who might come to know Jesus through us. When we look out and see our young people, we might pray for all whose lives theirs will touch. When we look out and see those who are living as faithful disciples, we pray for those who will come to God through their work—wherever they minister. As we think about our Christian brothers and sisters in other churches here, in other parts of the world, in other denominations, we-like Jesus-might pray for all whom they will touch by their ministry.
And Jesus’ attitude towards those people in the future is very significant. Jesus doesn’t think of those people who will come to know Jesus as people he has conquered or converted. He doesn’t suggest that they are people who used to be “wrong” because they were non-believers. He isn’t disappointed with them because they aren’t already disciples. He refers to those people who will come to know God through his apostles as a “gift” from God. In the New American Bible translation of this passage, verse 24 read: “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me.”
Jesus is recognizing that the unbelievers who will come to know him in the future through the preaching and lives of his apostles—these people are God’s gift. And he is praying for all of them.
What a remarkable attitude. Those other people out there—the ones who have never yet come to Church, they are God’s gift to Jesus. The ones who have the possibility of knowing God, and sharing in God’s love in the future, they are God’s gift to us.
Which bring us to what Jesus is praying for. He is praying that “they all may be one. It is a prayer for unity. Unity of all believers. Unity of all God’s people. As we approach Pentecost, we can hear this prayer as a prayer for a Universal Church. But it’s important to note that he doesn’t talk about a structure—a Church, a congregation or even a community. He talks about a unity among God’s people. And this prayer for unity among God’s people, the people who believe in him because he taught them, and those who will follow—those who will know God because they learn from the disciples.
So I hear this prayer in our context, it is a prayer for our unity as a people of God, here in Marin, in the Bay Area. Instead of worrying about how many come to worship at this place on the hill today, or whether we have grown as a congregation, instead of worrying about how many we have baptized, or how many we have converted, our concern should be for unity among all God’s people. Jesus is looking ahead to a future in which he will have gone to be in glory with the Father. He knows that his people—his disciples and those whom they will teach will be at grave risk of disunity. The scholars believe that this Gospel is written between 90 and 100 AD, after the fall of the temple. Already God’s people are splintering, there is faction fighting. And so Jesus prays for unity. That they all may be one.
But this is where this periscope says something so important for us. This is where we get to the very core of Christianity. Jesus prays that all God’s people will be one as “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 mutual indwelling. God the Father so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. The Son came to live and die as one of us. He prays that his disciples may become one with God the Father, because he is already in them, and the Father is already in him. In the second person of Jesus Christ, we come to know God in unity with us. Jesus is the Son of God of one being with the Father. We who are in Christ by our baptisms, Christ who is in the world through the Body of Christ—all of us. This unity that Jesus prays for is not a unity separate from God, it is a unity with God.
This is the most powerful prayer. Jesus is praying for God’s future people in his own present. We are the ones he is praying for. He knows us as God’s gift, created by God, even when we are not yet believers, not yet church goers or even Christians. Jesus prays that we might be one with God the Father, one with God the Son and one with one another.
In the course of the prayer, Jesus explains that this unity that he prays for comes from the very nature of God—which is to create out of love. God creates and sends the Son. The Son loves the disciples and is of one being with the Father. We are unified as God’s people by the preaching of the Gospel, by our baptisms, and by the sacrament of Eucharist. We are brought together into one Body as a people, and we are made one with God.
It seems to me that this prayer for us must be our prayer. Today, let us pray for unity among all of God’s people everywhere. Let us pray that as disciples, we might share God’s word with future generations, encouraging them to love one another as God the Father loved his Son and Jesus Christ loves all of us. Let Jesus’ imagination, his dream be our dream. For a time, a place here and now, united with all future peoples in which God’s love will be made visible. As we pray for peace, let our imaginations be bigger than an end to war. As we pray for the unity of the Church, let our imagination be bigger than these walls. Let us know God’s love as the source of our unity, a love that knows no boundaries of time or place, gender, species or denomination. Let us know devolve into petty human divisions, or small visions of God’s community. God gave us his Son so that we might know his love. Let us share that love with the world.Amen.