Jesus' Prayer for Oneness - John 17:20-26
Jesus prayed the night before he died for oneness. Not just for his disciples, but for all his followers who would come after. Oneness in the church. Oneness in the world. Oneness doesn’t mean seeing eye to eye on every single issue, but it does mean being willing to listen and compromise, being willing to see yourself in the other, being willing to look at our own positions honestly and humbly and ask ourselves what really lies behind them. Being able to see that in spite of all our differences and disagreements, we are one people, one Body of Christ, one human family.
It can be hard to find examples of oneness in the world today, especially at the highest levels of power. We’re so divided as a nation on many important issues. There used to be a time when politicians worked across political parties for the benefit of the country. For example, in 1934 there was bipartisan support for the banning of machine guns, sawed off shotguns, and a number of the era’s most dangerous weapons. Yet in the wake of yet another devastating school shooting in Uvalde, Texas this week, many are asking why there is not the same oneness of mind to come together to update our gun laws to keep pace with advances in weapons technology. Maybe it’s about the financial support certain politicians get from the industry. Maybe it’s about a lack of compassion or empathy. Maybe it’s about truly believing that legislation that works in other countries won’t work here for some reason.
All I know is that for me this issue is the acid test of whether you are compassionate enough or intelligent enough for me to take seriously anything you have to say about the public good. I find it hard to feel oneness with people who refuse to recognize something so glaringly obvious. I find it hard to feel oneness with someone who refuses to even consider policies that have clearly worked elsewhere. I find it hard to feel oneness with such blatant disregard for human life and such ignorance about our country’s legislative history and constitution.
Now I’m not standing up here and saying that it’s a good thing for me to not find oneness with people who won’t come together to solve this problem. I’m actually making a confession about it because I should not let someone else’s apparent lack of compassion or intelligence make me reject them. And striving for oneness with political opponents is nothing compared to our call to recognize our oneness with the shooter, to love that kind of enemy, to be one with someone we might label as one of the most evil human beings on the planet. All of this is a powerful example of why the oneness Jesus talks about is so incredibly challenging.
This prayer for oneness is the very last thing Jesus prays in what is called the High Priestly Prayer, which I think says something about the importance of it. In the midst of my inability to realize oneness with certain fellow Americans, I am faced with the example of Jesus who was able even to recognize such oneness with those about to kill him. He loved his enemies and demonstrated oneness and concern for them even from the cross when he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus understood that it was ignorance: a less developed sense of compassion and empathy and a lack of wisdom or intelligence that make people do evil things. Forgiveness, not vengeance, is the way of Jesus Christ. Oneness, not hatred, is the way of Jesus Christ.
In our country this weekend it is also Memorial Day. It’s the day we remember all who have died in service to our country. Memorial Day is not a day to be happy about how many wars our country has won. It’s a day to grieve that war exists in the first place. Memorial Day is not a day to glorify war, it’s a day to mourn the loss of many who died and made the ultimate sacrifice. Days like Memorial Day can help us recognize our oneness with the rest of the country. But such unity comes at the expense of war, which is a rejection of our oneness with other nations. And as war rages in Ukraine, we are reminded of the fact that sometimes a peaceful nation is forced into war by no desire of their own. Both the war in Ukraine and our observation of Memorial Day reminds us once again how far this world is from the oneness Jesus prayed for us to have.
In a book our centering prayer group is reading right now about Christianity and Buddhism, theologian Paul Knitter explains the work he did in the 1980s in El Salvador. Paul and his wife Cathy worked a great deal with CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador) and sat at tables with those on both sides of the conflict. Paul writes about the death squads who killed so many striving for peace and how he hated them for it. One day a Buddhist monk Paul who he was working with told him, “You won’t be able to stop the death squads unless you realize your oneness with them.” Wow. Oneness with those terrible people who murdered all who sought peace? Oneness with those who commit such great evil? Oneness with the mass shooter? Oneness with Vladimir Putin? How could anyone do that?
Paul Knitter then goes on to quote the Dhammapada: “Hatred is not dispelled by hatred; by love alone is hatred dispelled.” He writes how Martin Luther King and Gandhi taught similar things. And of course, so did Jesus. It is loving your enemies that gives you the only chance to transform them.
Jesus’ teaching about oneness challenges us as we contemplate war, mourn another tragedy, and wrestle with tough questions. Jesus prayed for us to recognize our oneness—with him, with God, and with each other. And even though the lack of unity in this country is disheartening. And even though war and oppression are ever present. And even though we may be filled with pain, anger, or even hatred. Still, we are called to become aware of our oneness with all. To be mindful of those emotional responses yes, but also through prayer and meditation, cultivate our oneness with all things.
For those who are interested, there will be a civility workshop at Avon Congregational Church this coming Saturday. One session is at 8:00AM and another session at 1:00PM. We have a poster for the event on the bulletin board outside the Hall of the Evangelists. The speakers will present on the book Love Your Enemies and focuses on civility in political dialogue.
We may not be able to change the mind of the entire world to recognize oneness. But we can do our own inner work to recognize our oneness with those who challenge us. In a world gone mad, we can follow our Lord’s example in promoting oneness, loving enemies, and continuing to see oneness with them even when our opponents seem dead set against any kind of unity.
It may sound like an impossible task. But we know God is indeed transforming the world and is present in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is calling all humanity forward to recognize our oneness, and inviting us to trust that even in the midst of all the war and violence and disagreement and lack of compassion in this world, still God is present and is making this world whole.
We know that into the middle of our suffering world, Jesus Christ came to be one with us and to die for us. Jesus Christ came so we can share the same oneness with the Father that he does. So even with all the pain and sorrow and division and anger so many of us might be feeling, we know we are one with Jesus, and we trust that in him we find our healing, our wholeness, our oneness with all.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 5/29/22