Sermon
May 24, 1998
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
Write to Rev. Hamilton

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Scripture: John 17:20-26

"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. 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." (NRSV)

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Text: What more could we ask?

Does anyone here know what this is? (Virnette is showing the UCC wrought iron symbol that has been on display, at various places, in the church, for some time) I dusted it off - it has been in my office for nearly 5 years now - before that it was at my house and before

that it was in this sanctuary. This is the symbol of the United Church of

Christ. The crown is set atop of the cross, which supported by the orb, to

signify our diversity which is united in Jesus Christ. The motto of the UCC is

a portion of this morning’s text, "that they may all be one" But are we?

I read in one of my denominational books, when I was studying for the

ordination process, that any time an organization says that it is united, it

probably isn’t even close. Indeed, a friend of mine refuses to go to church,

even though she is a very spiritual person, because she says that it is her

impression that churches are mean & argumentative places. She has asked me if

that is what God intends? Do the people in churches know what those on the

outside think? I have an answer to the first question, but not to the

second.

None of this is new - however - by the time John wrote down his many

meditations on the life of Jesus, he had seen many disagreements between

believers. His biggest concern was the way he saw the tradition of Christian

faith being lived out in community. John understood that our ability to live

out our faith as one would bear the most credible witness to the authenticity

of Jesus. When conflicts arise in churches the credibility of our faith in

Jesus Christ slips.

Not much has changed, here at the end of the twentieth century, we see more

factions of the Christian church than ever before - we even see denominations

breaking up - forming two where there had been one.

And as a pastor, I do wonder what the world thinks of the Jesus’ church.

Every time that I pick up a magazine or newspaper it seems that religion is a

hot topic, especially now, at the end of the millennium.

Again, not much has changed - There is a medieval manuscript that suggests

that the church is something like Noah’s Ark - "If it were not for the storm

outside you could not stand the stench inside."

Even if we wonder what the world thinks, but we don’t have to wonder what God

thinks -

Our scripture lesson this morning spells it all out for us - God intends for

us to live in harmony... God intends for us to be united as one body - the

body of Christ. Remember ? "I in them and you in me, that they may

become completely one so that the world may know that you have sent me."

But what seems easy in theory, God knows, is difficult to achieve.

God has given us many gifts to help us find our way - in other words - We

aren’t out there on our own - to become one with Jesus Christ and God and

each other is no small trick. So God has given us the tools.

That is what communion is about - the remembrance that unites our hearts and

minds and souls - one with God and one with each other -

That is what love is about - the same love which anchors us to our children,

our spouses, our parents - also anchors us to God, to other Christians, and

to everyone else. This same love is what binds us today to those we have

loved and lost, those who dwell with God - the dead and the living forever

bound together - they will live on in our hearts until we are united with them

at the last. Even death cannot break the bond of that love.

The strength and power of that love is the foundation of all that Jesus prays

that we become - remember 1 Corinthians 13 -

1 Corinthians 13:4-12

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant

or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all

things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never

ends.

We use this passage at weddings and at funerals because we know that these

words are true - we have seen it work in our own families. We know these words

are true when we grieve for a person that was love in action everyday of their

lives - they are the saints we sing of - the lives we celebrate today.

But this passage isn’t given to us for just our family interactions. Just as

our scripture lesson today was originally written to instruct the church, so

was I Corinthians 13. - the church at Corinth which was mired down in

conflict - remember the beginning of the passage -

1 Corinthians 12:19-20

If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many

members, yet one body.

We are the body, the church - we are the disciples that Jesus prays for. Our

lesson this morning is his pastoral prayer - for us today. We are the ones

who heard from earlier disciples, our parents and grandparents. The ones as

the current disciples, who will - by our actions - pass our trust in the

truth of Jesus Christ along to our children.

This is not about being the same, because we cannot be the same -God has

created each of us as individuals. This is about affirming the richness of

our differences, about acceptance, about working together when our

differences threaten to separate us. This is no small job - it takes faith and

it takes love.

What is the greatest commandment asked the disciples? Jesus answered: Love

God with all your heart and mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

From those words will come everything that is necessary for the church to grow

- from that love the unity will grow and flourish - This was Christ’s vision

of the kingdom - all of us one with the living God. Love being the

foundation.

"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 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." (NRSV)

"that they may all be one."

This is our challenge - to live lives that demonstrate the truth of our

salvation. To win disciples - to love in a way that the world rarely sees -

to work together in all things never losing sight of the goal of unity.- the

vision of the kingdom. May our actions tell us with certainty what God and the

world thinks of Jesus Christ’s followers.

This emblem of the UCC stands for a richness of people and ideas, for our

faith - for our task - It stands for Christ’s vision of the Kingdom. It was

carried out of this sanctuary the day that Russ Ayre retired as our minister

of 35 years signifying the transition this church was to undertake. Somehow it

never made its way back in - Maybe it is time for us to consider returning it

to this place, that we might keep Christ’s vision of One Body ever before us.

Amen.

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