“Father, I pray that they will be one, just like You and I are one... so that the world will believe that You sent me.” It was the Teacher’s final prayer with His band of followers. He had earlier that night given them a new commandment, that they love each other - an old commandment, really, with a deeper meaning. Their strong love for each other — even to the point of laying down their lives for one another — would be proof to the watching world that they were indeed followers of the One sent from God. And, in His closing prayer, He implored His heavenly Father to help them put this command into practice. They would need all the divine help they could get. This kind of unity would be hard won. Later that fateful night they all scattered, of course, running like scared rabbits as their Teacher was arrested. And that pretty much set the precedent for those who would later come to be known as “Christ-ones” — gather and scatter, gather and scatter. Down through the ages, with some amazing exceptions of martyrdom and self-sacrifice that seared images of an unimaginable love onto the pages of history, the pattern of gather and scatter has been the norm. A group here who followed Peter, another there who held to Paul’s teaching, this faction clinging to orthodoxy, that welcoming new revelation. Unity has been enormously difficult to achieve and even harder to sustain.
Protestants — protest-ants — the group of Christ-ones with whom my membership is staked, broke and scattered from the Catholics back a few hundred years ago over how the church was being run, attempted reconciliation a few times, but have been quite content to remain separate from one another. The band of Protestant believers that I was raised in split up over slavery a hundred and fifty years back, divided several more times over doctrinal fine points, and most recently split again over the definition of worldliness. The group I am currently a member of are on the verge of severing fellowship over the place of gays and lesbians in the church. For some reason laying down our lives for a cause seems much easier than laying down even our preferences for fellow-believers. Unity among the diverse followers of Christ is one enormous challenge. Little wonder that He devoted His last meal, His final admonition, His concluding prayer, to underscore its importance to the faith.
So how are we doing, currently? Actually, the overt rancor and animosity among Christ-ones seems to have quieted down just a bit lately — not as much public name-calling and stone-throwing as in some past years. Political correctness has evidently helped us in this regard. But what goes on behind the stained glass of our gathering places is hardly visible to the on-looking world, unless, of course, our conflicts become interesting enough to make the evening news. Getting along well together within our separate sanctuaries is certainly important, but not particularly noteworthy. No, it’s in our neighborhoods and workplaces in the normal course of living where the faith becomes visible, observable. If, as the Teacher said, people are to become convinced of His divinity, it will be as a result of seeing an unusual kind of love demonstrated among fellow-believers not inside the temple but right out on the street where we live our daily lives.
So how are we doing with His new command? How is it showing in the places where we live? What do our neighbors observe about our relationships with other fellow believers in the office and on the block? Does it seem curious to you that most Christians in America drive right past their neighbors’ homes on the way to church, never knowing their names, let alone what they believe? Nor do we feel comfortable in the workplace asking others about their faith, lest we offend or intrude into “private” matters. If the Teacher really meant what He said, “By this shall all men know you are my followers, by the love you have for one another,” how then are Christ-ones to demonstrate their faith when they avoid relating to each other?
Imagine this. What if we got really inspired one Sunday morning and left church all fired up to obey Jesus and do something really radical with His new command? What if we determined to find out who all the believers are on our street, meet them personally, and find out about their faith journey. What if we affirmed the legitimacy of each other’s religious experience, tried to learn from them, even looked for the common ground upon which we have built our varying beliefs. What if we set aside for a moment the labels that we use to judge and separate ourselves — fundamentalist, liberal, Pentecostal, Catholic, gay, straight, Republican, Democrat, pro-life, pro-choice, etc. — and embarked on an honest search to discover how (if?)the Spirit of God works in the lives of fellow-believers who differ dramatically from us? Is it possible that we would find the Spirit alive in those we have un-Christianized and written off as ignorant, narrow minded, blind, even degenerate or apostate? Might we even develop an appreciative understanding that would cause us to value each other, pray for each other, even become committed friends? Now that would attract some attention, wouldn’t it?
Keep praying for us, Teacher. Would that we could call you Lord. But as You said, “Why do you call me Lord when you don’t obey my commands?”