LISTEN TO HIM!

 

I studied in a Spanish-language institute, rapidly improving my ability with the language and immersing myself in Mexican culture. I lived with a local family, experienced my first earthquake, and explored Cuernavaca, a city made famous by the conquistador Cortes, who set up a palace there after his victory over the Aztec Empire.

On the weekends, I took a lot of trips. Together with my fellow BCA students, I visited cities and historical sites throughout central Mexico. One of the sites we visited was an ancient Olmec city, Cacaxtla. Cacaxla was built on top of a high mountain, overlooking a vast landscape below. The archeologists told us that the residents of this city were very powerful and demanded tribute from all the peoples living in the valley below.

Today, the city is just a tourist attraction. But the sense of majesty and power remains, if only because of the incredible view of the countryside below.

I still remember how I felt sitting on the edge of the mountaintop, looking out at the horizon. There’s really nothing like being 19 years old. At least for me. I don’t know what late adolescence was like for the rest of you, but for me it was deeply challenging on a whole lot of levels. I was confused. I got angry a lot. I didn’t know where the future would lead me. I still didn’t really know who I was, but I desperately wanted to find out. There was so much life ahead of me, but everything felt so urgent, like I might not make it through tomorrow.

But as I looked out over that vast horizon, as I observed the fields and valleys below, all of that fell away. I could feel the power of the mountain, the peace in the air at those heights. Somehow, for a moment, I had left my anxiety down below.

While I was sitting there on the edge of that mountaintop, someone snapped a photo. They titled it, Micah y el Horizonte – Micah and the horizon. They got it exactly right. That’s exactly what was going on in that moment. It was just me and the horizon. And, in retrospect, maybe God, too.

All my problems and worries and insecurities were still waiting for me when I came off that mountaintop. But for a few minutes, I was able to get outside of myself. I escaped the chaos of my own head. I heard the silence that sometimes only seems possible at such great heights.

I don’t know how old Jesus’ disciples were. Many of them were probably teenagers, just like I was when I first studied abroad in Mexico. And from the gospel texts, it seems like they were full of the same kinds of anxieties that impact all of us, but perhaps especially the young. Who am I? What is my purpose in life? Where do I belong? What is truth? How can I live a life that is full of meaning, power, and authenticity?

At this point in the story, things are really ramping up. Jesus has just sent the twelve disciples out to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal the sick. King Herod is taking full notice of Jesus and his followers now. Jesus is attracting huge crowds of people eager to hear his words, and Jesus feeds them, both with bread and with loaves and fishes.

The crowds hope that Jesus might be the Anointed One that God promised to save his people Israel from Roman oppression. And the disciples closest to Jesus are becoming increasingly convinced that he is indeed the One. Just before our reading today, Peter identifies Jesus as the “Messiah of God.”

But in response to this, it says that Jesus sternly commands the disciples not to tell anyone. Why? Because, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

“Don’t tell anyone what you know about me,” says Jesus. “Don’t tell them I’m the Anointed One of God. That will just give people the wrong idea. Because my way is one of suffering, rejection, and death. That’s not something the people are ready to hear.”

I’m not sure the inner circle of disciples were ready to hear it, either. But there it was. The authorities were closing in. Jesus was about to make his way to Jerusalem, the center of power where big moves could be made and terrible things could happen. And now he was telling his closest followers that the way of the Messiah was not to be one of conquest, but rather of suffering and loss. This wasn’t what these hopeful, confused, anxious young people had signed on for.

In the midst of this growing pressure and confusion, it says that Jesus took his closest friends – Peter, James, and John – up with him to a high mountain to pray. And while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Jesus looked like Moses did when he met God face to face. Moses’ face was so bright and overwhelming that he had to cover it with a veil, so as not to overwhelm the people.

But Jesus didn’t cover his face for Peter, James, and John. They saw his glory and didn’t turn away, as terrified as they were.

As if all this weren’t enough, suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear, talking there with Jesus! I imagine it must have been a scene like out of Return of the Jedi, at the end of the movie, where Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda appear to encourage Luke. Except these guys aren’t ghosts. They’re really there with Jesus, talking with him about the “exodus” that Jesus is about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

At this point, the disciples’ minds are blown. What in the world is going on here? Peter is kind of a doer, so he butts in – “Uh, excuse me – Jesus? I couldn’t help but notice that you, Moses, and Elijah are having a really great conversation. What do you think about prolonging the magic? We could build a tent for each of you, so you can camp out here as long as you like.” The scripture says that Peter “didn’t know what he was saying.” No kidding.

While Peter was still talking, a cloud came and overshadowed them. It was just like the cloud that covered the mountaintop when Moses talked to God so long ago. It was like the cloud that led the Israelites in the wilderness. It was the same cloud that filled the tent of meeting in the desert, and the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God was in the house.

And God spoke out of the cloud, saying to the disciples: “This is my son, my chosen; listen to him!”

Listen to him.

Peter and the disciples were running around in confusion and anxiety. They couldn’t figure out their own lives, much less what Moses and Elijah were doing there with Jesus on the mountaintop. Before they got to the mountaintop, they were full of worries. How they’d feed the five thousand. How they would preach the good news in the villages of Israel. How they were going to lead an insurrection against the Romans. Their minds were so fully of anxiety, they had left little room for divine intervention.

The disciples weren’t expecting God to actually show up, Old Testament-style, and start speaking to them with a booming voice out of the cloud! When Peter, James, and John went up on the mountain to pray with Jesus, they had no idea that they were stepping onto the new Mount Sinai, the holy dwelling place of God.

Listen to him.

The disciples were busy freaking out about everything, except the most important thing. Moses and Elijah stood there representing the Law and the Prophets, the whole tradition of Israel. But even they weren’t the stars of the show. When the cloud descends and the Father speaks, it’s to remind the disciples of what John the Baptist’s disciples already heard at the river Jordan, when Jesus was baptized and covered with the Holy Spirit. “This is my Son, the Beloved.”

Listen to him.

Peter and the others are so dazzled by the light show that they miss the point. When they were down in the valley, they were distracted by the things of men. Now on the high mountain, they’re confused by the things of God. Moses, Elijah, bright lights – it’s all too much for them.

The voice of the Father comes from the cloud, to cut through the confusion. He reminds them that only one thing is needful:

Listen to him. Listen to Jesus, the living reflection of God, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Center yourself on him and cease to be blown to and fro by the wind and waves of daily ups and downs, political pressure, and mystical experiences.

Listen to him.

I wish I could tell you that I came down from that mountaintop in Mexico a transformed young man. I wish I could say that I found the same kind of clarity that was given to the disciples that day on the mountain with Jesus. At most, I got a few moments of openness and receptivity before I descended back down into the valley below. It was a beautiful moment, and I believe it prepared me for greater depth and maturity. But it was just a moment.

We see the same thing in this story. Even after something as amazing and show-stopping as the transfiguration, the next day Jesus was down among the people. Just like Moses, he came down from the high mountain and re-entered the tensions and fray of everyday life.

It says that the disciples kept quiet about what they had seen on the mountaintop. They didn’t tell anyone until after Jesus’ resurrection. They were obedient in that; Jesus had told them to keep silent about the miraculous visions they had experienced.

But the disciples had received the message. They knew what God required of them: Listen to him.

My experience in Mexico was literally a mountaintop experience. But most of my most profound encounters with the holy have happened at lower elevations. Throughout my life, I’ve occasionally found myself in a special moment with God. In seasons of trouble or moments of joy, sometimes God just shows up in ways that are hard to explain.

But, at least for me, these holy moments are the exception, rather than the rule. They serve as encouragement and reminders of the Spirit’s presence and power in my life. They are oases in the desert. There are times that I would have died of thirst without these moments of refreshment and remembrance with God.

All too often, though, I am just like Peter. In my joy and confusion, I want to preserve the holy moment through sheer force of will. I try to build tents for Moses and Elijah. I want to camp out on that mountaintop forever.

The scripture this morning reminds me that the goal of the spiritual life is not to live on the mountaintop. It’s not to win the struggles going on in the valleys of human society, either. Rather than mystical escapism or pragmatic realism, God calls us to obedience to Jesus, the one in whom the Father has revealed himself.

This obedience can hold us steady and keep us faithful as we navigate both peaks and valleys. Through obedience, our lives can become so transfigured that the Kingdom of God is incarnated in our own face. Listening to Jesus, we can shine like Jesus. Listening to Jesus, we take up the cross as he did. Listening to Jesus, we can experience the life of the Spirit and dwell in the Father’s love.

BLUE, PURPLE, AND CRIMSON YARNS

Exodus 35:4-34

Monica McFadden

In my first ever art history class in college (World Art I), my wild professor, Scott Montgomery (who looked exactly like you want your art professor to look—long white Dumbledore hair and beard, barefoot but wearing a suit), introduced the class to the very beginnings of Christian art. Back when Christianity was still an underground, secret group of believers going against the cultural and religious norm in Rome, meeting in catacombs and people’s homes.

The thing is, I really wasn’t that interested in early Christian art, or most Christian art for that matter. I wasn’t a huge fan of all the traditional iconography, frescoes, biblical characters who all look the same, strange muscle-y baby Jesuses, Medieval and Renaissance paintings that are too easy to mix up. I was much more interested in the free-flowing forms of post-Impressionism, modern and contemporary art that was stirring things up, non-Western art. And it didn’t help that the Brethren tend to lean away from the ostentatious art traditions of other Christian groups; I was fairly critical of all the relics and dramatic, gilded altarpieces. But the thing about Scott is he’s so genuinely excited about everything he teaches that you can’t help but get excited as well.

Once, when he was lecturing about early church buildings in class, he told a story. He (along with, I believe, a group of other art scholars) was visiting the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy. It’s a small, old building from 425 B.C.E.; relatively simple-looking brick from the outside, but dripping in rich, vivid Byzantine mosaics on the inside. A deep indigo covers the ceiling and walls, with swirls of olive green and gold stars, florets, and vines reaching every corner. Little concentric circles of light blue and silvery gold form snowflake-like patterns on one dome, and various images and scenes play out in arches: Christ as the Good Shepherd, stoic animals, saints and angels, all surrounded by detailed borders of jewel-toned tiles.

Now, when tours are given at the museum, the mosaics are lit with typical electric lights. But my professor’s group was made up of indignant art scholars who insisted they be allowed to see the interior of the building as it would have been viewed centuries ago, lit with just a few candles. They proved to be convincing, and the small space was soon filled with the warm light of the candles, little flames flickering back and forth and casting their glow onto the mosaic tiles.

If you look closely at old mosaics, they first appear as though they were carelessly laid, with tiles all at slightly different angles, rippling across the walls and looking rather hand-done; you’d think it would look better if they were aligned properly. But this was done very intentionally, because if you view mosaics in candlelight, the dancing light of the flames reflecting off the tiles all laid a little askew, the mosaics look as if they’re magically glittering and flickering, and every part of the image is aglow. The stars and saints and vines all pulse with life. Suddenly, my professor said, these simple materials are awash with holy light.

In the scripture text in Exodus, the Israelites are commanded to make every part of the tabernacle and bring offerings to the Lord. This tabernacle, with its finely crafted altar and oil stands and all the gold, silver, and bronze, can feel a little foreign to those with humble Brethren roots. Brethren have come a long way in terms of opinions about art. The Brethren Encyclopedia notes that “It could be said of these Brethren, as it was of the Society of Friends, that they had no time for art and no place for it in their priorities. Their understanding of humility and nonconformity placed emphasis on simplicity and plainness.”[1] One paragraph is somewhat amusing to me in summing up Brethren aesthetics: “Obviously Brethren did share to a degree in the folk culture of German-speaking farmers and artisans. Except for an occasional illustration (one art book pictures wrought-iron hinges on the door of the Blooming Grove Brethren Meetinghouse) there is little tangible evidence of Brethren artistic interest. Yet Brethren, like their neighbors, used favorite patterns and designs in quilts and coverlets, on butter molds, clocks, chests, and other household implements. Many of their meetinghouses had a good sense of proportion in their simple, utilitarian lines.”[2] “A good sense of proportion” is fairly indicative of where Brethren stood on artistic flair. It seems much of Brethren involvement in art was connected to publications and embellishment of manuscripts, documents, and books.

However, there are still a number of interesting Brethren connections to art, and over the years as reception to art grew more favorable, Brethren artists emerged. Interestingly, in 1880, Howard Pyle (who was not Brethren and went on to become a recognized American artist) visited the Pennsylvania Germans to write an article for Harper’s Magazine, and became fascinated with the Brethren and their way of life. His article, titled “A Peculiar People,” is rather wonderful and well worth a read for an outsider’s view on the Brethren in the late 19th century. Pyle carefully describes the buildings and dress in the community, and takes the readers through the ordinances of the church, including Love Feast, anointing, and baptism. He is clearly charmed by the Brethren, and made a series of etchings documenting his time and illustrating his article. One passage reads, with an accompanying image to illustrate:

“The first visit we ever made to a Dunker meeting was on a cold day in the latter part of November. The wind piped across the snow-clad hills and over the level white valleys, nipping the nose and making the cheeks feel stiff like leather. As we neared the straggling, old-fashioned-looking town we passed an old farmer of the neighborhood and his wife trudging toward the meeting-house, the long gray beard of the former tangling in the wind or wrapping itself around the neck and breast, and further on a young couple in the quaint costume of the people, picturesque figures against the white of the broad-stretching road.”[3]

This Brethren way of life looks very different from the typical Brethren way of life now, and yet there’s something in reading Pyle’s article that feels like home. The whitewashed walls, long beards, the “matronly faces stamped with humility and gentleness” as he describes—they all feel very familiar. Pyle’s etchings accurately represent the simplicity of the buildings and people, but also highlight a certain beauty it all—the pure white of the snow and whitewashed walls, light coming in through a window and onto the wood furniture of a plain bedroom, the old-fashioned houses with brick and white shutters. Sometimes, having an artist look in helps bring to light the subtle elements that make a tradition lovely.

One of the few art forms that was prevalent in the Pennsylvania Dutch communities was a style called Fraktur, which was a type of manuscript illumination used for certificates, house blessings, and other lettered objects. Pyle noted these hanging on the walls of the Sisters’ House in the Cloister:

“Around the walls were a number of curious antique-looking cards about three feet square, bearing mottoes and texts, all printed by hand, with a beauty of design and delicacy of execution that might rank among them with the lost art of vellum manuscript printing. Some of the designs were very unique, and all of them were aged, even medieval looking.”[4]

Artistic ability is clearly a wonderful gift from God, but Christian art is more than that as well—there’s a sort of magic in many people, over centuries and from all different parts of the world, creating art that is some kind of visual response or interpretation of the many stories and passages enclosed in the Bible. This is not to be confused with creating idols and worshipping images, but rather it’s this incredibly human need to take sacred words and stories that they love and create something new, imbued with the beauty they see in God’s creation surrounding them. As the Brethren Encyclopedia says of the Pennsylvania Dutch, “students of this unique culture, who continue to publish lavishly illustrated books detailing its artifacts, insist that in rejecting the fashions and frivolities of European and American society, plain people did not reject the natural world, that they loved color and design, and that they developed a symbolic art that found its vivid imagery in their pietistic hymns.”[5]

Art is an inherently human way to process truth, and when God asked the Israelites to craft the adornments for the tabernacle, the tent, the altar, the hangings, the vestments; and to bring offerings of “gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and fine leather; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and gems,” what he asked for was the word of God as seen through the skilled craftsmanship of God’s people.

It is also a notably egalitarian call. Verse 22 says that “they came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and pendants, all sorts of gold objects, everyone bringing an offering of gold to the Lord.” Craft art was a skill that could be developed by men and women alike, and it’s only been much more recently, when art forms like painting and sculpture with artists’ names attached became more highly valued, that these skills were left unrecognized. But in the Kingdom of God, beauty is for all people, and gifts are given in abundance.

Whether it’s the awe-inspiring mosaics of early Christianity or the clean architecture of the humble Brethren, aesthetics and art are vital parts of experiencing life. If God gives us the ability to make beautiful things “in blue, purple, and crimson yarns,” we should seek to create as much as possible, for it gives us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God as it lives here on Earth.

[1] Brethren Encyclopedia, Art, p. 59.

[2] Brethren Encyclopedia, Art, p. 61.

[3] Howard Pyle, “A Peculiar People,” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, p. 778-9.

[4] Pyle, “A Peculiar People,” p. 783-4.

[5]  Brethren Encyclopedia, Art, p. 60.

The Unity of the Church, the Manifestation of Glory

Nate and Jenn Hosler – The Unity of the Church, the Manifestation of Glory (John 17:20-23)

            As all of you know, our current Congress is certainly dysfunctional.  The two parties do not get along.  Many on each side do not like some on the other side (or even those in their own party). Senators and representatives bicker and lurch to grab status or power.  They divide into factions.  Small groups within the larger body undermine the priorities of the whole.  Politicians threaten and hold the government hostage with their particular wants and priorities.  While they are defined as a singular body – “Congress” – they do not function or act in a way that is united, whether united in identity or united in purpose.

At various times, our churches are no better than Congress.  They are dysfunctional and without life, vitality, or productivity. Congregations, like Congress, can be consumed by bickering and church people at times lurch to grab status and power.  They divide into factions and small groups undermine the priorities of the whole.  Church members also threaten and hold the congregation hostage with individual wants and priorities. While they are defined as a singular body – the “Church” – they do not function or act in a way that is united, whether united in identity or united in purpose.

Today’s passage drops us into the middle of Jesus praying.   Like passing by a conversation, we catch just a glimpse of the whole scene. We know that Jesus prayed many times.  Out of all the times that Jesus prayed and the prayers could have been remembered, somehow, Jesus’ prayers before his death are the only extensive ones we have.  In John 17, we have a whole chapter of Jesus praying.  When interpreting Scripture, we learn from both what is said and what is not said.  Jesus is not recorded praying about sexuality, not recorded talking about church governance, certainly not recorded talking about what worship styles or preaching modes are best.  Clearly, as Brethren, we should learn from what Jesus didn’t mention and to value what he did say as extremely important for the church.  In John 17, Jesus prays for the disciples and the followers who would come after.

In Jesus’ prayer, there is a connection between God’s unity, our unity, and the glory of God.  It is when we are in unity that we are able to demonstrate God’s glory—that is, be the manifestation of God’s presence on earth through our relationships with each other and through continuing Jesus’ acts on this earth.

In understanding this scripture, it is helpful to place it within its context in the gospel of John.  The context begins in John 13, where Jesus celebrates the “last supper” with his disciples. During this time he washes the disciples’ feet and predicts Peter denying him. Continuing chapters show Jesus teaching his disciples. Among other things, he predicts both the world’s hatred and the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus alludes to his coming death and the disciples are distraught and confused.  Jesus tells his disciples to have courage and that in him they would have peace.  He then proceeds to pray.  While our verses specifically are John 17: 20-23, it is helpful to understand what Jesus prays in all of chapter 17.

Jesus asks the Father to glorify His Son, that the Father might be glorified.  Jesus says that He has been working on earth and glorifying the Father through His work.  “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.  So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (17:4-5).

Jesus prays about his disciples – saying that he has worked to reveal the name of God to them.  Jesus declares that he has been glorified in the disciples and asks the Father to protect them.  “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one” (v. 11). Jesus prays not only for the disciples around him 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” (vv. 20-21a).

So Jesus prayed that we, the church, might have unity.  What is unity?  Unity sounds like something we should all know.  It isn’t a big theological word like transubstantiation.  Unity is derived from the Latin for “one”. We see Jesus saying “one” a lot in the passage.  As a dictionary definition, unity generally means “the state of being united or joined as a whole, esp. in a political context” such as the European Union (New Oxford American Dictionary).  Unity also involves “harmony or agreement between people or groups”.  It has an artistic nuance: “the state of forming a complete or pleasing whole” (ibid).  In writing, coherence and unity are important traits of any work.  Unity in literature is understood as “The quality of oneness in a paragraph or essay that results when all the words and sentences contribute to a single main idea” (About.com).  A mathematical definition also exists, where unity means the number 1 (an indivisible number).  Broadly, unity tends to involve a united identity, function, and purpose.

Jesus doesn’t provide an exact definition of what unity looks like in our everyday lives or congregations.  He uses a metaphor that is both understandable and indecipherable at the same time.  Jesus prays that we would be one as he and the Father are One.  Jesus prays that we would be one together as the Father and Son are united and also that we would be one with the Father and the Son.  In verse 21, Jesus prays, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (v. 21).  In verse 23, Jesus asks “that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (v. 23).

Jesus calls for us to be united and connects this with glory—glory that the Father gave Jesus and he is giving to his followers. “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” (v. 22).  Why is there this connection between unity and glory?  When thinking about unity and glory, a tale of two kitchens came to mind.

The kitchen in our home is quite small.  As a 100 year old row house in DC, there are some oddities.  The backdoor is in the kitchen, along with normal appliances like the fridge, stove, and dishwasher, and abnormal appliances like the stacked washer and dryer.  With the fridge, the sink, the washer /dryer combo, and the oven in the 8 foot wide space, there is little room for anyone or anything beyond a solitary cook.  If our cat enters into the kitchen, he is at risk of getting stepped on.  So, needless to say, when we cook at home, it is ideally a one person operation: one person with one plan and some vegetables. We physically can’t work together. Cooking in our tiny kitchen isn’t where we can demonstrate how well we work together as a team (but we have preaching, so it’s okay).

At the Brethren Nutrition Program, Washington City’s soup kitchen ministry, the preparation of meals takes on a more complex nature. With more eaters, we need more preparers and, thankfully, we have more space. The introduction of more cooks, however, introduces the possibility of chaos.  On a good day, these many cooks, choppers, stirrers, and servers act as a unified machine to complete the task.  Unified, they manifest the glory of a team.  There is glory in unity—and also pots of gumbo, mashed potatoes, and salad.

In Jesus’ prayer, we see that Jesus has given us God’s glory.  God’s glory is the Holy Spirit power to do God’s work in the world. It is God’s presence that gives us a share identity, shared function, a shared purpose, that makes us the church. God’s manifesting presence in the Holy Spirit has been given so that we might be united, so that we might be one.  Unity isn’t just nice or something mildly helpful.  Unity is how we manifest God’s glory, his indwelling presence on this earth.

In this passage, glory is not so much described as mentioned with the assumption of common understanding.  When recounting Jesus’ prayer, the gospel writer John knew that his audience would hear glory and connect with kavod, or God’s glory as presented in the Old Testament. There are numerous instances in the Hebrew Scriptures where the appearance of God’s glory is described. 

In Exodus 34, after encountering the LORD on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 commandments, Moses descends from the mountain and returns to the people of Israel.  Somehow, the presence of God was reflected in Moses’ face, which shined so brightly that the people were afraid and Moses needed to wear a veil.  In Exodus 40, upon the building of the tabernacle, the glory of Yahweh settles in the Tabernacle and Yahweh dwells with his people.

In the book of Ezekiel, God’s glory departs before the impending judgment.

In the New Testament, God’s glory is manifest through God incarnate, through the person of Jesus.   “The Word became flesh and walked among us” as John said in chapter 1, “and we beheld his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Up to this point in the gospel, Jesus has been God’s active presence on earth.  Jesus mentions in John 17 that he has brought the Father glory by his work on earth.  He also says that his glory was given to him by the Father and that he is passing the glory onto his followers.  Jesus’ followers are promised the Holy Spirit and become the current manifestation of God on earth.  We, as the church, are now tasked with manifesting God’s presence and continuing the work of Jesus.  A key part of this is our unity.

            Just as the Father and the Son are one, so we too are to be one—unified in identity, function, and purpose.  In this way, we demonstrate God’s glory.  The primary manifestation of God’s glory today is the church: the body of Christ is Christ’s present presence.  What does this mean?  God is great and glorious always. He doesn’t change.  But we do not manifest God’s glory when we are not in unity.

The glory of God is made manifest in our unity. Do our own actions, does our own disunity affect how well God’s glory is overtly manifest on this earth?  It seems to be so.  If we do not have unity, then the primary ongoing exhibit of God’s glory is hidden.  This is somewhat scary—as it should be. For some reason, Jesus was willing to handover, to transfer the task of being God’s presence on earth over to us, as followers of Jesus indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

We as the church, the body of Christ, should understand it to be our weighty calling and burden.  We must labor diligently to put aside divisions and power grabbing and hostage taking and factionalism.  We must learn how to constructively work through conflict, learn to talk with one another, understand one another, love one another, and serve together continuing Jesus’ work so that God’s love might be known.  The manifestation of God’s glory depends on it; continuing Jesus’ mission and sharing God’s love depend on it.  Jesus prayed “may [they] be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Sisters and brothers, we must labor diligently to make unity in our own congregations, which have a tendency to die or be torn apart or to push pastors out by our infighting.  We must diligently labor as congregations in the same district to partner together, worship together, and learn from each other.  We must diligently labor as a denomination to fellowship together, serve together, and genuinely love each other despite deep theological differences.

To be clear, unity is not uniformity.  Our unity involves understanding our common essence (indwelled by the Spirit), common function (called to be the hands and feet of Jesus), and common purpose (to share the love of God together).   Our mission in this world depends on our unity.  The manifestation of God’s glory on this earth depends on our unity.

In Jesus’ prayer, there is a connection between God’s unity, our unity, and the glory of God. It is when we are in unity that we are able to demonstrate God’s glory—that is, be the manifestation of God’s presence on earth through our relationships with each other and through continuing Jesus’ acts on this earth.