Religion Magazine

on Unity and Glory

By Malcolmdrogers
John 17.20-26

Jesus prayer is that we would be one
Three times he prays that in this short passage
V21:That they may all be one
V22: That they may be one, as we are one
V23: That they may become completely one
There is a tremendous privilege of being part of a church like St Andrew’s.
We are people who have been gathered together from many countries: Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, Holland, Peru, Vietnam, Russia, US, UK, Syria, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, France, Madagascar.
We have little in common: we come from different backgrounds, experiences and traditions. We’ve been brought up in different ways, according to different traditions, with different tastes. We have had different educational opportunities. Some are wealthy and some are poor. We have very different political views. We eat different kinds of food – some bland, some spicy.
And so what unites us?
Not our form of service or style of music. It is very English, and indeed cathedral English. It only appeals to a certain subculture in England. And thank you for putting up with it, especially if there are things that you do not particularly find easy about it.
The thing that unites us, I pray, is not just that the vast majority of us speak English, but that we have heard the words of the apostles. They have been handed to us: maybe by our parents or grandparents, or home churches, or by a friend who really loved us enough to tell us and pray for us.
We have heard those words about the Father who sent Jesus out of love for us, and we have put our faith in Jesus.
And the thing that unites us is that Jesus prays for us that we might be one - as he is one with the Father
John is difficult. We’ve said that a few times already.
He uses difficult language to get our heads round.
And today is no different: ‘You are in me as I am in you, may they also be in us’
One illustration that the early Christians used was that of the woven tapestry.
The tapestry is made when different strands of cord are woven together. They become part of each other.
There are the two main strands, the warp and the weft – the strand of the Father and the strand of the Son and they are woven together. They form the core, the frame. And then those who hear and believe the words of the apostles are woven into those two main strands. We are woven together. And as we are woven together, you in me and me in you and all of us in Christ, so something beautiful is created.
Or we can use the language of the dance. There are the two partners. One following, one leading. Sometimes close, sometimes apart. But they are able to fully express themselves and they are in perfect harmony.
And then we are invited to become part of that dance. The Father sends the Son who comes to us and invites us to join in the dance. He draws us in, and even though we cannot dance, he shows us and teaches us.
This is the unity of which Jesus speaks
But, we might say, all this sounds very poetic, very idealistic – but where is the reality?
We look at Jesus’ people, at the people who believe in his name, and we do not see unity but disunity.
That was true in the early church.
We read of divisions between Paul and Barnabas, and Paul and Peter, of different parties or factions in the church in Corinth, of a dispute between two women, Euodia and Syntyche, in the Philippian church.
And today? Today, at the macro scale, we have many different denominations and groupings of all shapes and sizes: Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Adventist, Baptist, independent. We have Coptic orthodox and Chalcedonian orthodox. We have Orthodox who say they belong to the ecumenical patriarch, and Orthodox who say that they belong to the Moscow patriarch.
And many of these groupings would not consider themselves to be in communion with the others.
And sometimes it is worse: I lived for several months in Northern Ireland during the troubles. People were killing each other because they belonged to a different religious and political community.
And I am not even going to begin to talk about the tensions in Anglicanism!
So where is this unity for which Jesus prayed?
Well, it exists
We are, if we are in Christ, part of one body, members of one another, woven into each other. Whether we like it or not, we are part of one tapestry, of one dance. The bible speaks of us being one body, one family.
Our destiny is tied up with the destiny of Christ and the destiny of each other. If Christ is glorified, we will share in that glory. And one day that unity will be revealed
And we also do see glimpses of that unity in practice.
We are united as we hear the gospel being read, as we pray and cry out to God for mercy, as we confess our sins together, as we hear and receive the word of God’s forgiveness, as we come to receive bread and wine, as we pray that God will send us out in the power of the spirit.
For many of us this is the most important, sacred moment of our week, when we express what is most fundamental to us, when we are the most authentic that we can be.
And we glimpse that unity in the practical support and care that people give to each other. Not formally or officially, but people loving one another
Our friend’s husband died suddenly and unexpectedly back in the UK. It has been lovely to see how the church community has rallied around her in a quite wonderful way. It is little things like that which are a witness to the fact that we are being woven into one another, to the unity that Christ can bring.
But of course, we also see divisions.
We talk about striving for the truth of the gospel and indeed we are called to oppose those who are opponents of the gospel, of the truth, but much of the time when we claim to be doing that we are simply looking after our own interests, and we end up judgemental, critical, defensive and divisive.
Yes, John writes about how divisions in this current era – in between the resurrection of Jesus and his return - are necessary because they will show us, in time, who is with Christ.
But we need to be much more cautious before we exclude others or say that they are not part of us.
We leave that to time and to God.
We are called to be graciously orthodox.
We need to remember Jesus words, when the disciples wanted him to rebuke someone who was preaching in Jesus’ name but was not part of them, not one of the disciples.
Jesus told them, that if someone is not against him, then they are for him; that if they do wonders in his name then they will soon become part of us; that if someone gives you a glass of water because you belong to him, they will not lose their reward.
And we need to continue to work and pray for that unity which we have been given.
The passage we read from John today not only speaks of unity.
It also speaks of glory, a glory that is connected to this unity

A glory which the Father has given the Son and which the Son gives to us.
‘The glory you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one as we are one’ (v22)
‘Father, I want them, the ones you have given me, to be with me and to see my glory.’ (v24)
Again, this is difficult to understand. What is this glory?
Each object, writes Paul, has its own glory. It is most glorious when it is doing what it is meant to be doing, in the way that it should be doing it, fulfilling its God given potential, in a right relationship with God and all other things.
So the sun, moon and stars have their glory. The Sun’s glory is when it shines and the moon’s glory is when it reflects
Each work of creation has its own glory – whether a stone being a stone, an ant being an ant, or brown bear being a brown bear.
And human beings have their own glory. 
And we are most glorious when we are living as we were made to live, like Jesus, as sons and daughters of God
St Ignatius said, and I paraphrase, ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive to God’.
But if you notice here the glory of the Son and the glory of the Father is shared. It is when the Father gives glory to the Son that He is most showing his glory, and when the Son gives the glory to the Father that he is most glorious
Think of the sun being reflected in water. We cannot look directly at the sun, but we can see the glory of the sun as it is reflected in the water; but in reflecting the sun, the water becomes alive and sparkles.
So when we look at the Father reflected in Jesus, we see both the wonder of the Father and the beauty of Jesus.
And we are most glorious, most human, most alive, when we give glory to each other.
Glory is like a stunning bouquet of flowers.
The Father gives the bouquet to the Son, and the Son gives a bouquet to us.
And we reflect the Father and the Son, when we hand a bouquet to another.
We were made to give glory to God and to each other, and when we give glory to God and to the other, we become most glorious.
This is why glory and unity are tied together.
The secret of Christian unity is that we share in the glory of Jesus, when I give you the bouquet, when you give me the bouquet.
John is theoretical
Paul is quite practical, but he says the same thing as John when he writes to the Philippian church.
He has heard that there are divisions in the church, and he urges them to live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ.
He prays that they will have the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
He continues, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
Don’t keep the bouquets to yourself – do not keep the praise, the status, the wealth, the good news of the love of God to yourself.
It is when we give glory to God and to the other that we both show their glory and are most glorious.
It is when I live as if it is not about me, but about God and you.
It is when I do not take you for granted, or take advantage of you – but say thank you or praise you
It is when I am not blind to you, but see you, really see you, and think about you and your concerns
It is when I humble myself before you, when I am prepared to say sorry or forgive you
It is when I build you up and encourage you
It is when I look out for you and your interests – your very best, your eternal, interests – and it was when you look out for me and my very best, my eternal, interests.
That is what it is to give bouquets to each other
Then we, the tapestry, the eternal dance, will be most glorious and we will know the unity which Jesus has prayed for us.

The issue that is tearing the Anglican communion apart at the moment is the issue of same sex marriage.
At the heart of the old town of Bury St Edmunds there were two large churches. There was one, of which I was vicar, which held a traditional – we would argue biblical – view, that marriage can only be between man and woman. The other was the cathedral which held a much more liberal view, and the dean of the cathedral was in a same sex relationship.
The question is whether this is such a fundamental issue that we break communion over it, that we say to the others that you have so missed what it is all about to be Christian that we cannot consider you to be Christians.
While I profoundly disagreed with my neighbours, and I will passionately argue for that traditional position, that marriage can only be between man and woman, as well as saying that our churches can be safe places for those who have a same sex orientation – and while they profoundly disagreed with me - I have to say that I could not take that step of saying that they were not Christian, and they were not prepared to take that step with us.
And our unity was expressed in the fact that we were able to meet together once every week, and pray morning prayer together.

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