John 17:20-26
[Jesus prayed:] 20“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I 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. 24Father, 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. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I 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.”

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What does it mean to be one?

Jesus prays in today’s reading that we may be one, just as Jesus is one with the Father.  With Holy Trinity celebrated here two weeks, I’d like to add the Holy Spirit into that unity, even though that’s not clear in the text of today’s prayer.  I remember a drawing my pastor shared with us in confirmation class years and years ago about the makeup of God’s Trinity, how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God, but not to be confused with one another, how they’re distinct but inseparable, but I have to say it’s still mysterious.  We’re human, beings created by God, and God just is.  God is before creation, above creation, in creation, and beyond creation.  Because of this, we can’t examine God like we peer at molecules in a microscope to try to determine how everything fits together.  And even though we expect that everything can be taken apart somehow, akin to molecular fission feats that wreak horrific destruction, we can’t even grab hold of God to attempt such fission—even if we wanted to.

I’m not trying today to explain God’s mysterious composition today.  Every construct theologians have developed throughout the years falls short as all of our illustrations can be pulled apart, and some pieces are often discarded.  I pull all this forward today because of Jesus’ prayer for us to be one, as God is one—a way we cannot quite imagine.

I don’t remember the day I was baptized, although I’ve been told that I cried throughout the service before falling asleep during the final hymn.  I do remember the church we went to when I was between the ages of 2 and six, though not well, and it seems to have closed, as I cannot find it on the maps of the town that seems to have become much smaller since we moved away from there.  That was an ALC congregation at that time.

I remember the next one better, as I was between the ages of 6 and 13, and had my first year of confirmation class there.  It was part of the Wisconsin Synod.

Then we moved to a town where the Lutheran Church was ALC, and promptly joined, even though the previous one didn’t actually let go of us for another two years or so, at which time we received a letter of excommunication—at least that’s how I remember it.

In college, I went to an ALC congregation close to campus, then an LCA congregation when I joined the family congregation of my fiancé, and since then it’s been ELCA congregations that I’ve been called to serve.  Some of those have been individual congregations, and others parts of parish arrangements.  It’s hard to figure out how all these are part of the one for whom Jesus prayed in today’s reading, and they’re all Lutheran! 

About the time that I started my first call, our ELCA was in the process of developing a social statement on abortion.  The very first line in that statement is:


Then comes the explanation of unity, what Jesus includes in today’s prayer:

A. The Basis of Our Unity
We in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are united with all human beings and the whole creation because God has created us and all that exists.
We are united in Christ with all Christians in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
As Lutherans we are united in our confession that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
We believe that the Bible is the authoritative source and norm for Christian faith and life.

Diversity, though, cannot be ignored, and it, too, is acknowledged right there in the beginning.

B. The Gift of Our Diversity
Because we are united in Christ through faith, we have both the freedom and the obligation to engage in serious deliberation on moral matters

Then comes the issue of the statement, the issue that has arisen in our courts near thirty years later:

Induced abortion, the act of intentionally terminating a developing life in the womb, is one of the issues about which members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have serious differences. These differences are also found within society.
Differences hold promise or peril. Our differences are deep and potentially divisive. However, they are also a gift that can lead us into constructive conversation about our faith and its implications for our life in the world.

No, I’m not going to read the entire statement to you, though at only 11 pages, it is significantly shorter than others we’ve produced!  It is available online, [] and we can print it out for you here in the office if you are interested in having a copy.

We are not all the same, particularly when it comes to issues like abortion.  We are not all the same, even within one congregation, let alone the entire denomination.  A few years after that statement, we aired significant disagreement on a full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church, defeating the proposal in 1997 and accepting (very narrowly) a revised one in 1999.  We’ve continued to argue publicly about all kinds of issues, including human sexuality, and almost everything we do as the ELCA recognizes the diversity of opinion among faithful people within our congregations.

What does it mean to be one, when we are so different?  What does it mean to be one, when congregations splinter from one another over issues that are so dear to the hearts of the people on multiple sides?

There is a fragment of a letter that Martin Luther wrote to Philip Melanchthon in 1521 (I’m not quite old enough to remember that!) in which Luther encouraged Melanchthon to “let his sin be strong” or, to “sin boldly,” but to trust in God’s mercy even more.  Some have taken these words and twisted them into a permissiveness that promotes lawlessness. 

Something very different was likely Luther’s intent, and that is that we cannot live sinless lives.  Sometimes, we are faced with situations where no answer is free from sin.  I believe Luther encourages us to do the best we can, and to do it with conviction, trusting that God’s mercy and grace has us covered.

I suggest we give the same view of God’s mercy and grace to others that Luther advises we give ourselves, particularly when their views differ from our own.  We are all sinners trusting in God’s mercy.  We are one, even with our differences.  Because of God’s mercy and grace, we can all work for the best society we can support.  Let’s leave the condemnation to one better equipped to determine who, if anyone might be beyond the grace of God.  Only God can make that determination.

Maybe in this way, we can let go of resentment, let go of the sins of others, and move forward in God’s grace.  Maybe in this way we can experience the unity for which Jesus prayed, unity in God.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.