"That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004
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Easter 7C 2004 John 17:20-26
Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. "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.
That they all may be one. This particular passage from our text for today has been used over the past two centuries to
justify various movements toward church unity. In particular for Episcopalians it has been the scriptural underpinning for
our participation in The Ecumenical Movement and COCU, the Council on Church Union.
COCU sought to follow the lead of many of the Canadian Protestant denominations when The United Church of Canada was formed.
And while the United Church of Canada today is still larger than any of the denominations that composed it, within several
years its total membership was less than the sum of them all at the beginning of the United Church enterprise. Incidentally,
the Anglican Church of Canada chose not to participate.
We Episcopalians have not been immune to the temptations of such enterprises. As early as 1886 what is now known as the
Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral was passed by the House of Bishops. The bishops based their proposal on our gospel for today:
Our earnest desire [is] that the Saviours prayer, That we all may be one, may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily
This Chicago Quadrilateral, much shortened, became general Anglican policy at the Lambeth Conference of 1888. (As an
aside, Lambeth Palace is the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the gathering of all the bishops of the worldwide
Anglican Communion every ten years is named the Lambeth conference where it was first held.) Called Quadrilateral because
of its four conditions for church union, it sets forth the following:
1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as containing all things necessary to salvation, and as being the
rule and ultimate standard of faith.
2. The Apostles Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
3. The two Sacraments ordained by Christ HimselfBaptism and the Supper of the Lord ministered with unfailing use of
Christs words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations
and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church. (BCP, 876-878.)
In the late 1930s and early 1940s there were serious conversations about union by the Protestant and evangelical wings
of the Episcopal Church with what was then the northern Presbyterian Church. This effort foundered over Presbyterian unwillingness
to accept bishops which were fairly predictable and the resistance of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Episcopal Church.
(Robert Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church, 235.)
Max Lucado, in A Gentle Thunder, tells the following story about church unity:
Some time ago a man came upon a fellow on a trip who was carrying a Bible.
"Are you a believer?" I asked him.
"Yes," he said excitedly.
The first man thought to himself, I've learned you can't be too careful. So he continued his questioning.
"Virgin birth?" I asked.
"I accept it."
"Deity of Jesus?"
"Death of Christ on the cross?"
"He died for all people."
The questioner wondered, Could it be that I was face to face with a Christian? Perhaps. Nonetheless, he continued with
"Status of man."
"Sinner in need of grace."
"Definition of grace."
"God doing for man what man can't do."
"Return of Christ?"
"The Body of Christ."
The questioner started getting excited. "Conservative or liberal?"
He was getting excited too. "Conservative."
"Southern Congregationalist Holy Son of God Dispensationalist Triune Convention."
That was mine! the questioner thought with even greater excitement.
"Pre-millennial, post-tribulation, non-charismatic, King James, one-cup communion."
The first mans eyes misted. He had only one other question.
"Is your pulpit wooden or fiberglass?"
"Fiberglass," he responded.
The questioner snatched away his hand and stiffened his neck. "Heretic!" he shouted, turned his back, and
walked away. (Max Lucado, A GENTLE THUNDER, p. 139, 140, quoted in eSermons.com Illustrations for Easter 7C, at christianglobe.com)
Our pulpit question remains the matter of bishops. In the recent Concordat with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America,
Toward Full Communion, there were strong Lutheran objections to the historic episcopate as it was understood by Episcopalians.
Despite the signing of the Concordat, the debate is still going on within the ELCA, particularly by many Midwestern Lutherans
who continue to object.
I once asked the Episcopal priest who had gotten himself appointed as the ecumenical officer of the diocese why he was
so enthusiastic about the concordat with the Lutherans. His answer made no sense tome theologically, liturgically, or much
of any other way. He answered that he was excited about being part of a communion that would have eight million members.
He has since retired and the Midwestern Lutheran objections may save us from ourselves.
The danger of such radical steps toward church unity is that we all might lose something precious, something that if lost
will diminish our faith and practice. Certainly the Presbyterians and Anglo-Catholics felt it, as do the Midwestern Lutherans
and a number of Episcopalians, among whom I number myself. There are other ways of thinking about church unity.
When the composer Saliere, once Kappell - Meister to the Habsburg Emperor and a contemporary of Mozart, was an old man,
he described for a priest his reaction years earlier upon examining the score for an oboe concerto by Mozart. It made no
sense to him at first. He couldn't see how the music fit together.
Then he saw the oboe part "way up above," with a clarinet part taking over. He was awed by its brilliance.
All the parts constituted a stunning whole that deeply impacted Saliere before it was ever even played. So goes a scene
from the movie "Amadeus."
God has so arranged individuals in the body of Christ so that they constitute a oneness that impacts the world. This
oneness is possible because God enables each of us to know him. God enables us to know him in a relationship unique to each
one of us so that we can be united in a manner that testifies to the world regarding Christ in our diverse faith and practices.
(Adapted from Scott Grant, Sermon: Unity That Testifies, eSermons.com Illustrations for Easter 7C, at christianglobenetwork.com)
For us this lies not so much in worshiping together as it does in carrying out Gods work together. It is like a Mozart
symphony or concerto the orchestrated work we do is more than the sum of the players in the enterprise. And the work we
do is the work that the God who loves us has given us to do it is true ecumenism in action.
We work very closely with the African American leadership in the two counties in the distribution of alms, for example.
Three institutions, Section 8 Housing of the two counties Departments of Social Services, Shiloh Community Ministries and
the Interfaith Service Council, are the instrumentalities most involved and most effective. All are racially and ethnically
blind, concerned about poor white people, poor African-Americans, and now in increasing numbers, poor Latinos.
When the vestry and ECW make their outreach distributions, help is given to Interfaith, the Cancer Center, the Free Health
Clinic, the Bay Agency on Aging, the Haven for abused spouses and children, and other organizations and institutions as well
as scholarship help. We support home delivered meals, Habitat for Humanity, orphanages, and other institutions and organizations
too numerous to mention, in addition to college and camp scholarships.
Not to mention the number of hours too large to count given freely by our volunteers from board memberships to wheel chair
This is the oneness of which Christ spoke: unity of effort in caring for Gods people and advancing Gods Kingdom on earth
as best we can. That is the work we have been given to do in our time and place.