The Tough Work of Unity and Grace

By Sharron R. Blezard, May 5, 2016

Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C

May 8, 2016

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. Revelation 22:17

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. 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. John 17:20-21

It sounds so simple in this week’s lectionary lesson snippets: Everyone! Come, you’re invited. Drink that water of life and slake your thirst for that which really matters. Jesus is first, last, and everything in between. Jesus even prays on behalf of everybody that we’ll be one with God “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” Then in Acts, jailers and prisoners end up with a mutually happy ending.

There should be room at the fountain and water enough for everyone, right? This kind of unity and reconciliation should be possible in a world where Christians are known by their love and acts of charity, mercy, and solidarity. Why can’t we all just get along, neighbor loving neighbor, enemies kissing, “clean” and “unclean” lines blurred in holy recognition of common humanity?

Communion Still LifeOh, but wait. Jesus never did promise us a rose garden, or an easy stroll in the park, or even absence of pain. Jesus promised love, accompaniment, and real life that matters: forever, not just for a season in this life. The work of unity and grace is tough, sometimes dirty, often heartbreaking, and rarely predictable. The constant is God’s love in Jesus Christ poured out for us on the night he was handed over and always at his table of broken bits of bread and small sips of wine, in body and blood and water and recognition in one another of his real presence among us.

We are stewards of this costly and tough work of God’s people, stewards of the mystery of the divine mathematics of abundance and acceptance and hope. In a world that seeks to pit us against one another along any number of lies and lines—from right to left, rich to poor, privileged to disenfranchised, black or white, old or young—Jesus gives us a new story to live, to tell, and to share. Instead of seeing the “other” as different or less than or terrifying, Jesus prays that God’s love and presence will be in us, and that this presence will help us to weave a common thread as beloved children of the Creator.

How would we react today if we were in the shoes of Paul and Silas? After having been brutally beaten and falsely accused, their only wrongdoing in freeing the possessed slave girl and depriving her masters of using her for gain, the two men are thrown into jail and fastened in stocks. A violent earthquake sets them free, yet they do not run. In doing so the grateful jailer’s heart is opened to the message of God, he and his entire household are baptized, and he offers hospitality by caring for the men’s wounds and feeding them.

The question before us today is whether we can put aside the animus and fear that both bind us and tear us apart. There is no better time than now to turn our hearts toward our home in God, to drink those living waters of life, and to live the gift of grace in the beloved community that is formed in many unlikely yet beautiful ways. My, how this world needs us to live in God’s mighty and freely given love.

Then, as John of Patmos saw in his vision, we too, can shout “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. That’s right ALL the saints. Amen.

In Worship

Why not create your own “visible” prayer for unity this week? Cut cloth streamers about one inch wide and invite worshipers to take one before service. Have them write a simple prayer for unity on it using Sharpie markers or watercolor pens. How do they envision us all being “one in Christ”? Then, during a time of reflection and simple song invite people to weave their prayers together. For hymns you might choose “You are Mine” or “We are Called.” You can make a simple wooden frame strung with vertical lengths of yarn so that the prayers may be woven horizontally. Display the prayer weaving in a prominent place and leave extra strips to be added later.

With Youth

In Spike Lee’s classic film Do the Right Thing, Radio Raheem explains love and hate like this:

Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cain iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that’s right. Ooh, it’s a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he’s down. Left-Hand Hate KOed by Love.”

Before the film is over the neighborhood erupts in racially sparked violence, Radio Raheem is killed, and Sal’s pizzeria is burned. The film premiered in 1989, yet is still timely today. Consider showing clips from the film (Note: It is rated R), talk about current events incited by hatred, privilege, racism, and fear. How might we work for the unity Jesus prays for? What is the right thing, and how can we do it as people of faith? How did Paul and Silas do the right thing in the reading from Acts? Was it easy or tough? What were the results? Were the results worth the pain and suffering of doing the right thing?

With Children

Jesus Prays for Us

In today’s gospel lesson Jesus prays for his disciples, but also for us—for all people who come to believe. He prays that we will be one and that we will have God’s great love in us. Give each child a two foot long piece of red yarn. Have some extras on hand. Take one of the extra pieces of yarn and encourage two of the older children to pull on each end. Chances are, if they pull hard enough, the yarn will fray and break. Now invite the children to weave their yarn together in strands of three. If you have multiple strands of the woven yarn, take those and weave them together. Show the children how much stronger and more durable the yarn woven together is. It’s also easier to see than just one thin strand. This is why Jesus wants us to be unified, or one, in him. Together we are stronger. Together people can see our love when we work for a better world.

With older children and more time, you might make friendship bracelets and invite the children to wear them as a reminder of their church community and how we are stronger together. Always finish with a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer for the children’s wellbeing and growth, and a prayer for the world to know God’s love and unity.

Photos: kiler129, Creative Commons, Wellford Tiller, Fotolia, and Mark Parker, Creative Commons. Thanks!

About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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