Devotional Message: The Seventh Sunday of Easter; Year C (6/2/2019)

Revised Common Lectionary Texts

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
St. John 17:20-26

Prayer of the Day

O God, form the minds of your faithful people into your one will. Make us love what you command and desire what you promise, that, amid all the changes of this world, our hearts may be fixed where true joy is found, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

17:20 [Jesus said,] “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I 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. 24 Father, 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. 26 I 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.”

St. John 17:20-26, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

In God’s House

A speaker once described two different paradigms for what it means to be church. His claim was that some churches seem most like a family home and other churches seem most like God’s home.  The difference is: in a family home, those who are already present serve as hosts. They are comfortable in a familiar setting. They know what to do. They know who is in charge. They know where everything is. But the newcomer knows nothing. They need to find out how to get around. Where is the nursery? Where are the rest rooms? How do the worship folders work? Can I do this? Can I say that? In the best of these examples the hosts are gracious and newcomers do indeed feel welcomed. In the worst examples newcomers feel awkward and out of place, and nobody helps them to feel any differently. 

On the other hand, in God’s home the gathered are a company of strangers depending on God’s hospitality. All are on equal footing: those who have been around a while and those who are new. There are “rituals of hospitality” that benefit every participant. Liberal use is made of name tags. Leaders are clearly identified. Worship materials are easy to follow. Everyone looks out for each other’s physical and emotional needs. The viewpoint of a newcomer is valued as highly as the viewpoint of a charter member. In the congregation as God’s home, newcomers feel welcome and fully part of the community for one simple reason: because they are.

The speaker clearly was familiar with this week’s Gospel lesson. In John 17 we read what many consider to be the real Lord’s Prayer. Not the prayer Jesus teaches us to pray, but the prayer he prays on our behalf. In this prayer, he expresses his desire that the same unity found within God, between the Father and the Son, will be found within the church. A unity of purpose: being the source of new life for the world. A unity of love: reaching across boundaries to care for one another. A unity of grace: remembering that we are all sinners, and stand in need of God’s forgiveness and renewal. When a community of faith is grounded in these ideals, there is bound to be a powerful expression of unity, and newcomers are bound to feel fully welcomed.

So we look at how we gather, asking whether our attitudes and traditions and customs adequately display the unity that Christ works among us. We do so in order that newcomers might quickly experience this to be a community where they are welcomed and honored. Not so that our church will get bigger. Not so that others will be impressed. Not so that we can be proud of what we’ve accomplished. But so those who come into contact with us might experience the grace of God and be moved to faith in Jesus Christ; a faith that can truly make a difference in their lives.

As the Father and the Son are one, so Christ prays that all who believe in him might be one. He creates this unity as he joins us to one another in the meal, and as we find our common identity in God’s forgiveness. May the manner in which we worship and learn and serve together be a true expression of this unity. And may others come to see that God is present in our midst. 

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Why did Jesus pray for unity among those who would become his followers?

  2. What does he lift up as the central purpose of his followers?

  3. How do you suppose the first century disciples responded to this word?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. What does my congregation do best, in welcoming newcomers?

  2. Where does my congregation need to grow in its ability to welcome newcomers?

  3. How might I be more intentional about welcoming those who are new?