Grace Creates Unity
It’s that time of year again. The time when we hear that question—“What do you want for Christmas?” Some of you have been making your list for months. Others of you have already bought your Christmas gift. You splurged in October and said, “Well, this will just count for Christmas…and my birthday.” And some of you don’t want anything for Christmas.
Like Isaac. When I asked our 7th and 8th graders the Christmas question, Isaac was the first to answer—“I don’t want anything for Christmas.” “Nothing?” I wondered. “No,” he answered nobly. Most of the others in the room agreed. So I said, “That’s cool. I’ll tell your parents you don’t want anything for Christmas.” Isaac’s head jerked up. His hand shot into the air. “Oh, no! I changed my mind!” His classmates suddenly all did, too.
Like Isaac, I know this about you—You want stuff for Christmas. Maybe not cars and clothes, but something. Like wisdom. You don’t want to be “that guy”, the fool whom no one respects. You don’t want to repeat the sins of your family and waste your life. And you want companionship. You don’t want to go through life alone. You want good friends. You want a close family. And you want beauty. You don’t want seven dreary decades. You want leaves that change colors, fishing trips on quiet lakes, the laughter that makes your face hurt. You might as well put your hand up because you have a list, too.
That’s why over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at what God is and what he has. What gifts can he give? Is he willing to give them to us? We’ll look at wisdom and beauty and companionship. And today, we want to talk about the gift of community, about our families, our neighborhoods, our church, and our jobs.
Here are two things I know about you: You want community. And you probably don’t have it. I know you want community. Know why? Facebook! There are over 800 million users on Facebook. That’s 1 in 8 humans! 50% of Facebook users check their accounts every single day. Why? Because they want…community. They, we, want to share our kids’ progress on potty training or our what annoys us about election years or how nice it feels to just sit down or the lasagna recipe we attempted for dinner. And they, we, spend hours of our precious week scrolling through the stories of their kids’ potty training and what annoys them about elections and how good they feel sitting down and how their lasagna turned out. We want community. It’s why the average teenager sends over 3,000 texts each month. It’s why women have this odd phobia of going to a public bathroom alone. It’s why guys never buy one ticket to a game, but always invite a friend. We all want community.
But the other thing I know about you: You don’t have community in every area of your life. Somewhere in your life there is tension, division, and friction. For some of you, it’s your family. You couldn’t wait for the pumpkin pie to be served because then you could leave. Because you really don’t like your step-dad. And your cousin has been cold since you argued. And your brother doesn’t even bother to come anymore. For others of you, it’s your work. You’d rather not see some of your coworkers for a few weeks. You would secretly smile if she got transferred. You use the kids as an excuse to ditch the company Christmas party. For others, it’s the folks on the other side of the property line. The dog does his business in your yard. She complains about every little thing. And for some of you, it’s our church! She’s always outspoken. He said that back in ’06 and never apologized. They think they’re always right.
All of us deal with disunity. But the problem is that it won’t just go away. They’re probably not moving before Christmas. He’s not looking for a new church. Aliens won’t abduct her before the next staff meeting. So, unless we address this lack of community, we’re going to have to live with the stress and the tension and the friction and the division for the rest of our lives.
Do you know why that happens? Do you know why there is so much disunity in our lives and it doesn’t go away? The answer might offend you. We have so much disunity because we don’t understand Christianity. I’m not saying we’re not Christians. I am saying that we have failed to apply the basic Christian message to our lives. Because if we did, we’d have greater unity.
Jesus cares so passionately about that, he prayed about it. In fact, he prayed for you as he prayed about it. It was Thursday night, just a few hours before he would die on a cross and Jesus had your community on his mind. Listen to Jesus’ prayer about what he asked his heavenly Father, the Giver, to give to you: 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you 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 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Jesus didn’t just pray for the believers in the room that night. He prayed for all who would later believe in him. That’s you, if you’re a Christian! And he prayed for our unity. Not just that we’d put up with each other and bear with each other at holidays, but that we would be brought to “complete unity”. United in our faith and in our love for each other as close as Jesus was united to his Father.
That is a stunning thing to pray! How close is Jesus to the Father and to the Holy Spirit? So close we invented a special name—Trinity. Trinity is the fancy theological name we give to explain who God is. It means “3-in-1”. It’s a biblical truth our minds can’t quite grasp. The Father is God. Jesus, the Son, is God. The Holy Spirit is God. And yet there are not three gods, but just one God. They share one essence, one being. How can separate people be the same being? I’m not sure, but that’s who God says he is. Our human minds can only say, “They’re really close.” God is a community.
That’s what Jesus prayed about you. “Father, let our people be as united as we are.” On the night he was betrayed, that’s the gift Jesus asked his Father to give to us. He wanted us to be like the Giver himself—united in one.
Now that sounds nice…until you think about it. Because what Jesus prayed for was that you be united in love to every single person you know. Your critical boss. Your slacker brother. Your rebellious son. Your overbearing mother. Your loud-mouthed fellow member. Your opinionated neighbor. The former friend who bailed on you. The coworker who gossiped about you. When you put those faces on Jesus’ prayer, the whole idea seems crazy. Because people are messed up! They’re selfish. They’re insensitive. They’re ignorant. They’re irresponsible. They’re sinful.
So in our minds, there really is only one solution to our disunity problem—They should change. She needs to apologize for what she said. They need to stop being so critical, so loud, so overbearing. He needs to see my point of view and change his opinion. Because once they do that, we can have some real community.
Do you know the problem with that way of thinking? The problem is that they think just like us! Because I’m thinking, “Once she finally realizes I’m right, things will get better.” And she’s thinking, “Once Mike finally realizes I’m right, things will get better.” You’re thinking, “Once he stops asking so crazy” and he’s thinking, “Once she stops being such a prude.” We’re thinking, “Once they apologize” and they’re thinking, “Once they apologize.” Both sides think they’re right. Both sides cross their arms and wait for the other to take the first step. And unity never happens. Which is sad out there in the world…and tragic in here in the church.
That’s why Jesus prayed. That’s why he devoted those precious last minutes to this idea. And that’s why we have to pay attention to one little line from Jesus’ prayer. Look at v.20. “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one.”
I said before our unity (or lack of it) is based on our understanding of the Christian message. What is that message? What is it that makes Christianity so unique? It’s the message called grace. Love that isn’t earned, but freely given.
Grace is amazing. Amazing because sin separates us from others. Our sins drive us from one another and God. Nag your husband and see what it does to your relationship. Berate your kids and see how close they feel to you. Gossip about him and watch how he’ll avoid you. And it’s worse with God. Sin is like running away from home, telling God things are better out in the world where we can worry and hook up and think and say whatever we want. At its very root, sin is a desire to divorce ourselves from God and do our own thing. The Scripture says, “Your sins have separated you from your God.”
But the message of the Bible is that Jesus Christ gave up everything to bring us back into community with God. We didn’t deserve it, but he didn’t care. Instead, he humbled himself and came to our earth. He came running after you when you had run away from God. He prayed that night for unity and then he died the next day to unite us to God. Sin separates us from God, but Jesus gave his life to separate our sin from us. To turn us from enemies into friends, from slaves into sons and daughters, from those God hated to those God adores. In v.23, Jesus says, “I have loved them even as you have loved me.” Jesus loves you as much as the Father loves him. How much is that?!? For all eternity the Father has loved the Son. That love has been pure, perfect, constant. And that’s the love that God has for you and for me, even though we don’t deserve it. When you deserved it the least, God loved you the most. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s grace. Believing in grace unites us to God.
Applying grace unites us to one another. When you live this message of grace, you will instantly create community. Can you see why? Because grace loves people who don’t deserve it. Grace takes the first step. Grace extends a hand before he does.
Do you remember Joseph? Near the beginning of the Bible, we meet a man who was separated from his family in so many ways. Joseph’s brothers, filled with jealousy and envy, sold him to be a slave in Egypt. There Joseph was falsely accused of rape, thrown into a dungeon, and left there to rot. Hundreds of miles separated Joseph from his family. A sin even greater, betrayal, separated their hearts from his. But God was good to Joseph. He blessed him. He rescued him from the dungeon. He released him from slavery. He raised him up to power. And one day, decades after they had sold out their own flesh and blood, Joseph’s brothers stood before him. The tables were turned. Joseph had the power and the authority to take revenge. But listen to what he chose to do. “His brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph…Don’t be afraid…I will provide for you and your children.’” And he did. They lived together, united in community, because Joseph loved people who didn’t deserve it. He applied grace.
How can we? How can we answer Jesus’ prayer and become one through this message of undeserved love? How can we extend the kind of love God first extended to us? Maybe it really is your brother’s fault that you haven’t seen each other in over a year. Maybe he is being stubborn. But doesn’t grace have something to say about that? Doesn’t it compel us to take the first step and reach out? Maybe your coworker is to blame for the tension in your office. Maybe she is a gossip. But doesn’t grace have something to say about that? Doesn’t it move us to pursue peace instead of wait for it to pursue us? Maybe your marriage has devolved into sharing the mortgage payment, but not your heart. And maybe it is your spouse’s fault. But doesn’t grace have something to say about that? Doesn’t it urge us to love as Jesus first loved us so we can stop the crazy cycle of sinning against one another? Doesn’t grace long to reach out to rebellious sons and exhausting neighbors and cranky uncles and say, “I choose to love you”?
Let me leave you with two questions today: #1—From whom do you need to seek grace this week? What person needs to hear from you, “I’m sorry. No matter what you said or how I felt, I had no right to say that about you. I sinned against you. Things have been distant and awkward and tense and I’m part of the reason for that. But I don’t want to spend the rest of our years in this office, in this church, in this family like this. Please forgive me.”? You may not deserve it and that’s okay. Ask them to show you grace. #2—To whom do you need to extend grace this week? What person needs to hear from you, “I forgive you. What you did to me was wrong. You took my joy, my confidence, my peace of mind, my childhood. And, honestly, you can’t make it up. So I’m choosing to do for you what Jesus did for me—to just forgive you.”?
When you ask those questions and act on the answers, you will stumble upon the gift Jesus asked the Giver to give you: Unity. “How good it is and how pleasant to live in unity and peace.” Amen.