SERIES ON THE FAMILY:
Families of Unity
(Last in the Series)
May 12, 2013
Seventh Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day
”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. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 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.
“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. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 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.”
See if this sounds like your family or a family you know:
· Dad leaves for work before 6 am to beat the traffic. Maybe he’s home in time for supper. He brings work home from the office.
· Mom drops the kids off at school or daycare. She’s at work all day or busy cleaning, volunteering, raising the children. She feels like a taxi service – carpool, music lessons, soccer and baseball games, gymnastics, PTA. She’s lucky if she and her husband have five minutes to say hello.
· The kids are at school or daycare all day. Then there’s ball practice, Scouts, homework, playing with their friends or at a friend’s house.
The family feels like strangers living under the same roof.
It’s like the dad who came home from work early one day and said to his wife, “Who are those two big guys eating all our food and making us do all their laundry?” She told him, “Those are your sons!”
It can be hard for families nowadays to feel much unity, especially as children get older and want to go their separate ways.
That was always an issue for my family. We have always been scattered all over the country. I had aunts and uncles and cousins in Indiana. I had an aunt and uncle and cousins in Utah. I had an aunt and uncle in North Carolina. My brother and sister lived in Oregon. My parents lived in Wichita Falls. We might visit one or two relatives at a time, but there was never a family reunion where we got to see everyone all at the same time.
I’ve always been kind of envious of families where most everybody stayed fairly close to home and you got to see your parents and grandparents and siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins every day if you wanted to. I’m sure there are drawbacks to that, but I’d be willing to give it a try.
Jesus and his disciples were facing a challenge of unity – how would the disciples stay together after Jesus was gone? He was the glue that held them together.
Jesus decided that they would have a final meal together. The “Last Supper” that Jesus ate with the disciples was a “family meal.” They gathered around the table for food, prayer, and fellowship.
This kind of meal has become a lost art for a lot of modern families. Who has time to sit down and eat together, what with after-school activities, late workdays, and long commutes?
However, study after study shows the benefits of family mealtimes:
· Families eat healthier meals, with more fruits and vegetables. They learn to eat new foods.
· Kids learn table manners.
· Kids get better grades, and they tend to stay away from cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs.
· Families talk more. There’s better communication.
· There’s less stress and tension at home.
· Families save money by eating at home more and eating out less.
At the Last Supper, Jesus did several things for his disciples:
· He washed their feet.
· He announced that he was going away.
· He comforted the disciples with the promise of his Holy Spirit and his peace.
· He prepared them for tough times ahead.
· He gave them a new commandment, that they should “love one another.”
The last and maybe most important thing he did was he prayed a “family prayer.” We get to overhear this prayer in John 17. This is sometimes called Jesus’ “high-priestly” prayer or intercessory prayer. It’s also a family prayer because the disciples had really become part of Jesus’ family.
This reminds us that one of the most important things we can do is pray for our families. Parents pray for their children. Children pray for their aging parents.
We have the privilege of listening in on Jesus’ family prayer. It breaks down into three main parts. We read the third part this morning.
· In the first part (vv. 1-5), Jesus prays for himself to be glorified. He’s ready to give his life on the cross.
· In the second part (vv. 6-19), he prays for the disciples – that they be protected from the evil one; for their unity; for their joy; and that they be kept in the truth.
· In the third part (vv. 20-26), which is today’s reading, he prays for the believers to come – those who will come to be believe in Christ and be saved through the work of the disciples in the days to come. In other words, he prays for the church: that we all be one. Our unity as believers is to be a sign to the world that Jesus really was who he said he was – the Son of God.
Today we’re focusing on this third part. I hope we will hear it as a prayer for the unity of faith family that is called the church and for our own families also.
After all, how can we have unity in the church if we don’t have unity in our families? I know all the hundreds and even thousands of Christian denominations and churches that exist in the world must be a confusing sign to outsiders. They must wonder, “Why can’t these Christians get along with each other? Why can’t they be one?”
A lack of unity in our families also weakens our Christian witness. I’m not saying that Christian families should be perfect. But if Christian families don’t look any different than those who don’t follow Christ, what kind of message does that send? I think people want to know if our faith makes any difference in the way we live – by ourselves, at work, at school, and in the family.
I’d like to invite us to look at this prayer of Jesus a little differently this morning – that is, as a prayer not just for the disciples but as a prayer for us and our families. Think of Jesus praying for you and your family right now. What is Jesus praying? That we experience faith, love, peace, the things that I’ve been talking about the last three weeks. And he’s praying that we be one in our families.
Jesus is praying for our unity. Now unity is not the same as unanimity. Unanimity would be when everyone in the family agrees about everything. Is your family like that? I didn’t think so. Neither is mine. Healthy disagreement in the family is okay. It’s just that – healthy. Unity in the family doesn’t mean one person in the family forcing everyone to agree with them.
Unity is not the same as uniformity either. That would be where all the members of the family are the same. They all conform to the same mold. There’s no individuality. That wouldn’t be healthy either. God created each one of us as wonderfully unique individuals and we should glory in our individuality. The challenge is how to find unity among all those unique individuals.
Let me suggest three ways we can do this, by:
1. Pulling together.
2. Coming together.
3. Believing together.
Families find unity when they pull together for a common goal. Picture a team of horses harnessed together. Each one is different but they’re all working to get the job done.
Or look at the unity of a sports team. The successful teams are usually the ones that can submit their individual egos to the good of the team.
A family experiences unity when they can pull together for a common goal. We’ve been working on a mission statement for our church: “Our mission is to know Christ and make Christ known.”
Lots of organizations have mission statements. What if you wrote a mission statement for your family? What would it look like? For example, “The mission of the ___________ Family is to serve God, love each other, and help each other grow into all that God wants us to be.”
Sometimes the family mission statement doesn’t sound all that different from a church’s mission statement because, as Martin Luther said, the family is like a “little church.”
Has your family ever unified around a common goal? Some families make it their goal to buy a house. So they make the financial sacrifices necessary to achieve that goal. Or they save together for a special family vacation, or a pool. We experience unity when we pull together for a common goal.
We also find unity when we come together around a common need. I mentioned on my Facebook page that Thursday was the 20th anniversary of the Mother’s Day tornado in Wylie, Texas, where we were living and serving the Wylie UMC at the time.
We just thought it was a bad thunderstorm, even when the power went off as we were grilling steaks in the backyard. But we came to find out that a tornado had hit the center of town, damaged a lot of homes and businesses, and one person was killed. Our church received a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of damage – mostly roof and windows.
Wylie had been a badly divided community that spring. There had just been a contentious local election. A certain faction of long-time residents thought “newcomers” were trying to “take over the town and schools. There had been a tax-rollback vote not long before.
But all those divisions were erased as the community came together to clean up and rebuild after the storms. It was amazing.
The same thing can happen in the family. Challenges in life can either split us apart or pull us together. For example, if a family member is stricken by a serious illness, the family will often heal old wounds to help the sick one get better or deal with the illness. Or a family might come together by taking on a family mission project – volunteering together for VISTO or DASH or Second Time Around.
Finally, families find unity in believing together in a common faith. Our true unity is grounded ultimately in God. As Jesus says, people are in Christ and Christ is in God, so we are one.
Faith can be the greatest unifying force in a family or it can be a source of serious divisions. You all have seen this when people of different faiths or no faith get married. Sometimes it works, but not always.
I believe that the family is a part of God’s creation. Just like the church has many parts but they all function together in unity for the good of the whole, the family is like that. Different kinds of people make up a family, but they learn to function together as a whole (or should!).
God has created an ideal order for the church and for family: Christ is the head of the parents; parents are the head of the family. This doesn’t mean that parents rule the family like a dictator, any more than Christ rules the church like that. Christ is a servant, and so the parents are the servants of the family – always seeking what is good for the other people – husbands for wives, wives for husbands, parents for children, children for parents.
Families unify around their common faith in God and their mission of sharing God’s love with others. Remember, that as families we can “bear witness to the love of God in the world, so that those to whom love is a stranger will find in us generous friends.”
Families of unity don’t live by a “Look out for #1” mentality. They’re willing to put their individual agendas aside and pull together for common goals.
Families of unity don’t bail out when the going gets tough, but they come together to help each other through tough times.
In a time of doubt and unbelief, families of unity share a common faith and love for God and a common passion for service.
May we seek God’s help in establishing homes that abide in God’s faith, love, peace, and the unity of God’s Spirit. Amen.