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an excerpt from chapter one

In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. I’m consecrating myself for their sakes so they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission. I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are— I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them in the same way you’ve loved me.
John 17:18–23, the Message

Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane in this text. I went there in January 2011 with my dad and brother and a group of about 45 folks connected with the New Orleans Seminary. One of my three favorite highlights of the trip was the brief time we spent on the Mount of Olives where that garden is in which Jesus prayed this prayer.

In Jesus’ prayer here, He declared that He was giving a mission to His followers just as He was given a mission. The Sent One now sends us.

As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.
John 20:21b, NLT

Exactly what is this mission? Based upon Jesus’ commands to His followers, the mission certainly involves loving God and loving one another and loving our neighbor. It is all in an effort to cultivate the gospel that a loving God came near to us and all in hopes that the world would experience “on earth as it is in heaven” together. God has chosen for some crazy reason to trust us, a people with a tendency to divide, instead to live united so that the demonstration of this diverse people unified around a loving God’s mission will serve as a living letter of God’s love and intention for the humanity He loved and for which Jesus was willing to die. Our mission is to love like He loves so that a people who don’t believe they are loved might trust that they are loved and begin to give His love away too.

Short and sweet, as we unite to live sent, people will believe in the One who was sent.

Could it be that simple? Well, hold that thought.

In Jesus’ prayer, He next declared that He was being set apart (consecrated) so that His followers could be set apart to be involved in this mission or movement of God. How did He consecrate us? Through His life and death and life again. What this is implying is that anything less than this ideal for which He prayed is less than what He intended through these consecration efforts. So think about it. Do you want to look in His eyes one day and explain that we know He hoped for more but trying to deal with all the disunity and infighting of our one local church was all we could handle. We just couldn’t get around to cultivating for “on earth as it is in heaven” in our entire city. Surely He was too optimistic in His consecration efforts.

Let’s get blunt for a moment. Do you sincerely think that Jesus hung on a cross with the dream of a redeemed church in His mind that involved isolated, consumer-driven, nonprofit organizations that strategized for more events, hoped for more attendees, budgeted for more facilities, and ignored both the saved and the lost of their city because they had enough problems of their own? Me neither. He clearly hoped for more than that. Are you hoping for more? Do you have the faith and courage to cultivate for it even if it’s hard and looked down upon and not received well? I hope so, because that sounds more like what our Savior went through to declare His love. Why wouldn’t we go through at least some of that in our efforts to live out His love in our city?

Next, Jesus implied that this mission would result in new followers. He prayed for those who would believe in Him because of the witness of His first followers. Thus, our commitment to being an answer to His prayer would result in new followers and thus new expressions of His church (since His church is simply people following Jesus together).

Then Jesus declared the goal for His followers. He prayed for them “to become one heart and mind” as Jesus had lived in one heart and mind with the Father. In other words, we are to become unified with the Father with regard to the way that He sees the world and people and our life purpose, and then become unified with one another around this mission of declaring the desire of our loving God to be in intimate relationship or oneness with others.

We are to be one heart and mind with the Father as well as with each other if we are going to live as an answer to His prayer in the garden.

John went on to unpack this in First John when he declared throughout that letter that a shared life with God is evidenced by a shared life with others. Our oneness with God is seen in this world by our oneness with each other. And John specified that this is most evidenced by the way we lay our lives down for others (1 John 3:16) and walk in openness and intimacy with one another. Sounds like heaven.

Speaking of heaven, Jesus next prayed words that should grip us to the core. “The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are—I in them and you in me.” Reread that, please. Do you think He was serious?

When the Scriptures refer to the glory of God, the implications are always about the revealed presence of God among us—God made known to us—usually only in as much of a manifestation as the people could handle at one time. God revealing His presence to us is something both to be feared as well as to be desired. It’s like how some (very strange people in my opinion) want to jump out of a plane. No one approaches that without the fear of what could happen. And yet everyone I have ever spoken to about it declared that it was the most thrilling experience, and they’d do it again.

When Jesus prayed that He was giving the same glory to His followers that was given to Him, He was declaring that in the same way that who God really is was revealed in Him so shall who He really is will be revealed in His followers.

But here’s the kicker. Jesus then specifies what that revealed presence would look like AND what the ultimate impact would be. Let’s read John 17:23 from The Message again:

Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them in the same way you’ve loved me.

That revealed presence will be demonstrated in the unity of those who call themselves followers of Jesus. And that ultimate impact would thus be the work of God happening in the world. And the implication is then that the work of God will not come alive among you without unity.

Wait a second! You might interrupt here and ask, “Where did He talk about the ‘work of God happening’ in this?” Well, before I answer your question, let me pose one.

Does the primary description given for your local church expression and for the local church expressions together in the city have anything to do with oneness or unity? If the answer is no, then may I be so bold as to say that the glory of God is not present among you (His revealed presence).

That should bother you. That should disturb you. That should wreck you. Because if His glory is not present, then whose is? If He is not being revealed, then what is?

So back to your presumed question about the work of God. Jesus prayed that we would be mature in unity and that when we were, “then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me” (italics mine). The unity of the followers of Jesus is the validation of His being sent by God. And people believing that God sent Him is the work of God, according to the teaching of Jesus recorded in John 6:29 NASB:

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

So, whether we like it or not, the conclusion is that the work of God comes alive among us through our Holy Spirit-enabled unity and not a second before that. His power to unite a selfish, divisive, my agenda- seeking people around a selfless, reconciling, restorative, His kingdom- seeking mission validates to the world the actual divinity and authenticity of the Messiah Jesus.

Now I say “whether we like it or not” because this conclusion should interrupt our “MY church” ventures and scare us to the core that we may have been pursuing our own glory rather than His revealed presence and our own accomplishments rather than His work among us. And if you don’t think our unity would validate to the world the authenticity of the Messiah Jesus, then let me ask you this question.

Why then do so many people, from a neighbor on our street to world changers like Gandhi, make statements about their struggle to believe in Jesus because of the actions of His so-called followers?

When I was in Jerusalem, I became friends with Moshe. He is a Jewish learner and teacher who also owns a Jewish art and jewelry shop called A Biblical Shop (www.shorashim.com). If you go there, please tell Moshe I sent you. He told me that he and probably many Jews might consider Jesus to be Messiah if, among other things, His followers lived as one with the Father as Jesus did. We must take his comments and Jesus’ prayer seriously.

{the bottom line}
Here’s the problem. Not only does a MY church mentality exist among those who are trying to start new expressions of the church, but it also exists all too often among existing local church families. Why?

Is it competition? Pride? Insecurity? Or maybe just that it’s all we have known and we supposedly don’t know a better or even another way? Whatever is the reason, we must repent of it, beg God for mercy and seek the Spirit’s enabling for us as His followers to become the answer to His prayer.

Many expressions of His church are a good thing. Certainly, there are many types of people and many cultures represented in our very diverse humanity. But I would suggest (and I believe Jesus’ prayer in the Garden proves it) that Jesus wants His followers involved in those many varied expressions of His church to follow Him with a unity of purpose and mission together. The diversity of humanity becomes beautifully unified when the gospel grips the hearts of people and reconciliation and restoration result.

No more of this MY church stuff. It’s not my church. It’s not your church. She (the bride) of Christ is His church. If I am using His bride to bring glory to anyone else besides the Groom, then I am most to be pitied.

May we repent and surrender our golden images that we call MY church and MY church vision and MY church building and MY church traditions and MY church programs and MY church growth and beg God for His revealed presence among us through our Spirit-enabled unity. May we unify around His mission in hopes of seeing “on earth as it is in heaven” in our city. May we drop the MY church mentality.

It is not what Jesus intended.

 

CONSIDER and CONVERSE:
1. Do you think that the ideal of a unified church as a whole in a city is even possible in American church culture? Why or why not?

2. Based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17, do you think that unity is what Jesus intended for His followers? What in His prayer supports this belief?

3. Do you agree with this author’s conclusion that the work of God will not happen among us in our city without the unity of the followers of Jesus in our city? Why or why not?

4. Do you agree with this author’s assertion that the unity of followers of Jesus validates Him being sent as Messiah? Why or why not?

5. What might you and the local church family of which you are a part need to repent of with regard to hindrances to unity?

6. What is the local church family of which you are a part known for in the community? What has been revealed among you? Pray for God’s revealed presence among you.

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