Today is an important day. As we gather across language and culture for worship. We celebrate not what makes us different, but what makes us one.
It is easy to see what makes us different from one another. Sometimes it is the color of our skin. Sometimes it is the language we speak. Sometimes it is the clothes we wear or the cultural customs that we practice. Sometimes what makes us different is the address where we live or the community we call home. Too many people in the world are so defined by what separates them from others that they miss God’s call to be one – together – family with and for one another.
Earlier you heard this morning’s focal passage read in Spanish. Hear it now in English and Burmese.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—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
I will never forget that moment three years ago when with joy and tears the United Myanmar Baptist Church marched out of this room to take possession of the space they now claim as their worship center. That day we began a bold journey to try to model what it means to be two congregations but one church family.
Since that day the Sudanese Christian Fellowship joined the family – remaining uniquely who they are while being one with the church family. Recently the Hispanic Bible study has begun its own public worship under the name of Nueva Vida or New Life Baptist Church. They too bring their own distinct voice to worship and are carving their own place as a part of the broader church family. Now, Paxman Boadu joins us and is working to begin the All Africa Baptist Church. Together we come from Asia, Africa, South and Central America, and these United States. While the names and number of congregations have grown, the vision has remained the same – to be multiple congregations but together to be one church family.
I realize not everyone in this room this morning was a part of the choice three years ago to be multiple congregations but one church family. It may seem like a strange idea because it would be easier to simply be in the same building but disconnected than to do the hard work of being one church family together. But it is important to know that the reason we seek to a church family together is not because we thought it sounded easy, but we chose to move this direction because we believed it was what God taught us to do in Scripture.
This vision emerges from our Scripture for this morning, and others that echo Christ’s call to unity. Together, across language and culture we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate to our community that while we are different on the surface, what makes us one together is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our choice to be unified in heart and spirit is a direct reflection of Jesus’ prayer that that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. We can be one church family because the love of Christ is in us, and through Christ can be made one; one with God and one with one another. This choice to be one is a witness to the world. Jesus teaches us to seize this unity of faith so that the world may believe.
While we sometimes struggle to talk to each other because we speak different languages, in the effort God is glorified. While we have to work at worshipping together because each congregation worships so differently, in the effort God is glorified. Every step we make toward being different congregations but one church family is a witness that we are taking Jesus call to unity seriously. Every step we take to cross boundaries and be family for and with one another is a living witness of Jesus love for the whole world to our community. This calls us to the dream of being different peoples, different congregations, but unified in heart and purpose as a witness to the world. When we do the hard work of seeking to work together across what divides us we give God the opportunity to use us to touch the world. We can accomplish much more together than we can ever do apart.
We listen as Jesus teaches; 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—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. I am glad to be able to call each of you brothers and sisters in Christ. I am glad that through faith in Christ God we are not defined by what makes us different, but by our shared heart for Him. I am glad to be a part of a church family who is trying to live out Jesus prayer for a unity of heart and spirit. I look forward to see what God will do in us and through us in the days ahead as we seek to continue to be witnesses of his love and grace in our community and to people of every language and every nation. Amen.