John 17:6-19 (NRSV)
6 "I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Throughout my years of pastoral ministry I've run into people who were looking for a place to belong but are not interested in the church. Sometimes they told me that they used to go to church but something happened and they drifted away. Maybe it was a disagreement in the Body of Christ, a decision they disagreed with, or some unmet expectation. Sometimes they were just turned off by Christians who didn't act like Christians.
Some years ago I attended a large church seminar at Epworth by the Sea where I heard J. Howard Olds, former pastor of Brentwood United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee speak. At one point he told a story about Jim Cymbala, senior pastor of the multi-racial Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. Cymbala started the church with 10 people in 1971. Today there over 6,000 people who worship at the mega church in New York City.
For years Cymbala has said the same thing to every group of new people as they prepare to join the church, "Now I charge you that if you ever hear another member speak an unkind word of criticism or slander against anyone-stop that person in mid-sentence and say 'excuse me, who hurt you? Who slighted you? Let's go get it straightened out right now so God can restore peace and harmony to this body.'" That simple statement has created a unity of spirit at Brooklyn Tabernacle that has drawn people from across the city.
Jesus prayed that His followers would be one as Jesus and His Father were one. Jesus was praying for a unity of spirit. He prayed that God's people would be united in mission and heart. Jesus didn't want us to fall out and fight. Jesus wanted all of us in our diversity of thinking and ways of living to pull together. He wanted to stop fear and doubt from separating us. I pray that we can live up to the challenge of Jesus' prayer. That the world might know we are followers of Jesus by our love. So we pray, "Make us one. By your Holy Spirit Lord, make us one." Think about it.