Happy Mothers Day!
Today's message is "UNITY"'.
Hope it is helpful to you.
Have a blessed day and week 
Bible Reading - John 17:20-26, Acts 16:25-34

Do you know what distinguishes what we are supposed to believe as Lutherans, from what other Christian denominations profess?
Even if we don’t really know what those distinctions are, do we allow our desire for self-identity to separate us from other believers?
Maybe one of the reasons faith in God and belief in Christ has taken a back seat in our society is not the fault of the courts or the media.
Maybe the many and varied believers themselves are more the reason why such things are seldom ever mentioned.

From John’s Gospel this morning, we heard a prayer of Jesus.
He is praying for his followers whom he will be leaving on their own to continue his work after he ascends to heaven.
What he asks for is something that seems as elusive today as anything Christians might hope for.
What Jesus longs for in this prayer can be simply called…unity.
He asks the Father for his followers,… that “they may all be one”.
One verse later, he again prays;.. “that they may be one”.
And in that same sentence, he reiterates saying “that they may be completely one”.

What does Jesus actually mean that he wants them to “be one”?
Christians have argued over and un-determined that idea for 2000 years.
They disagreed about that in the very beginning when the practices of Baptism varied among the early believers.
As the church became more of an institution, they argued over doctrine and tried to settle it in a council in the city of Nicea.
The results of that are outlined in what we call ‘The Nicene Creed’.
But later, the church of western Europe in Rome changed some of those words and the church in eastern Europe got mad over it.
They then had a schism and split, and the Eastern Orthodox left.
Disagreement over beliefs and practices continued during the Protestant Reformation and the church of the west split once again.

Today, there are more denominations of Christian churches than there are brands of cereal in the grocery store.
We all worship differently,….we have unique beliefs that we hold to be our own,…and we even promote different ideas of salvation.
If the same Jesus who prayed for unity stood before all the church leaders of the world today, I think we’d hear him say….
all of you got some of it right,…but none of you got all of it right’.

I suppose the doctrinal core beliefs of each church are a good undergirding for the message we bring from the word of God.
But in a world that’s corrupt and dis-functional as so many struggle through life,… Jesus probably cares little about our differences.
He describes in his prayer we read today, what it is that he wants.
Jesus asks that his followers be one ‘so that the world will know that the Father has sent me to love them.

Then he says as the Father “has loved me, so (may) the same love also be in them
Jesus wants his followers to know that;… as the Father loves him;…so does he love his people;…with hopes they may love too!

It’s too bad that Christian people can’t…..or won’t….focus more on their unity in this idea of Christ-like love.
Granted,…there have been notable efforts of more unity in recent years, which were not even thought of long ago.
Still, it seems that churches aren’t generally “one” in much of anything.
However,….there are times when people tend to put differences aside and work in Christ-like love together.
Those times when the differences matter less are when people are in trouble,…or struggling or suffering.
When I volunteered at a food bank some years ago,…people from different churches cheerfully worked together to help folks be fed.
On Habitat for Humanity mission trips,… I saw people from various denominations cooperatively hammering and sparkling together. 
I saw a good war movie a few months ago, called ‘Fury’ in which a bible-toting evangelical and mainline Episcopalian found comfort in their mutual faith as they served on the battlefield.
Christian love,….as it was practiced and taught by Jesus,… puts aside differences of specific practices or beliefs.

We heard another great story today from Acts in which Paul and Silas,… in jail together,…acted in unity to do Christian love.
They had an opportunity to escape their persecutor’s prison and leave a poor jailer behind to suffer the ramifications of bungling his job.
But, instead, they stayed with him,…reassured him with words of Jesus Christ,…and then went with him to his home and family.
There, they were fed and cared for as he tended to their wounds.
At the time,…. Peter and Paul most certainly had some different ideas about how they understood Jesus and practiced their faith.
And yet, they forgot about these when they were suffering in jail together and when the earthquake came. 
What they did remember,…was how he wanted them to act in unity as believers, to show love towards one another and those around them.

Maybe the biggest obstacle to the kind of world that God wants to see is the human proclivity to draw distinctions between ourselves.
To organize ourselves into tribes that we belong to.
We are Americans,…and they are not.
We are white and they are people of color.
We are of a certain education socio-economic level and they are not.
We are Lutherans and they are Catholics, Baptists,..whatever.
Distinctions tend to help us define ourselves and make sense of how and where we fit into a very complex world.

Same holds true in religious affiliation.
Methodists and Mormons do that, Presbyterians and Pentecostals,….Lutherans ELCA and Lutherans Missouri Synod, do that.
And while those differences make us feel good about who we are,… it often leaves behind the chance to be and do what God desires.
During the civil rights movement, discrimination was confronted when people of different races and religions came together for that cause.
After Sept. 11th, the nation began to heal when people of different parts of the country and faiths wept and prayed together and for each other.
After a mine collapsed in 2010 in Chili, 33 men of varied backgrounds and job titles, struggled and survived by working together.

We can always do more Christ-like love together than we can alone.
Unity with other churches,….unity with each other,….and unity with the people we encounter out there.
Good Shepherd does much of this when we, together with other churches,…support the Community Outreach Program, or COG.
With other churches we lend a hand at the Bayshore Lunch program.
With other churches we participate in the local Crop Walk each year.
But we can in our individual lives do things that reflect the love of God that we have received through Jesus Christ.
We can be in unity with other people only if we ignore our differences and focus on that aspect of unity that Jesus prayed for.
That aspect was that he loves us all,…in hopes that we will show love to others.

So whenever we see others who share the same kind of love that Jesus gives to us,….it is good for us to unite with them.
When we see someone who, like Jesus, sees people as people without ranking them as the world does,…be at one with them.
When we see someone who, like Jesus, hates the sin but loves the sinner and offers forgiveness,…..be at one with them.
When we see someone who, like Jesus, puts themselves out in sacrificial love for others,….be at one with them.
Be in unity with them, whether they are Lutherans or not.
Unite with and work with them,….be they Catholics or Eastern Orthodox,…..be they Seventh Day Adventists or Evangelical Christians.
in fact,…if they practice the kind of love that Jesus did,…maybe we can be bold enough in our faith,….
to unite with them if they attend a synagogue, a mosque, or even if they worship no place at all! 

Amen.