John 17: 20- Out of Many, One – May 24, 2020

Here is this week’s sermon:



And the words:

Out of Many, One

John 17: 20 – 26


(preached on May 24, 2020)


Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  Even though the calendar still says spring, to many of us Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer.  As a national holiday, it’s also an occasion to reflect on our country, with all of its glories, and the challenges we face.


Memorial Day began as an effort to unify the country.  The first Memorial Day was instituted after the Civil War.  It was an effort to help both sides, North and South, come together to honor soldiers killed during the war.  It was a step toward national unity.  Today, in the midst of a pandemic: a crisis that has devastated many lives and livelihoods, it can also be a time for unity, to come together, to confront this crisis.


In our gospel passage from John, unity is on Jesus’ mind.  He fervently prays that his disciples might become one.  In a short time, the disciples would move out to spread the gospel all over the world.  Jesus knew that many forces would try to drive them apart.  The harsh hand of Rome was always ready to stamp out any threat to imperial power.  Rome would try to create divisions among them, to weaken them.  Also, as they spread the gospel, the disciples might be divided by the challenges of working together.  Even when things are good, any group of human beings can disagree and be divided.  Working together is hard at times.  So Jesus prays that all may be one.  He prays for unity.


A vision of unity, unity as a people, guided the founders of our country.  In the early days of the republic, they chose the motto: “E Pluribus Unum.”

If your Latin is a little rusty, “E Pluribus Unum” means “out of many, one.”  The founders wanted to signify the unity of thirteen colonies, many people, as one nation.  The United States of America is united by the ideal of many different people coming together as one.  Consider if you will how rare that is.  It’s rare in our world, for people to be unified by an ideal.


Countries are unified by various things. Some countries are held together by a dictator with an iron hand.  Other countries are unified by loyalty to a land or a language or a tribe.  But we Americans come together around an ideal.

It’s not easy, when you think about it.  People united by an ideal: the ideal of many different people, coming together as one.  We give our loyalty, not to a tribe, but to that ideal.  We give our loyalty to that ideal, not to a group of people who look like us and talk like us and worship like we do.  We come together around an ideal. We believe that, as different as we are, we can still be united.


Sadly, today, in a national crisis that calls for unity, we are divided.  Our government leaders disagree about how quickly to reopen the economy.  They disagree about the meaning of statistics.  They disagree about what risks are acceptable.


The ideal of unity seems very far off.  How did this happen?  That question can’t be answered in one sermon, but I’d like to share a couple of thoughts on how we got here, and how you and I, as followers of Jesus, might help heal the divisions.


How did we get here?  It seems to me that more and more we’ve become a country of autonomous individuals.  Community is less important.  Instead, the goal is to fulfill ourselves as individuals.  We strive for a sort of personal independence.

These days our technology serves that desire for personal independence very well.  Our devices: our smartphones and tablets, take a lot of our time and attention.  Some of us sit in cafes, hunched over our phones.  We walk outdoors, hunched over our phones.   Do we even take in what’s going on around us?  Our devices cater to us as individuals, serving our own individual preferences.


Our devices make it easy for us to use social media.  There’s a lot that’s good about social media.  Social media sites are very good at sharing a message, as we do with our church Facebook page.  In some ways, social media brings people together.

But social media can also make our divisions worse.  The news reports we get on social media are tailored especially for us as individuals:  our preferences, our personal opinions.  If you get all your news from social media, you get a picture of the world, a skewed picture of the world, shaped by your own preferences and … prejudices.


So those are a couple of reasons I think we’re so divided as a country.  I’m convinced that if we’re going to thrive as one people out of many, we have to act: not as autonomous individuals, but as members of a community.


When Jesus prayed for his disciples that night, he had a vision of community.  He prayed that they all would be one. His vision of community does not arise from who they were as individuals.  His vision arises from who God is.  His followers would be one by being one in God.  They would be held together by a God whose nature is love.  That’s not a love that caters to you and me as individuals.  It’s a love for all of us together, a love that makes us one with God.


Of course the United States is not a religion.  There’s a difference between the unity Jesus envisioned for his followers, and the unity you and I might want for our country.  But you and I, as followers of Jesus, can help heal the divisions that are tearing our country apart.  We can start from a place of love, a place of kindness.  We can be more open to those who are different from us, and listen to them with care.  We can be builders of community.  We can be voices for unity, guided by a vision where all are held by a God whose nature is love.



Piano music for this week:



And organ music:

And the lyrics to the piano music above:


“All Things Bright and Beautiful”  

  Cecil Alexander/Martin Shaw


All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,

all things wise and wonderful, in love God made them all.


Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings,

God made their glowing colors, and made their tiny wings.


The purple headed mountain, the river running by,

the sunset, and the morning that brightens up the sky.


The cold wind in the winter, the pleasant summer sun,

the ripe fruits in the garden,  God made them every one.